Cruise holidays are meant to be relaxing, but parents may argue there’s no such thing as a rest when the kids are along. Happily, many of cruise lines have been listening and now offer ever-better ways to keep the kids entertained so you can truly unwind. They’ve honed their kids’ clubs so that your little (and not so little) ones genuinely enjoy their holiday as much as you do. We’ve looked at the new breed of kids’ clubs to see what they’re doing differently to engage their smaller passengers. Mocktails all round!
- Baby love
Kids’ clubs traditionally started at toddler age, with some requiring toilet training as a minimum standard for entry. More cruise lines are now noticing that new parents with children aged two and under need more than just babysitting and bottle-warming services. They’d like to have fun, too.
Look out for: playgroups and programs that offer activities for parents to have fun with their little ones. The Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) Guppies group (six months to two years) at the Splash Academy runs a separate soft playroom where babies accompanied by their parents can enjoy age-appropriate activities, such as the Wee Can Too program involving artistic fun with edible, food-based paints. Royal Caribbean’s Royal Tots and Royal Babies programs hold interactive play sessions in their ships’ lounges, while both P&O and Carnival have dropped their minimum age to two years, and don’t require toilet training – parents must leave nappies and wipes, and carry a pager. Cunard also has a minimum age of two years in their Play Zone – parents must be on board on port days. Nurseries are available on several lines, such as Cunard, P&O and Royal Caribbean.
- Be-tween the lines
Do 13 year olds and 17 year olds really want the same things in a cruise? Ask your teenagers and we think we know what the answer will be. While kids’ clubs have traditionally thrown them together in a generalised teenager program, some cruise lines now understand that giving these ages separate entertainments is the best way for kids to relax and really enjoy themselves among their peers.
Look out for: programs that separate the tweens from the teens. P&O offers HQ for ages 11 to 14 years, and HQ+ for 15 to 17 year olds. With Royal Caribbean, 15 to 17 year olds can enjoy sports events and themed costume parties, while 12 to 14 year olds get into karaoke and rock-wall climbing. Tweens on Costa ships can learn everything from juggling to hip-hop dancing, while the 15 to 17s explore filmmaking or enter the Miss or Mr Teen competition. MSC and Carnival now have separate clubs for 12 to 14 year olds and 15 to 17 year olds, too.
Kids’ entertainment doesn’t finish at the end of the day, with themed parties, interactive shows and after-dinner activities keeping their social calendar full.
Look out for: creative ways to keep the kids amused in safe and supervised ways. NCL holds pirate-themed nights and include a video jukebox and dance floor in their mega kids’ clubs on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. Princess has nightly activities starting at 7pm. Carnival’s Night Owls program costs a little extra but allows kids to play games and enjoy pizza parties or face-painting, while Cunard opens its G32 nightclub exclusively for teenagers on some nights. My Family Time Dining on Royal Caribbean serves kids (three to 11 years) their food within 40 minutes of seating, so they can be collected for evening fun at the Adventure Ocean club, leaving parents to relax.
- Come and go
The magic of having teenagers on a ship is they are old enough to look after themselves, yet there are only limited places they can go (this is a good thing, if you’re a parent!). On many cruise lines, kids of any age are issued wristbands at the beginning of their cruise, which gain them entry to activities and the kids’ club, but now some lines have relaxed their grip a little and allow teens to come and go as they please – as long as parents have signed a waiver.
Look out for: smart choices for teenagers to help them genuinely enjoy their holiday. MSC has a prepaid Teens Card for kids to spend anywhere on board, with credit bonuses when passengers charge it up. NCL’s Entourage space is open until 1am every day and allows freedom of movement for teenagers (with a signed waiver). Carnival, Pandaw and Disney include teen-only shore excursions so families can enjoy their own pursuits even in port.
Here’s a handy guide to onboard kids’ clubs, to inform your next family-friendly cruise booking.
Age groups: Camp Ocean incorporating two-five, six-eight, nine-11; 12-14, 15-17.
Highlight: With a joint focus on marine life and crafts, Camp Ocean has its participants creating sea-salt art, a giant ocean mural, or even designing an aquarium.
Age groups: three-five (Shipmates); six-eight (Cadets), nine-11 (Ensigns), Teens.
Highlight: iTake is a free video project for teenagers to film and edit using GoPro Hero 3 waterproof cameras for a special film festival and awards ceremony.
Age groups: three-six (Mini), seven-11 (Maxi), 12-14 (Teen Junior), 15-17 (Teen).
Highlight: Families are also invited to have fun together, with bingo, a talent show and karaoke available for both kids and adults to take part.
Age groups: three-seven, eight-12, 13-17.
Highlight: Among the fashion shows, cooking classes and the old-school Waves video arcade is the greatest highlight, that kids are always made very welcome on this upscale fleet.
Age groups: six months-seven years (under twos with parental supervision, Playzone), eight-12 (Kids Zone), 13-17 (Teen Zone).
Highlight: A special high tea for children is served in the Lido restaurant, and tea parties for littlies are served daily on Queen Mary 2.
Age groups: three-seven (Club HAL for Kids), eight-12 (Club HAL for Tweens), 13-17 (The Loft and The Oasis).
Highlight: The HAL Kids’ Culinary Workshops let kids learn how to cook in a hands-on environment, for ages three to 14 (15 and older can attend adult classes).
Norwegian Cruise Line
Age groups: three-five, six-nine, 10-12, 13-17.
Highlight: Kids in the Splash Academy club can learn a variety of circus arts, from plate spinning to juggling, to perform in the final Splashtacular Extravaganza.
Age groups: three-seven (Pelicans), eight-12 (Shockwaves), 13-17 (Remix).
Highlight: Most ships have interactive science activities, such as marine biology studies, and kids’ club participants can take home a plush toy sea creature.
Age groups: three-five (Aquanauts), six-eight (Explorers), nine-11 (Voyagers), 12-14, 15-17.
Highlight: Prepare for cuteness overload when the Aquanauts group takes over the ship with the Pirate Party Parade.
Age groups: three-12, 13-17.
Highlight: The Starlight Disco includes its own jukebox and retro milk bar, alongside the Starlight video arcade. Kids can also take a tour of the ship.