What's New in Family Cruising

When it comes to entertainment, kids just can't seem to get enough of the electronics variety. Because cruise lines try to keep their finger on the pulse of youngster's desires, many have installed new electronic gadgets in their youth and public rooms for kids to enjoy.

In addition to electronics, family-friendly cruise lines have recently added plenty of other new activities to keep kids and parents happy throughout their cruise. A few lines are also offering free cruise fares for kids on select sailings. Read on to find out the latest.

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES Carnival continues to put fun activities for kids into its "Fun Ships." All Carnival ships now offer kids of all ages the ability to make their own stuffed animal. For $19.99, kids, parents and grandparents can choose a basic package including a bear skin, Carnival logo t-shirt, birth certificate, wishing star, guardian angel, and carry-home box. Participants get to stuff the bear by hand. For $25.98 guests can opt for a sailor boy/girl outfit or a recordable sound chip, while for $29.97, you can get both the additional outfit and sound chip. There are "beary" many animals to choose from, including a few different styles of bears, black Labrador, two tone dog, kitten, or frog.

Carnival ships have also added what are essentially big, soft shapes that are perfect for Carnival's youngest cruisers to play with or climb over. These new soft play blocks and shapes are on all Conquest class ships.

In addition, lots of popular technology has been installed fleet-wide. Play Station 2s have been hooked up on all Carnival ships instead of computers. Carnival Freedom and Liberty each have 20 Play Station 2s, and all ships have various skill levels from beginners to teens. Also included are Guitar Hero as well as Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) mats, which are especially popular with teens. All ships have also just had Wii installed, which includes Wii sports, Super Mario, and more.

Keep an eye out for Carnival Splendor, being launched in spring 2008. Not only will it feature the largest playroom in the Carnival fleet, but also the line's first outdoor water play area especially for families.

CELEBRITY CRUISES Celebrity Cruises has teamed up with LeapFrog SchoolHouseTM to create six different educational programs for children ages three through nine. LeapFrog SchoolHouseTM is known for its electronic learning tools called LeapPads and Leapster Handheld. LeapFrog has developed new programming for Celebrity that focuses on topics including dinosaurs, science and space, sports, art, music and wildlife. Additionally, the LeapFrog programming for Celebrity includes activities that reflect the line's itineraries, such as exploring the culture and history of Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico and the Mediterranean.

COSTA CRUISE LINES Once again this year, Costa Cruise Lines is offering its annual "Kids Sail Free" promotion on fall through early spring Caribbean sailings. Children sharing a cabin with two paying adults sail free on the Costa Fortuna and Costa Mediterranea from November 18 through March 9, except for the ships' Christmas and New Year's sailings. Itinerary choices include Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean.

CRYSTAL CRUISES Kids can sail free this Thanksgiving when they share a triple stateroom with two paying adults. In fact, in order to accommodate increased demand in family cruising, Crystal just added 20 third-berth accommodations to the Crystal Serenity.

On Crystal Cruises' two Thanksgiving cruises, kids 11 years and under sail free when sharing a stateroom with two paying adults. The itineraries include a 10-day cruise aboard Crystal Symphony and an 11-day cruise aboard Crystal Serenity, calling in the Caribbean and transiting the Panama Canal. Crystal's seasonal youth program will be operating on these sailings in the ships' dedicated youth room, Fantasia, and teen room, Waves. Both feature plenty of electronic games such as Playstations and Xbox 360.

DISNEY CRUISE LINE The big news at Disney Cruise Line is fleet expansion: Disney has ordered two family-friendly, 124,000-ton ships for delivery in 2011 and 2012. DCL's present fleet consists of the Disney Magic and Wonder, introduced in 1998 and 1999 respectively, which are much smaller at 83,000 tons. More details to come.

Additionally, Disney is returning to the West Coast for Mexican Riviera cruises during summer 2008. The Disney Magic will depart Los Angeles for seven-day Mexico cruises between May 25 and August 10 along with two 15-day Panama Canal cruises May 10 and August 17.

New family-friendly entertainment has been added to both the Magic and Wonder. The line's perennial family-favorite stage show, "Disney Dreams," has been enhanced with new special effects and animation. The ship's sail-away deck parties have been revamped and now include new music, interactive dances and high-tech visual elements incorporating the line's recently added jumbo video screens on deck.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE Since children love hands-on activities, Holland America Line has launched a kids' and teens' Culinary Arts Center program. Now that the line offers multi-million dollar, theater-styled demonstration kitchens on all its ships - complete with overhead plasma video screens providing close-up views of food prep -- it is extending its culinary programming from adults to youngsters.

Complimentary kids' culinary classes are 45 minutes each and include breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack items. For example, children under eight years old will learn to make Denali Peaks (Alaska themed scones) and Salad People Art, among other selections. Those over eight years can enjoy making saltwater taffy, soft pretzels and taffy.

MSC CRUISES MSC Cruises is offering a "Children Cruise Free" promotion on its Caribbean sailings this coming winter aboard the MSC Lirica. Starting December 14, the promotion is valid on the MSC Lirica's 10-day sailings through March 19, except for its Christmas and New Year's departures. MSC Cruises operates a year-round youth program.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE Jumping on the electronics bandwagon is Norwegian Cruise Line. Recently, the line installed Nintendo's Wii video game system aboard the Norwegian Pearl and all NCL America ships. In NCL's Wii systems, players use a motion-sensitive controller to experience boxing, bowling, tennis, golf, and baseball on a large screen. The Wii systems are located in public rooms for kids, parents and grandparents to play together. Additionally, two Wii kiosks are in the Kids' Crew room for children only.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL Royal Caribbean has made a number of improvements to youth and teen programming. One new program is Adventure Theater, developed by Camp Broadway in New York City to give kids an immersion into the performing arts. On each RCI sailing, teens and kids can learn acting fundamentals, vocalization, and dance techniques during a series of three 45-minute Adventure Theater sessions.

Another innovative program is Scratch DJ101 classes, which are available to all ages, along with special two-hour sessions just for teens on Liberty of the Seas. After their lessons, teens can showcase their music mixing knowledge in a graduation performance that friends and family can attend.

RCI has added new activities for those three to five years old in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Some of the new themes include Chefs on Deck, which involves role playing for pre-schoolers; Dino Adventure; and Train-O-Mania.

Earlier this year, RCI's Majesty of the Seas underwent an extreme make-over including an upgrade to the Adventure Ocean youth area and the addition of a Fuel night club and Living Room lounge, both for teens.

Lastly, RCI unveiled a Youth Loyalty Program this summer. Children and teens can now also enjoy Crown & Anchor Society repeat passenger benefits. Rewards for youngsters on their second or more RCI cruise include Crayola Twistable crayons or a Royal Caribbean bag. All repeating youth receive a Youth Ultimate Value Booklet with coloring pages, games and discounts for onboard amenities such as Ben & Jerry's, Airbrush Tattoo, and arcade games. Parents can enroll their children (if they have already cruised with RCI) via the line's website: www.royalcaribbean.com/youth.

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