For many travelers with kids, planning a deluxe family cruise is simply a matter of booking the ship’s most expensive cabin or suite. They’re missing out on a great opportunity to bring their families on unique cruises that offer more than just buffets and bingo. Veteran cruisers with kids are finding that among the top upscale and smaller niche lines, there’s a great variety of family-friendly trips.
“Parents and families looking for a truly luxury vacation experience will be amazed by what is offered by many of today's cruise lines," says Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association. "But the secret to finding just the right cruise is knowing what to expect from each company. On some lines, extensive programs designed for children will keep them entertained, educated and provide a network to create new friends. On other lines, children's programs may be limited or may depend on the season or specific holiday periods.”
Crystal Cruises is popular among seasoned cruisers who care about the finer things at sea and on land. The luxury line has specifically courted multi-generational travel in recent years by offering dedicated children’s facilities, child-friendly food, supervised activities on summer and holiday cruises and babysitting services. They even offer connecting staterooms.
Many areas on the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony and the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity were designed with young guests in mind. The sprawling Fantasia facility features an array of scheduled activities, board games, giant padded cubes, Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 kiosks and large-screen TVs; for teenagers, there’s the Waves video arcade. The ship’s library features children’s books and videos for in-cabin viewing, while the Hollywood Theatre features recently released films at child-friendly hours.
Many parent-travelers assume that well-known high-end cruise lines will be glad to accommodate their children, but that’s not always the case. On many ships, there are no specific kid programs, leaving children feeling out of place. Savvy parents are finding that only certain cruises lines will welcome their children with more than just juice boxes and kid’s meals. Still, there’s no single right answer.
“One of the challenges of planning any cruise is matching your own style of travel to a particular cruise line and cruise ship,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, long-time editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. “Bringing the family along adds a whole new layer of complication and it's critical to match both the destination and the onboard experience to kids' ages and interests. An expedition trip to Antarctica may be a hoot for a 15-year-old, but likely won't hold much interest for a first-grader.”
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is known for luxury offerings, and the “Ambassadors of the Environment” youth program is just the latest attempt to create an exclusive experience for all passengers. Created by Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel, this trip introduces young travelers to extraordinary natural wonders on either of two Alaska and Tahiti sailings. Regent, in fact, has four cruise ships that roam the seven seas with family-friendly offerings, including as the Club Mariner Youth Program that provides age-specific activities for kid cruisers.
Smaller, so-called “niche ships” that head to exotic locales are another excellent option for families in-the-know. “Small ships are especially wonderful for families when the activities focus on nature and wildlife,” says Shirley Linde, editor of SmallShipCruises.com and a newsletter focusing on small ship cruising. “What kid can be bored with close-up encounters with whales, seeing monkeys in a rainforest, walking on a glacier, or fishing for piranha in the Amazon?”
Families are always welcome on Lindblad expeditions, but on the Alaska, Galápagos, Costa Rica/Nicaragua and Greece family programs, staffers specifically organize activities for the younger passengers. These crewmembers have gone through a course designed by Lindblad's family travel experts who have years of experience in childhood and environmental education.
Lindblad’s Greece Family Adventure is a stand-out. More than just a fun vacation with swimming, sailing, picturesque harbors and great food, Lindblad’s staff engages travelers in Greek mythology, history and geography. The sailing yacht Panorama is ideally suited for this, with its ability to set sail quickly to an impulsive wind, trim with stability, anchor for opportune swim stops or dock alongside an overlooked harbor quay. Rates start at $4,980 and, to lure children or grandchildren onboard, the company offers $500 off the double occupancy price for each person under 18.