Best Ships for Families in Alaska

| Wednesday, 05 Mar. 2003

Taking the family to Alaska? You won't find Disney in these waters but there are many great choices plus magical experiences ashore for them to explore and learn about this wonderful state. Alaska cruising makes an excellent family vacation. There is plenty for everyone to do on board either together or on their own. The supervised programs for junior cruisers give parents the peace of mind to thoroughly enjoy the time spent away from their children.

And what better place to take them, than Alaska? The opportunity to experience pristine wilderness, watch glaciers calve and see some of the world's most rugged and spectacular scenery is an educational vacation not to be missed.

Here are CruiseMates' picks for the top Alaska ships for family cruising in 2003. (For more on family cruising, see the Families area of CruiseMates.)

Vision of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Legend of the Seas (Royal Caribbean International):

RCI goes out of its way to treat families well. "Adventure Ocean" is the onboard program that caters to kids and teens in four age groups: Aqaunauts (age 3-5, must be toilet trained), Explorers (age 6-8), Voyagers (age 9-11), Navigators (age 12-14) and Teens (age 15-17). Under the supervision of well qualified counselors, kids and teens enjoy a variety of "edutainment" throughout the cruise, from 10 am to 10 pm These ships include an entire area just for junior cruisers and the facilities are second to none. A separate teen center gives the teens their own space for hanging out plus an ultra-modern lounge with dance floor and special lighting effects. The entertainment options are many including a well equipped arcade in a neighboring room. Teen centers are now open past 2 am

There are special children's menus and three times a week, kids can dine with the Adventure Ocean staff in the Windjammer cafe, giving parents a chance to dine alone. Sign up by noon the day of the dinner. Soft drinks are complimentary in the dining room. Parents watching their budget will love RCI's "Fountain Soda Package" for adults and children. Kids under 20 enjoy unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise for $20 on a seven-day cruise. (Adults 21 and over pay $33.)

In-cabin babysitting is available for children over six months from 8 am to 2 am at a rate of $8.00 per hour (minimum of three hours). This service is limited and must be booked at the Purser's Desk at least 24 hours in advance. It is available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Group babysitting, for toilet trained children at least 3 years old, is available from 10 pm to 1 am at a rate of $5.00 an hour.

Special features: Parents can leave their children at Adventure Ocean while they take shore excursions. For this purpose, the facilities open 30 minutes ahead of morning shore excursion departures. Family staterooms and suites are available on these ships. Request cribs through your travel agent. Strollers are not available.

Carnival Spirit (Carnival Cruise Lines):

The 88,500-ton Carnival Spirit carries 2,124 passengers and entered service in 2001. Among the many innovations on board are "Family-Friendly" amenities in conjunction with the "Camp Carnival" kids program, designed for Toddlers (2-5) Juniors (6-8) Intermediate (9-12) and Teens (13-15).

A 2,400 sq.ft. enclosed play area called the "Fun House" contains an arts and crafts center, a computer lab with educational and video game software and an all-ages play room with a variety of toys and games and a video wall showing movies and cartoons. The Techno Arcade with video and arcade games is found one deck below together with an outdoor play area.

The four different swimming and splashing pools are heated for the Alaska season. Youth activities on the Carnival Spirit, tailored seasonally to the Alaska market, include creating totem poles during Native American arts and crafts sessions, and kids-only lectures by naturalists about the region's sea and animal life. Shore excursions for teens have also been developed. To get a better view of the local flora and fauna, all Camp Carnival participants receive complimentary binoculars.

Along with Alaska themed activities and child-oriented dining options, the expanded facilities are expected to double the number of kids on the Alaska cruises compared to five years ago.

You can request a children's menu in the dining room. Carnival has updated the selections for children and the menus double as an activity book to keep kids occupied in the dining room. The "Fountain Fun Card", for cruisers under 21, allows unlimited soft drink purchases during the cruise. Cards are purchased on-board. A special children's turn-down service includes a poem and chocolate chip cookies on their pillow, the first and last nights of the cruise. Group babysitting is available every evening in the playroom between 10 pm and 3 am and on port days from 8 am to 12 noon. The cash charge is $6.00 an hour for the first child, $4.00 an hour for each additional child in the same family. There is no in-cabin babysitting.

Sun Princess, Dawn Princess, Coral Princess, Island Princess, Star Princess (Princess Cruises):

Teen and children's areas are very well equipped and include high tech facilities on the above ships. Note that the new, much smaller Pacific Princess (sailing from San Francisco) does not have dedicated Youth and Teen Centers. Princess will organize supervised activities for junior cruisers when 20 or more children ages 3 to 17 are traveling aboard the Pacific Princess.

On Sun, Dawn, Coral, Island and Star, the children's program, Princess Kids features complimentary in-port activities and special educational opportunities. Age groups include the Princess Pelicans (ages 3-7), Princess Pirateers (ages 8-12) while the Off Limits teen centers are specially designed for teens (ages 13-17). A full schedule of activities runs from 9 am to 10 pm, with two-hour breaks for lunch and dinner, on sea days. During port days the program runs from 8 am to 5 pm and again from 7 pm to 10 pm.

At night, the teen center is a disco that stays open from 10pm to 1am. Group babysitting for children ages 3 to 12 years is offered from 10pm to 1am for $5.00 per hour per child. There is no in-cabin babysitting on Princess ships.

Children's menus are available in the dining room as well as the 24-hour restaurant. One night during the cruise, a pizza party is offered which lets children dine with the youth staff and their new friends, allowing parents to dine alone. Personal Choice Dining is recommended for families who want to dine together in the main dining room before the evening youth activities start at 7pm.

Special Features: Princess has the award winning Alaskan Junior Ranger program for children six to 12 years old and a Teen Explorer program on Alaska cruises. The joint effort between Princess and the National Park Service encourages youths to explore the natural and cultural history of Glacier Bay and environs through fun interactive projects. Princess has also created new educational activities in conjunction with the California Science Center and the National Wildlife Federation. Special children's programming on the in-cabin television is also featured.

Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Wind (Norwegian Cruise Line):

Separate Kids' and Teens' centers are also found on board the NCL fleet. The youth program, "Kid's Crew" is divided into 4 age groups: Junior Sailors, ages 2-5; First Mates ages 6-8; Navigators, ages 9-12 and Teens ages 13-17. Note that staff members do not change diapers. If your Junior Sailor is not potty-trained, you will be given a beeper so the staff can notify you when you need to change your child's diaper.

There is no longer any in-cabin private babysitting on NCL however group babysitting for ages 2 to 12 is available from 10pm to 1am each evening and on port days, from 9 am to 5 pm for a charge of $5.00 per child per hour and $3.00 for each additional child of the same family. The fee is charged to your shipboard account.

Special Features: Freestyle cruising with its flexible dining options is perfect for families as they can eat where and when they like. Eight kids menus are found on board as well as a Kid's soda package for unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise.

NCL has canceled kids and teens shore excursions. They do offer a variety of excursions for the whole family family to enjoy together.

Maasdam (Holland America Line):

Holland America's superb service has made it a favorite with older travelers. In the last few years the line has made a number of changes to encourage families to cruise. Maasdam is the recommended ship for kids in Alaska as it has dedicated facilities for kids and teens - the KidZone and WaveRunner rooms. On the rest of the fleet activities are conducted in different public rooms around the ship.

The educational children's "Junior Ranger Program" gives kids the opportunity to become a Glacier Bay National Park Junior Ranger.

Club HAL caters to Kids 5-8, Tweens 9-12 and Teens 13-17 with professional youth coordinators running a full day of events for each group. Children's menus are available in the dining room. Babysitting is conducted by front office staff. If a passenger is interested in babysitting, they need to contact the front desk. However, although unlikely, babysitting will not be offered if no one from the front desk can accomodate the request.

Special Features: High chairs, booster chairs and cribs are available. Request when booking. HAL will also supply diapers, baby good and formula for a fee. An Infant Request Form is available from your travel agent or call Ship Services at 1-800-541-1576.

Holland America's offers "Onshore Adventures" specially designed for kids and teens. These include the popular Teens' Kayak Adventure in Sitka and Teens' Canoe Adventure in Ketchikan. Excursions are listed on the lines' web site and you can book online or at the shore excursions desk on board your ship.

So there is no need to leave the kids at home next summer. Bring them to Alaska for an adventure they will never forget.

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