January 5, 2016
Cruise up close to glaciers aboard a family-friendly small ship cruise in Alaska with AdventureSmith Explorations
Maybe you cruise every year. Maybe you are looking for a family reunion trip that will satisfy all ages. Maybe you like the idea of showing the kids a bit of the world without having to pack and unpack every two days.
Cruising has never been more popular for families of every stripe. Whether you choose the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska or far-flung destinations like the Galapagos Islands and even the Arctic, you’ll find all-inclusive deals, the advantage of packing and unpacking just once and leaving the logistics of getting from place to place to others. The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that nearly 24 million passengers are expected to cruise this year, many of them families. Cruise lines are scheduled to debut 27 new ocean, river and specialty ships this year with even more bells and whistles.
Welcome to our Taking the Kids Cruise Guide for 2016, produced with our partners at Family Travel Forum. By our calculations, some 1.5 million kids now are cruising every year—more than 1,000 on some sailings and 700,000 on Carnival alone. And cruise lines have never done more for them, from featuring hip teen and tween hang-outs with the latest music and video games, Wi-Fi access to their social networks, to centers for the littlest cruisers (that are better equipped than many preschools) and even nurseries at sea. With Carnival’s new Fathom line, there are even opportunities for family voluntourism.
Parents love cruising because they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck—activities, meals and lodging all for one price, including supervised morning-till-night programming for kids, for considerably less than many resorts charge. Grandparents are fans because cruises can prove an easy way to get the whole gang on vacation, especially in Alaska and Europe. Kids —especially tweens and teens — give ships a thumbs-up because they love the freedom they have onboard and the chance to make new friends. Kids and parents alike love the major lines’ private Caribbean islands, too.
Family cruises are also a good bet weather-wise. For example, the hotel metasearch engine, Trivago.com, analyzed its top 10 searched-for hotel destinations for spring travel, and found New York (2), Orlando (4), Miami (5) and Fort Lauderdale (8) in that group – all major cruise ports. We’re glad to see so many travelers booking hotel rooms on the night prior to a cruise departure. Picking out the right bathing suit should be enough stress in planning a cruise vacation, not worrying about late flights.
Another cruise plus: there are nearly two dozen U.S. “home ports,” from New York to California, eliminating the need for many families to fly to the port of embarkation. Remember how easy it is to extend the vacation aspect of your cruise with a cultural add-on in the port of departure; and you can save even more with a CityPASS discount attractions pass valid in12 North Am erican destinations: New York City, Southern California, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Toronto . If you have time to explore before or after your cruise, check to see if your arrival/departure destination has a CityPASS program. CityPASS offers discounted (typically 40-50%), prepaid admission to top attractions in a city. Port cities with the CityPASS program include Boston, Chicago (seasonal cruising between Chicago and Canada), Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco and Tampa. In New York, for example, a CityPASS ticket booklet saves travelers 42% off admission to such attractions as the Empire State Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. In Houston, visitors save 48% on admission to Space Center Houston, Downtown Aquarium, the Children’s Museum of Houston and more. And, in Seattle, pass holders enjoy 48% off admission to the Space Needle and four other big attractions.
While the Caribbean remains the most popular cruise destination for Americans (perhaps because most itineraries head east), adventure-lovers should keep Pacific routes in mind. From the west coast, major lines are making calls at ports like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, famous from “The Loveboat” TV series. In this popular fishing village turned foodie/nightlife lover’s paradise, families can disembark and tour the charming port town, stroll the seafront Malecon, shop, visit art galleries and eat any type of cuisine. But to really see the region, sign up for a cultural excursion, a private beach day at las Caletas which has its own kid-size zipline, or a try dolphin encounter with a local tour operator.
Remember before booking any cruise — or travel for that matter — to consider whether you need travel insurance. Cruise insurance plans like this one from Allianz covers emergencies that could cause you to cancel your trip.
Kids with special needs and severe allergies routinely are accommodated in organized programming. Autism on the Seas provides specialized staff on some sailings. And you can cruise for just a few days or more than a week, checking out beaches or historic sites. Visit the Cruise Lines International Association website for a list of ports and to find a travel agent who is a cruise expert. Cruise Critic can help you discern the differences between ships and figure out what you want to do in port.
And if you don’t want to go on a large ship, charter your own boat (with a crew or without) as we have done several times in Tahiti and the Caribbean.
I’ve cruised with my family around the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to Greece to Alaska. I’ve found along the way that the key is to choose the right cruise for your family and age kids. Here are some great options to consider:
AdventureSmith Explorations facilitates family travel on small capacity, adventure-oriented ships around the world. Sail aboard yachts and expedition vessels in Alaska, British Columbia and Oregon, or choose more far-flung locales like Baja, Costa Rica, Australia and the Galapagos Islands. They can steer you to special family sailings, deals and travel resources.
Company founder Todd Smith helped pioneer the concept of wilderness cruising that combines the comforts of a small cruise ship with the adventure of sea kayaking, hiking and exploring remote wilderness areas seldom associated with more mainstream cruise itineraries. Smith frequently travels with his two young sons, and has published numerous resources on the AdventureSmith website to assist in planning travel with a family focus. The company also has launched a carbon-free cruising initiative and offers dedicated family itineraries as well as substantial savings, including $100 off per person on select land-and-sea combo trips and special youth rates.
What’s New: AdventureSmith has launched new adventure cruises for 2016 including a new, active family friendly option in Costa Rica aboard the 64-guest Safari Voyager. Other highlights include the new Galapagos vessel Santa Cruz II, a small ship cruise route in the Adriatic Sea along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and ways to explore Tahiti, Cuba, the Amazon and New Zealand.
The 24 ships in the Carnival family cruises fleet expect to carry more than 700,000 children in 2016, the most in company history. Dining options got a reboot with the launch of American Table menus and serving styles inspired by guest feedback. Fun Ships also offer family favorites like 24-hour pizza, poolside restaurants, Guy’s Burger Joint (created by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri), and a new confections and gift shop called Cherry on Top., and the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with Dr. Seuss characters for a nominal fee.
What’s New: Setting sail on May 1, 2016 is the new addition to its fleet, Carnival Vista. Offering 6 to 11-day Caribbean itineraries to Antigua, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and 8 to 12-day journeys to European cities Trieste, Italy; Athens, Greece and Barcelona, Spain; the newest Fun Ship features family suites with access to a family lounge, Camp Ocean and Seuss at Sea, and the first IMAX and multiplex at sea among other cool features.
For Kids: Carnival Cruise Lines offers complimentary programming and facilities for kids in three age groups – Camp Ocean (2-11), Circle “C” (12-14) and Club O2 (15-17). Camp Carnival is designed for younger cruisers and features indoor play areas stocked with games and toys along with indoor climbing mazes, computer labs and video walls. Kids can also eat with their counselors so parents can enjoy a night to themselves.
For Tweens: Circle “C” provides 12 to 14-year olds with a place of their own to dance, watch movies outdoors, play games and get together with new friends.
For Teens: Club O2 includes a dance floor with a DJ, soda bar, movies, video games, and pool parties.
Around the Ship: Outdoor games and activities, along with children’s wading pools, and main Lido deck pools offering the line’s signature water slides. Outdoor play areas with mini basketball hoops, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, mini golf, as well as game rooms offering the latest video and arcade games, are available fleet-wide. The line also offers nightly babysitting and Carnival Night Owls featuring a full schedule of late-night activities running as late as 3AM (fees apply for babysitting and the Night Owls program).
These 11 ships are known for their sophisticated cuisine, upscale ambience, destination-focused itineraries and themed cruises focusing on art, food and wine. Still, families cruise Celebrity because it’s more low-key than its sister Royal Caribbean ships, and the line offers popular kids’ programming.
Celebrity Infinity and Celebrity Summit will undergo a $16 million refresh while in dry dock at Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, Bahamas. The first cruise line to offer a spacious lawn of real, growing grass on the top decks of its ships, Celebrity will expand its lineup of modern, luxurious outdoor spaces when Celebrity Infinity receives a new “Rooftop Terrace” venue. The dry dock work will also enhance Celebrity’s commitment to its Suite Class, with significant renovations to the ship’s Penthouse and Royal Suites, and will include conversion of the ship’s specialty restaurant to one of Celebrity’s signature venues, Tuscan Grille. Celebrity Summit will follow with a similar scheduled dry dock in March of 2016. The Suite Class on both ships will benefit from this investment as every Penthouse and Royal Suite will receive new fixtures, marble surfaces, and comfortable seats in the bathrooms as well as new carpeting, drapes, and bed linens. They will also receive a refresh of the Solarium with new furniture, new floors, and refinished pool tops.
For Kids: Celebrity Fun Factory programs  are available for kids ages 3-11 from 9 a.m-10 p.m every day. The programs feature crafts, treasure hunts, theme parties, the latest gaming and more. There are late-evening activities at $6/hour per child. In association with Autism on the Seas, Celebrity Cruises has earned Autism Friendly Cruise Line Status for accessible inclusion of autistic and developmentally delayed children.
Ships are outfitted with Xbox stations for players of all ages. Free play time is also available during certain times for Xbox 360 and Kinect for Xbox 360.
For Teens: Cruisers ages 12-17 have their own X-Club with gaming consoles, late-night dance parties, and sports. There’s also a special Teen Bliss spa menu at the onboard Canyon Ranch Spa featuring massages, mani/pedis, styling sessions and more.
Celebrity has introduced a free program, iTake, where aspiring young directors learn to shoot and edit video using the latest technology. iTake is available on all ships with a Celebrity iLounge.
Around the Ship: Kid’s pools and slides, as well as basketball courts, are available almost fleet-wide. In-room sitting is $19 per hour for up to three children. On shore days, some programming is available for an extra fee.
Europe’s top cruise line will give your family a chance to get to know European families and offers a youth program fleet-wide. There are reduced Costa family rates for kids under 17 sharing a cabin with parents and chlldren’s prices on some shore excursions.
What’s New: Peppa Pig World, a new kid’s fun area offering activities and games, opens in April, 2016. Cruisers will experience a menu created by Bruno Barbieri, the Michelin-starred chef and “Pepper” the first robot that can read human emotions will be onboard to improve guest experience and provide help and entertainment.
For Kids: Youth programs begin at age 3, and youth counselors will take kids to dinner. They might interview the captain, stage junior Olympics, take dancing lessons, go on treasure hunts, and more.
For Teens: Dance lessons, sports and games tournaments, pool and beach parties, talent shows, and international karaoke
Around the Ship: Kids’ pools, water slides, volleyball, basketball, football, tennis, table tennis, rotating table tennis, table football, water polo, water basketball, water volleyball, darts, hoops, bowling, shuffleboard, and video games on giant screens. In-room sitting is not available, but there is free late night group sitting until 1:30AM for kids ages 3 and up. All of the newest ships have an enclosable pool deck- great for the occasional rainy day- and more than 3,000 square feet of space reserved for kids, including the Squok Lido for little ones and a Teen Club for older kids. The Favolosa has its own waterpark too.
The all-inclusive cruise line, Crystal reports that growing numbers of families and multigenerational groups are opting for the line’s six-star service and designated spaces for kids and teens—rare at this level. The ships carry between 900 and 1,100 passengers with all of the amenities you’d expect on a cruise line touting luxury, service, space and enrichment programs. Kids ages 11 and under are charged 50% of the minimum cruise-only fare when accompanied by two full-paying adults. The line is also expanding opportunities for family travel with the return of its “Kids Sail Free” offers. Book your cruise by January 2, 2015 and the third passenger (17 years and younger) traveling and sharing the guest’s stateroom, cruises for free.
What’s New: As of December, 2015, Crystal Esprit, Crystal’s newest ultra-luxury ocean liner was christened and is ready for sail. Additionally, new to Crystal Cruises, five luxury river yachts will sail the European rivers beginning in 2016 as their innovative river cruise program is introduced. Offering longer and overnight stays, and less-traveled routes, the vessels will feature six-star service. Crystal Cruises is also expanding their luxury air service with the addition of two ultra-long-range-aircrafts which will service private charters and transport guests to their destinations from any point in the United States to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
For Kids: Fantasia, junior activities program, welcomes kids ages 3-12. Activities for children ages 12 and under include arts and crafts, roving reporter, scavenger hunts, fort building, and more.
For Teens: Waves, for ages 13-17 is a separate teen club and video arcade with Xbox 360s and Playstations, late night pool parties, movies and more.
Around the Ship: Digital filmmaking, Taii Chi instruction, wellness seminars, wine tasting, and art workshops are among dozens of classes offered through Crystal Cruises’ Creative Learning Institute (CLI). Golf clinics and lessons from pros are available on most sailings. The Library offers more than 2,000 titles, including a selection of children’s books and children’s DVD’s for use in the cabins. In-room sitting is available ($10/hour for 1 child, $15/hour for 2 children, $20/hour for 3 children).
Cunard continues the tradition of luxury cruising that began in 1840 complete with fencing (Queen Victoria), dance classes (Queen Elizabeth), and the only ship offering regularly scheduled transatlantic service between New York and Southampton, England (flagship Queen Mary 2).
What’s New: The Queen Mary 2, Cunard’s flagship ocean liner will spend 25 days in dry dock in Hamburg, Germany, returning to the sea at the end of June, 2016 with upgraded suites and staterooms, new restaurants and innovative entertainment. Key upgrades include 30 additional Britannia Club Balcony Staterooms whose guests can dine any time in their dedicated restaurant, the addition of 15 single staterooms to accommodate multi-generational groups, and the addition of 10 kennels (beyond the existing 12) to welcome Fido and Fluffy aboard on the only cruise liner to do so. Special event cruises focusing on fashion, food, music and dance include Transatlantic Fashion Week on the Queen Mary 2, British Isles Culinary Discovery on the Queen Elizabeth and Big Band Balls at Sea on the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria.
For Babies: The Night Nursery is available for children ages 12-23 months from 6PM-11PM. It is free-of-charge and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
For Kids: Kids ages 2-7 are invited to the Play Zone, a play area stocked with books, toys, puzzles, computer games, and more. The Kids Zone is for 8-12 year olds and features videogame consoles, sports competitions, and scavenger hunts.
For Teens: Team games and deck sports are available by day, while evenings bring pizza and dance parties. All kids’ and teen programs are complimentary.
Animator’s Palate on Disney’s cruise ship Fantasy
Disney has raised the bar for creative kids’ programming and shore excursions, and a ship design that enables every member of the family—from infants (there is a stand-out nursery) to seniors- to have a real vacation, complete with fireworks at sea. “Dine and Play” means kids are served dinner in an expedited fashion so youth counselors can escort them to organized activities while parents linger. Special shore excursions are designed so parents get a break part of the time.
What’s New: In 2016, Disney Cruise Line joins “Star Wars” fever with Star Wars Day at Sea, featuring a brand-new celebration aboard eight special sailings of Disney Fantasy. Guests will be transported to a “galaxy far, far away” to meet favorite characters and participate in themed-activities. Screenings of “Star Wars “movies and the new XD animated series “Star Wars Rebels” will be presented onboard.
In 2016 for the first time Adventures by Disney is offering seven river cruise itineraries, five in the summer and two in the winter sailing with AmaWaterways along the Danube River with destinations in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
Summer, 2016 brings several exciting itineraries to Disney Cruise Line passengers. Completely new to Disney are cruises to the British Isles, and other destinations for 2016 include a return to Norway and Iceland. Sailing on its maiden voyage from Dover, England in June, 2016, the 12-night Disney Magic cruise will make stops in England, Scotland, Ireland, Le Havre and Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Later in June and in July, two new 12-night Disney Magic cruises, one departing from Dover and one from Copenhagen will include stops in Reykjavik and Akureyri Iceland; Stavanger, Oslo and Kristiansand, Norway; Newcastle, England, and Invergordon, Scotland. A first time (7-night) cruise to the Norwegian fjords will depart in May from Dover.
Favorite other destinations offered are in 2016 are northern Europe, the Greek Isles and the Mediterranean. Disney Wonder will return to Alaska sailing from Vancouver and Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy will sail from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and to the Caribbean, with stops on Castaway Cay.
For Babies: Children ages 6 months to 3 years are welcome at the It’s a Small World and Flounder’s Reef nurseries where they’ll be cared for by trained counselors ($9/hour for first child, $8/hour for second child from same family). In partnership with online retailer Babies Travel Lite, Disney Cruise Line guests can also pre-order baby supplies for delivery to their staterooms. Reservations are strongly recommended.
For Kids: Open to kids ages 3-12, the Oceaneer Club is the ultimate destination for creativity and fun. At Marvel’s Avengers Academy, kids join Marvel characters in their latest crime-fighting missions. In Andy’s Room, the stars of Toy Story come to life in a multi-level space stocked with Andy’s favorite toys. Kids will also enjoy making crafts and playing games in the Mickey Mouse Club, or exploring the world of Tinker Bell and friends at Pixie Hollow. And don’t forget the Oceaneer Lab. This pirate-themed, interactive space features an animator’s studio, Navigator Simulators, and more. The Oceaneer Lab is space-themed on the Disney Wonder.
For Tweens: The 11 to 14-year-olds have their own “Edge” club with flat-screen TVs, the latest videogames, theme nights, and karaoke.
For Teens: Teens 14-17 have their own “Vibe” club and, on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, their own sundeck. Open all day (and half of the night), the areas are the perfect chill-out spots with comfy couches and a 103” LCD screen with digital surround sound for video games. Club hours of operation are typically from 11:00 AM – 2:00 AM, except on day of embarkation. There are special teen shore excursions like the Wild Side at Castaway Cay, where teens explore, snorkel, and go boating around the island.
Around the Ship: Everything from character meals and meet-and-greets, to first-run movies and Broadway caliber entertainment to adult-only restaurants and deck areas. Families love Disney’s private island Castaway Cay with its snorkeling lagoon and kayaking, as well as chances to swim with the stingrays, play in the water park, or head to separate adult and teen beaches.
Fathom is a Carnival brand designed for “social impact travel,” offering families the chance to work alongside local in the Dominican Republic to tackle community needs and enjoy immersive experiences in Cuba. The 700-passenger trips will be designed to offer parents and kids as young as eight opportunities for voluntourism, hoping to attract many who have never cruised. Approximately half those on board are expected to be families.
There will be activities on board including conversational Spanish and the chance to choose activities focused on education, the environment and economic development. You might help a local women’s cooperative producing artisan chocolates, work in a classroom or help with a building project.
For a Limited Time Only: Buy One Get One Cruise to the Dominican Republic. As a Fathom traveler, you’ll work alongside established partners and local residents on projects designed to improve the economic well-being and health of Dominican families. From bringing clean drinking water to local communities, improving English skills to help create new employment opportunities, or participating with women’s co-ops, your time and energy can be the difference that transforms how the Dominican people see themselves, their families, their communities, and the world.
There also will be what you’d expect on board any cruise ship– a games deck, spa, pool, fitness center, musical performances and in this case, regionally inspired foods. The idea is while on board, the programming will prepare and inspire cruisers for what they can expect on shore
The Cuba trips, from Miami, will be more focused on immersive activities visiting particular neighborhoods, an organic farm meeting artists. On board activities will focus on Cuban history, culture and more.
This line once was considered a haven for seniors cruising to Alaska but now carries more than 25,000 kids and their families aboard its 15 mid-size ships every year—including so many multi-generational groups that they have designed a special Family Reunion Program (for groups booking 8 or more state rooms) featuring a complimentary room upgrade, $50 beverage card per room, and more. The junior foodies in your gang will love the kids and teen Culinary Arts Center with complimentary cooking lessons. All the kids will like the Cartoon Network offerings that air on the in-cabin television.
What’s New: In April, 2016, Holland America Line’s newest ship, ms Koningsdam will sail its maiden voyage from Rome, and add a series of northern Europe and Baltic cruises to HAL’s itineraries.
With a $300-million brand enhancement initiative, Holland America Line is planning exciting enhancements to its top staterooms with new furnishings, décor, amenities and upgrades for all suites on the line’s Signature-, Vista- and R-Class ships.
For Kids: The Club HAL program provides supervised activities for kids ages 3-12, including PJ parties, arts and crafts, kids Olympics, videogame tournaments, and more.
For Tweens: The 8-12 year olds have their own special area featuring arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, Xbox 360, family-safe Internet access (for a minimal fee), videogames, deck sports, and pool parties. They may participate in the National Park Service Junior Ranger program on Alaska cruises.
For Teens: The Loft is an adult-free lounge where teens (13-17) can hang out and enjoy movies, games, and music. Oasis, a teen-only sundeck with a wading pool and juice bar, is also available on select ships.
Around the Ship: Swimming pools, basketball, volleyball and tennis. Families love the private island Half Moon Cay with its array of activities like snorkeling, bicycle tours, watersports, and adventure areas. Limited babysitting is available from for kids ages 5 and under through the Front Office. Club HAL is open from 10pm to 12am for After Hours Care for $5/hour/per child. Babysitting is not available when the ship is in port.
MSC Cruises offer innovative itineraries, great family deals and some luxury perks. Kids 12 and under sail free year on select sailings when traveling as the third and/or fourth guests in a stateroom with two adults, and receive discounts on shore excursions as well. Guests of the MSC Yacht Club also enjoy a luxury lounge with a special concierge and butler service, private dining, and more on all Fantasia-class ships (MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa).
WHAT’s NEW: A Special Baby Laundry service is available for 0-6 year-olds. Their clothing is picked up from your cabin, washed separately in a specialized machine with gentle detergents, and delivered back the next day.
During the 2016-2017 season, MSC will increase its presence in Cuba. Joining the MSC Opera in Havana will be the MSC Armonia which will sail two 8 day itineraries in the region.
Beginning in 2016, with a scheduled open in 2017 are plans for an ambitious project for MSC, the creation of a marine reserve island experience in the Bahamas. Working with the Bahamanian gover and a team of ecologists, the project will support conservation and offer a new experience to guests of MSC.
For Babies: While at sea, toddlers ages 1-3 years-old are welcome at the Mini Club, under the care of a trained staff from 1 to 2pm and from 6 to 7pm. Advanced reservations are required. The Mini Club is also open on both Port Days and Sea Days at specified times so that mom or dad to play with baby and meet other families. The Mini Club is stocked with toys chosen by Chicco, a baby research center.
For Kids: Organized activities are available for kids at DOREMILAND which is divided into two age groups (3-6 and 7-11). Open 9am to 11pm while in port and at certain hours while at sea, fun activities include dance classes, sports, PlayStation, Xbox and Wii and group games under the supervision of a professional staff. Children are also able to dine together with the staff and enjoy a special menu designed for them. Or, they can have a quick dinner with mom and dad while they enjoy their first course, and then return to the club for a fun evening. There is no private babysitting offered, but supervised late-night play and napping is offered for a small fee. In association with LEGO, the 3 to 11 year-olds have a huge selection of bricks and accessories to create with, and LEGO Experience On Board, a full day dedicated to LEGO activities is held one day on every cruise. A full roster of family-fun activities is available through the onboard DOREMI Club.
For Teens: Teens are also divided into two age groups (12-14 and 15-17) and meet a different times. Activities for 13-17 year olds include Wii/Xbox/PS3 games, social network games, dance contests, sports and karaoke. Teens are also able to enjoy the shops onboard by purchasing a teen card designed for nominal onboard purchases. Weekly teen events can include a Teen’s Talent Show, Twisted Scavenger Hunt, MSC Flashmob, and more.
Around the Ship: Miniature golf, tennis, basketball, football, dodgeball, mini-bowling, shuffleboard and table soccer. Each ship has kids and family pools, an Aqua Park and Water Slide, 4D Cinema and a racing car simulator.
Norwegian enables you to cruise with your kids from Miami, New York, Boston, Houston, Tampa, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu, Vancouver, Quebec, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome (Civitavecchia) or Venice. The line is famous for “Freestyle” Cruising, which means you eat when and where you want. The line’s newest Breakaway class ships even have an outdoor Waterfront promenade with outdoor cafes for the most popular eateries; just be prepared to pay extra to sample some of the specialty restaurants.
What’s New: The line’s newest ship is Norwegian Escape, the largest in Norwegian’s fleet, sailing weekly 7-day cruises from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean. In addition to the largest ship-within-a-ship private suite complex The Haven; Studios for solo travelers; and multi-generational group cabin configurations, Norwegian Escape features 28 dining options, two Tony-Award winning Broadway musicals, a three-story sports complex that includes a multi-story ropes course with five zip tracks, and the biggest Aqua park yet for the family-welcoming cruise line.
For Babies: Moms and dads can bring children ages 6 months to 3 years to Guppies Nursery for playtime. This area is not supervised by staff.
For Kids: Activities for kids ages 3 through 12 are centered at Splash Academy, and might range from arts and crafts, sports, video games, and treasure hunts. Kids can also attend Circus School and learn juggling, plate spinning and walking on stilts.
For Teens: Entourage is Norwegian’s exclusive teen area for ages 13 through 17. Teens spend time in the Hang Out Zone, the Dance Zone, the Game Zone and the Party Zone.
Around the Ship: Look for onboard bowling alleys and basketball courts, pub crawls and wine tastings for the over-21 crowd, Behind the Scenes tours, and live entertainment. Private babysitting is not available. Group sitting services are available nightly and on port days for a small fee.
The line operates the longest continually-sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin. No other ship has offered such single-destination focus year-round. Since 2012, the 88-guest Tere Moana has sailed the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.
What’s New: A new itinerary, with sailings on February 6, 2016 (7 nights) and December 3, 2016 (11 nights) is “Tahiti, the Society Islands & Tuamotus,” a unique route with visits to two Polynesian archipelagos. Round trip from Papeete, Tahiti, ports of call include Huahine, Society Islands; Fakarava, Tuamotus; Rangroa and Taha’a (Motu Mahan), Bora Bora, and Moorea in the Society Islands. Fares include roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles.
For Kids: Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program, created by explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Futures Society. The program is designed to introduce cruisers ages 9-17 to the natural wonders of French Polynesia with hands-on experiences like hiking, exploring coral reefs and rainforest trails, and visiting marae (ancient Polynesian temples). They’ll learn how black pearls and vanilla are cultivated, how volcanic islands become coral atolls, and how to paddle an outrigger canoe. Parents are encouraged to join children on eco-excursions and other activities aboard and ashore. This program is available on 2015 holiday cruises, and on 2015 summer cruises for an extra fee.
Cookie decorating at the kids party on Diamond Princess
There is music and even yoga for kids and teens along with the regular activities. Families love the Private Island and family-friendly shore excursions. Be forewarned that the line’s smaller vessels (Pacific Princess, Ocean Princess) don’t have dedicated youth spaces, but children’s programs operate when 20 or more children ages 3 to 17 are on board.
What’s New: The new Regal Princess, sister ship to Royal Princess, is a spectacular example of the next generation of innovative Princess ships. The breathtaking Atrium & Piazza, now over 50 percent larger than our other ships’ Atriums, features exciting new eateries and signature features like The SeaWalk® a dramatic glass-bottom walkway which USA TODAY calls one of the “Top Gee-Whiz Features at Sea.” For sailings from Summer, 2016 though Spring, 2017, Princess is offering a “Twice is Nice” promotion on 700 voyages. Included is up to $1,000 off 6-day or longer cruises, plus $300 or $600 (depending on stateroom) onboard spending money.
For Kids: Princess Youth Programs start at age 3; younger children are welcome to use the youth center facilities as long as they are accompanied by an adult. There are three age-specific programs, starting with Princess Pelicans for ages 3-7. Staffed by experience counselors, activities include art projects, parties, movies and cartoons. Some special group dinners and activities such as pizza and ice cream parties are offered, but generally the kids centers are closed during meal hours when at sea.
For Tweens: Shockwaves offers talent shows, backstage tours, PJ parties and a Jr.CHEF@Sea program for 8- to 12-year-olds. There is also “Science on the Seas,” an award-winning program developed in conjunction with the California Science Center, as well as the regular programming
For Teens: Teen Lounge offers 13- to 17-year-olds teen-only deck parties, hip-hop dance classes with the ship’s professional dancers, DJ workshops, hot tub parties, video games, movies and more.
Around the Ship: Families love the giant outdoor movie screens, swimming pools, the line’s private island Princess Cay, arcades, basketball court and more. Afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition on Princess ships offered on the Promenade Deck from 3:30 to 4:30 daily. Guests can now get moving with Zumba Fitness at sea, the exhilarating dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music and contagious choreography. Discovery at Sea brings some favorite TV shows and hosts on board with programs like Shark Week. Additionally, there are Discovery and Animal Planet Shore Excursions and Stargazing with Discovery at Sea. In-room babysitting is not available, but there is late night group sitting for $5 per child. On shore days, youth programs are offered.
Upscale families love that the classy cabins are all suites, the cruise is all-inclusive (including shore excursions), and there is special pricing for kids. Because the ships are smaller—just 700 guests -– there may just be 50 youngsters on board.
What’s New: Free Wi-Fi will be available on all Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Using a laptop, tablet or smart phone, unlimited Wi-Fi will be available in all categories and from any location onboard. Eleven sailings in Asia and Africa will offer 3-night land tours in Cape Town, Angkor Wat, Hong Kong or Beijing with experiences such as an African safari, a Thai elephant camp and a visit to the Great Wall of China.
For Kids: Programming starts at age 5 in three groups (ages 5-9, 9-12, 13-17 ), but the Club Mariner youth program is only available during certain voyages. . Ages 1 and up are welcome to sail, but there are no programs for ages 1-3 or separate facilities for teens and tweens, though separate activities are offered through the Club Mariner Youth program. The Club Mariner counselors host a variety of activities, including games, craft projects, movies, and “food fun” to make sure each child has a memorable experience. Activities are customized for each group. In-room sitting is expensive and officially not available, but staff members sometimes will babysit upon request.
View of Anthem of the Seas from the North Star
Think family vacation –- on steroids. Think every kind of food and entertainment you could want aboard some of the world’s biggest ships (Oasis and Allure of the Seas) and on its most innovative, Anthem of the Seas. There is a skydiving simulator, a 300-foot-tall observation pod craning above the deck, bumper cars and basketball, rock walls, indoor lap pools, remarkable digital and live entertainment, teen spa treatments, Nickelodeon character breakfasts, a Flywheel Sports spin studio, room service, and a phone app to control your dinner reservations. And that’s only the beginning — this is not the cruise line for couch potato relaxation.
What’s New: Anthem of the Seas has arrived in New York harbor to begin a Caribbean route. She is outfitted like her older sister, Quantum, which will make Shanghai her new Asia homeport in May. Meanwhile, the lightning speed Wi-Fi delivered by middle-orbiting satellites to the Quantum class ships is being rolled out across many of the fleet’s newer ships, powering new onboard services. More celebrity “experience advisors” will be touting the trendiest in food, fitness and design for cruisers. Using recently developed technology from the Quantum class ships, the company will add exhaust scrubbers to the engines of 13 Royal Caribbean and six Celebrity ships (a sister company.)
For Babies: Aboard select ships, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for toddlers 6-36 months old offers parents childcare drop-off options in the daytime ($6/hour) and evening ($8/hour). On all ships, free-time play is also offered daily, with a variety of developmental toys from Fisher Price in exclusive, specially-designed programs. Parents and children can enjoy unique age-appropriate art activities that feature the Crayola Beginnings line of toddler art tools. The Babies 2 Go program also allows parents to order Gerber organic baby food and diapers, wipes and creams by Huggies for delivery to their staterooms upon arrival.
For Kids: The Adventure Ocean programs are available for kids ages 3-11. Activities vary by age and range from art workshops, parades and ice cream parties to scavenger hunts, theater games, and sports tournaments. Kids love the complimentary Barbie programming (ages 4-11) where they’ll enjoy Barbie movie nights, story time, and more. In the Adventure Science program, kids enjoy hands-on science experiments led by trained staff. For 2015, Royal Caribbean is proud to announce their designation as an “autism-friendly ship” where staff has been trained to accept, work with, and facilitate the cruise experience for passengers on the spectrum.
For Teens: Tweens and Teens (12-14 and 15-17) have their own separate activities, including everything from DJ training to movie nights and arcade games. There is a teens-only lounge, nightclub, and spa offering facials, hair treatments, pedicures, and more on each ship.
Around the Ship: Families love to splash around the H2O Zone with pools, waterfalls, a Flowrider surfing simulator and more. The DreamWorks Experience features parades, themed activities and character breakfasts with DreamWorks Animation’s popular feature-film characters, including Po of “Kung Fu Panda;” Shrek, Fiona and Puss In Boots of “Shrek;” and Alex the Lion and Gloria the Hippo from “Madagascar.” For entertainment lovers, on select cruises there are performances of Hairspray and Mamma Mia!, an ice-skating spectacular, movie theater, and AquaTheater dive shows, as well as live jazz and CW.
Also look for zip lines, mini-golf, pool scuba diving (select cruises), and much more. Adventure Family is a free, onboard program that allows children and their parents to participate in planned activities within a structured environment to spend quality time together. Activities depend on the length of the cruise and can range from family discos to talent shows and scavenger hunts. In-room sitters are available ($19/hour for up to 3 kids) and come equipped with books and toys. There is also late-night group babysitting until 2AM ($6/hour per child). On shore days, children’s activities are ongoing.
Tauck has offered river cruises for a number of years, and now have three (one on the Danube, one on the Rhine, and one on the Rhone) designed specifically for families. They have been named to the Travel + Leisure list of the “World’s Best River Cruise Lines for Families.”
What’s New: The Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure” was selected as one of the “10 Best River Cruises by Fodors Travel and a two time winner of “Top River Cruise Line: for families by the readers of Travel and Leisure.
For Kids: Tauck is including a number of kid-friendly activities for families throughout the itinerary, including a scavenger hunt in Paris’ Louvre, a lesson in petanque (a ball game similar to bocce) in Viviers, a hayride in the Camargue, bicycling in Avignon, and a French cooking demonstration at a Michelin-starred culinary school in Valence. A second Tauck Bridges family river cruise, “Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure,” offers a fun exploration of history and culture in Germany, Austria and Hungary along the scenic Danube River. And the third family river cruise, “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventures,” takes the family along the Rhine River, between Basel and Amsterdam, to explore all the historic castles.
Un-Cruise Adventures are hands-on small boat explorations. With several styles to choose from — Active, Luxury, Heritage, and Charter Adventures — you have an inviting alternative to your typical cruise. Kayaks and whales, snorkels and paddle boards, mountains and desert, service and wine — all combine to help you uncover an adventure of interest. Then just pack your bags and venture into some of nature’s most exciting playgrounds and historic ports for exploration, eye-to-eye wildlife encounters, and living history. Discover something special in Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Hawaiian Islands, and Coastal Washington & British Columbia. Expect a new line of itineraries focused on Panama and Costa Rica for 2016. Read about the Ogintz family cruise on the Wilderness Discoverer in Southeast Alaska in Summer 2012.
For Kids: Kids ages 8 and older are welcome on most departures, but exceptions for 7-year-olds may be made. Cruisers under 12 may prefer one of Un-Cruise Adventures’ “Kids in Nature” program departures that are as educational as they are fun. Kids save 25 percent on select KIN itineraries available for Alaskan, Mexican, and Hawaiian cruises.
The Uniworld River Queen on the Main River in Frankfurt Germany
With less than 200 people aboard, Uniworld is a different kind of experience for those seeking five-star yet family-welcoming luxury and the chance to explore new places without the hassle of moving from place to place. The cruise line’s multigenerational family-friendly river cruises feature special pricing which includes all meals and entertainment onboard, exciting shore excursions, complimentary use of bicycles, and transfers on arrival and departure dates as well as half-price deals for kids and teens.
What’s New: Uniworld offers 17 departures of their multigenerational cruises with 10 itineraries including “Grand European Discovery,” “Gems of Venice and Northern Italy,” Portrait of Majestic France,” and “Classic Christmas Markets.” Contact them for a special brochure about family-friendly cruising. Read my travel diaries on a recent family sailing.
For Kids: While there are no separate facilities, children’s programs start at age 4. Kids will enjoy playing together and watching movies in the Playstation 2 or Wii-equipped game room. There’s also a special menu with kid-friendly food options and complimentary soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard.
Yes, you read this right. Virgin Cruises is the latest adventure for the indomitable Sir Richard Branson. We know very little about the new cruise line, except that Virgin is planning to build three ships and has selected Miami as its home port. The first ship will set sail in 2020, followed by one in 2021 and 2022 with 7-day itineraries in the Caribbean. Virgin Cruises CEO Tom McAlpin said: “We are committed to making waves in the cruise industry and partnering with Fincantieri (the ship builders) and PortMiami sets Virgin Cruises up to do just that. Today’s announcement brings together important ingredients in our future success – Miami’s vibrant culturerpaired with the excellent Port infrastructure and Port team; and Fincantieri’s expertise in prototyping, their creativity and understanding of our vision.”
Voyages to Antiquity is a special cruise company devoted to exploring ancient cultures via a select group of ports of call. Two week-to three-week itineraries follow a theme; our family sailed from Venice to Istanbul on a fascinating jaunt “In the Footsteps of the Venetian Empire.” While we were among the youngest passengers aboard, it’s a wonderful choice for a multigenerational cruise with older teens and adult kids because the expert lectures at sea, complimentary shore excursions and unusual ports allow each cruiser to pursue his own passion.
What’s New: In 2016, the UK-based company is adding two itineraries in and out of England’s capital city: London to Lisbon and Seville to London.
For Kids: While there are no particular facilities for young children, the ship is cozy, safe and intimate. Anyone with an interest in history and geography will appreciate the informal talks, culture evenings, and stocked library featuring books about the destination.
Around the Ship: Cabins range from suites to singles. In addition to using the small gym, pool, bar, and a few restaurants whose excellent cuisine varies each day to match the port of call, the best thing to do is explore the unusual ports easily accessed by this small cruise ship.
Forward deck and bridge of Windstar Star Legend
Windstar operates six yachts known for their ability to visit harbors and ports larger ships can’t reach. The yachts carry fewer than 300 guests and call on ports throughout Europe, Asia, Arabia, French Polynesia, the Caribbean, and the Americas with a complimentary water sports platform available when the ship is in anchor – subject to weather of course—featuring water skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and windsurfing. They have also debuted all-suite power yachts. The ambiance is relaxed (no jackets or ties needed) but upscale. While these yachts aren’t meant for kids, they’re ideal for parents who want a getaway without the kids or a special trip with grown kids OR GRANDKIDS. Here’s what I wrote about our experience in Scotland in 2015. The company was recently rated the #1 small ship cruise line in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and is known for impeccable service.
What’s New: Windstar is debuting two new services onboard. The Premium Beverage Package provides unlimited cocktails, sparkling wines, wines by the glass, beer, mini-bar selections and room service beverages for a flat fee per day. The Windstar’s Cruises Laundry Service takes care of washing and pressing your clothing, giving you more time to enjoy yourselves. Fees are based on the length of the cruise.
The past few years have seen some tragic drownings of children on cruise ships, where by-and-large the pools are not attended by life guards. We have seen polls that indicate many cruise passengers would prefer not to have lifeguards on duty; instead they feel that children’s safety should be left in parents’ hands. It is easy to argue however, that no one should lose their life on vacation, regardless of whose “fault” it is, so we hope that 2016 will be the year that lifeguards appear on all ships to watch over those who need them, not those who shun them.
And, we hope 2016 will bring increased scrutiny of environmental policies within the cruise industry. According to the EPA, an average size cruise ship carrying 3,000 passengers and crew may produce 21,000 gallons of sewage and up to 150,000 gallons of gray water (from sinks, showers) each day at sea. In 2014, every CLIA member line refused to participate in the annual survey by Friends of the Earth (Cruise Ship Report Card.) Both of these burning issues leave us wondering how long the industry can thrive without paying attention to passenger concerns about safety or a clean environment?
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