At Sea with Kids Under Three

| June 6, 2005

Most cruise lines’ youth programs are for children over three years old who are toilet trained. Have no fear, though, if your child is less than three years old and not potty trained -- there are still plenty of options for them at sea. In fact, three cruise lines offer free youth programming for little ones under three: Carnival, Cunard and Norwegian Cruise Line.


While many lines mandate that tots be at least three and potty trained to participate in youth programs, Camp Carnival’s youth counselors are not daunted by dirty diapers. Parents just need to supply diapers each day to the counselors. All parents of children in this age group receive a beeper at the beginning of the cruise in case they need to be contacted. I have found Camp Carnival’s counselors, particularly those handling this age group, to be very caring with the little ones. On a recent Carnival cruise, I noticed a special needs two-year-old with whom the youth counselors were especially patient.

Some Camp Carnival activities for those two to five years old include painting the counselor (literally!), painting the windows, story time, music and movement activities, and the Blues Clues-themed activities which include adorable face painting. This youngest age group uses the Camp Carnival youth room as its home base, while older children usually meet in various clubs throughout the ship. On a recent Carnival Victory cruise, the brightly-colored youth room featured a tot-sized bathroom, video wall, sand art machines, and Space Maze, a padded climbing apparatus. There was also a splash pool one deck above the youth room where parents could take their children. My son Ethan loved the splash pool on sea days, which was a relief since the large pools were extremely crowded.

All Carnival cruises offer several enjoyable family activities that children can only with a parent present. On our cruise, there were two sea afternoons devoted to family activities, as well as a family dance party and ice cream sundae-making on the first night. One afternoon was devoted to water games on deck. Even my three-year-old son had fun participating in water balloon tosses and other team games. The other sea afternoon featured family cookie decorating, which the kids really enjoyed making and eating. Following the cookie decorating was a Camp Carnival talent show, for all kids age two years and older.

Little ones under two years old are welcome at Camp Carnival on mornings when the ship is in port, and during the group babysitting time from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. For $6 per hour, the counselors pull out strollers, mats and other baby necessities to accommodate infants and toddlers. Carnival’s minimum age to sail is four months old. CUNARD LINE

Cunard Line’s QM2 and QE2 are among the few ships with youth program staffers who care for children as young as one year old during the day and night for free. There are usually a few professionally trained nannies on board who are dedicated to each ship’s toddler facility (under 24 months old), as well as the pre-school room for those between 24 months and five years. According to Helen Brown, QM2’s youth program supervisor, “nursery nurses” is actually the correct title for nannies. To become a British trained nursery nurse, candidates must have two years of specialized training with children ages three months to seven years. This includes one year of course work and one year of placement in a variety of settings, including with special needs children.

Brown said one of the many advantages of having nursery nurses on board is that they are qualified to care for all of a young child’s needs, including diaper changes, bottles and getting fussy babies and toddlers to nap. Parents are asked to bring diapers, wipes and bottles to the nursery room for their child. On a recent QM2 cruise, I felt that the nannies and youth counselors were very patient and caring with the children; it always seemed there was a lap to sit on for those who missed their parents.

The Zone is the name of the children’s area on QM2. It consists of three separate rooms plus a children’s restroom. There is a small dedicated room for the 13- to 23-month-olds that consists of cribs and cots; soft, age-appropriate toys; an area for changing diapers; and a rocking chair. Across the hall is a brightly colored room that faces the deck and is for toddlers and pre-schoolers from 24 months to five years. The facility includes a ball pit; padded area for blowing off steam; large TV for videos; a few small tables for crafts and snacks; and three screens for computer games.

For those five years and under, crafts projects are overseen by the nannies in small groups while other children have free playtime in QM2’s ball pit or padded soft sculpture area. The days are often themed with a nautical, wild animal, or pirate theme, complete with face makeup and costumes. On the last afternoon of a cruise, counselors hold a party for kids under five in The Zone, with features face-painting, balloons and treats.

Food is family-friendly and features a “Children’s Tea” from 5 to 6 p.m. Parents accompany their children to the tea for a fast off-the-menu meal consisting of chicken fingers, pasta, pizza or fish sticks. For those under seven years, the youth program resumes at 6 p.m. so parents can feed little fidgety ones at tea time, drop them off at the youth program, and then dine alone. Beepers are given to parents of those under two in case of emergency. Additionally, parents of little ones are asked to call the youth room one half hour after their initial dropoff to make sure their child is adjusting well to the new situation.

If you’re debating whether to bring a stroller for your infant or toddler, do so. The QM2 is a whopping four football fields long and requires lots of walking, which could be tough for little ones. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Like Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line’s youth program accepts children two years and older in its youth program who are not toilet trained. However, NCL’s youth counselors do not change dirty diapers. Therefore, parents of all children in diapers are given beepers and are paged when a diaper needs to be changed. To make sure parents do not leave a child aboard ship in diapers while they explore ashore (especially since beepers only work aboard ship), youth counselors give the names of parents with kids in diapers to the security personnel on the gangway.

Youth rooms vary depending on the ship. Newer ships have a very large youth room with features such as a soft, padded area for blowing off steam; a small movie room; and an arts and crafts area. Most NCL youth rooms have an indoor nap area to accommodate the two-year-olds who need some down time during their stay in the youth program. While most of NCL’s ships have splash pools for little ones, like most cruise lines, no diapers are allowed in the pools for health reasons.

Every evening, the youth counselors offer group babysitting in the youth room for those two years and older from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. You must sign up your child by noon on the same day that you’d like group babysitting. The cost is $5 per hour for the first child and $3 per hour for the second child in the same family. PART 2

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