The Teen Scene

Although has a teen section where youngsters can post messages about who's sailing when, I thought that you--the parents and bill-payers--might want to know what kinds of facilities and programs are available at sea to keep your teenagers happy and busy. Read on and you'll also find some feedback from teens on their favorite cruise ships and not-so-favorite teen programs.

Teen Programs: What's it all about?

All cruise lines that have youth programs also offer teen programs. Generally, these programs feature young, energetic counselors with backgrounds in education, physical education or a related area. While kids' youth programs are offered during the morning, afternoon and evening hours, particularly on sea days, the teen programs are geared more towards teens' time clocks: There are fewer morning activities than for the younger kids, and more late-day and evening activities. At the beginning of each cruise, many teen counselors determine what the teens are interested in, and plan activities accordingly.

As with the youth programs, participation is free, and teens can come and go as they please. While teens may initially balk at the idea of going to organized activities, remind them that it is the best way for them to meet their peers. One of our teen readers agreed: "The youth program is what you want it to be. If you go and participate, you'll have fun. If you're lazy and think that you can make friends by standing around and being non-social, then you're not going to have a good trip."

The major lines offering year-round teen programs are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Princess, NCL, Costa, and Holland America. Celebrity Cruises' teen and youth programs are offered on a seasonal basis only.

Here are examples of typical program activities for teens:

CARNIVAL: Teen singles party; pool parties; golf lessons; "mocktail" party; Win, Lose, or Draw and other games; deck parties; track events; karaoke nights.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN: Weekly dance parties, "Learn to be a DJ," pool party, prom night (on formal night), teen tanning time, arcade challenge, and teen-only rock climbing and in-line skating on the Voyager-class ships.

DISNEY:"Make your own movie," teen-only workout at the spa, Disney trivia games, teen-only deck area, pajama party, animation lessons, movie marathons, dance party in the ESPN Skybox.

PRINCESS: Teen dinner and show time, scavenger hunts, pizza party, casino night, karaoke, breakfast club, golf simulator lessons.

NCL: Theme parties, "The Newly-met Game," trivia contests, sports competitions, line dancing, karaoke.

COSTA: Disco night, ping pong tournaments, basketball tournaments, movie night.

HOLLAND AMERICA: Teen disco, dance lessons, "Rockin' Rolldies Lip-Sync Contest," card games, candy bar bingo, hot tub hangout time.

Teen Rooms: A home away from home

Not all cruise ships have dedicated teen rooms or teen discos. Those ships that don't have a dedicated room conduct their scheduled teen activities in various lounges or on deck. The presence of a teen room doesn't guarantee that your 13 to 17 year old will have a great time on the cruise, but it does afford your youngster a place to kick back and to call his or her own. After all, most teens really prefer to hang out and meet their peers in a relaxed setting.

Most dedicated teen rooms have electronic games, lighting and a dance floor so that they can double as teens-only discos by night. Here's a rundown of facilities:

CARNIVAL: The Fascination houses the "Backstreet Club," the line's first dedicated teen facility. Geared toward 16 to 18-year olds, the club has a CD jukebox, sound system, lighting, dance floor, and karaoke, as well as computers and Sony PlayStation 2 video games. The line is adding more teen rooms throughout the fleet. The new Carnival Conquest, Glory and Valor will all have a family recreation area called Action Alley, housing a teen club with a coffee bar and dance floor, high-tech videos, arcade games and virtual reality games.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN: Royal Caribbean has the most dedicated teen rooms of any line: All ships except the Nordic Empress have one. These multipurpose rooms act as a lounge for teens by day and a disco by night. Features include a dance floor, lighting, TV screens, a DJ booth, and some have bars where teens can get "mocktails." The newest ships--Adventure, Radiance, Explorer, and Voyager--also have computers in the teen rooms. DISNEY: The dedicated teen rooms on Disney ships resemble coffee houses and are aptly named Common Grounds. With a bar serving non-alcoholic drinks, the rooms also have electronic games, lighting, and sound systems.

PRINCESS: The Grand-class ships (Grand, Golden and Star Princess) and the Sun-class ships (Sun, Dawn Princess) all have dedicated teen centers. They are equipped with a dance floor, video games, big screen TV, jukebox, and craft areas.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE: NCL's newest ships--Norwegian Sun, Star and Sky--all have dedicated teen facilities. The Teen Clubs are a teen center by day and disco by night. They are equipped with sound systems, video viewing area, and computers. Adjacent to the Teen Club on the Sun and Star is the Video Zone, with 25 of the latest video games.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE: The Maasdam is the line's most family-friendly ship, and thus it has a dedicated teen room. The new Vista series ships will each have a teen lounge/disco.

COSTA: The CostaVictoria, Atlantica and Mediterranea have dedicated teen rooms, complete with sound system.

When you consider booking a cruise, look at the deck plan in the brochure carefully to see whether the ship has other facilities your teen will enjoy, such as a game arcade or basketball court. Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class ships have a rock-climbing wall, in-line skating and ice skating rink. These spots are favorite hangouts for teens, and a good way for your child to meet others of his age in a friendly setting.

Teens-Only Shore Excursions and other Special Activities

Some cruise lines now offer shore excursions open only to teens, accompanied by a youth counselor.

Disney Cruise Line goes all out to make sure teens have a good time on land. Its private island, Castaway Cay, has a separate teen beach area. On Castaway Cay, teens can also opt for the Wild Side Adventure where for $35, they bike, snorkel and kayak around this Bahamian Island. On the line's seven-day cruises aboard the Disney Magic, teens can opt for the Teen 12-meter Regatta in St. Maarten, where they learn the ropes (literally) of sailing and race each other to the finish. On the three- and four-day cruises aboard the Disney Wonder, they can enjoy a teens-only floating dance party. On the Teen Junkanoo Jam, they ride a boat around Nassau Harbor while a DJ plays the latest hits.

In Alaska, Carnival Cruise Lines gives teens the option of selecting their favorite shore tour to visit as a group, accompanied by a member of the youth staff. Special teen activities are offered on the Carnival Pride's bimonthly visits to Half Moon Cay or Salt Cay, which are private Bahamian islands.

Similarly, Holland America Line offers a few teens-only shore excursions in Alaska. For example, in Ketchikan a Teen Canoe Adventure is offered on all HAL ships.

Princess Cruises recently inaugurated two programs just for teens. Princess' Alaska cruises now feature a teen version of the Junior Ranger naturalist program in Glacier Bay. The line has also broken ground in offering teen spa packages. Princess' spas now offer treatments that appeal especially to teens, such as removable henna tatoos and body and hair glitter.

Some Favorite Picks

Here are some of our teen readers' favorite and not-so- favorite ships:

  • I'm 14 and just came back from the Disney Wonder cruise. I had the time of my life. I loved the special area just for teens and the teens-only activities. The next time I go on a cruise, I will look for a ship with a teens-only room that has fun activities and cool things around the ship to do, like basketball courts and arcades."
  • I've been on 14 cruises and I'd have to say that the most fun I had was on the Explorer of the Seas (ice rink, rock climbing, mini-golf, basketball). If you go on a cruise when a lot of other teens have off from school, then you'll have a better chance of meeting more kids on board to have fun with. I totally recommend booking a cruise around Christmas or February vacation when there will be a lot of teens on board."
  • I've been on five cruises now--one on Carnival, one on Royal Caribbean and the others on Celebrity. I like Celebrity's Millenium and Infinity since they manage to give the ships a bit of a glitzy touch, but still keep the elegance they are known for. Unfortunately, Celebrity doesn't cater to teens very well. Most of the teens I spoke with on my recent cruise said there wasn't anything to do at night. I enjoy going to the discos, but since there aren't any teen discos, we have to be out of the adult one by 11 p.m."
  • I normally go to the orientation the first night to meet some people my age, but after that I just hang out with other teens on our own."
  • I haven't been on any teens-only excursions because they weren't offered on the ships I cruised. They're a good idea, though, so teens can hang out with their friends in port and they won't bother the older crowds.
  • Many counselors in the teen programs seem overly enthusiastic and most of the activities are a waste of time. Teens on ships seem more likely to meet on their own and arrange their own activities."

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