Last week I was working one of our clients named Wendy suggesting family resorts that would be able to accomodate her family of 6. With four children ages 4-12, this is always a challenge. We struck out with availability and budget when it came to family resorts for next spring break so I suggested the idea of family cruises. Wendy emailed me back saying, "being trapped on a boat with our 4 kids sounds more like torture than a vacation".
Oh Wendy, and the rest of you out there...fear not! When it comes to children's activities and kids clubs, many people don't realize how much family friendly cruise lines have really stepped up their game as far as kid activities. Actually most cruise lines that cater to families offer more free Chidren's clubs and family friendly activities than most resorts.
Cruise Baby Clubs - Carnival and Norwegian offer baby care starting at age 2 as part of their free program. Disney starts their infant care program at 12 weeks and Royal Caribbean at 6 months but both charge additional fees for these services. Most all of the baby clubs at sea also offer free play group time where parents of babies and toddlers can gather for play time together. Baby care can be arranged so that parents can have child care while ships are docks in port. This allows parents to go sightseeing, enjoy watersports or play a round of golf.
Resort Baby Clubs - There are a limited number of resorts that do offer infant care as part of their all inclusive program. The youngest age allowed it generally 4 months of age. In addition, just about any family resort will allow parents to hire a babysitter. This is usually done via concierge 24 hours in advance. Babysitting fees average $15-20 per hour. Resort do have strict rules that parents MUST remain on resort property while their children are in baby programs. This means parents are not allowed to leave the resort for any reason.
Cruise kids clubs - All family friendly cruise ships offer free kids club programs daily for children ages 4-12 (some start at age 2 or 3). Parents know there is a obviously a huge maturity difference between these ages. The cruise lines do an excellent job really separating the kids into smaller age appropriate clubs and activities. Most family cruise ships have huge kids club areas with multi purpose play rooms, craft areas, theaters and even science labs. In addition, there are plenty of general ship board activities that children will find fun to do with their parents. Activities include everything from zip lines and rock climbing to water parks, mini golf, 3D movies and even ice skating. Many offer parades and favorite character interactions like the theme parks. In the evenings, there are always activities planned to keep the kids engaged so that parents can take advantage of all the grown up activities on board. There may be additional fees involved in the evenings often child care is available into the wee hours. As with the baby clubs, Cruise kids clubs will allow parents to have their children cared for during port days so that they can leave the ship for activities.
Resort Kids Clubs - Most all inclusive resorts offer kids clubs starting at age 3 or 4 until the age of 12. Just about all are open daily until dinnertime. Some have extended hours of operation for evening care. Many do close for meal times so parents need to check schedules. Generally the higher end the property, the more age appropriate activities are made available for the kids. Most all inclusive programs do include non motorized water sports like sailing, boogie boards or snorkeling. Families will find organized activities throughout the day like beach volleyball or dance classes. Once again, parents must stay on resort property while their children participate in most kids clubs.
Cruise Teen Programs - This is where the cruise ships really shine. First of all, cruise ship charge by the number of people sharing each cabin, not by the age of each person. So family cruises usually tend to be more economical for families with teens. In addition to all the regular shipboard activities, family cruise lines offer plenty of teen and tween activities. Most break kids into age appropriate groups 13-14 and 15 -17 years of age with supervised activities that run well into the night like DJ school, dance clubs and video games. Cruise lines do offer teen specific port excursions that are staff supervised and cater to teen interests. These programs do cost extra and parents must sign permission.
Resort Teen Programs - There are a few resorts that do offer a supervised teen program. Only the very high end resorts break out tweens and teens into separate ages and again offer more varied activities. Again, parents must remain on resort property.
So Wendy, I promise you, if you decide to opt for a family cruise for this year's vacation, you won't feel trapped or tortured....more like relaxed and pampered because chances are, your kids will be kept too busy to bother you. If you do want them around, there will still be plenty to keep them busy and engaged. It's always a win-win situation when family vacations end up to be a vacation for EVERYBODY in the family!