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"Adventure" for Kids of All Ages
by Luisa Frey Gaynor

Although my eight-year-old daughter Alex already had 11 cruises under her belt, she was still very excited prior to our recent Adventure of the Seas sailing. She had perused the Royal Caribbean brochure--which had a detailed map of the huge and well-equipped ship-- so many times before our cruise that I worried the ship might not live up to her expectations. However, after an action-packed week in the Southern Caribbean, it turned out that the ship and its youth program exceeded Alex's expectations so much that she burst into tears before going to bed on the last night of the cruise. How's that for a great endorsement?

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Youth Program: Policies and Details

Alex at
Miniature Golf
Not only did the ship wow us all, but Alex got hooked on the Adventure Ocean youth program. On a few days, we literally had to tear her away from the youth program to spend time ashore with us, to enjoy the ship's other facilities, or to go to bed at night! Since we also have an infant who takes a long afternoon nap, requiring one of us to stay in the cabin during that time, it was helpful that Alex enjoyed spending so much time in Adventure Ocean.

It also helped that children over six years old can sign themselves in and out of Adventure Ocean with parental permission. Despite the huge size of the ship (138,000 tons, 15 decks, and a passenger capacity of over 3,100), Alex is great with directions and enjoyed the responsibility of getting herself to and from the youth room.

Luisa and Alex
Unlike most cruise ships that have one youth room--usually reserved for the youngest group of children--Adventure of the Seas and sister ships Voyager and Explorer of the Seas all have dedicated youth rooms for each age group: Aquanauts, age three to five years; Explorers, six to eight; Voyagers, nine to 11; Navigators, 12 to 14; and Teens, 15 to 17.

Although the youth program starts for those over age three, children must be fully potty-trained to participate in Adventure Ocean activities. Royal Caribbean won't allow those who are not potty trained to come to the youth facilities even if accompanied by a parent. Nor are non-toilet-trained tots allowed to use the great Adventure Beach pool and slide facilities. Royal Caribbean is one of the few lines that still offer private baby-sitting, but tots must be at least one year old to use the service.

Alex Rock
Climbing or
Parents of children five and under are given a beeper for the duration of the cruise so they can be reached in case their little one needs them. Although my daughter is eight, we were given a beeper because she has food allergies. (All kids with food allergies have their picture taken on their first day in the youth program. The counselors post the photo to make sure they all know of the child's sensitivities. This was the first time I've seen this in a cruise line youth program.)

For youngsters under 12, there are activities from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with an hour break for dinner. On port days, counselors are available half an hour prior to the first shore excursion in case parents want to go ashore solo. Counselors will take children to lunch on most days too. On three of the seven nights, counselors take the kids to the buffet dinner or Johnny Rockets hamburger restaurant as a group at 6 p.m. Make sure you sign up for this free option by noon on the day of the dinner. Generally the counselors take the kids to eat on the two formal nights as well as an additional evening.

Alex on the
Sports Deck
After 10 p.m. there is an hourly charge for kids under 12 years old to stay in the program until 1 a.m. While many ships refer to this as group baby-sitting, Royal Caribbean puts an interesting twist on it and calls it "Late Night Party Zone." With a name like that, my daughter was itching to take part, but since her baby brother was waking us up at 5:30 each morning, we never let her stay up later than 10 p.m. According to Michael Clarke, the Adventure's youth program manager, the Late Night Party Zone offers lots of activities during the first part of the night; then mats are pulled out later in the evening so kids can curl up and watch a good movie or sleep.

While the Navigators (age 12-14) and Teens share the Optix Teen Club, they do split for many Teens-only options. The Navigators program lasts until about midnight or 12:30 a.m. nightly, while the Teens program goes until about 2 or 3 a.m. and often includes a Teens-only disco.

Youth Program: Oceans of Fun

Family Rock
Most cruise lines offer a youth program on sea days as well as port days. However, most lines offer fewer activities on the port days, and kids often have lots of free play time on port days with no specific activities scheduled. What my daughter really liked is that Adventure Ocean had a full roster of fun things to do even on port days.

We could tell that it would be a lively cruise since the first-night informational meeting for kids and parents was held in the ice rink as some of the counselors skated. They also tossed to the audience some of the logo items kids can earn by attending the Adventure Ocean program. Each time a youngster attends an Adventure Ocean session, he receives a coupon. On the last day of the cruise, they can be cashed in for prizes like visors, CD cases, t-shirts, and more. While Alex enjoyed attending the kids' program, we found the coupons were a great incentive for her to participate.

Royal Caribbean has a number of successful trademark activities in its fleet-wide Adventure Ocean program. Most impressive are the Adventure Science activities--fun yet educational sessions where kids really get their hands wet (literally). Some of them include making space mud, learning about the stars, and talking about outer space as well as talking like aliens from outer space!

Talent Show
Royal Caribbean's newest ships, including the Adventure, have an Adventure Ocean Family Computer Camp during sea days; you must sign up for it, since participation is limited to the number of computers in the youth rooms. When Alex and I participated, we got to alter digital photos of ourselves that the counselors took. Then they printed the pictures out on special paper that we ironed onto t-shirts once we got home.

Some lines place more emphasis on crafts than on active games, but not Royal Caribbean. A few Adventure Art projects were offered, such as making a metal Mexican hanging trinket. Although Alex is generally very into making crafts and artwork, she did not seem to miss them on this cruise.

Mini Rock
Climbing Wall
All Royal Caribbean youth programs feature a talent show on the last day, performed by children under nine years old. My daughter plays the piano, and the counselors held the show in a lounge where Alex had access to a piano and played one of her original compositions. All kids who participated got a hearty round of applause from the parents and a medal from the counselors.

On the last formal night, we enjoyed the Pirate Parade, which was also presented by the two youngest age groups. The kids had their faces painted, put on bandannas and fake hooks (a la Captain Hook), and paraded around the ship with the counselors. The counselors would yell out funny lines such as, "The Captain wants it quiet," and the kids would reply "Let's start a riot!" The children even paraded into the three-level dining room to entertain the second-seating adults. At the end, the ship's photographer took a great picture of the dozens of little pirates.

The line's activities wouldn't be half as fun for the kids if not for the enthusiastic counselors. I found them to be entertaining, yet firm and personal with the kids--a perfect combination for bonding with the youngsters yet remaining in control. All the counselors had nicknames that the children loved and were easy to remember, ranging from Ketchup to Ice Cream, and even Monkey Breath!

The line has a "three strikes you're out" behavior policy for unruly kids and teens. According to Clarke, if youngsters are warned three times about disruptive behavior, they cannot return to the youth program.

Sample of Activities

The room for three to five year olds is furnished with a small slide, a ball pit, and lots of Lego building blocks. Activities offered during our cruise for this age group included design your own surfboard; paw-print art; story time; freeze dancing; balloon volleyball; and much more.

Pirate Night
To my daughter's delight, the room for the six to eight year olds featured the line's only indoor, kid-sized rock climbing wall, as well as a number of computers, a movie corner with a couch, and a crafts area. Some of her favorite activities were Adventure Science activities including making space mud, finding "prehistoric" eggs, and making rockets; coloring pillowcases; hula hoop challenge; alien talk; and more.

The nine to 12 year olds had a large room for group activities and a smaller room filled with 14 Game Boys, called the "Virtual Sub Station". Activities for this age group included Adventure Science forensics and H2O thunder races; Survivor night; soak your youth staff; and Name that Tune.

The Navigators (12-14) and Teens (15-17) shared the Optix teen room, which had state of the art lighting and a dance floor for teen discos. Other activities for Navigators are: late night karaoke; Playstation 2 time; DJ training; late night skate; and The Weakest Link game show. Some of the teen activities are Fuel disco parties; man hunt; pool parties; arcade challenge; and Battle of the Sexes.

Next Page: Family Friendly Facilities

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