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Cruise Guide: It’s a kid’s world, after all, even on the high seas

By Mike Coleman

Cruise lines are not just bending over backwards to make life onboard enjoyable for their young guests, they’re now designing ships with family friendly amenities clearly in mind. ¨¨More than one million children under the age of 18 took a cruise with their families in 2004, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and it’s easy to see why. From mock game shows, story hours and treasure hunts to family fun events at poolside.

Even the cabins are getting a makeover. Some of today’s accommodations feature large staterooms with cordoned off sleeping quarters for parents and inter-connecting cabins for families with older kids.

While babysitting services are offered by virtually all major lines, who needs it when an amazing array of amenities and supervised activities are available for kids and parents of all ages.

Renowned for their land-based resorts, Disney’s two ships at sea pack a wallop. Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have nearly an entire deck dedicated to children ages 3 months to 17 years. Oceaneer’s Club, for kids 3 to 7, includes dances with Snow White, a Sebastian’s Musical Sea Search for instruments, and games on the line’s private island. Kids 8 to12 can venture to infinity and beyond at the space and science themed Oceaneer Lab. The Stack (Disney Magic) and Aloft (Disney Wonder) are reserved for kids 13 to 17 and include couches, a soda bar, Internet access, plasma TVs, MP3 players and board games.

Camp Carnival, offered aboard Carnival Cruise Lines, features activities for children in age groups ranging from 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. For the younger set, Carnival ships feature kid-friendly amenities and programs supervised by youth counselors in state-of-the-art facilities some of which measure 4,200 square feet. On several vessels children can also enjoy arts and crafts centers, with spin- and sand-art machines; cascading poolside slides; activity walls; indoor climbing mazes and computer labs. The line also offers expanded children’s menus in the dining rooms and poolside restaurants.

Celebrity’s Family Cruising Program, meanwhile, features activities tailored to the interests of five age groups. Each ship has a staff of eight to 12 youth counselors. Age groups range from 3 to 6; 7 to 9; 10 to 12; 13 to 15 and 16 to 17. Celebrity Science Journeys, offered on every ship, encourage children to learn about science and nature. Other program highlights include youth summer stock theater, junior Olympics, magic lessons, treasure hunts and clown parties.

Each of MSC Cruises’ ships feature a designated children’s area, and MSC Sinfonia also offers a Teen Club. Children are under the supervision of trained youth counselors who coordinate organized games, sports, arts and crafts, and special age-appropriate parties. The line’s ships offer suites (double, queen- or king-sized bed plus sofa bed) and are able to accommodate up to four guests. MSC Lirica, MSC Opera, MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia also offer family-sized suites consisting of two rooms.

Norwegian Cruise Line ships offers supervised programs (ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 12, and 13 to 17) with a host of Kid’s Krew venues, including dining areas exclusively for kids, video arcade rooms and teen clubs. NCL America’s latest vessel, Pride of America, features extensive recreational opportunities for kids, including 250 interconnecting cabins. The ship also has eight 360-square-foot suites with private balcony, living room with double sofa bed and entertainment center, separate den with a single sofa bed, and private bedroom with two twin beds. Four additional family suites feature two interconnecting cabins that sleep up to eight and include two separate bathrooms.

The Love Boat line, Princess, offers a wide range of activities for children in three age-specific programs, with age-appropriate activities and often separate facilities for kids 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17. Most ships feature youth and teen centers featuring art, game tables, juke boxes and the latest video games. Newer ships feature such diversions as a toddler’s play area and theater, doll’s house, crawl-through castle and splash pool. Larger vessels also offer expansive children’s and teen centers with indoor and outdoor areas or separate areas for each age group.

Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean Youth Program offers five age-appropriate groups for kids. Adventure Science blends science experiments with entertainment. Adventure Art by Crayola offers kids the chance to create cultural masks and pottery. Sail Into Story Time combines a story hour with activities and projects. Adventure Family offers kids and their parents the chance to spend quality time together with a host of activities. The line’s new Freedom of the Seas, scheduled to debut in May 2006, will offer six different family-focused cabin categories specially designed to accommodate larger families.

Not to be outdone, the luxury and premium cruise lines – Crystal, Cunard, Radisson and Holland America – have not forgotten about the importance of their young sailors, either.

Fantasia, aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, features supervised activities, tables and chairs for board games, arts and crafts, giant padded cubes, Sony PlayStation kiosks, and large-screen televisions. Waves is a venue where teenagers can enjoy a video arcade. The line also offers Etiquette Training for Juniors, developed in conjunction with Gollatz Cotillion, where young cruisers learn how to handle themselves in a variety of social situations. During holidays and selected sailings, Crystal offers additional children’s activities under the supervision of experienced Junior Activities Directors in age-appropriate groups.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 have nurseries staffed by accredited British nannies. Aboard these British icons kids can participate in a dedicated Children’s Tea, served each afternoon. Queen Mary 2, the world’s largest liner, features age-appropriate programs for children in three groups: The Nursery provides cribs and cots for children ages 1 to 2 years; The Play Zone offers activities for kids 3 to 6 years old, including pizza parties, movie nights, and face painting; and for older children ages 7 to 10 years The Zone offers scavenger hunts, ship tours, quizzes, DJ booth and Xbox games.

Radisson Seven Seas’ Club Mariner program caters to children aged 6 to 17 and is offered on select voyages. Master Suites aboard Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager are able to accommodate families, and Paul Gauguin now boasts more cabin space for families. This month, kids 9 to 15 sailing aboard Paul Gauguin in French Polynesia can participate in Ambassadors of the Environment, a partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society which provides an interactive experience that encourages ocean responsibility.

Aboard Holland America ships, the Club HAL youth program features age-specific activities designed to provide kids and teens with entertaining choices. Activities planned for children ages 5 through 8 include arts and crafts, face-painting, camp-out night and candy bar Bingo. ‘Tweens, ages 9 through 12, can learn to putt, have dance parties, compete in on-deck sports events, play arcade games and tie-dye T-shirts. Teens can enjoy the teen disco, dance lessons, arcade games, sports tournaments, Sony PlayStation and movies.

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