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Cruise Columnist
Can't Cruise Without Them

by Brent Betit

A cruise is the best family vacation in the world -- at least, in the opinion of 33% of cruisers (according to the results of a recent informal poll at the Sealetter). After all, an appropriately-chosen cruise line has all the elements any family needs: organized children's activities, babysitting, an all-inclusive "no surprises" price, special children's or 3rd/4th passenger pricing, and an exotic, lively environment sure to be a hit with most any kid from two to the late teens.

So why do 67% of cruisers say children are not appropriate aboard ship? According to respondents to my June 1998 Sealetter article: Kids, Can't Cruise with Them [review the results at Feedback], it's your fault, mom and dad: you bring kids on the wrong lines/ ships, and then allow ill-mannered children to interfere with the peace and quiet of vacationers who came aboard precisely for peace and quiet, (and who paid a good deal of money for the experience).

This will undoubtedly be a difficult message for some parents to hear. I am myself the parents of two beautiful boys, and spend nearly all my free time with them, so can understand why parents might feel aggrieved by the notion that they shouldn't bring their children on certain cruises. It's a free country, after all, and people should be able to do whatever they want, shouldn't they?

Of course they should -- but would you bring your children to another event or venue which was not exactly suitable for children? -- say, a Broadway show with partial nudity? If not, then why bring your children on a cruise that doesn't really suit their or your needs, when there are so very many that do?

There are ways to meet almost anyone's needs -- both the family that wants to cruise together, and the couple who want a romantic, trouble- and kid-free, quiet vacation? How? Read on.

A number of cruise lines specifically market to families, and have well-organized, on board children's programs. on board children's programs. Start your search for a cruise with these lines:

  • American Hawaii
  • Carnival
  • Disney
  • Norwegian
  • Royal Caribbean
All of these lines have special children's programs for children ranging in age from two or three to seventeen. Not all lines offer these programs on all of their ships, however, so be sure to check this out with the line or with your travel agent.

Disney is one of the few lines actually created specifically for family cruising. They are exceptionally family-friendly, with abundant programs for children.

Nearly every line markets to families to some degree. Cunard's QEII has an on-board nursery with nannies available for kids at what one survey respondent called "ankle-biter" age -- i.e., infant to toddler. Costa and Celebrity run children's programs. Holland America -- which often has an older clientele -- markets their Alaskan and 7-day Caribbean cruises to families. Others market to adults, but have kids programs that are somewhat less visible than other lines': Princess is an example. A few say they don't believe children are appropriate on their ships at all (Seabourn) -- though they won't actually turn families away.

So if you really can't cruise without them, the first thing families and couples who cruise should determine is: does the cruise line market to families and kids? If the answer is yes, those who do not appreciate the company of children would do well to avoid such lines, particularly during times when children are not in school (summers and holidays) -- and really, cruisers must take responsibility for researching a line they intend to book with. A good cruise agent will be able to give you solid advice on this topic. Cruisers should not complain about the presence of children on a line that markets to families. At the same time, parents who decide to cruise with their children should take responsibility for their kids' manners aboard, make sure the line has a staffed children's program, and have contingency plans for tantrums and other "acting out" behavior so that fellow passengers do not have to be subjected to regular, lengthy disturbances.

If you've decided to cruise as a family, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the line does have a children's program, and that it is operating during the time period you decided to book (don't assume that just because the line offers a children's program that it is operating it on the ship you selected, or during the time you selected).

  • Find out what facilities are offered for children on the ship you intend to sail. Often, the ship brochure will have a description of these. I once sailed (alone, thankfully) on a reputable line that held its children's program in one of the unoccupied cocktail lounges during the day. That certainly doesn't cut it for this parent.

  • Make sure the programs operate for sufficient periods of time during the day to suit your needs - and bear in mind that many do not operate on port days or during meal times.

  • Check out the kid-to-staff ratio for your chosen line/program (this ratio should be similar to what you find in your local, licensed day care). There should be adequate staff to ensure quality programs which offer sufficient attention to your children.

  • Find out whether there is a formal training program for counselors in the kids program, and if so whether safety and child CPR training is included.

  • Investigate the registration procedures for the children's program. A good program should have a form that asks you the kind of questions a licensed daycare would: who is authorized to drop off/pick up your child?-- preferences for food, and also allergies for food and other items. -- whether you allow certain kind of treats (candy?) -- what your child needs to get to sleep (blanket? special toy?) If they don't ask, make sure you tell them in writing. Preparing something in advance of boarding the ship is a good idea.

  • Make sure you book early enough to ensure first seating. Trying to get a younger child dressed for a late dinner is difficult. Expecting them to sit quietly through the meal when they are tired and cranky is unreasonable. And know when to give up. If your child is screaming uncontrollably, go back to your cabin and order room service. Your tablemates will probably applaud you.

  • Depending on your child's need for them, investigate in advance the availability of the following -- high chair, booster seat, in-cabin crib -- and reserve them if possible.

  • Try to take advantage of 3rd-4th passenger reduced rates. Though you'll still have to pay the air add-on for each child, 3rd-4th rates can make a cruise vacation much more affordable than any land vacation out there.
In addition to looking into the above, parents should establish some ground rules during a cruise. And while you may think of the usual "be back by xx o'clock," you may forget some of the following tips:
  • Modern cruise ships are huge! Make sure that, if your child is old enough to venture out by him- or herself, they always let you know where they are going and when they will be back. Keep a perforated, spiral bound notebook on a loop of string attached to your cabin door and make sure they get in the habit of writing down where they've gone and when they will be back each time they go out.

  • In addition to the notebook, remember to bring a night light -- particularly if you are in an inside cabin. The roll of the ship coupled with unfamiliar surroundings can make a trip to the bathroom at night a painful adventure -- complete with bruised shins or worse -- for children and adults alike.

  • Establish a daily routine when you will meet as a family in your cabin to dress for dinner or to attend events. Allow yourself the luxury of extra time -- nothing makes a meal more difficult than sitting down at the table with tense children who have had to rush to get dressed and ready. And on cruise ships, it is not proper to be more than ten minutes late for seating time, as it throws the waiters off too much.

  • Children should be clearly shown on the ship's floor plans which areas they should not go into. Such areas include cocktail lounges, the casino, the gym, hot tubs (at least without you), and cabin areas other than the one you are staying in yourself. Don't allow your child to use the elevators as play equipment.
Cruising is one of the most economical and enjoyable vacations available for families -- if they select an appropriate line, do their homework, and expect and insist on reasonable onboard behavior from their children. If you can't or won't, consider a trip to the zoo. The animals there have seen just about everything.

Happy cruising.


Brent BetitBrent Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children who provided the inspiration for both of Brent's articles on Cruising with and without kids. If you missed the other article, you can read it at:

Kids: Can't Cruise With Them

Brent's Sealetter columns include material for a planned book on the subject of cruising. He is interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: bbetit@bigfoot.com.

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