Refurbishment and expansion of youth facilities have been high on cruise lines� priority lists recently -- in large part because 1.1 million youngsters and teens will have cruised by the end of 2006. In addition to these upgrades and expansions, a few cruise lines are offering booking incentives, including Costa Cruises� annual 'Kids Cruise Free' program. This all adds up to more reasons than ever for you and your kids to hit the high seas.
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES Carnival has made extensive renovations to some of its ships� Camp Carnival facilities. The Ecstasy, Sensation and Fascination have all had their Camp Carnival room moved to a spot overlooking the main pool. The refurbished facilities now include play space for toddlers, a computer and video game section, and an area for arts and crafts.
In addition, a separate family recreation area has been added on these ships, with audio/visual equipment for viewing movies appropriate for parents and kids. These ships also now have � like other Fantasy class vessels � a nine-hole miniature golf course, which is a big hit with kids and teens.
The Fascination also just had its teen room refurbished. Called Club O2, it features high-tech sound equipment as well as plenty of comfortable furniture for hanging out.
This year, Carnival Cruise Lines expects to carry a whopping 525,000 youths and teens, an industry record.
CELEBRITY CRUISES Celebrity Cruises� Century recently underwent a $55 million renovation. Included in this project was the youth room, called the Fun Factory, which was expanded to three times its previous size, making it almost as large as the same facility on Celebrity�s Millennium-class vessels. The Century�s Fun Factory is now equipped with plenty of computers and age-specific interactive games for children from three to 12 years old.
Century�s teen lounge was also refurbished, and now it is the largest and most sophisticated in Celebrity�s fleet. The Xtreme Lounge offers lots of high-tech equipment including computers, Internet access, large-screen LCD movies, X-Box, P32, MPS karaoke, and a jukebox. The facility also has a dance area with a mobile DJ booth equipped with PCDJ, enabling the teen counselors to offer "iSpin" DJ classes.
COSTA CRUISES In the past, Costa Cruises featured a Caribbean season booking incentive for families, and this year is no exception. When you pay two full early-booking fares for cruises aboard the Costa Magica or Costa Mediterranean during their Caribbean season, two kids 17 years and under sharing a room with the adults get to cruise for free. The "Kids Cruise Free" offer is for most sailings on these two ships from January through April 2007. Call 1-800-GO-COSTA and ask for discount code AU.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE The Disney Wonder just came out of dry dock with lots of renovations for kids of all ages. The Mickey Pool on Deck 9 was redesigned to give infants and toddlers a dedicated water spot. A 385-sq. ft. toddler play area � in the shape of Mickey�s sorcerer�s hat � was added to the Mickey Pool. The new area features star- and moon-shaped interactive fountains and splash zones. It is unique in that it has its own filtration system separate from the main part of the pool in case of any "accidents" by little ones in swim diapers.
In the Oceaneer Club, for three- to seven-year-olds, the Captain�s Closet area now has more space for hands-on interactive activities, additional Play Stations and computers with age appropriate software.
The Oceaneer Lab, for those eight to 12 years, now has a computer simulator built like a ship�s bridge. The simulator's large video screens of fictitious ports allow youngsters to pretend they�re navigating the ship in and out of port.
The deck area around the Goofy Pool (the main family pool) now has a jumbo state-of-the-art LED screen above it so families can watch classic Disney movies and other programming day and night.
MSC CRUISES MSC Cruises, which showcases its Italian heritage, is offering a Kids� Sail Free promotion on all reservations made by December 31, 2006. Youngsters age 17 and under who share a room with two full-paying adults sail free on most of the MSC Lirica's and MSC Opera�s Caribbean sailings this winter and early spring.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE Norwegian Cruise Line is welcoming a new ship, the Norwegian Pearl, in December 2006. It will have a number of "firsts" for NCL and the cruise industry that appeal to families. An industry first is Norwegian Pearl�s four-lane bowling alley. During the day, this is a great spot for families to bowl together; in the evening, adjacent bar areas come alive for adults.
The ship also has a rock-climbing wall, sure to be a big hit, especially with teens. Teens will also enjoy hanging out at the Metro Center, designed to look and feel like the New York City subway system -- right down to the graffiti on the walls. On the same deck is the video arcade, where kids and teens can win a virtual reality car race, fly a virtual reality jet fighter and play many other of the latest arcade games.
NCL recently introduced its Officer Snook Water Pollution Program fleet-wide. The program seeks to educate children and teens about the importance of clean water and prevention of marine pollution. The mascot for the program is Officer Snook, a cartoon fish symbolizing protection of the marine environment. There are age appropriate activities related to what kids are learning. For example, the two- to five-year-olds will listen to storytelling and have access to an "undersea hospital." For pre-teens there is a simulated beach clean-up and catch-or-release game identifying species. The teen component of the program allows young adults to earn between one and five community service hours.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL Royal Caribbean International is again teaming up with well-known partners to present innovative activities for kids and families. The line just announced that children aged three to eight years old, accompanied by their parents, can pretend they�re driving on a Fisher-Price Power Wheels R Track at RCI�s private island of CocoCay, Bahamas. Youngsters can choose from the latest Power Wheels mini-cars such as the Jeep Hurricane, Ford Mustang, Cadillac Escalade Custom Edition in either black or Barbie pink, and the Barbie Beach Party Jeep Wrangler.
Aboard Royal Caribbean ships, families have a new activity they can do together. Children age five to 11 and their parents can construct and decorate a Lowe�s wooden cruise ship, designed exclusively for Royal Caribbean. The "Build and Grow" with Lowe�s workshops are interactive and encourage children and parents to work together. Kids receive a cruise ship kit, a Lowe�s apron, safety goggles, a certificate of completion and a merit patch.