Image: Coloseum
Eileen Ogintz
Gladiators go at it at Rome's Colosseum. They're the kids whose parents have signed on for Adventures by Disney guided tour.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 1/19/2011 3:23:49 PM ET 2011-01-19T20:23:49

The Gladiators are really going at it!

In Rome's ancient Colosseum, everyone watches the battle, but these gladiators won't fight to the death, thank goodness. They're not slaves or prisoners of war.

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They're the kids whose parents have signed on for Adventures by Disney onboard a Disney cruise ship. Disney's unique, guided, land-based tours successfully offer families the chance to explore far-flung destinations from Italy to Africa to Yellowstone National Park with itineraries that de-stress the experience for parents while offering activities guaranteed to please the kids. Now Adventures by Disney has brought the concept onboard some Disney cruises in the Mediterranean and this coming summer, Alaska, with special tours off the ship, as well as unique opportunities onboard (wine-pairing dinners for the adults, animation lessons with Pinocchio for kids).

In 2011, there will also be the option for a special three-day, pre-cruise "adventure" at the port of embarkation like Vancouver or Barcelona where Disney promises that families will be treated to experiences they would have been hard-pressed to book on their own.

Like an extended family
Most cruise lines have concierge or VIP services and you can certainly book private tours wherever you go. But Adventures by Disney is different. It's traveling with strangers who quickly become extended family, who explore differently than other shore excursions (belly dancing in Tunisia or a photo op with Napoleon in Corsica) and share meals on and off the ship. Let's not forget the special gifts wherever we go. (The belly dancing skirts were an especially big hit.)

On one Mediterranean sailing aboard the Disney Magic last summer, there were 13 families, including three grandparents and three couples without kids (yes the Disney Cruise Line has many adult fans) being treated to more intimate excursions, quick access to sites with long lines like the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum and a lot of handholding from our two veteran guides, 28-year-old Courtney Robicheaux and 34-year-old Jennae Campeau who between them have more than 20 years of Disney experience. Jennae guided the first Adventures by Disney trip more than five years ago.

Image: EXCURSION
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise
Panning for Alaskan gold is just one of the shore excursions Disney Cruise Line will offer next summer.

The guides sweat the details and always have a joke and snack ready for the kids. They make sure you get those vacation photos too, cajoling the kids to pose. With Adventures by Disney, there's no agonizing about which of the scores of shore excursions to choose because everything is prearranged. "All you have to do is show up and enjoy the day," explains Mickey Davis, who was traveling with her husband Ned and sons Dylan, 9, and Connor, 7.

This makes traveling with kids in Europe, and now in Alaska, a lot less stressful and a lot more fun — albeit at a steep price ($2,299 for adults, $2,069 for kids), in addition to the cruise price. The price, though, does include not only the shore excursions and meals off the ship but extras like photos and onboard tips, which can add up.

The families I met aboard the Magic think the price is money well spent. "I did the math," said Lori Degliantoni, from Northern California, traveling with two teenage nieces. "This was better financially when you figured in all the shore excursions, the tips and the extras." Besides, she added, "It is a lot easier for me. The girls haven't been to Europe before and I wanted to do as much as I could."

Then there are the friendships forged over lunches and dinners, walking around Rome, touring a palace in Monaco or having lunch at a farm in Italy. Nick Carpenter, 10, who lives in China has bonded with 10-year-old Hunter Ayyad from San Diego and Dylan Davis from Florida. "It will be an added bonus to go home having made friends from around the world," said Mickey, Dylan's mom.

For Shelley Morley, traveling with her husband, three daughters and father, the clincher was being able to avoid lines. "It is Nordstrom, rather than Target," she said, adding that her elderly dad couldn't wait in line for two hours in the heat anymore than her three kids could. "There is a lot at stake," when you don't want to waste precious and expensive vacation time.

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Knowledgeable guides
Another plus to touring with Adventures by Disney is the presence of local guides who speak English and interpret the environs in a way that make them interesting to everyone. I've been on plenty of tours where that isn't the case. Did the gladiators really fight to the death? (Yes!) How long did it take Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel? (Four years.)

In addition, we get the 411 on everything from where to find gelato to where to find the bathrooms — much appreciated with young children in the mix. The guides think of everything  — toting snacks in their backpacks, even giving us postcards with the special Vatican stamps so we don't have to stand in line to get them.

Some might turn up their noses at such handholding and not being able to choose their own itinerary. Others might not like spending their vacation with companions not of their choosing. But if you can afford it, aren't familiar with the locale, and want to keep your kids happy (those "only" children in the group were especially thrilled not to be spending all their time off the ship with mom and dad), the concept works, no matter what the kids' ages.

In this group, there were kids as young as four and as old as 18 — 21 kids in all — and I was impressed that the guides managed to keep them all happy — most of the time anyway. Even when 4-year-old Elle Zais, the youngest in our group, had a meltdown at the Colosseum, our guide Courtney Robicheaux gets her smiling again and then the older girls in the group took over entertaining her.

"This is absolutely grandparent heaven," observed Elle's grandmother Janet Gilmore, from Texas, adding the trip with her two young granddaughters was made so much easier by the teens and tweens who amused the girls wherever we went.

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Parents watched each other's kids; the kids formed bonds because they saw the same faces at dinner and on every excursion and at every onboard activity.

That's probably why the kids were still smiling and laughing — though exhausted — at the end of a long day touring a very warm Rome. (The day started with a 1-1/2-hour bus ride from the port of Civitavecchia, a visit to the Sistine Chapel, St Peter's Basilica, the Spanish Steppes and finally the "battle" at the Colosseum.)

"The sites will always be there," explained guide Jennae Campeau. "We want to create the powerful experiences that will make you remember visiting them."

I don't think any of the boys and girls "fighting" each other at the Colosseum on a hot summer afternoon will have trouble remembering. Besides, they'll have the photos — courtesy of our guides, of course — to help.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2011 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Explainer: New cruise ships sailing into 2011

  • Image: Allure of the Seas
    Roni Lehti  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Allure of the Seas

    Looks like it’s full speed ahead for the cruise industry. With Allure of the Seas now in Fort Lauderdale, Disney Dream set to debut and a half-dozen other new ships on the way, the rough seas of the recession are growing calmer by the day.

    That’s good news for cruisers, says Stewart Chiron, aka The Cruise Guy. “The fact that these ships are coming out during difficult times is a testament to the industry’s resilience,” he said. “A lot of people who wouldn’t have taken a cruise before are now considering one.”

    First-timer or not, here’s a look at eight new additions to the fleet:

  • Allure of the Seas

    Image: Allure of the Seas' zipline
    Rob Lovitt

    Allure embarked on her inaugural cruise on Dec. 5, and she shares the title of world’s biggest cruise ship with its twin Oasis of the Seas, but adds a few new amenities. In addition to the zip line and skating rink, the surf machines and climbing walls, you’ll also find a 3-D theater, the first Romero Britto store at sea and two new restaurants, including a Mexican cantina and Brazilian steakhouse. Get some sleep before you go, suggests Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief at CruiseCritic.com, or be prepared to swing by another new onboard amenity: the first Starbucks at sea.

  • Marina

    Image: Oceania Marina
    Oceania

    A Lalique grand staircase, a hands-on culinary arts center co-sponsored by Bon Appétit and a trio of owners’ suites with Ralph Lauren furnishings — Marina has all the makings of an ultra-premium experience, but with a surprisingly “egalitarian” ambience. As Oceania’s first purpose-built ship (launching Jan. 22), Marina is significantly larger than its siblings (65,000 tons vs. 30,000), carries more passengers (1,258 vs. 684) and features several new restaurants, including Jacques, the first eatery anywhere to bear the name of famed French chef Jacques Pépin. “[Marina] will be an intriguing hybrid of luxury and mid-market pricing,” said Spencer Brown. “It’s a category that’s never existed before.”

  • Disney Dream

    Image: Disney Dream
    Disney

    It’s been 11 years since Disney launched a new cruise ship and Mickey’s minions have clearly gone all out. Launching on Jan. 26, the ship will carry 2,500 passengers (4,000 with all beds filled) on fantasy-filled cruises between Port Canaveral and the Bahamas. Among the innovations: The Enchanted Garden restaurant, where the decor changes from day to night; inside cabins with virtual portholes with underwater scenes, and the AquaDuck, a 750-foot “watercoaster” that winds up, down and around the ship’s upper decks. “Dream is the Oasis of 2011,” said Spencer Brown. “It’s going to be different than everything that’s come before it.”

  • L’Austral

    Image: L'Austral
    Erick Larrieu  /  L'Austral

    Having opened a U.S. office just this year, the French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant is probably still unfamiliar to many American cruisers. That may change with the arrival of the line’s fifth ship, L’Austral, a 132-cabin mega-yacht that will launch on April 27. Not surprisingly, the onboard amenities — two restaurants, plus a spa, theater, lounge and library — will provide more than a soupçon of French flair even as the ship’s itineraries take her far beyond the Côte d’Azur. After spending the summer in the Mediterranean, the ship will sail on to Africa, Antarctica and other exotic ports of call.

  • Carnival Magic

    Image: Carnival Magic
    Carnival

    The latest addition to the Carnival fleet manages a neat trick: Although it’s a carbon copy of Carnival Dream, this 130,000-ton, 3,690-passenger ship tweaks the Fun Ship formula with several new amenities. Get a workout on the first ropes course at sea; cool off in a waterpark featuring a 500-gallon dump bucket, then retire to the RedFrog Pub for private-label beers and Caribbean-flavored snacks or Cucina del Capitano for hand-made pastas and select Italian wines. Launching on May 1, “Magic is perfect for entry-level or first-time cruisers,” said Dwain Wall, senior vice president/general manager for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

  • Seabourn Quest

    Image: Seabourn Odyssey
    Copyright 2009 Michel Verdure

    As the sister ship to the Odyssey (pictured) and Sojourn, Seabourn Quest joins a fleet that Chiron calls “quite possibly the nicest cruise ships on the planet.” Like her predecessors, the ship features a two-deck spa, four restaurants and 225 suite-style cabins, 90 percent of which have private balconies. The result: a yacht-like experience without upper-crust fustiness that draws younger cruisers than other ultra-luxury lines. You can join them on a three-day pre-inaugural cruise from Monte Carlo on June 9, a 14-day maiden voyage from Barcelona on June 20 or, if you’re feeling flush, a 109-day world cruise starting Jan. 5, 2012.

  • Costa Favolosa

    Image: Costa Favoloso
    Matteo Piazza  /  Courtesy of Costa Cruises

    The name is Italian for fairy tale; the decor is modeled after an enchanted castle, and the ambience is Carnival Fun Ship (Costa’s parent company) meets the Continent. Launching on July 4, the 3,000-passenger ship offers several of Costa’s signature Concordia-class amenities, including a Grand Prix driving simulator, 4-D cinema (3-D, plus physical effects) and two-level pool deck with a glass roof and movie screen. New additions, including verandah suites with Jacuzzi tubs, a teen entertainment area and a water park for little cruisers, should only add to la dolce vita.

  • Celebrity Silhouette

    Image: Celebrity Eclipse
    Simon Brooke-Webb  /  Celebrity

    Details are still sketchy on Celebrity’s newest ship, but the fourth vessel in the line’s innovative Solstice class will replicate the most popular amenities of her predecessors, including a glass-blowing studio, recreation area with real grass and Qsine, the eclectic, iPad-menu-equipped restaurant that debuted on Eclipse (pictured). “It’ll be like a floating boutique hotel,” said Chiron of the 2,850-passenger ship, which will begin sailing Mediterranean and Holy Land itineraries on July 23. Those who prefer more tropical itineraries will have to wait until next fall when the ship will start offering 12-night Caribbean cruises from Bayonne, N.J.

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