Image: HELMSMAN
Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
A bronze statue of Helmsman Mickey graces the atrium lobby of the Disney Magic, a cruise ship that can carry about 2,400 passengers.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 5/12/2011 9:35:11 AM ET 2011-05-12T13:35:11

Kids were everywhere — splashing in the ship's pools, touring the Coliseum and Pompeii, posing for family photos before dinner.

Cruising the Mediterranean on the Disney Magic, there were at least 1,000 kids onboard, more than half of them under 10, many not yet out of preschool.

"Travel can be so stressful," said Geri Markey of Los Gatos, Calif., traveling with a 7 and 10 year old. "Packing and unpacking, making sure you didn't forget anything, finding food they will eat. Here, everybody is happy."

Another plus: With all the deals out there (many cruises start at under $1,000 per person, significantly less for kids sharing parents' cabins), families may find that cruising is not only easier, but cheaper than traveling on their own in Europe, especially with a multigenerational group and especially when meals, lodging, entertainment and transportation from port to port is included. (Check websites like www.cruising.org for information and www.cruisecritic.com and www.cruisecompete.com for the latest deals.)

Whatever your budget or travel style, there have never been so many kid-friendly options — from ultra deluxe Crystal, Regent Seven Seas to Norwegian Cruise Line, which has three ships in Europe, including the Jade, which cruises all year round and is touting a special Nickelodeon-themed cruise from Barcelona set for late July. There's also Royal Caribbean, embarking on its biggest season ever with 11 ships sailing in the region, and MSC offering seven ships, 85 itineraries and kids-cruise-free deals for those under 12 who share a cabin with parents (or grandparents).

The new Carnival Magic will also cruise the Mediterranean — the line's first full-season overseas cruise in three years. If you are looking for a special trip with your adult kids — graduation maybe — or a parents-only getaway while the kids are in camp, Windstar Cruises has deals on their sailing yachts that offer nearly half-off on Greek Isles trips.

Balancing fun with history
It's easy to see the appeal. There are only so many gothic churches and staid museums a kid can take. Adults too. No wonder cruise lines are reporting an up-tick in families cruising Europe. Crystal — the only deluxe cruise line with dedicated children's space — is now carrying triple the number of kids on European cruises, while Royal Caribbean expects to carry well over 24,000 kids on its overseas itineraries, including its new Adriatic sailing that starts in Venice.

Disney touts special kid-friendly tour excursions. We took a pasta-making class at a Tuscany farmhouse. (If you want to cruise with the Mouse, go this year. In 2012 all four ships will be stateside.) Even Uniworld River Cruises reports that kids are joining parents and grandparents on itineraries that might include Normandy or Prague while SeaDream Yacht Club, which typically caters to very upscale couples, is marketing its Aug. 3 sailing from Rome for families, offering special shore excursions, meals and more.

Aboard a cruise ship you can relax and meet families from around the world, instead of schlepping from city to city. And after an exhausting day of touring, you return to a place where most everyone speaks English and there are big swimming pools, familiar food and, with morning-till-night youth activities, a welcome break for mom and dad. "It's nice to get rid of the kids for a little bit without feeling guilty," laughed one mom aboard the Disney Magic.

You couldn't let your 14 year old wander alone in a European city, nor would she want to, but aboard ship, she can safely have all the freedom she craves — and plenty of company her own age. "The best part was meeting new people and making new friends," said Jennifer Davidson, 17, cruising with her aunt and cousin.

Kids with special needs — mental, physical, severe food allergies — are also accommodated. No worries if you encourage the kids to branch out with their food choices and they turn up their nose when the dish arrives, the obliging waiter will bring them something else.

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Leave the kids onboard
You can even let the youngest cruisers remain onboard while you tour the sites. "The cruise is for the kids, the shore excursions are for us," explained Micah Herrelbrink, who was cruising with three friends — all wives of U.S. Air Force pilots deployed in Afghanistan — and their 10 children, all under the age of 6. "We can focus on ourselves, which we never get to do at home," she said.

The downside? You can't linger as long as you'd like in a museum or soak up the atmosphere in a cafe because you have to return to the ship. You won't meet as many locals as you might have if you were touring on your own. And you may end up with cranky kids on a long shore excursion.

But that's a small price to pay, families cruising in Europe say. Ayman Neoman and Irene Malek, both physicians from Huntington Beach, Calif., were traveling with their four kids, 6 to 12, as well as Malek's parents, brother and sister-in-law. She opted for this trip so far from home because she wanted the kids to begin to appreciate that the United States is not the center of the universe. But she didn't want to make herself and her husband crazy in the process. "This is so much simpler," she said, watching the kids in the pool as the ship headed for the next port.

Be forewarned that cruise excursions — especially in Europe — can be expensive. That's why savvy family travelers, especially when touring with extended family or friends, book their own independent tours that not only save them money but also give them more flexibility.

Don't expect the kids to be fascinated by all the sites either. Steven Tuck, a classics professor at Miami University and president of the Vergilian Society, which offers all varieties of European tours, suggests "making it about the people, not the buildings." Tuck was onboard the Disney Magic as the resident historical expert and has traveled widely with his own child, as well as others.

"What you are trying to do is plant a seed so they will want to come back and explore foreign cultures and travel," he said. "You don't want that all they remember is being hot and exhausted."

Parents either. Ready to jump in the pool?

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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