What Makes a Cruise Family Friendly?

Norwegian Jade cruise ship

            Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Do you ever think about taking a cruise, but can’t imagine how you will manage several days at sea with young children? When you begin to think about what it would be like to have the luxury of being on board a floating resort to a place you have always wanted to see, does your head flood with thoughts of dealing with dirty clothes, meals that aren’t kid-friendly, or worse yet, being trapped at sea with bored kids?

Then there are the what ifs that come to mind. What if one of us needs medical care while on the cruise ship? What if we have food allergies? What if we don’t have the right clothes  to wear?

During the past 14 years of my cruise travels, I’ve watched cruise ships evolve into cost-effective, affordable luxury vacations for families. Most cruise lines are family-friendly providing a variety of daily activities for every member of the family from grandparents down to little ones in diapers.

While children participate in complimentary, age appropriate day and evening youth programs conducted by trained staff,  adult members of the family have the free time to enjoy all the activities the cruise offers.

Cruise ships also anticipate the needs of families traveling with children as a standard practice. High chairs and cribs are available.The ship store carries diapers and other child care necessities, dining rooms have a supply of coloring materials on hand, and have a kid friendly menu. Each cabin on the ship is equipped with a refrigerator that can store baby bottles as well as healthy snacks.

The following services make a cruise family-friendly:

Cost-effective vacation: A cruise is often more cost-effective than a land resort vacation because most cruise costs are included in the per person rate for the cruise, including:

  • Meals/ snacks: All meals in the complimentary dining rooms, snacks such burgers, fries and hot dogs on  the pool decks, desserts  and unlimited coffee, tea, juices, milk, and soft serve ice cream are free throughout the trip. Soda and alcoholic beverages cost less if purchased through a beverage package.
  • Sea activities: Throughout the trip, all activities during the day and in the evening are free with the exception of the  game arcade, casino, and spa services.
  • Youth programs: All youth programs are complimentary. Program participation is on a first come, first served basis. Children are grouped by age. Staff are trained professionals experienced in providing recreational activities and supervising children and teens. There are children’s programs and programs for teens. Programs begin at 9 AM, break for lunch with family, begin again in the early afternoon and go until 5 PM. Evening programs begin at 7 PM and close at 10:30 PM. During land excursion days, children can remain in the youth programs. There is a small fee for staff supervision of  children remaining in program during meal times. To view a sample of a youth program,  Read About the Splash Program.
  • Family activities: In addition to pool side activities, water slides, basketball, table tennis, and shuffleboard, some ships have a bowling alley, volleyball and tennis courts. The library stocks current best sellers, and popular board games.
  • 2 Kids Sail Free is offered on several cruise ships making for an affordable family vacation. Other cruise ships offer reduced rates for children. Ages vary by cruise line from 17 years and under to 12 years and under.  Other cost saving promotions include on board credits that cover specialty dining packages for 2, beverage packages for 2, Internet access discounts, and shore excursion credits. Special group packages not only reduce the cost of a cruise, but also provide additional amenities not offered with regular cruise packages.

Laundry: Cruise ships either have self-service laundries on most floors, or they offer discounts for laundry services. You put the laundry out after dinner and it is delivered to your cabin, usually the next evening. If laundry service is an issue for you, before you book a cruise, check with the cruise line to determine if the have self service, a fee-based laundry service or both.

Dining: Cruise ships offer several complimentary restaurants including 2+ traditional dining rooms with waiter service; a less formal buffet dining experience, featuring a variety of ethnic foods and  a few eateries featuring pub foods or desserts. Another option is the Specialty Dining offerings that carry a charge, such as a steak house, dinner theater, French, Japanese or Italian restaurants. The charge connected with eating in these restaurants is less that what the same meal would cost at a land restaurant.

Medical Care: Cruise ships have on board medical services that are open for several hours a day, and a  medical staff on call round the clock.

This cruise article is the first of several  that will be published over the next two months. As the time clock on the right indicates, “Can Do” Street is scheduled to launch a new website, a resource for families who want to know more about the cruise experience. 

The next article, “Resorts at Sea” will published Sept 14th. It will introduce the amazing features of the new cruise ships to be launched in 2018.

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A Family-Friendly Cruise Includes Youth Programs

Splash Academy Youth ProgramsIf you are thinking about  taking a family cruise, you need to know more about the ship than if it has laundry services, kid-friendly meals, and on board medical care; you need to think about the availability of youth programs that are age appropriate, interesting, and well supervised by staff that are experienced in caring for and recreating children.

During the December holidays, I took a cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway that I would describe, not only as kid-friendly, but family friendly as well. Each morning, before I got on an elevator near my cabin, I caught a brief glimpse of young children making their way into one of the youth programs sites for a day of learning activities, games, crafts, and free play with new friends.

The Breakaway’s Splash Academy hosts complimentary youth programs that provide children with fun-filled days at sea. Programs give parents the opportunity to enjoy a variety of cruise activities knowing their children are well supervised, and enjoy meeting and playing with others their own age.

Given my years of running a preschool and  seasonal day camps, I was interested in learning more about the Splash Academy and its youth programs while at sea, and when in ports of call. I was given permission to meet with the manager of the youth programs, Carlos Perez. Carlos gave me a tour of the several large, well-maintained and colorfully decorated recreation rooms that are home to the Splash Academy on the 12th floor of the ship.

As Carlos described the youth programs, children are grouped by age and activities as follows:

  • Guppies – ages 6 months to 2 years. Parents participate in the activities, which take place in the Guppies Playroom and are hosted by a certified staff. Activities include, but are not limited to, sensory play, music and movement, ball play and building with blocks.
  • Turtles – Ages 3-5 years. Programs take place in the main Splash Academy recreation areas and include: Arts and crafts, painting, games, sensory play, storytelling, developmental activities, parades and treasure hunts.
  • Seals – Ages 6-9 years. Programs are held in the Splash Academy recreation areas and include: Circus Skills and Show (Scarf Juggling, Plate Spinning, Devil Sticks, and Rope Spinning) theme nights, painting, sports and games, parades, treasure hunts, and video games
  • Dolphins – Ages 10-12 years. Programs are in Splash Academy recreation areas and include: Entourage Takeover, Circus skills and Show (Stilts, Ball Juggling, Chinese Yo-Yo, Plate Spinner and Devil Sticks) scavenger hunts, sports and team building, theme nights, and video games.
  • Entourage – Teens get to hang out and play video games, see movies, enjoy music and sports with others their own age in supervised teen centers around the ship.

During days at sea, Splash Academy is open from 9am to noon and 2pm to 5pm and 7pm until 10:30 pm.

Carlos shared that Splash Academy has a staff of over 25+ men and women experienced in providing youth programs for children. During my tour, I was impressed to see the modern equipment, and well maintained play areas. The kitchen area and bathroom facilities are sized appropriately for young children.

On the last day of the trip, the children who participated in the youth programs, put on a production for their families and other shipboard guests.

Norwegian Breakaway delivered a cruise experience for the whole family. Thanks to Splash Academy, parents had free time to enjoy shipboard activities. In addition, kid friendly meals, pool time fun as a family, and other shared activities made for a family-friendly cruise.

Not every cruise line offers youth programs, and not all youth programs are created equal; make sure you pick a cruise that has youth programs that will interest each of your children.

 

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