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Taking the Kids on a ship within a mega ship


Disney Dream at Disney's Private Island Castaway Cay

Disney Dream at Disney’s Private Island Castaway Cay

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Connie Abodeely isn’t a fan of mega ships or Caribbean itineraries. But she’s really looking forward to her family’s upcoming trip on Norwegian’s newest ship, the Escape, which carries more than 4,200 passengers.

“There is so much for the grandchildren to do on board,” she explains — everything from the kids’ clubs to the Broadway-style entertainment, the multi-level Sports Complex and Aqua Park with the fastest waterslide at sea, not to mention 28 different options for when they are hungry, including a chance for a Cheeseburger in Paradise at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. “They love all the activities.”

The crowds won’t bother Abodeely as she’s booked her family of eight into suites within the Haven, an exclusive mini ship at the top of the ship with a private sundeck, pool, hot tub 24-hour butler service and a private concierge who can book shore excursions and dinner reservations. Your butler unpacks for you and serves champagne or whatever you like on your balcony and breakfast or lunch are in a private restaurant away from the crowds.

Of course, it costs more — as much as triple, suggests Carolyn Spencer Brown, CruiseCritic.com’s editor in chief. But cruisers like Connie Abodeely, who want to satisfy themselves, their children and grandchildren, think it is well worth the cost. “This will suit everyone,” Abodeely explains, “and I can really relax.”

Many families who cruise, of course, look for the best deal — and this is “wave season” when cruise lines are offering upgrades, shipboard credits and discounts to encourage you to book for later in the year. Others look for ships that sail from a port near their home. But there seems to be a growing number who could afford the most luxurious ships, but instead are choosing the most upscale offerings on major-market ships. (TIP: This is one vacation where you would do well to use a travel agent who is a cruise expert. Find one near your home at Cruising.org, the website of the Cruise Lines International Association.)

These days, multigenerational families are one of the fastest growing segments of the cruise industry, which expects to carry more than 24 million passengers this year. It’s easy to see why — activities for all ages (including morning-till-night supervised programs for kids and teens) a mostly inclusive vacation, price wise, and no packing or unpacking to visit different cities or islands. In many cases, you can avoid the hassle of airline travel and drive to the ship, your vacation starting as soon as you park your car. (Check out our 2016 Taking the Kids Cruise Guide to see what major cruise lines are offering this year.)

Family Harbor Suite, Carnival Cruise Line

Family Harbor Suite, Carnival Cruise Line

But still, such a multigenerational vacation will require compromises. The backpackers will have to forsake the wilderness; the culture mavens may not get as much time at a museum or church as they’d like. The kids may get so involved with new friends they won’t want to spend time with the family.

At the very least, these upscale options on major ships now allow grandparents who want to get away from the fray, the quiet and luxury they prefer without sacrificing what the younger family members want; Some grandparents, in fact, book these accommodations and regular cabins for the rest of the family, cruise line executives say.

Think of it like being on a concierge level at a hotel with complimentary drinks, a special concierge and a separate place to have breakfast and snacks with all kinds of extra amenities thrown in. MSC even has special tailor-made shore excursions. Spencer Brown notes that MSC’s Yacht Club may prove to be the best value.

“Definitely worth the extra money without the kids,” said frequent cruiser Carolyn Streeter, who lives in Miami and sampled the MSC Yacht Club with her 3-year-old twins, while her mom opted for a regular cabin. “It’s for grown-ups. Next time I go with my husband, the Yacht Club is the way to go.”

The major cruise lines all seem to be upping the ante, meanwhile, though maybe not quite to the level of MSC and Norwegian. Carnival’s new Vista, debuting in Europe this spring, will have a Family Harbor with specially designed family accommodations, including family suites accommodating five with two bathrooms, a Family Harbor Lounge with large-screen TVs, board games, complimentary breakfast and snacks and a family concierge. Kids will like their kid-sized bathrobes and slippers while parents will like that the suites feature separate sleeping quarters for the adults and kids.

Sail in the new Royal Suite Class on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum-class ships starting this spring, and you’ll be taken care of by a Royal Genie, certified by the British Butler Institute to meet your every need — from a certain kind of beer to your toddler’s favorite breakfast cereal.

There are plenty of extras. On Royal Caribbean, for example, free VOOM, the fastest Internet at sea (it costs $15 a day for just one device); complimentary specialty dining, which otherwise may cost $25 a person, an ultimate beverage package (and we all know how much those frothy drinks can run on board) and preferred seating for onboard shows.

ON the Disney Cruise Line, there’s a special concierge who helps you arrange your itinerary before you set sail — from day care for the youngest cruisers to an adult-only dinner reservation or shore excursions. Once on board, expect specialty pillows, a Concierge Lounge where you can relax with a cocktail and snacks throughout the day and a private sun deck.

Sounds good to me. But all the amenities aren’t the best part, insists Connie Abodeely. “The best part is having everyone together … having fun.”

(Check out Eileen’s Kids Guide Series to major American cities, including cruise ports like New York, Orlando, Boston, LA and San Francisco. Follow @TakingtheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.)

© 2016 EILEEN OGINTZ
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


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