For unique cultural experiences and firsthand sightings of exotic wildlife your kids will remember for a lifetime, consider one of the many seasonal family cruises offered this year. These voyages offer entertaining youth activities on board --and more importantly, many of them feature one-of-a-kind experiences on land, like getting up close to native wildlife in the Galapagos Islands; playing with Inuit children in the Canadian Arctic; earning a zodiac (small, motorized boats) driving license or scuba diving certificate; exploring sea life a la Jacques Cousteau in Tahiti; and playing soccer with kids along the Amazon River.
The following are highlights of the cruise lines that offer seasonal family sailings this summer (a few also offer these departures during spring break and Christmas). Note that the majority are smaller vessels that don't come with all the bells and whistles of the mega-ships. But that's okay - on these ships, it's the programming and experiences ashore that will wow children and adults alike!
ABERCROMBIE & KENT This year, A&K's main family departures are concentrated in the Galapagos Islands, offered in March and early April (spring break); June through early September; and during the Christmas holiday season. The line uses the 48-passenger Eclipse, which offers some triple occupancy cabins. Rates for the Galapagos range from $5,400 to $6,200 per person, with slightly lower rates for children under 12 who share a cabin with one or two paying adults. The minimum age for sailing this itinerary is five years.
The line also features five family cruises in Egypt throughout the year aboard the 80-passenger Sun Boat IV. The minimum age for these sailings is six years. Rates range from $3,500 to $4,800, with lower rates for children under 12 years.
On family departures in the Galapagos, naturalist guides help children learn about the species found only in these islands. Some of the twice-daily activities on land include hikes and snorkeling. On board ship, there are games and children's videos shown in the dedicated lounge. Additionally, all kids receive an Equatorial Certificate from the captain in a formal ceremony when the ship crosses the equator. Both ships offer child-friendly menu selections on the family departures.
To get your child excited about interacting with nature on a future A&K cruise, have them check out the interactive web site: www.akadventurecrew.com. There they can "talk" to a centuries-old Galapagos turtle or imagine themselves riding a camel by the pyramids in Egypt.www.abercrombiekent.com
CRUISE NORTH Cruise North Expeditions is Inuit-owned and specializes in summer cruises to the Canadian Arctic. The line's 122-passenger Orlova cruises from late June through early September; its embarkation port is a two-hour flight from Montreal.
While children are welcome all season, there is a special family departure with extra children's programming July 18-26. Extra staff will be on board to coordinate kids' activities on and off the ship. On land, these activities include visiting an Inuit school, playing Inuit games with local children, and guided nature walks. Aboard ship there 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 $4,600-$6,400, including air from Montreal to the Arctic. All season, children 12 and under traveling with two paying adults receive 50 percent off the full price, while teens (13-18) get a 25 percent 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; youth programming is for those seven to 13 years.www.cruisenorthexpeditions.com
CRYSTAL CRUISES Crystal's youth program is offered fleet-wide during the summer, on holiday cruises, 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.
Youngsters must be three to 17 years old to participate in the Junior 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 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, and $12.50 per hour for three. Baby food, high chairs and booster seats are available upon request. Crystal does, however, keep track of the number of babies and toddlers on board and reserves the right to restrict the number of children under three years old if there are too many little ones 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 three family cruises to the Amazon this July, and three to the Galapgos Islands this July and December.
The Amazon River sailings are aboard the 32-passenger La Turquesa and 48-passenger La Amatista. Children can travel by zodiac on excursions deep into the rainforest, where they can expect to spot more than 100 kinds of birds, Amazon River dolphins, monkeys and endangered giant river otters. Other highlights for kids include: visiting a local shaman, where youngsters participate in a special ceremony just for children; fishing for (and eating!) piranhas; visiting small schools along the river; playing soccer games with kids living in nearby villages; and learning to play South American musical instruments.
The 10-day Galapagos Islands Family Expeditions are offered July 6 and 20, and December 21 aboard the 32-passenger Evolution.. The rare wildlife on the Galapagos have little fear of humans, making for great photo opportunities for kids. Some that youngsters can spot include giant tortoises, albatrosses, red and blue-footed boobies, penguins and iguanas. Other activities ashore include swimming, snorkeling and sea kayaking with sea lion pups; walking on lava flows near Darwin Volcano crater; and standing on Espanola's famous blowhole, where incoming waves spout 90 feet into the air. 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 $2,900 for adults and $2,700 for youngsters. Galapagos rates start at $4,100 for adults and $3,700 for kids aged seven to 16. Both ships/itineraries offer double and triple accommodations, but no quads nor connecting staterooms.
Both family itineraries offer kid-friendly meals as well as an activity booklet. All children receive the Young Explorer's Field Guide booklet, which gives them fun facts about the area they're exploring.www.ietravel.com or www.ietravel.com/Family/index.html
LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS Lindblad Expeditions does not have designated family cruises since it is equipped to accommodate children and families on all voyages. All Lindblad 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. This change occurred because the line's summer family business has grown so much over the past few years, and now comprises 30 percent of its business. Lindblad Expeditions, however, does carry extra staff specially trained to work with children aboard its Alaska, Galapagos and Sea of Cortez/Baja California cruises, since they usually carry the most children. Galapagos voyages are offered year-round; Alaska cruises are from May through August; and the Sea of Cortez season is from January through March and May through August.
Activities offered to children include visits to the bridge, shorter hikes, chart making and map reading, zodiac-driving instruction (which includes the issue of a zodiac license), plaster mold-making using wildlife tracks, and stargazing. Kids' dinners are offered earlier than the parents' and are followed by movie time in the lounge while parents eat.
All kids aboard the Galapagos cruises receive an educational activity book. Archie Comics illustrator Stan Goldberg traveled with the line to the Galapagos and created a cartoon child explorer, "Little Lin." Her adventures teach her about the wonders of the natural world, and the activities give kids subtle messages about taking care of the environment.
Children under 18 receive $500 off the double occupancy cost. Galapagos voyages range from $4,000 to $6,800; Alaska from $4,800 to $6,000; and Sea of Cortez from $4,000 to $5,000 per person. The ships all have a number of triple cabins but no quads.www.expeditions.com
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a summer youth program called Club Mariner in Alaska and Europe. The program is for children five to 17 years old and is overseen by trained youth counselors. Activities focus on integrating the region's heritage and natural environment through crafts and games. Club Mariner also offers kids-only tours of the ship; kid-friendly menus are offered on Club Mariner sailings.
This summer, Club Mariner youth programs will be offered on the following cruises: Seven Seas Voyager in Northern Europe, June 2-August 18; Seven Seas Mariner in Alaska, May 23-August 22; and Seven Seas Navigator in the Mediterranean, June 16-August 18. There are also two spring break sailings in the Caribbean this year (March 30 and April 15) aboard the Mariner and Navigator, respectively.
In addition, RSSC will again offer a unique children's educational program in Tahiti. This year, it will be offered nine times between June 16 and August 22; it will also be available during the Christmas holidays. This fun learning program, called "Ambassadors of the Environment," will be on the 330-passenger Paul Gauguin in Tahiti in conjunction with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society. Utilizing educational methods pioneered by Cousteau, the program aims to give young cruisers (age nine to 15) direct interactive experience with and knowledge of marine and island ecosystems.
Some points emphasized in Ambassadors of the Environment include the importance of coral reefs, sustainable lifestyles, and Polynesian culture. Children learn by hands-on experiences such as hiking through a rainforest, exploring coral reefs, seeing whales breeching, learning from Polynesian youth how to paddle an outrigger canoe or dancing Polynesian-style. The youth counselors on these sailings have degrees in natural or environmental sciences and have been trained by Cousteau. The $199 program fee covers six to seven shore excursions. Children must be competent swimmers to participate.
Kids sharing a stateroom with two paying adults can sail free on select sailings aboard Seven Seas Mariner. On select Paul Gaugin voyages, the third guest cruises for free. All Regent ships can accommodate triples. However, if the family has two small children, they can both fit into one bed in order to accommodate a foursome.
The minimum age to sail with Regent is six months. There isn't a children's menu in the restaurants.www.theregentexperience.com
TAUCK BRIDGES Tauck Bridges is the division of Tauck World Discovery 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 group activities while aboard ship. The Santa Cruz offers a number of public rooms where kids can gather for activities, as well as some triple and quad cabins. Menus offer popular kid-friendly food.
On land, Tauck provides naturalists who gear their talks and walks to children. Additionally, the hotel where families stay the night before or after the cruise has a swimming pool, which is popular with kids.
The Bridges departures for this summer are June 30 through August 18. Family Galapagos cruises are also offered during spring break (March 10, 17 and 31); Easter (April 7 and 14); and Christmas (December 22 and 29).
Children 11 years and under, sharing a cabin with two adults, receive a $450 discount on these cruises. Rates begin at $3,000 per person.
The line requests that children be at least eight years old to sail aboard the Santa Cruz. The youth program is for those eight to 18 years.www.tauck.com
WINDJAMMER BAREFOOT CRUISES Families can kick off their shoes and experience unique activities like hoisting the sails aboard Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' summer sailings on the Polynesia and Legacy. The line's "Junior Jammers" youth program is available for kids age six to 12, while the teen program is for 13- to 17-year-olds. The Legacy cruises to Costa Rica while the Polynesia sails the ABC islands - Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
The Junior Jammers program is available from June 1 through August 15. On these cruises, youth counselors plan activities for youngsters on the ships and ashore. Unlike most large cruise lines, Windjammer's youth program takes kids on land excursions ranging from swimming or kayaking in gentle waters to guided hikes or going into town for ice cream. Aboard ship are kid-friendly costume parties, movie nights and pizza parties. Activities for teens include steel drum sessions, water sports, and sleeping under the stars on the top deck while the ship is under sail.
What's unique is that on these cruises kids as young as six years can learn to dive. For children ages six to eight, SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) is available to introduce kids to diving using breathing equipment, snorkel and flotation devices. Kids ages eight to 12 can graduate to Bubblemaker, a first scuba experience with real dive equipment. The next step is a PADI Seal Team where children can go on Aqua Missions. Lastly, Junior Discover Scuba enables youngsters to dive in water up to 30 feet deep. Both SASY and Bubblemaker programs are supervised by certified PADI instructors.
Once again, kids can sail free during these summer cruises. One child age six to 12 sails free when accompanied by two full-fare adults in the same cabin. If the child is sailing with one full-fare adult, the child sails for 50 percent off. Rates range from $900 to $2,200.
The line's minimum age to sail is six years old. The menus include hot dogs, chicken fingers and pizza parties.www.windjammer.com
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