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Today's cruise ships are decked out with amenities for kids of any age: kids programs for those over 3, baby-sitting for babies and toddlers, plus adult-focused activities to keep Mom and Dad smiling. In addition to the ease of travel, a cruise's (almost) all-inclusive nature also appeals to families who like to know what their trip will cost ahead of time.
But what might be most appealing of all are the supervised programs and onboard amenities offered for children. Below, we took a look at some of what's on offer.
Disney's 2 ships, built in the late 1990s, were "designed with families in mind," says a Disney rep. For parents there are adult-only areas - a pool, spa and coffee bar - plus family areas where they can dance, watch a movie or swim with the kids. That is, of course, when the kids aren't immersed in activities of their own, which are offered as part of the package. For little ones there's a pirate-themed play area and kiddie-focused activities (think, treasure hunt or dancing lessons with Snow White), a science lab for older kids and a teen area - with a cool vibe that's modeled on a post-college apartment. After 9 p.m. the ship switches to grown-up mode, with an "entertainment district" that includes a dance club, piano bar and sports pub.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Once considered the adult party cruise line, Carnival has expanded its repertoire in recent years to ensure a welcoming atmosphere for even the littlest cruisers (and families are taking note: the number of children aboard Carnival ships jumped 325 percent in the past 10 years). Onboard Canival "Fun Ships" teens and tweens each have their own activities and chill-out areas, while kids under 11 can head to Camp Carnival for age-appropriate supervised activities. Ships boast plenty of play areas, including water slides, splash pools and climbing walls, plus educational activities and computer labs. Unlike the programs offered by some other cruise lines, Carnival's accepts kids 2 and over, even if they're not potty-trained. Ships also feature 24-hour poolside pizzerias and complimentary soft ice cream stations.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean says all its ships are family-oriented, but its new Freedom family of ships clearly has the most family-focused amenities of all. They include an H2O zone water park, Flow Rider surf simulator, full-sized boxing ring, ice rink, massive rock wall and presidential family suite that sleeps up to 14, among other attractions. All Royal Caribbean ships offer a supervised Adventure Ocean program for children 3 to 17, with daytime hours for the younger ones and evening hours (until the wee hours) for older kids. Teens have their own nightclub and hang-out area, while younger kids have lots of edutainment on hand - from science projects to pottery-making and books. There's also scheduled family activities, which offer family fun like scavenger hunts and talent shows.
With the exception of its smaller "boutique" ships, the Princess cruise line offers supervised children's programs for kids 3 to 17. Activities for young passengers include T-shirt coloring, disco nights, games, pajama parties, talent show and scavenger hunts, plus science projects. Pre-teens are treated to some of the same fun, plus kids dinners, pizza and ice cream parties, and the Jr.CHEF@Sea program, which aims to teach them a thing or two about cooking. Teens, meanwhile, can hang out with their peers at teen-only deck parties, take hip-hop dance classes, DJ workshops and other classes. They're also treated to hot-tub parties, mocktail socials, dance parties and late-night movies. A teen area includes video games and plasma TVs, plus Internet access on some ships.
On its 14 ships - including the 2 newest, the 'Gem' and the 'Pearl' - Norwegian offers a host of different accommodations, including 3-bedroom luxury rooftop "garden villas" (butler included) and interconnecting, expandable family suites. Its "freestyle cruising" concept means you can pretty much do what you want when you want. And its Kids Crew program - open to kids 2 and older - includes storytelling and developmental activities for toddlers and pre-schoolers; trips to the kids swim area, pizza parties and lots of games for older kids; plus sports activities, games and movies for older kids.