Several smaller lines offer special holiday/summer cruises with kids' programs and unique itineraries.
Someone recently asked me how I got my daughter to read Tom Sawyer when she was only in the fifth grade. I responded that I had a Mississippi River cruise planned for the coming summer and told my daughter it was required reading if she wanted to come along. So she read the Mark Twain classic, and one night on the quiet deck of the paddle wheeler during our cruise, she said she could imagine Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn up to no good on the banks of Old Man River. Her book learning and travel experiences had come full circle, which was immensely rewarding for me.
This is an example of how off-the-beaten-path family cruises can reward your children -- and you -- with more than just the fun-in-the-sun offered by most traditional Caribbean cruises. Once again this summer, a variety of cruise ships and river boats are offering family departures to unusual destinations, providing a wealth of hands-on learning for you and your children.
ABERCROMBIE & KENT This year, A&K's family departures are concentrated in the Galapagos Islands, offered on March 6, 13 and 27 during spring break time; weekly June 12 through August 28; and during the December holiday season. The line uses the 48-passenger Eclipse, which has some triple occupancy cabins.
On family departures in the Galapagos, naturalist guides organize discovery activities so children learn about the unique species found in these islands. The twice-daily activities on land include hikes and snorkeling. On board ship, there are games and children's videos shown in the lounge. Additionally, all kids receive an Equatorial Certificate from the captain when the ship crosses the equator. The ship offers child-friendly menu selections on the family departures such as pizza, tacos and hot dogs.
To get your child excited about interacting with nature on a future A&K cruise, have them check out the web site www.akadventurecrew.com. There they can "talk" to a very old Galapagos turtle, send electronic postcards, and watch a three-minute video introducing families to A&K destinations.
Rates for the Galapagos start at $5,695 for adults and $4,575 for children under 12 who share a cabin with one adult. The minimum age for sailing this itinerary is five years. www.abercrombiekent.com
CRUISE NORTH Cruise North Expeditions is Inuit-owned and specializes in summer cruises to the Canadian Arctic, including Hudson Strait and South Baffin Island. The line's 122-passenger ice-class expedition ship, Orlova, cruises from late June through early September; its embarkation port is a two-hour flight from Montreal.
Children are welcome all season, but a special family sailing with extra children's programming is scheduled July 3-12. Additional staff will be on board to coordinate kids' activities on and off the ship (one extra staff member for every five children). On land, unique activities include visiting an Inuit school, playing Inuit games with local children, and guided nature walks. Aboard ship will be kids' movie nights, games, and a minimum of one supervised play session daily so parents get some time alone. Kid-friendly food will also be served aboard ship. Children can sit separately at the supervised kids' table if they wish.
Rates start at $4,595, including air from Montreal to the Arctic. All season, children 12 years and under traveling with two paying adults receive 50 percent off the full retail price, while teens 13 to 18 years get a 25 perent discount. The ship's lower and main deck double cabins have two lower beds and two Pullman beds.
Cruise North recommends a minimum age of seven years, since the ship is "not child-proof." www.cruisenorthexpeditions.com.
CRYSTAL CRUISES Crystal's youth program is offered fleet-wide during the summer, holidays, and when there are at least 10 children aboard. Crystal receives the most families on its summer European cruises aboard the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity and 940-passenger Crystal Symphony.
This season, there are two promotions for Mediterranean voyages. New bookings made by February 29, 2008 on Crystal Serenity's Mediterranean cruises this summer will receive 10 percent off verandah and non-verandah staterooms and five percent off penthouse accommodations. Additionally, Crystal Cruises' "Mediterranean Memories" family promotion offers groups of 10 members (related or not) who book and sail at the same time aboard Crystal Serenity, the following: a free third berth for those 17 years and under sharing with an adult; $100 per person shipboard credit; one group portrait per stateroom; and pre-paid gratuities.
Youngsters must be three to 17 years old to participate in the Junior and Teen Cruisers program. Some program highlights include fort making, production shows, mini-Olympics and making/decorating cookies with the chefs. There is a Junior Cruisers menu with kid-favorites available too.
Both Crystal ships have a dedicated youth room equipped with Sony Playstation games and computers with kid-friendly software. Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity also feature a teenagers' video arcade called Waves. Other kid-friendly amenities on the ships include a library with a selection of children's books and family-friendly videos to rent (there are VCRs in every stateroom); a pool; putting green; and paddle tennis court.
Private babysitting is available for $7.50 per hour for one child; $10 per hour for two children, and $12.50 per hour for three children. Baby food, high chairs and booster seats are available upon request. Crystal keeps track of how many babies and toddlers are booked and reserves the right to restrict the number of children under three years old if there are too many on a specific sailing. Minimum sailing age is six months.
Crystal Symphony offers 10 connecting staterooms and 89 staterooms with a third berth. There are 40 connecting staterooms and 75 staterooms with a third berth on the Crystal Serenity. www.crystalcruises.com.
INTERNATIONAL EXPEDITIONS International Expeditions, which focuses on the natural world, features four family cruises to the Amazon and two to the Galapagos Islands this July. The age range for youth activities is seven to 16 years.
The Amazon River sailings are aboard the 31-passenger La Arnatista, La Turmalina, and La Turquesa. Children can travel by zodiacs on excursions into the rainforest, where they can spot a variety of birds, monkeys and insects. Other highlights for kids include an evening hike in the rainforest where flashlights illuminate nocturnal creatures; fishing for (and eating) piranhas; visiting small schools along the river; playing soccer with kids from nearby villages; listening to Amazon legends told by the guides; and learning to play Peruvian musical instruments.
The Galapagos Islands Family Expeditions are aboard the 32-passenger boat Evolution. Kids can spot wildlife like giant tortoises, albatrosses, red- and blue-footed boobies, penguins and iguanas. Other activities ashore include swimming and snorkeling with penguins and sea lion pups; whale watching; walking on lava flows; and meeting Lonesome George, an ancient tortoise. On the ship at night, guides tell kids stories about the constellations and help them find stars.
Prices for the Amazon Family Expeditions start at $3,198 for adults and $3,048 for youngsters. Galapagos rates start at $4,498 for adults and $4,148 for kids age seven to 16. All ships/itineraries offer double and triple accommodations but no quads or connecting staterooms.
Both family itineraries offer kid-friendly meals such as pancakes, pasta, chicken tenders and French fries. All children receive the Young Explorer's Field Guide booklet, which gives them fun facts about the area they're exploring. www.ietravel.com/family.
LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS Lindblad Expeditions offers specially designated cruises for families including itineraries to Greece, Costa Rica/Nicaragua, and Baja. Lindblad's expedition leaders and staff members have been trained by Lindblad's family travel experts in conjunction with National Geographic's education department and National Geographic Kids magazine. The line's summer family market has grown substantially over the past few years and now accounts for 30 percent of its business.
Activities for children this year include visits to the bridge, short hikes, chart making and map reading, scavenger hunts, nature skits, and journaling. Kids' dinners are offered earlier than parents' and are followed by movie time in the lounge while parents eat.
Children under 18 receive $500 off the double occupancy cost. The ships all have a number of triple cabins but no quads. However, reservationists will put families in rooms next to each other. There is no minimum age to sail. www.expeditions.com.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a complimentary summer youth program called Club Mariner on select sailings during spring break, summers and the holidays. Go to www.rssc.com/sailings.do?spotlight=fam-friends for a list of sailings on which Club Mariner is offered.
Club Mariner, for children five to 17, is supervised by youth counselors. Activities focus on explaining the region's heritage and natural environment through crafts and games such as whale watching in Alaska, learning to draw aquatic animals, and playing with Russian nesting dolls in the Baltic. Club Mariner also offers kids-only tours of the ship and kid-friendly menus.
In addition, RSSC will again offer a unique family educational program in Alaska and Tahiti called "Ambassadors of the Environment." Held in conjunction with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society, the program aims to give young cruisers (age nine to 15) direct interactive experience with and knowledge of marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The ultimate goal is for these young participants to become "ambassadors" and teach others about the need to preserve our ocean and environment.
Through slide shows, hikes, discussions, and other hands-on activities such as long-term monitoring and restoration programs, Ambassadors of the Environment introduces families to the natural wonders of the region, its biodiversity, plus human impact and resource management. There is an additional $199 fee for the program and participants must register prior to embarkation. Since this is family oriented, adults can also participate.
All RSSC ships have staterooms that can accommodate four in one room. www.rssc.com.
TAUCK BRIDGES Tauck Bridges is the division of Tauck World Discovery Tours that offers family oriented land and sea adventures. This summer, Tauck Bridges features a Galapagos cruise aboard the M/V Santa Cruz. Tauck directors who accompany the cruises are chosen for their ability to work with kids and to offer some group activities on the ship. On land are naturalists who gear their talks and walks to children.
The Santa Cruz has several triple and quad staterooms as well as common space for kids to congregate and do child-oriented group activities. The Bridges departures this summer are June 28; July 5, 12, 19; and August 2, 9 and 16. Children 11 years and under who share a cabin with two adults receive a $350 discount. The line requests that children be at least three years old and notes that those who are eight years and older will have the best experience in the Galapagos. www.tauck.com.
UNIWORLD GRAND RIVER CRUISES New to the seasonal family cruising market this year is Uniworld Grand River Cruises. The line is offering a pair of seven-day family-oriented itineraries this summer: Castles along the Rhine, between Amsterdam and Basel; and Paris and Normandy Grand River Cruise round trip from Paris. Some of the highlights of the Rhine cruise include a mini-tram ride to Siegfried's Mechanical Museum, home of one of the largest collections of self-playing musical instruments in the world; and a visit to Speyer Technical Museum, which features a walk-in Boeing 747 and a German Navy submarine. The French river cruise includes highlights like visiting Monet's house at Giverny, coupled with an Impressionists painting workshop on board; a hike to the stronghold of Richard the Lionheart's Chateau Gaillard; and standing on the beaches of Normandy where World War II history was made.
Youth activities are geared to youngsters eight to 18 years old. These departures offer a children's menu of cheeseburgers, French fries and ice cream. There is also a game room for youth activities.
All bookings are based on double occupancy with one adult/one child per cabin. Cruise only rates start at $1,949 per person double occupancy, for June, July and August departures on the French itinerary. Cruise only rates for the Rhine River departures start at $1,749 per person, double occupancy. Children between eight and 18 years old receive 50 percent off cruise rates when accompanied by an adult.
The Rhine and French river cruises depart weekly from June 7 through August 30. The Rhine itinerary features the Grand River Queen (132 passengers) and Grand River Ambassador (128 passengers). Paris/Normandy cruises are aboard the Grand River Baroness (128 passengers). www.uniworld.com.
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