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Little pirates of the Caribbean

As cruise lines continue to see greater numbers of family cruisers, they are investing heavily in more family-friendly features and innovations in their youth programs. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), its member cruise lines carried 1.1 million children in 2005. Carnival Cruise Line alone expects to carry a record 525,000 children in 2006, a 325 percent increase in just over a decade.
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As cruise lines continue to see greater numbers of family cruisers, they are investing heavily in more family-friendly features and innovations in their youth programs. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), its member cruise lines carried 1.1 million children in 2005. Carnival Cruise Line alone expects to carry a record 525,000 children in 2006, a 325 percent increase in just over a decade.

So, what’s new for kids aboard ships? The latest hip happenings include a surfing experience, cool water parks, updated teen centers, environmental education and — would you believe? — charm school. Here’s the latest on what each cruise line has to offer the littlest pirates.

Carnival Cruise Line
Camp Carnival offers morning-til-night activities in its expansive indoor play areas, which are stocked with a wide variety of games, toys and activities that focus on art, reading, science, geography and physical fitness. Kids are divided into four age groups: Toddlers (ages 2 to 5), Juniors (ages 6 to 8), Intermediates (ages 9 to 11), and Teens (ages 12 to 14). Outdoor play areas offer mini-basketball hoops, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, as well as game rooms offering the latest video and arcade games.

Kids who like to have fun in the sun also enjoy acres of deck space for outdoor games and activities such as ping-pong, volleyball and shuffleboard, along with many swimming options, including children’s wading pools and main Lido Deck pools, which have cascading water slides. Carnival also offers YSPA, a youth spa program that offers teen-specific body and beauty treatments. Recent enhancements to the program include the new fleetwide Club 02 teen program for kids ages 15 to 17, which has dedicated facilities and energetic counselors.

Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity X-Club offers activities for toddlers to teens and is staffed with youth counselors who have received formal education in recreation, education, child development or related fields.

X-Club is broken down into five programs: Toddler Time for those under 3 (parents must accompany children), Ship Mates (ages 3 to 6), Celebrity Cadets (ages 7 to 9), Ensigns (ages 10 to 12), and Admiral Ts (ages 13 to 17). Activities include arts and crafts, games, fitness programs, movie nights and pizza and ice cream parties. On Celebrity’s Century ship, teens have their own place called X-Treme, a teen lounge that offers a video arcade, dance floor, juice bar, jukebox and karaoke, along with computers that have Internet access. Outdoor activities include pools, basketball, volleyball, paddle tennis and ping-pong.

Costa Cruises
With the launch of Costa’s newest vessels have come enhanced children’s facilities. Costa Kids Club is divided into four age groups. Mini Club, for children 3 to 6, focuses on story times along with arts and crafts, while activities in the Maxi Club, for kids 7 to 10, include treasure hunts, pizza parties, pool games, physical fitness and even some Italian language classes. There are also two teen clubs, one for those ages 11 to 14 and another for those ages 15 to 19; both offer activities from parties to dance competitions. All the new ships have extensive pool sports areas where kids can participate in active play. The recently launched Costa Concordia offers new features, including a giant poolside movie screen and a Formula 1 race car simulator.

Crystal Cruises
Crystal Cruises is well known for its enrichment programs, so it comes as no surprise that this luxury cruise line also offers an enlightening Junior Activities Program. Offered only in the summer and on holiday sailings, the program is divided into three age tiers: 3 to 7, 8 to 12, and 13 to 17. A variety of age-appropriate activities offers arts and crafts, backstage tours, dancing, games, storytelling and environmental learning experiences. Young athletes can take advantage of the ship’s paddle tennis court, driving nets and putting greens, and pool; they can even compete in their own mini-Olympics. A unique offering is Crystal’s cotillion classes, where young cruisers learn the ins and outs of social etiquette, poise, ballroom dancing and public speaking.

Surprise, the Queens love kids! Both the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) and Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) give kids the royal treatment by offering supervised activities for ages 1 through teens; the QM2 also offers a Kid Zone area with a play space and splash pool. Younger kids are supervised by English nannies and can participate in activities ranging from arts and crafts to playtime in the play gym and ball bin. There are even beds for nap time. For kids 7 to 12, there is an area of the playroom that offers a more mature setting with beanbag chairs, board games and video games along with educational learning opportunities. Teen activities are geared toward behind-the-scenes ship tours and movies. Kids of all ages will enjoy the ship’s planetarium. And, in keeping with British tradition, there is a daily tea time just for kids.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line has nearly a full deck area devoted to the little ones, with activities that are overseen by a large number of counselors.

There are separate areas for each age group. The Oceaneer Club has separate activities for 3- to 5-year-olds and 6- to 7-year-olds. The Oceaneer Lab has interactive activities for kids ages 8 to 9 and others for kids ages 10 to 12. Kids 10 to 14 who don’t want to participate in organized activities can visit the Ocean Quest area, where they can chill out and play video games, create arts and crafts or just watch a movie. The coolest part is the scaled replica of the ship’s bridge, where youngsters can “steer” the ship in and out of ports around the globe. For teens, there are the Aloft area (on the Disney Wonder) and The Stack area (on the Disney Magic); each area is a combination dorm room and apartment offering music, games, large-screen TV, a lounge area, Internet area and shipboard programs like animation, moviemaking, karaoke, fitness classes and pool parties just for teens. There is also a large arcade area. Outdoor fun includes the popular Mickey’s Pool, which has a winding water slide and a sports deck area where kids can let off steam.

Holland America
Holland America’s Club HAL offers a variety of activities for kids ages 3 to 17. The program is divided into three groups: Club HAL Kids (ages 3 to 7), Club HAL Tweens (ages 8 to 12), and Loft and Oasis (for teens 13 to 17). Creativity and fun are everywhere with art tables, board games, toys, video games, educational learning and outdoor play on the sports court and pool area.

The Loft and Oasis areas provide teens with a perfect getaway from family members. The Loft is a cool place to hang out and has music, videos and a video karaoke system, as well as a state-of-the-art sound-and-laser-light systems for dancing. The Oasis is a secluded teens-only sun deck furnished with lounge chairs and hammocks; it has a state-of-the-art sound system, along with a nine-foot-high waterfall, cave and wading pool where kids can cool off from the sun.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Kid’s Crew and Teen’s Crew programs are designed for kids and teens ages 2 to 17 and are run by staff experienced in working with children. Kid’s Crew is divided into three groups — Junior Sailors (2 to 5), First Mates (6 to 9) and Navigators (10 to 12) — and offers a daily round of activities including T-shirt painting, pizza making, pajama parties, scavenger hunts and storytelling.

Teen’s Crew, for kids 13 to 17, offers a disco, team games and films. There is an afternoon dance party with a DJ, pizzas and plenty of nonalcoholic drinks and a farewell “frat party” on the last evening. If the teens want a break from the organized fun, there’s a video arcade.

When the kids want to play outside, NCL has some of the best pool areas at sea with water slides and kiddie splash pools. There are also sports decks that offer basketball, volleyball and tennis, along with driving nets for golf, a shuffleboard court and ping-pong tables.

Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises recently revamped its children’s program, adding more fun to its already terrific kids’ activities. Princess Pelicans (ages 3 to 8) have their own play area that offers a small rock-climbing wall, beanbag chairs, crafts area and a splash pool. The Shockwaves program, for 8- to 12-year-olds, also has its own area, which includes plenty of table games and lots of space for sitting and chatting, making crafts and playing games. Shockwaves kids can also participate in the Junior Chefs@Sea program, which takes kids to the ship’s galley to learn cooking from the executive chef and staff.

The Remix area for teens is a mature living-room setting similar to a coffee shop. It comes equipped with air hockey tables, foosball and PlayStation2 consoles. On Crown Princess, teens also have an outside whirlpool (no adults allowed) and a small arcade room across the hall. A bonus is the teen makeover program, run by youth counselors and boutique staff in conjunction with Clinique, which teaches skin care to both girls and boys and makeup techniques to the girls. Princess also has a Youth Security Program, in which staff in their early 20s watch over the teenagers. These highly trained personnel continually monitor the hallways and public areas to make sure kids don’t get out of hand.

Outdoor fun includes great pools; on some ships the pools have a gigantic movie screen. There is also a sports court, where kids can play basketball or tennis, and a nine-hole miniature golf course.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers Club Mariner for kids ages 3 to 17, as well as supervised activities at certain times of the year, mostly on Alaska, Tahiti and holiday sailings. Instead of offering mindless rounds of computers and videos, counselors engage kids in skill games and team-building activities. On Alaska and Tahiti sailings, environmental education is the highlight. On summer Tahiti sailings, for example, Regent offers its Ambassadors of the Environment program for kids ages 9 to 15. The program was created in conjunction with ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, a son of legendary oceanographer and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau. Kids learn about different corals and fish species through hikes, snorkeling, whale watching and snorkeling excursions. The ships’ youth counselors all have college degrees in natural or environmental sciences as well as training from Cousteau’s team.

Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean Youth Program offers specially designed programs for babies and kids from 3 to 11 and teens from 12 to 17. For the tiniest cruisers, parents and babies 6 to 36 months old can participate in the Fisher-Price Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots programs, interactive playgroup sessions developed by early childhood experts at Fisher-Price. For the older kids, the program is divided into five groups: Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5), Explorers (ages 6 to 8), Voyagers (ages 9 to 11), Navigators (ages 12 to 14), and Guests (ages 15 to 17). Every program blends educational activities with games and arts and crafts for a unique onboard experience for the kids.

Teens in Adventure Ocean have their own area called the Living Room that offers a place to relax or take part in games, sports, theme parties and movies. When teens want to boogie, they have their own nightclub called Fuel.

Adventure Ocean is offered on all Royal Caribbean ships; however, the best ships for kids are the Freedom, Adventure, Explorer, Mariner and Navigator, which have rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, in-line skating tracks, basketball and tennis courts, miniature golf, water parks and (on Freedom) the totally cool surfing park.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises
Adventurous families will love to set sail on Windjammer’s tall-masted ships. During the summer months, the line offers the Junior Jammers kids’ program for kids ages 6 to 17. The program is available on two of the line’s four vessels, which carry between 112 and 122 passengers each. Kids are separated into two age groups (6 to 11 and 12 to 17) and can indulge in activities ranging from arts and crafts to sailing instruction. Sporting activities include snorkeling, SASY and Bubblemaker programs (children’s scuba), swimming, hiking and parties. All activities are supervised by trained counselors or diving instructors trained by the Professional Association of Diving Professionals.

With all the inventive program offerings on board today’s cruise ships, you no longer have to listen to the kids complaining, “I’m bored!” Ships are hip — and that’s something family cruisers can stand up and cheer about.

Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita's columns have appeared in major newspapers and many Internet outlets, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2006."or visit her Web site .

Cruise for a Cause!

Tripso wants to take you on a cruise for a cause! See how far New Orleans and Cozumel have come since Katrina and Wilma. Join us October 26, 2006, for four nights on Carnival’s Fantasy, one of the vessels that Carnival offered for hurricane relief. Chat with your favorite Tripso columnist and contribute to a worthy Gulf Coast relief organization. Space is very limited. For more information, e-mail us or check out our cruise page.