Cruisin’ With Kids
How Youngsters Have Fun on a Seafaring Adventure
I'm peacefully snoozing on a cushioned window seat, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face and the blueness of the Pacific floating by when suddenly I hear a chorus of children singing at the top of their lungs:
"Everywhere we go, people ask us who we are. We're Camp Carnival kids!"
A long line of children wearing pirate hats and colorful makeup march by me, singing their tune in perfect military cadence. My eight-year-old daughter Megan is part of this merry band of pirates searching for clues to find Pirate Pete's treasure hidden somewhere on our ship. She looks like she's having the time of her life. And I am thrilled she’s having so much fun while I'm having so much fun doing nothing.
My sister Julie and her four-year-old son, Christopher, joined Megan and I aboard Carnival's Ecstasy last December for a four-day cruise from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island and Ensenada. I've cruised before, but never with children. The big question: is cruising for kids?
The first night aboard, the children enjoyed ice cream sundaes and a Welcome Aboard party with their new playmates -- 227 other young children and ten fun-loving youth counselors of Camp Carnival. In all, 330 children 18 and under were aboard the week we sailed.
"Bedtime" is a forbidden word on a cruise, and at 8:30pm our kids were be-bopping on the disco floor, tiredness long forgotten. The kids learned the moves to the "Electric Slide" and the "Macarena." By the end of the night, Christopher was buddy-buddy with his counselor, Tim, a goofy young man from Quebec, Canada who seems to truly adore kids.
Some of the activities the kids enjoyed included a "coketail" party, face painting, arts and crafts, a song and dance production with the professional Ecstasy dancers and singers, a pirate hunt, outdoor fun and games, spin art and an indoor beach party. One evening, the kids joined the nightly "slumber party" where participants come in pajamas or comfy clothes and quietly watch videos until they drop off to sleep. We were amazed that the kids stayed up as late as they did every night.
The Camp Carnival program is divided into three age groups: 2-5 years, 6-8 years and 9-15 years. Jenn, the Camp Carnival Youth Director, informed parents at orientation that the nine-year-olds would soon know their way around the ship better than their parents. True enough, I realized that my eight-year-old guided me through the ship by our last day.
On the second day of the cruise, a kindly older woman asked Megan if she was having fun. "This is my first cruise ship, why wouldn't I have fun?" Megan quipped, a big grin on her face.
Later that afternoon, my sister and I watched the kids rehearse for their show in the Blue Sapphire Lounge where the ship's major productions take place. "I think the kids have more fun on cruises than the parents," my sister Julie remarked. "I like how the youth counselors are on top of everything and how the kids stay in the same groups and make friends."
And they did make friends. At mealtimes, we enjoyed watching the kids greet their new buddies as if they were old pals. Camp Carnival is like kid heaven. Where else are kids invited to scream as loudly as they want?
How Parents Have Fun
The best part about enrolling the children in Camp Carnival -– parents get free time! The camp is open nearly all day and into the wee nighttime hours so parents have plenty of time to themselves to party aboard or explore ports ashore.
On our second night, which was formal night aboard the ship, Julie and I dressed up and dropped the kids off to eat dinner with their youth counselors so we could enjoy a formal dinner of lobster, prawns and prime rib. Later we saw a show, "Dream Voyage" with the Ecstasy dancers. During the evening, we stopped by Camp Carnival to check on the kids, who were just as happy as we were to be doing our own thing.
As a parent, I felt very secure knowing my children were having fun and being well taken care of. Being on a cruise ship has the added benefit of having so many fun activities all close by. Throughout the night we could gamble, listen to music, dance, see a show, have a drink and never be far from the kids.
The Food and Service
Always my favorite part of a cruise, besides visiting exotic ports, of course, is the food and service. There’s nothing like sitting down for dinner and the waiter automatically bringing me my iced tea and pink Sweet ‘n Low packets to make me happy. What I love about the service on cruises is that you get to know the wait staff and they get to know you. After one or two meals, they know your preferences.
Children can choose from regular kid fare like pepperoni and cheese pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, burgers and fries, chicken nuggets and hot dogs, or they can order an appetizer, salad and entrée off the adult menu. We liked having the choice each day and our kids ordered chilled pumpkin soup, tossed green salad and New York steak from the adult menu instead of eating junk food every night.
At our first meal, Helena, our waitress, greeted the children by name and had children's menus and crayons ready. Megan and Christopher were surprised and delighted that this stranger knew them. However, by the end of the cruise, Helena and her assistant, Nemours, were like old friends and exchanged hugs with the kids at each mealtime. The waiters and waitresses made our mealtimes very comfortable and I loved the fact that they seemed so family-oriented.
When we boarded the ship the first day, we arrived at 4:30 in the afternoon, too late for lunch. But never fear, food is always available on a ship. We sat down to a snack of pizza and ice cream. "Amazing!" my sister, a pizza lover, said as she sat down with a plate of pepperoni and cheese pizza. "I just walked up and grabbed a piece of pizza. No line and no money. I'm in heaven!"
The best part of the dining experience for the kids entailed dancing with their waiters through the dining room to "Hot! Hot! Hot!" and the "Macarena." The last two nights, Megan and Christopher waited anxiously for the meal to finish so they could dance with other guests and wait staff in a long line that snaked through the dining room.
Julie and I loved choosing one or two desserts each night.
We missed seeing Santa Catalina Island, only 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, on the first day as planned. By mid-morning, high winds prevented further tours from going ashore. As I enjoyed a hearty breakfast that morning with a beautiful view of Catalina before me, I watched a tender headed back for the ship. As the small boat carrying a few passengers rocked and tilted in the high waves, my first thought was that I was going to need to wear my acupressure bands for the ride to port.
The first night and day, the ship did roll some due to high winds. The motion didn't bother most passengers, but because I get seasick easily, I wore acupressure wristbands. These wristbands apply continuous gentle pressure between the two central tendons in the wrist area to help prevent nausea. These wristbands work for some people and others say they don't work. Because medications make me drowsy, I prefer the wristbands. I've worn them on several cruises and experienced no seasickness.
The Ecstasy lazily circled Catalina Island all day and night, and by the next morning, calm waters prevailed and passengers were allowed off the ship to shop and tour in Catalina. We joined several other passengers taking self-guided walking tours of the beach area and shops in Avalon. Other more adventurous passengers had the options of snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking or rafting.
Only about an hour boat ride from Long Beach, California, Catalina looks and feels like an island paradise far from the hustle and bustle of big-city life. The island's harbor is clear and unspoiled with a picturesque view of Avalon, home to 3,500 year-round residents. When we stepped ashore, we walked to two interesting buildings: the blue and white Catalina Island Yacht Club, which looks like a lighthouse; and the historic 1,184-seat Avalon Theatre, a 15,000-square foot, round white building built in 1928. During the 20s, the ballroom at the top of the building was popular hot spot. Today, the building also houses a museum and art gallery.
On our third day, the Ecstasy docked in Ensenada and my daughter had her first look at Mexico. While we walked through town shopping, my daughter watched girls younger than she selling small packets of gum or begging. The cultural differences shocked her.
Passengers who chose not to shop on their own could choose from several guided tours, including a city shopping tour, a bus trip to La Bufadora, a natural sea spout blowhole that shoots sea spray into the air, a motor coach tour along the scenic gold coast, a horseback trail ride or a winery tour. On our way back to the ship, we hopped aboard a horse-drawn cart and the children enjoyed the ride. Christopher loved sitting up front with the driver and a young Mexican boy. The fact that they didn't speak each other's language didn't deter them from communicating with each other.
Every vacation, we experience a mishap or two. Things like sudden illness, injury, lost luggage, rainstorms. Waiting for our mishap on this trip was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. It finally occurred when Christopher put his hand where he shouldn't have and got it stuck in the elevator. Luckily, a quick-thinking 13-year-old girl saved the day and no harm resulted other than a little soreness and fright on Christopher's part and a near heart attack on his mother's.
Every time we boarded or left the ship, we passed through security. No one grumbled about waiting in line, showing their ID, being scanned by a metal detector or passing their purchases through an X-ray machine. My only complaint is that I didn't know where to look when my security photo was taken and the end result was rather gruesome!
Certain security measures are also in place for kids participating in Camp Carnival. Each child is required to wear an ID wristband during the entirety of the cruise and the same parent who checked the child in must check the child out. Pagers are available to parents at no charge. In the event of an emergency, youth counselors are trained to group the children according to the appropriate station to meet up with parents. In the outdoor play area, the deck area is roped off as an added safety precaution.
Kids and Cruising
By the end of the cruise, I had my answer: kids love cruising as much as adults, and probably have even more fun. With plenty of fun activities, security, and caring, professional youth counselors, parents have nothing to worry about when taking their children on a cruise.
Except maybe one thing: kids may not want to go home where they have to clean their own rooms.
Melanie Anderson is a mom and freelance writer who lives in Northern California.
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