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Take a Cruise with Kids

How to choose a ship and destination

Cruise vacations offer families many options, whether you want to relax on the beach, explore several European cities or hang out with Mickey and Minnie. Three years ago, the Fenick family from Marlton, NJ, decided to add a Disney cruise to their Walt Disney World vacation. At the time, their boys were 5 and 9 years old. They enjoyed getting off the ship when it docked in Nassau and at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, but the onboard activities wowed them the most. “One of the hardest things for us was trying to decide what to do while we were on the cruise because there was just so much to choose from,” recalls mom Sue Fenick. The highlights included the shows, the kids’ clubs on the ship and on Castaway Cay and movies shown by the pool.

Character-driven cruise lines

Disney isn’t the only child-friendly option for cruises. Carnival Cruise Lines presents Seuss at Sea, MSC Cruises collaborates with Lego, Norwegian Cruise Line has teamed up with Nickelodeon and Royal Caribbean entertains young guests with DreamWorks Animation characters. “Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line are really stepping up their game in gearing toward families, offering bowling alleys, theaters, characters walking around and water parks,” adds Vanessa Garcia, Liberty Travel’s Philadelphia travel center team leader.

Not all kid’s programs are equal

Whatever cruise you choose, ask what programs the cruise line provides for kids while on the ship. Do they anticipate having other kids for your children to hang out with, and do they have enough activities to keep them busy, especially on days at sea? Some cruise lines have wonderful programs for toddlers and young kids, while others cater more to tweens and teens. “Your kids definitely have a voice, particularly as they get older,” says Lorri Christou, senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications at the Cruise Lines International Association. If they have a say in where you go and what activities they prefer the ship to offer, they’ll be even more excited about the trip.

What’s your family’s travel style?

Cruise ships hold several hundred to several thousand passengers. The bigger ships offer more amenities — like ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls and bumper cars — while smaller ships provide a more intimate experience.“On a shorter cruise a smaller ship is ideal,” says Garcia, “But on a 7- or 8-day cruise you want the amenities of a larger ship to keep the kids more entertained.”Decide in advance what to do when the ship docks. Does your family want to relax on the beach or tour the local attractions? Excursions often sell out, so plan ahead to ensure that you get the ones you want. 

Know your budget

Cruise options exist for a wide range of budgets. The price generally includes your room, meals and most onboard activities, the number of days you travel and where you stay on the ship. Interior rooms cost less than rooms with balconies or ocean views, and rooms on a ship’s lower levels cost less than rooms on upper levels. Remember that cruising entails costs in addition to the base price. Your family must get to and from the city where the cruise embarks, shore excursions cost extra and alcohol and soda typically get billed separately. The general tipping guideline for the staff who clean your room, serve meals and generally run the show suggests $12-$14 per person per day. Plan ahead for these additional fees so you don’t go over budget.   

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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