Cruise lines welcome younger passengers


February 23, 2003|By Jay Clarke | Jay Clarke,Knight Ridder / Tribune

If you're a kid, you're going to like what the cruise lines are doing to make sure you have a good time on board.

How about dissecting a squid? Or painting your own T-shirt? Playing candy-bar bingo or fooling around with "space mud?"

All those, plus computer classes, scavenger hunts, trivia contests, teen "bars" and dance clubs, are some of the ways cruise lines now are catering to young people from toddlers to teen-agers.

It seems to be working, because record numbers of youngsters are boarding cruise ships these days.

Carnival Cruise Lines, for one, expects to have 400,000 children on board this year, an increase of 300 percent over the number it carried seven years ago. Royal Caribbean, too, has seen the number of children on board soar. In 1992, it carried 38,000 children under 18; in 2001 the number was 215,000.

"Ten times last year we had more than 1,000 kids on our Voyager-class ships," said Charly McDonald, Adventure Ocean (children's program) specialist for Royal Caribbean. "That's never happened before."

Disney Cruise Line, whose name is synonymous with children, boards an average of 800 under-18s with every sailing of its two ships, or a total of about 125,000 a year.

Even Holland America, which traditionally has catered to older passengers, is experiencing a boom in cruising children. "We had more than 20,000 children aboard the Maasdam last year," said David A. Giersdorf, senior vice president, "and we expect 30,000 aboard the [new] Zuiderdam in 2003."

It's still true that most children go on cruises when schools are not in session, but that, too, is changing.

"It used to be that we just got a lot of kids in summer and holidays," said Catherine Gaines, coordinator of passenger programs for Princess Cruises. "But now it's continuous."

With this boom in youngsters on board, most cruise lines not only are providing more facilities and personnel to youngsters, but also are expanding and refining their children's programs, particularly on their newer ships.

Pretty much gone is the old concept of the children's center as simply a baby-sitting operation. Today's youngsters are offered a smorgasbord ranging from strictly fun and games to sophisticated educational opportunities.

Dissecting a squid, for instance, is part of Princess Cruises' science program on its new Coral Princess, along with rocket-building. The line also partners with the Miami Seaquarium on a series of videos about and activities related to Caribbean marine life.

On sailings on the same sea aboard the new Carnival Conquest, youngsters learn about island culture and geography as part of the line's extensive EduCruise program, while those more attuned to hands-on activities can learn how to decorate cakes or make pizzas.

Youngsters aboard either of Disney Cruise Line's two ships learn how to create animation cels (used in movie cartoons) or how to become a Mousketeer, while kids on Norwegian Cruise Line's ships can participate in wacky cooking classes.

Cruise ships also are allotting more of their space to children. Royal Caribbean's new Navigator of the Seas, for instance, devotes a whopping 22,000 square feet to children's facilities -- more than a third more than on previous ships of the same Voyager class and more, it says, than on any other cruise line. Carnival substantially increased the size of its children's section on its newest ship, the Carnival Conquest, and for the first time dedicated an exclusive recreation area for teen-agers.

Norwegian Cruise Line's new Norwegian Dawn devotes much more space to children than the line's earlier ships, and even has a special children's area in its Lido restaurant complete with kid-size serving counter, tables and chairs. And Holland America's Zuiderdam, which entered service in December, gives teen-agers half again as much space as exists on its other ships.

It's important to note, how-ever, that facilities for children vary widely from line to line, from ship to ship, and from sailing sea to sailing sea. Older ships devote less space to children and may offer only minimal programs. Boutique cruise lines that attract an upscale clientele usually have few children on board, and fewer facilities for them.

You won't find many children on exotic cruises such as circumnavigations of South America or voyages through the South Pacific; the Caribbean and Alaska are the two most popular for children. Bear in mind, too, that activities vary according to where the ship is sailing -- a pool party for teen-agers goes over big in the Caribbean, but won't take place in Alaskan waters.

So how do you keep a cruising child -- and particularly teen-agers -- happy?

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