Tips for Cruising With Kids

There’s no better way to bring kids, parents and even grandparents together—and make sure a good time is had by all—than a family cruise. Here are tips for cruising with kids.

Miniature golf

Photo: Royal Caribbean International

Today’s family-friendly cruises have such an enormous range of activities and entertainment that there really is something for everyone. That said, not all cruises are created equal when it comes to pleasing shy little ones, active school-age kids, picky preteens and cool-conscious teens.

Here’s what to look for when cruising with kids to make sure your whole clan considers your next trip the best family vacation ever. But watch out—they’re likely to clamor for a repeat.

Over-the-Top Activity Centers

As catering to families has become a top priority, some ships have become floating amusement parks that feature climbing walls, minigolf and even ice rinks—which makes cruising with kids a whole lot easier. Two of Royal Caribbean®’s ships—Quantum of the Seas® and Anthem of the Seas®—now feature bumper cars and the Ripcord by iFly skydiving simulator. The lower-key Holland America Line excels at old-fashioned family fun, offering sports, Xbox competitions, karaoke and pajama parties in their Club HAL. Its teen program, known as The Loft, gives older kids their own private deck—accessible by secret passage—complete with a juice bar, tech and hip-hop classes, and a nightclub. Likewise, Disney Cruise Line’s adult-free hangouts Vibe (for teens) and Edge (for tweens) and Carnival Cruise Line’s Club 02 (for teens) and Circle “C” (for tweens) are outfitted with the latest tech, gadgets and games. Many of the largest cruise lines also have kid-friendly spa and casino activities.

Water park fun

Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

Wet and Wonderful Water Parks

To find the best water slides, look to the bigger and newer ships, which have the space and are more likely to have been designed with families in mind. Want to splish—and splash—the day away? Head on over to the Carnival WaterWorks onboard water park. Many of Carnival®’s ships have the enhanced water parks, each of which features, in addition to 300-foot slides, side-to-side racing slides, which competitive kids adore. Carnival®’s Dream℠, Magic℠, and Breeze℠ ships have 312-foot Twister Waterslides and a feature called the Drainpipe that—you guessed it—scoops kids into a funnel-like chute. On Carnival®’s newest ship, WaterWorks is larger than ever—take a cruise on Carnival Vista® and check out the new Kaleid-O-Slide. Then, of course, there are the Disney Cruise Line ships Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, which feature the AquaDuck water coaster raft ride. Disney Magic’s AquaDunk goes a step further, adding a three-story sliding tube that extends off the ship’s side and over the ocean. Royal Caribbean® added its first water slides—the Perfect Storm trio of the Typhoon, Cyclone and Supercell multilevel slides—on Harmony of the Seas® and Liberty of the Seas®. Harmony of the Seas®, the largest cruise ship in the world, will sail the Caribbean beginning in late 2016; Liberty of the Seas® sails from Galveston.

Cooking Classes

From the Star Chefs Cooking Competition on Celebrity Cruises® sailings to Princess Cruises®, interactive chef’s dinners, cooking classes and culinary demonstrations are now a popular part of cruising. A prime example is Holland America Line’s Culinary Arts Center; created in partnership with Food & Wine magazine, it features guest appearances by some of the country’s top celebrity chefs. If you’re cruising with kids fear not, there is plenty of opportunity for them to get in on the action here; younger kids learn to make delicious dessert treats while tweens and teens can try their hands at a range of gourmet cuisines. At Princess Cruises®’ Discovery at Sea Culinary Academy (featuring DC Cupcakes), adults can pick up the latest techniques to create unique and tasty cupcake designs and kids will have a blast learning cake decorating in the ship’s galley.

Shore Excursions

There is litany of family-oriented shore excursions now widely available. When cruising with kids your hardest task is sifting through the options to find those most appealing to your kids. In warm-water ports, snorkeling, shark and stingray encounters, and surf lessons are sure to please everyone; ziplines and ATV adventures are popular, too. European destinations feature castle tours and bike rides. And who wouldn’t want to go dogsledding in Alaska? Many cruise lines also offer kid- and teen-only excursions, allowing parents to take advantage of cultural tours and outings that might bore the younger set.

Rock climbing wall

Photo: Royal Caribbean International

Shipboard Entertainment

One popular feature new to many ships is movie-watching under the stars. Princess Cruises® pioneered the “dive-in” concept with poolside screens, and similar options are now available on other lines. Some Royal Caribbean® ships feature theaters equipped with 3-D projectors—Carnival Vista even has an Imax theater. Then there are the live shows, which range from comedy and splashy, Vegas-style dance revues, both staples of Carnival® cruises, to actual Broadway shows, a specialty on Royal Caribbean® sailings. Some Princess Cruises® ships even feature interactive sound and light shows with dancing fountains.

AAA Travel offers a variety of family-friendly vacations. Visit AAA.com to learn more, or call 877-396-7159 to speak to a AAA Travel Counselor.

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Janice Yip-Hudson, AAA Travel Counselor, Daly City, Calif.

Today, people's lives are so busy. We're thinking three days ahead just to get through our to-do lists. I love helping my clients plan vacations where they have nothing to do but relax; where time stands still, and you're just on vacation.

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