Tuesday, September 25, 2007

5 Family Cruise Ideas Everybody Will Enjoy

Thinking of taking off on a family cruise?

It's important to choose a ship and a cruise line that has great ways to entertain kids and adults. Fortunately, it's not hard to find an excellent family cruise these days.

Ships built in the last decade or so are often packed with amenities for the young ones. Examples include kids-only swimming pools, video arcades, teen centers, and playrooms with ball bins, climbing mazes, and computers.

And, of course, there are babysitting services for when mom and dad want to get away (hey, just because it's a "family cruise" doesn't mean you want to spend every waking minute with a child on your hip!).

Here are some ships and cruise ideas you may want to look into if you're planning to take the whole family on your next vacation:

1. Sail with Disney

I know, I know: duh.

Of course Disney caters to family cruises. It's what they do best!

If you sign up for a cruise with the Disney line, you can expect a good time for kids of all ages (and mom and dad too):
  • Restaurants have excellent children's menus.
  • Fountain sodas are free (other cruise lines charge for them).
  • Shows are family-friendly (think "musical medleys of Disney classics").
  • An indoor movie theater is there for rainy days.
  • Nurseries and playrooms are segmented by age, so kids can find plenty of peers with whom to play.
  • Adults can escape to the 18+ end of the ship for a jazz bar, dance club, and sports/karaoke bar.
All Disney itineraries visit Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Here kids can explore a "giant whale-dig site," adults can get drinks and massages at beach-side cabanas, and the whole family can rent bikes or head into the surf for water sports.

2. Visit Hawaii on NCL's Pride of Hawai'i

Hawaii is a popular cruise destination for west coast families. Fly to Honolulu and hop on board to have a blast while experiencing the delicious tropical climate. Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of Hawai'i is a very family-friendly ship.

Amenities include:
  • Treasure hunts, magic shows, and sports competitions for younger kids.
  • Playrooms and teen centers.
  • Special kids programs to keep children entertained on sea days (though most Hawaii cruises just go from island to island so you don't spend many days strictly at sea).
  • Spas, gyms, dance lessons, bingo, basketball, and wine tasting for adults.
As an added family perk, kids under 2 travel free.

3. Book a Cruise on the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Freedom of the Seas

RCI's Freedom of the Seas is a large modern cruise ship with tons of family activities. I think you'll agree that kids and adults will enjoy many of the offerings:
  • giant water park
  • ice-skating rink
  • rock-climbing wall
  • professional-sized boxing ring
  • huge hot tubs that hang over the side of the ship
As you might guess, RCI cruise ships are popular with 20- and 30-somethings and up. 3- and 4-night cruises tend to attract the party crowds, so if you're looking for wholesome family fun, a week-long itinerary might be best.

4. Head to Alaska for a Week with Princess Cruise Lines

A little mellower than RCI, Princess Cruises still offers plenty to keep the kids entertained on a family vacation. The company is known for its Alaskan cruises, and their Grand-, Diamond-, and Coral-class ships all have nice indoor and outdoor facilities and supervised activities for children.

If you want your kids to have a learning experience, there are educational programs that teach children about oceans and marine life. On trips to Alaska, rangers and naturalists also offer talks on native culture, glaciers, Alaskan history, and the Iditarod sled-dog race.

5. Small Ship Sailing with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises

For the most part, you have to stick to the major cruise lines and the big ships to find family friendly offerings with lots to do for kids. One exception is Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

If you think cruise ships are stuffy and formal, this outfit will put that image out of your mind. You can roam around in any attire you want (bathing suits at the dinner table are just fine), and I've heard you can even sleep on the wooden decks at night if you want.

Not all of their cruises are family friendly, but there are some special "Junior Jammers" programs (aboard the Legacy and the Polynesia) in the summer. These are for ages 6-17, and youth counselors offer complimentary summer-camp style activities during the days. There aren't any babysitting services though so be prepared to watch your young-uns in the evenings.

Oh, and the drinking age is 18 on board, so if you're trying to lure your college-age kids along on a last vacation with the whole family, that fact (for good or ill) might be win them over.

As you can see, there are plenty of family cruise opportunities out there. Just about all the mainstream ships offer supervised activities for children, and there are even things for them to do on some of the smaller ships. Take the kids along on your next vacation, and have a good time!

Source: Cruise Vacations For Dummies

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