Cruise lines go out of their way to create vacations for families with teen-agers


March 12, 1995|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

No one complained about the "forced family time." No one even argued.

Sixteen-year-old Laura Denlow concentrated on her tan all week on the ship. Her 13-year-old brother reveled in spending time with his two older brothers, home from college for vacation. Their parents, meanwhile, were gratified that their efforts to get the family together had worked so well.

"Don't expect a lot of educational value on a family cruise with teen-agers," said their mother, Reva, who has cruised several times with her family during her kids' teen years. "Just fun. The kids didn't do a lot, and they loved it."

"It was excellent," agreed Laura, a junior at a suburban Chicago high school. She especially liked working out in the ship's health club and getting her hair braided in cornrows when the ship docked. "Nobody had to make any decisions about anything. We'd stay up late and sleep late. And we all got along."

There were plenty of activities for teens to choose from morning until night on the Royal Caribbean ship. Like other major cruise lines, Royal Caribbean is increasingly courting this difficult-to-please age group.

That's because there are so many more of them aboard ship these days. The numbers of families taking to the seas has nearly doubled in recent years, the Cruise Lines International Association reports. Industry surveys suggest that nearly 30 percent of new cruisers will take their kids along in the next two years.

At the same time, the number of teens is growing fast, as baby boomers' children begin to grow up. Cruise-industry officials, like those at hotels and resorts everywhere, are closely eyeing population trends to meet the demands of this growing family market: According to the U.S. Census, by the year 2000, teen-agers will be the largest group of children in the country -- 27.7 million strong, aged 13 to 19.

"The [teen] market already is there, and it's only going to get bigger," says Gary Sain, a senior marketing executive for Premier Cruiseline, which is host to some 300,000 families a year. (Premier is now offering a Disney package: Cruise four days, and stay at Disney World for three days. For a family of four, the cost ranges from $3,000 to $3,500, including airfare, depending on the gateway city.)

"Those who capitalize on the trend of more families traveling with teens will be the ones to benefit," Mr. Sain adds, noting that some of the most positive comments Premier gets from passengers are from parents of teens.

That's why there are teen discos, teen centers complete with big-screen television and video games, shore excursions, sundae parties and pool volleyball. Travel officials and parents alike recognize one indisputable fact: No matter what their ages, if the kids are happy, parents will have a good vacation and are likely to want to repeat the experience.

There's another reason for all of the action directed at teens. "We want them to stay out of the adults' way and not get into nTC trouble," explains Royal Caribbean spokesman Richard Steck. The busier the kids are, the less likely that will happen.

He noted a tragic 1993 case when a group of teens got their hands on liquor: One boy died of alcohol poisoning.

Cruise officials stress that they work hard to keep teens out of bars and casinos on the ships, but ultimately, the responsibility for their safety rests with the parents.

Yet safety is precisely what appeals to parents of teen-agers who opt for a cruise as opposed to a resort vacation.

"We didn't have to worry about where they were at all," explained Michelle Spiegel, who lives in Northridge, Calif., and cruised to Alaska last summer with her husband, two teens and his parents and siblings. The programs, she added, made up for the family's disappointments with the food and service. Her 14-year-old daughter, Nicole, was off so much with her new friends on the Princess cruise that she had to be reminded to spend some time with the family.

"He can be out late at night and I know he's right there on the ship," added Bernice Goddard, a Queens, N.Y. nurse who has cruised several times with her 18-year-old son. Mrs. Goddard, a widow, added that a cruise is an ideal trip for a single parent and a teen. "We could be together at meals, and then he'd make new friends from all over," she said.

Some teens, parents say, click with a group of new friends and are busy all day and evening. On one Celebrity cruise the teens might go to "Wake and Bake" one morning to work on their tans together.

(Ask your travel agent about a seven-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Bermuda April 15: children and grandchildren sail for $99 each when traveling as third or fourth passengers.)

But don't assume kids will jump into the frenetic activities with both feet. Just make sure the ship has plenty of good sports facilities and an active teen program, advises Elaine Knobel, a Skokie, Ill., travel agent who has cruised often during her sons' teen-age years. Another plus Mrs. Knobel notes, especially for parents of boys with voracious appetites: They can eat as much as they like whenever they like.

As for Laura Denlow, she's ready to cruise again. "On a cruise ship, you get to do whatever you want to do," she explains.

And that, after all, is what vacations are for.

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