2013 Guide to cruising with kids

Kids are everywhere—on cruise ships anyway—whether you are in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska or far flung destinations like the Galapagos Islands and even the Arctic.  Welcome to our Taking the Kids Cruise Guide for 2013, researched and updated by our intrepid intern Becca Tash.

Cruise Lines International Association reports that some 1.5 million kids now are cruising every year—more than 1,000 on some sailings. And cruise lines have never done more for them, from featuring hip teen and tween hang-outs with the latest music and video games, to centers for the littlest cruisers (that are better equipped than many preschools) and even nurseries at sea.

Parents love cruising because they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck—activities, meals and lodging all for one price, including supervised morning-till-night programming for kids, at considerably less than many resorts charge. Grandparents are fans because cruises can prove an easy way to get the whole gang on vacation, especially in Alaska and Europe. Kids—especially tweens and teens— give ships a thumbs-up because they love the freedom they can have onboard and the chance to make new friends. Kids and parents alike love the major lines’ private Caribbean islands, too.

Kids with special needs and severe allergies routinely are accommodated in organized programming. Another plus: there have never been more ports, from New York to California, eliminating the need for many families to fly. And you can cruise for just a few days or more than a week, checking out beaches or historic sites. Visit the Cruise Lines International Association website for a list of ports. Find online cruise guides complete with deals and specials.

And if you don’t want to go on a large ship charter your own boat with a crew or without as we have done several times in Tahiti or the Caribbean.

I’ve cruised with my family around the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to Greece to Alaska. I’ve written The Kid’s Guide: Cruising Alaska. I’ve found along the way that key is to choose the right cruise for your family and age kids. Here are some great options to consider:

ADVENTURESMITH EXPLORATIONS

AdventureSmith partners with small capacity, specialty-oriented ships around the world including domestic North American regions as Alaska, British Columbia and Oregon & Washington’s Columbia River and far flung locales as Alaska, Baja, Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Peru, the Arctic, Antarctica and Australia. They can steer you to special family sailings and deals. Company founder Todd Smith helped pioneer the concept of wilderness cruising that combines the comforts of a small cruise ship with the adventure of sea kayaking, hiking and exploring remote wilderness areas ashore seldom associated with more mainstream cruise itineraries. The company also has launched a carbon free cruising initiative and includes family programs as well as substantial savings. Look for deals like two for one Antarctica, early booking Alaska or kids 12 and under cruising half price.

CARNIVAL 

This huge cruise line expects to carry 725,000 children in 2013, roughly double the number of kids they carried a decade ago

What’s New: Carnival Cruise Lines has a number of exciting developments in the coming months, including the first full year of Caribbean cruises from Miami aboard the new 130,000-ton, 3,690-passenger, Carnival Breeze (officially the largest Carnival ship ever based in South Florida!) The Carnival Breeze introduces Carnival’s first Thrill Theater, with interactive special effects that make viewers feel as if they are part of the movie, new culinary choices such as Bonsai Sushi, the line’s first full-service sushi restaurant and a complimentary open-air outdoor dining venue called Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ.

Representing Carnival’s most ambitious transformation project ever, Carnival Destiny will undergo a $155 million makeover, officially becoming Carnival Sunshine. The refit incorporates all of the “Fun Ship 2.0” dining, bar and entertainment features, as well as adding 182 new cabins and new choices including ShakeSpot, JavaBlue Café, Pizzeria del Capitano. Parents can enjoy a three-level Serenity adults-only retreat and the whole familt can go wild at the new massive water park featuring dual racing-themed water slides and a 334-foot-long enclosed corkscrew slide – the longest in the “Fun Ship” fleet.

Look forward to Carnival’s Largest European Season Ever in 2013. For the first time, Carnival will deploy two ships in Europe offering an exciting choice of options, including the line’s first Norwegian fjords itinerary and its first extended program from the UK.

Kids Programs: Carnival Cruise Lines offers complimentary programming and facilities for kids in three age groups – Camp Carnival (2-11), Circle “C” (12-14) and Club O2 (15 and older). Camp Carnival is designed for younger cruisers and features indoor play areas – some as large as 5,500 square feet — stocked with games and toys — along with “activity walls,” indoor climbing mazes, computer labs and video walls. Gaming stations include on-board programming emphasizing reading, art, music, geography, and physical fitness. Kids can also eat with their counselors so parents can enjoy a night to themselves.

For Tweens: Circle “C” 12- to 14-year olds have a place of their own to dance, watch movies and music videos, play video games and get together with new friends for organized activities from basketball to late-night pool parties.

For Teens : The teen clubs (Club O2) include a dance floor with a DJ, a “Coke-tail” lounge serving non-alcoholic specialty drinks, a library with teen-oriented books and magazines, a 16-monitor “video wall,” music listening stations and more.

Around the Ship: Outdoor games and activities, along with children’s wading pools, and main Lido deck pools offering the line’s signature “Twister” water slides, some as long as 312 feet (Carnival Sunshine, currently sailing as the Carnival Destiny, will feature a 334-foot-long water slide following an extensive dry dock). Outdoor play areas with mini basketball hoops, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, as well as game rooms offering the latest video and arcade games, are available fleet wide. The line also offers nightly babysitting and Carnival Night Owls, which features fun-filled children’s parties, offering a full schedule of late-night activities (fees apply for babysitting and the Night Owls program).

CELEBRITY CRUISES

These ships are known for their sophisticated cuisine, upscale ambience, destination-focused itineraries and themed cruises focusing on art, food and wine. Still, families cruise Celebrity and the line offers popular kids’ programming.

What’s New: There are some great new features on Celebrity Cruise ships to look forward to this year.

Celebrity’s fifth Solstice Class ship, Celebrity Reflection. The ship introduces three new, unique and luxurious suite categories. This includes the Reflection Suite, the brand’s first two-bedroom suite that also has an all-glass shower extending out over the edge of the ship, as well as five Signature Suites located in the private area of the ship’s 14th deck, each with a 441-square-foot stateroom area and 118-square-foot veranda, with floor-to-floor ceiling windows and veranda doors. Guests also enjoy AquaClass Suites, with spa-inspired staterooms and exclusive and complimentary access to the Mediterranean-themed restaurant, “Blu”.

The ship also presents a twist on the traditional card room with “Game On”, where the whole family can play a variety of modern and classic games on six 32-inch, interactive touch-screen tables.

New this year, Celebrity Cruises has partnered with Billboard music to create a variety of music-themed entertainment for the whole family on all Celebrity Cruises except for Xpedition. Look forward to a new “TV-style” interactive game show that tests guests’ knowledge through music challenges, as well as a music trivia series, where teams participate are quizzed on questions based on a various genres. Those participating have the chance to win Billboard gift cards to download music online as prizes! Oh yeah- and for all of you looking to party the night away, the “Totally ‘80s Theme Party”, currently offered exclusively on Celebrity Reflection, is a fully produced and choreographed party, featuring Billboard Hits of the decade and encouraging dancing all night long!

For Kids: Celebrity Cruises offers art programs, dance parties, culinary classes, scavenger hunts, the latest multi-generational gaming and more. Programs start at age three and run up to age 17. Thanks to a partnership with LeapFrog Schoolhouse there is special LeapFrog Edutainment, designed exclusively for Celebrity Cruises that allow kids to virtually “explore” the ports they’re visiting. Celebrity’s ships also tout a Leapfrog “Fun Factory” area, including a working studio where kids can produce their own newscast. There are late-evening activities at $6 an hour per child. And kids can eat with counselors at least once during a cruise.

For Teens: their own X-Club with teen-oriented entertainment, a dance club, and a Coffee Bar on all Celebrity ships, except for Celebrity Xpedition.

Around the Ship: Kid’s pools and slides are available fleetwide, except for Celebrity Xpedition. Basketball courts are available all ships, except for Celebrity Century and Celebrity Xpedition. In-room sitting is $8 per hour for up to two children. On Shore Days: Some programming is available for an extra fee.

COSTA CRUISES

Europe’s top cruise line will give your family a chance to get to know European families and offers a youth program fleet wide. There are reduced rates for kids under 17 sharing a cabin with parents and periodic kids-sail-free deals.

What’s New: Costa Cruises offers six new itineraries for the 2013-14 winter season that span the Canary Islands and North Africa, United Arab Emirates, eastern and western Mediterranean, the Caribbean and South America.

For Kids: Youth programs begin at age three and youth counselors will take kids to dinner. They might interview with the captain, stage junior Olympics, take dancing lessons, have parades and more.

For Teens: A dedicated teen room, but not fleet-wide, Capoeira, Hip-hop dance Latin and group dances, magic and micro magic, juggling, pantomime, clownery Video recording and editing.

Around the Ship: Kids pools, water slides, basketball and arcade, but not fleet wide Volleyball, basketball, football, tennis, table tennis, rotating table tennis, table football, water polo, water basketball, water volleyball, darts, hoops, bowling, shuffleboard, video games on giant screen. In-room sitting is not available but there is free late night group sitting. On shore days programming is complimentary.

Between 2009 and 2012 Costa launched five new ships with activities, including Grand Prix race car driving simulators, and music studios. There are both waterworks and castle play areas, as well as a Spanish galleon replica on the line’s two newest ships, Costa Favolosa and Costa Fascinosa and all of the newest ships have an enclosable pool deck — great for the occasional rainy day.

CRYSTAL

The all-inclusive cruise line, Crystal reports that growing numbers of families and multigenerational groups are opting for the line’s six-star service and designated spaces for kids and teens—rare at this level. The ships carry about 1000 passengers with all of the amenities you’d expect on a cruise line touting luxury, service, space and enrichment programs. Generally, kids in a “third berth” (three is the most allowed) who are 11 and under are charged 50% of the minimum cruise-only fare.

What’s New: Crystal Symphony’s Fantasia play area and Waves video arcade was completely remodeled, offering kids the opportunity to watch movies on a large screen, and do plenty of arts-and-crafts.

Cruises is expanding its opportunities for family-friendly summer travel with new “Kids Sail Free” offers in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. On four June and July voyages, junior cruisers age 17 and under can travel for free when sharing a third berth stateroom with two adults.

For Kids: Programs begin at age 3 with arts and crafts, video games, scavenger hunts, sushi-making and more. There are kid-friendly movies, books, Bridge tour, Galley Tour and Cookie Decorating.

For Teens: Waves is a separate teen club with video arcade with Xbox 360?s, Wii’s, and Playstations. Golf lessons, special sessions with on-board experts, late night pool parties, movies and more.

Around the ship: Keyboard lessons, language immersion, wellness seminars, stone sculpting, wine appreciation, sushi-making, and art workshops are among dozens of classes offered through Crystal Cruises’ Creative Learning Institute (CLI). The Library offers more than 3,000 titles, including a selection of children’s books and children’s DVD’s for use in the cabins. In-Room Sitting is available $10 per hour for 1 child, $15 per hour for 2 children, $20 per hour for 3 children. On shore days some organized activities may be offered.

CUNARD LINE

Cunard continues the tradition of luxury cruising that began in 1840 complete with fencing (Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth), croquet (Queen Elizabeth), and the only ship offering regularly scheduled transatlantic service between New York and Southampton, England (flagship Queen Mary 2).

What’s New: Cunard Liner, Queen Victoria recently celebrated her 5th Anniversary with a visit from the Duchess of Cornwall, who unveiled a specially-commissioned portrait of herself on board the ship! For the first time in the line’s 172-year history, guests will be able to celebrate an unforgettable wedding day at sea, conducted by the Captain, aboard Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. Queen Mary 2, the flagship’s popular seven-day Transatlantic voyages are also complimented by two eight-day Crossings this year.

For Babies: children can be cared for from age one with certified British nannies on board.

For Kids: youth program year round on Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

DISNEY CRUISE LINE

Disney has raised the bar for creative kids’ programming and shore excursions, and a ship design that enables every member of the family—from infants (there is a stand-out nursery to seniors) to have a real vacation—complete with fireworks at sea. “Dine and Play” means kids are served dinner in an expedited fashion with youth activities arriving 45 minutes into dinner to escort them to organized activities so parents can linger. Special shore excursions are designed so parents get a break part of the time.

What’s New: Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, features many innovative features, new design elements and guest experiences that give this ship an identity all its own. In the dinner-time show “Animation Magic,” guests’ drawings are brought to life when they dance side-by-side with Disney characters in Animator’s Palate restaurant. The mainstage show “Wishes” and the musical comedy “Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular” take entertainment to new heights, while the Muppets star in a new interactive Enchanted Art adventure game leading guests in a quest around the ship. AquaLab is a brand-new water play area where guests can splash and play with pop jets, geysers and bubblers, and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is a special salon for pixie-dusted princess and pirate makeovers.

In 2013, Disney Cruise Line will offer new itineraries, including an expanded portfolio of cruises from Europe and Galveston, Texas. The summer season in the Mediterranean treats guests to the best of Europe with new destinations such as Venice, Italy, Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, Ephesus, Turkey and the Greek Isles, along with a variety of itineraries, including four-, seven- and 12-night sailings. New choices from Texas include four-night Caribbean getaway cruises, seven-night sailings that include a stop in Falmouth, Jamaica and special itineraries that take guests to Walt Disney World Resort and Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. In addition, Disney Cruise Line will utilize a second homeport in Florida, with Caribbean sailings departing from the Port of Miami for the first time.

For Babies: On the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, Disney offers nursery care at Flounder’s Reef Nursery ($6 per hour per child, $5 per hour for additional sibling) starting at three months from 9 am to 11 pm (port and sea days with adjusted hours to accommodate the port adventures offered). On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy there is the expanded It’s a Small World Nursery. All baby products needed can be pre-arranged online before your cruise and delivered directly to your cabin. The littlest cruisers will love the special splash zones up on deck for children not yet toilet trained and in swim diapers.

For Kids: For kids ages three to 12, there are activities in the Oceaneer Club complete with themed play areas, costumes, character activities and more. In the exporation and discovery-themed Oceaneer Lab, kids can make Flubber, play video games, have PJ parties, or play music. In the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, there are sessions on how to be a princess or pirate, learning to cook, interacting with the coolest technology and creating the most fantastic Disney-themed crafts. There are character activities daily and counselors will take children to meals. There is no charge either for port programs or late night babysitting.

For Tweens: The 11-14-year-olds have their own EDGE club with couches, computer games, dance parties, sports competitions and more.

For Teens: Teens 14-17 have their own VIBE club and on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, their own sundeck. Open all day (and half of the night), the areas are the perfect chill-out spots with comfy couches and flat-screen TVs. VIBE club hours of operation are typically from 11:00 AM – 2:00 AM, except on day of embarkation. There are special Teen shore excursions like the Wild Side at Castaway Cay, where teen s explore, snorkel, bike and kayak through the island and finish with a hearty lunch.

Around the Ship: Everything from character meals and meet-and-greets, to first-run movies to Broadway caliber entertainment to adult-only restaurants and deck areas. Families love Disney’s private island Castaway Cay with its 12-acre snorkeling lagoon, fishing and kayaking, the chance to swim with the stingrays, play in the water park, or head to separate adult and teen beaches. In room sitting—not available but there is no charge for late night programming for kids three and older. On shore days, Youth Activities spaces remain open during port days at no charge.

HOLLAND AMERICA

This line once was considered a haven for seniors cruising Alaska but now carries more than 25,000 kids and their families aboard its 15 ships every year—including so many multi generational groups that they have designed a special Family Reunion Program with reduced group rates (if you book eight cabins), free Fountain Soda Cards for everyone, a family photo per cabin and more. The junior foodies in your gang will love the kids and teen Culinary Arts Center with cooking lessons. All the kids will like the Cartoon Network offerings that air on the in-cabin television.

What’s New: More cruises from New York and Boston to Canada/New England this summer, with multi-day stays in Qeubec on certain itineraries. The MS Niewu Amsterdam, dedicated last summer, will cruise the Mediterranean.

For Babies: You can arrange baby food, diapers and refrigerators for a nominal fee and Toddler Times for kids under the age of three to play in the children’s facilities with their parents.

For Kids: The Club HAL program has been expanded to include ages three to 12—the youngest in areas where paintbrushes serve as pillars, enormous pencils adorn the wall, a paint bucket is a play area, and a huge tape dispenser serves as a slide. Counselors will take kids to meals on request.

For Tweens: kids, ages 8 to 12, have an area featuring arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, family-safe Internet access (minimal charge similar to Explorations Cafe) and Sony Playstations. They may participate in the national Park Service Junior Ranger program in Alaska. There are special kids and teens culinary workshops.

For Teens: A separate teen program with The Loft, a teen lounge. Oasis, a teen-only sundeck with an array of organized teen activities is also available on select ships.

AROUND THE SHIP: Kids’ pool, basketball, volleyball and tennis. Families love the private island Half Moon Cay. In room babysitting is available for children three and older, $8 per hour for the first child and $5 per hour for each other child) and there’s a late-night program at Club Hall ($5 per hour per child). On shore days, youth programs are offered.

MSC CRUISES

offer innovative itineraries, great family deals and some luxury perks. Kids 11 and under Sail Free on MSC Cruises (always off the early booking rates) when traveling as the third and/or fourth guests in a stateroom with two adults and receive discounts on shore excursions as well. Guests also enjoy a luxury lounge with a special concierge and butler service on the MSC Yacht Club level on Fantasia-class ships (MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa, which debuts March 2013).

What’s New: Adults and juniors should be excited for the MSC Preziosa, debuting in March 2013. The ship proudly boasts the longest waterslide at sea, Vertigo, as well as the Doremi Castle Aqua Park for toddlers up to teens.

All of the fleet’s 12 ships will be in the Mediterranean region at some time in 2013, with several ships sailing year round and guests can select from a variety of Mediterranean itineraries, with cruises of varying lengths (from weekend cruises to 11-night itineraries). MSC Cruises has recently begun sailing the Red Sea, as they are no longer sailing Abu Dhabi. UAR, MSC Divina, the newest of MSC ships is also sailing from Port Miami for the Caribbean season beginning in November 2013 until April 2014, when it makes its Grand Voyage back to Italy.

For Kids: Organized activities start at age three until age 17. A new program launched in 2012 allows children to dine together and enjoy a special menu dedicated especially for them. Fantasia class ships also boast a colorful candy shop that kids are bound to enjoy, a children’s waterpark (MSC Fantasia) and indoor/outdoor play area that makes MSC Cruises a fun adventure for kids.

For Teens:  The Fantasia-class ships features many activities for teens from age 13-17, including a teen disco with dancing and karaoke, 4-D interactive cinema and Italian lesson. Teens are also able to enjoy the shops onboard by purchasing a teen card designed for nominal onboard purchases.

Around the Ship: Miniature golf, tennis and basketball. Several of the newest ships, including Musica, MSC Orchestra, MSC Poesia, MSC Magnifica, MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida offer designated children’s pools and outdoor play areas as well—even on MSC Poesia, a Stone Age dinosaur play area. On the Fantasia-class ships you’ll find an exciting interactive 4D-cinema, a video arcade, as well as a Formula 1 racing simulator on MSC Fantasia and two mini bowling alleys on MSC Splendida. In room babysitting is not available. On shore days, organized activities continue and operate during port days as well.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian enables you to cruise with your kids from Miami, New York, Boston, Tampa, Port Canaveral, New Orleans, Seattle, Honolulu, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome (Civitavecchia) or Venice. Each ship has its own children’s themed wet and wild fun areas. The line is famous for “Freestyle” Cruising, which means you eat when and where you want. Just be prepared to pay extra to sample to specialty restaurants.

What’s New: The line recently enhanced its fleet-wide youth and teen programs and named them Splash Academy and Entourage. Whether it’s ocean-related, pirates, space cowboys, jungle fever or circus, both Splash Academy and Entourage feature a different theme every day. With activities that are tailored specifically to each age groups, Guppies for ages up to 2; Turtles for ages 3 to 5; Seals for ages 6 to 9; and Dolphins for ages 10 to 12, the new youth and teen programs focus on creative and unique activities, along with more sporting events, through a partnership with King’s Foundation and Camps. Another highlight of the program is a circus school in partnership with Hilario Productions’ Cirque du Jour, a New York-based company that specializes in teaching children real circus skills.

Debuting in May 2013, the top decks of Norwegian Breakaway feature the first Aqua Park at sea with five full-size water slides, including twin Free Fall slides, the first ever at sea, and a three-story sports complex that includes the largest ropes course at sea, a nine-hole miniature golf course, basketball court, rock climbing wall and more.

For Kids: activities start at age 3 that might range from pizza making to treasure hunts. Each cruise (on Epic, Jewel and Gem) features live Nickelodeon-themed interactive shows, including SlimeTime LIVE! (on Epic and Jewel); breakfast with Nickelodeon characters; Nick-themed dance parties and more. They can’t eat meals with their counselors, however. Splash Academy also offers activities for cruisers under three and their parents who can enjoy sensory play classes which include baby art featuring “Wee Can Too” organic art products.

For Tweens: Programs for 10-12 year olds Aboard Epic, The Tween Zone has a futuristic feel that includes multiple Wii and PlayStation 3 areas, along with a private karaoke performance stage which doubles as a cinema.

For Teens: Entourage is Norwegian’s high energy, exclusive teen zone for ages 13 through 17. This funky space includes air hockey, pinball, foosball, a video jukebox, and large flat screen televisions, a few of which are located around a central video game console featuring PlayStation® 3. In the evening, Entourage transitions into a hip nightclub with a space for dancing or just hanging out on comfy couches. Directly below is the video arcade.

Around the ship: The line currently offers exclusive Nickelodeon family events, shows and activities on three ships: Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Gem (beginning mid-February).  Activities include pool games, breakfast with the characters, where kids – and adults – can eat, sing and play with SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Patrick, Diego and more; Dora’s Dance Party, where kids can join Dora and the Nickelodeon cast to dance and sing along; meet and greets with popular Nickelodeon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and many more.

PAUL GAUGIN

This is the operator of the longest continually-sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, Paul Gauguin. No other ship has offered such single-destination focus year-round.

What’s New: Free roundtrip airfare from LA on French Polynesia itineraries and the line introduced a new ship, the 90-guest Tere Moana that sails the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe.

For Kids: Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program, created by explorer and environmentalist Jean Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Future Society. The program is designed to introduce young cruisers 9-17 to the natural wonders of French Polynesia with hands on experiences like exploring coral reefs, hiking, rainforest trails and visiting marae (ancient Polynesian temples). They’ll learn how black pearls and vanilla are cultivated, how volcanic islands become coral atolls, and how to paddle an outrigger canoe. Parents are encouraged to join children on eco-excursions and other activities aboard and ashore. This program is available on all cruises from June through August and on select holiday cruises for an extra fee.

PRINCESS

There is music and even yoga for kids and teens along with the regular activities. Families love the private island and family-friendly shore excursions. Be forewarned that the line’s smaller vessels (Pacific Princess, Ocean Princess) don’t have dedicated youth spaces but children’s programs operate when 20 or more children ages 3 to 17 are on board.

What’s New: The new 3,600-passenger Royal Princess debuts its 2013 maiden season which includes cruises through the Grand Mediterranean throughout the summer, followed by Eastern Caribbean cruises beginning in the fall. New features include a top-deck glass-bottomed walkway extending more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel, private poolside cabanas that appear to be floating on the water, the new Princess Live! television studio, a pastry shop and balconies on all outside staterooms. Royal Princess offers expanded space for youth centers, where all age groups enjoy dedicated outdoor areas, including a new teen lounge. Toddlers can also join the fun with a special fun area just for kids under 3.

Princess cruises from the West Coast are taking on two new homeports in Fall 2013 – Los Angeles and San Francisco. Guests can enjoy sailings to Hawaii, Mexico, the California Coast and even Tahiti & Samoa sailings. In total, four ships will sail on 14 different itineraries from West Coast ports in the 2013-14 season, ranging from three to 28 days.

For Babies: There is a special outdoor deck exclusively for toddlers and their parents.

For Kids: Princess Youth Programs start at age three; younger children are welcome to use the youth center facilities as long as they are accompanied by an adult. There are three, age-specific programs, starting with Princess Pelicans for ages 3-7. There are some special group dinners and activities such as pizza and ice cream parties offered, but generally the kids centers are closed during meal hours when at sea.

For Tweens: (ages 8-12) Shockwaves includes talent shows, backstage tours, PJ parties and a Jr.CHEF@Sea program. There is “Science on the Seas,” an award-winning program developed in conjunction with the California Science Center, along with the regular programming.

For teens: Remix (ages 13-17). Offers teen-only deck parties, hip-hop dance classes with the ship’s professional dancers, DJ workshops, hot tub parties and more. Princess also offers the cruise industry’s only Teen Makeover program, where young participants can learn make-up and skin care techniques. On the Grand and Golden Princess, teens have a separate hot tub and deck area.

Around the Ship: kids pools, Princess’ private island Princess Cay, arcades, basketball court and moor. Families love the giant outdoor movie screens. In room babysitting is not available but there is late night group setting at $5 per child. On shore days, youth programs are offered.

Afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition on Princess ships, but is now offered on the Promenade Deck from 3:30 to 4:30 daily. Guests on 2013 cruises can now get moving with Zumba Fitness at sea, the exhilarating dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music and contagious choreography.

REGENT SEVEN SEAS

Upscale families love that the cabins are all suites, the cruise all-inclusive and there is special pricing for kids. Because the ships are smaller—700 guests as opposed to triple or quadruple that number– there may just be 50 youngsters on board instead of 20 times that number.

What’s New: all amenities, soft drinks, wine, liquor, tips, etc and shore excursions are part of the deal which includes 2-1 pricing on many ships, free air from more than 25 gateway cities, complimentary pre-cruise hotel stay and transfers.

For Kids: Programming starts at age 5 but the Club Mariner youth program is only available on select voyages. There are no separate facilities for teens and tweens, though separate activities are offered through the Club Mariner Youth program. The Club Mariner counselors host a variety of activities, including games, craft projects, movies, and “food fun” to make sure each child has a memorable experience. Activities are customized for each group.

In-Room sitting is officially not available but staff members sometimes will babysit upon request.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Think family vacation – on steroids. Think every kind of food and entertainment you could want aboard the world’s biggest—at least for the moment—ships Oasis and Allure of the Seas. There is even a youth spa. No worries about keeping track of the tweens and teens either as they roam the ship thanks to a sleek new Royal Connect device that looks like a sleek phone that you can rent for roughly $18 a week which allows the kids to call you from a house phone anywhere on the ship (or their own device).

What’s new: In 2013, Royal Caribbean is launching its Barbie Experience onboard. The partnership with Barbie encompasses a host of activities in the cruise line’s award-winning Adventure Ocean youth program as well as a BarbieTM Premium Experience. Kids participating in the cruise line’s award-winning Adventure Ocean youth program can be part of the complimentary version of the Barbie program, which includes Barbie Movie Night, Barbie Story Time and more, plus Barbie movies on their stateroom televisions. The BarbieTM Premium Experience is the ultimate indulgence for Barbie enthusiasts, where young people can enjoy staterooms decorated in the iconic doll’s signature style as well as exclusive, themed activities throughout the duration of their cruise – from an invitation-only tea party and mermaid dance class to a fashion design workshop and Barbie Girls fashion show

For Babies: Aboard select ships, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for toddlers 6-36 months old offer parents childcare drop-off options in the daytime and evening. On all ships, free-time play is also offered daily, with a variety of Fisher Price developmental toys in specially-designed programs offered exclusively (that guests can also borrow for their cabins!) Parents and children can enjoy unique developmentally appropriate art activities that feature the Crayola Beginnings line of toddler art tools. The Babies 2 Go program also allows parents to order organic baby food and diapers, wipes and creams by Huggies for delivery to their staterooms upon arrival. All of these baby essentials can be ordered online through Royal Caribbean’s Gifts & Gear section at www.RoyalCaribbean.com.

For Kids: Free, organized programs start at age three. Families enrolled in the “My Family Time Dinning” program are assigned an early seating time, with children picked up early by their counselors, allowing parents to enjoy some adult time. Young people enjoy programs including Adventure Science (complete with Environmentation Stations) Adventure Art and Adventure Theater. Thanks to a special chip in their Adventure Ocean bracelet from the kids’ club, parents can track the under-12 set, as well as teens by the location of the phone. You can also text message back and forth.

For Teens: (12 – 14 years) and older (15-17), have their own separate activities, including everything from DJ Training to Karaoke to Dance parties.

Around the Ship: Entertainment (“Hairspray” to synchronized divers performing in an outdoor AquaTheater and children’s puppet shows) and activity (mini-golf and water playground, teen disco and giant arcade, carousel and junior spa). There’s a rock wall, and on the newest ships–Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas (the largest ships afloat) and three Freedom class ships–a huge water playground complete with a diaper-friendly pool. On some ships, you’ll find in-line skating track, mini-golf, basketball and more. Every ship also has a rock wall.

Adventure Family is a free, onboard program that allows children and their parents to participate in planned activities within a structured environment to spend quality time together. Activities depend on the length of the cruise and can range from family discos to talent shows and scavenger hunts. In room sitters are available ($12 an hour for two kids) come equipped with the latest Fisher-Price and Mattel toys; There is also late-night group babysitting ($5 per hour per child). On shore days, children’s activities are ongoing.

TAUCK RIVER CRUISES

Tauck has offered river cruises for a number of years, and  now  have two (one on the Danube and one on the Rhone) designed specifically for families.  They have been named to  Travel + Leisure’s list of the  “World’s Best River Cruise Lines for Families.

Featured prominently in Tauck’s 2013 Bridges collection is “Bon Voyage: France Family River Cruise.”  The 10-day itinerary (from $4,690 per person, plus air) begins with an included two-night hotel stay with guided sightseeing in Paris that highlights the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and a special dinner.   Guests then travel on the high-speed TGV train to Lyon, where they’ll board Tauck’s MS Swiss Emerald for a seven-night cruise on the Rhone.

Tauck is including a number of  kid-friendly activities for families throughout the itinerary, including a scavenger hunt in Paris’ Louvre, a lesson in “petanque” (a ball game similar to bocce) in Viviers, a hayride in the Camargue, bicycling in Avignon, and a hands-on French culinary experience in Tournon.  Three departures of “Bon Voyage: France Family River Cruise,” will be offered in 2013, on July 11, July 25 and August 1.

 UN-CRUISE ADVENTURES

Formerly Innersea Discoveries-American Safari Cruises, the re-branded Un-Cruise Adventures are unmatched, hands-on small boat explorations. With several styles to choose from: Active; Luxury; Heritage; and Charter Adventures—you have an inviting alternative to your typical cruise. Kayaks and whales, snorkels and totems, mountains and desert, service and wine. Uncover your adventure today—then pack your bags and venture into some of nature’s most exciting playgrounds and historic ports for exploration, eye-to-eye wildlife encounters, and Living History. Discover something special. Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Hawaiian Islands, and Coastal Washington & British Columbia.  Read about our cruise on the Wilderness Discoverer in Southeast Alaska in Summer 2012.

UNIWORLD RIVER CRUISES

With just 134 people aboard,Uniworld is a different kind of experience for families seeking five-star luxury and the chance to explore new places without the hassle of moving from place to place. Tour old-world German villages practicing the German you’ve learned on board. Visit a Chocolate Factory or Europe’s biggest theme park; take a special children’s walking tour. Relive The Hunchback of Notre Dame as you climb the bell tower made famous by Quasimodo. See the site where Joan of Arc was martyred while in Rouen, and join a scavenger hunt looking for the special chocolate candies called, Joan of Arc tears. Onboard, spend time with the Captain in the wheelhouse learning about river cruising. Kids between 4-18 can save as much as 50 per cent.

What’s New: Multigenerational Family friendly program with special summer dates visiting Paris & Normandy, Prague and the Rhine Normandy include special programs for children and family shore excursions.

For Kids: While there are no separate facilities, children’s programs start at age four. One cabin is converted to an entertainment center where kids can play Wii or PlayStation.

WINDSTAR CRUISES

Windstar operates three sailing yachts known for their ability to visit harbors and ports larger ships can’t get to. The ships carry just 148 to 310 guests and call on 100 ports throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas with complimentary water sports platform available when the ship is in anchor, subject to weather of course—water skiing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and complimentary scuba. The ambiance is relaxed (no jackets or ties needed) but upscale. While these yachts aren’t meant for kids, they’re ideal for parents who want a getaway without the kids or a special trip with grown kids.

What’s New: Windstar recently completed an $18 million fleet refurbishment plan, the most extensive in Windstar’s history. Windstar’s offers seven new itineraries in 2013 including: Casablanva & the Canary Islands, Treasures of Southern France, Footsteps of Faith, Europe’s West Coast Odyssey, Idyllic British Isles, Gaelic Explorers and Scandinavian Tapestry.

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