If you're planning to take a family cruise with a teenager you're in for a fun time. OK, there may be just a hint of sarcasm behind that opening line.
Family cruise lines offer a plethera of activities during the daytime, nightly entertainment, port activities...geared for specific tween and teen age groups.
Every mom & dad knows teens come with a new set of parenting dilemnas on any given day. A family cruise vacation is no exception to that rule. So here are some tips, ideas and suggestions that will help parents cope and make the best choices and decisions when planning a cruise with a teen....
COSTS - Chances are a cruise vacation with a teen will be less expensive than a land based family hotel stay or theme park vacation. Hotels normally charge guests based on their age. Often to qualify for a kid's rate, you must be under the age of 12. Once your child hits that magic age of 13, they are being charged full adult rates. The BIG difference with cruise ships is that they charge according to the number of people sharing that same cabin, not their ages. This means your 13 year old would pay lower 3rd passenger or "kid" rates. So it doesn't matter if you're sailing with 1, 2, 3 or 4 teenagers, they will be paying lower rates compared to most resorts.
SPACE - Size matters here. Cabin space is generally limited on most cruise ships and bigger kids come with more "stuff". There are a couple ways for parents to handle this issue...
Upgrade to a suite - Your family gets more space and teens still pay lower 3rd, 4th or 5th passenger rates depending on the size of your family. When it comes to security, parents can keep a closer eye on their teens with everyone sharing the same cabin. Unless you really upgrade, most family suites only offer 1 bathroom so everyone must compromise and share.
Adjoining or separate Cabins - This means your family splits up into two separate cabins. These cabins can be side by side, connected by a door or even parents in an ocean view or balcony with teens across the hall in an inside cabin. With this scenario, your teens would need to pay full adult fare (1st and 2nd passengers pay higher rates) but your family would gain two bathrooms with is often preferred with teenage girls that have long prep times. One drawback here is security. How much do you trust your teen and other people on board? That brings us to our next and very important topic...
SAFETY - As you are planning for your family cruise, plan to have a very serious safety conversation with your teens. Teens yearn for independence while we parents worry about their safety. Some of today's ships can carry close to 6,000 passengers and staff members; different kinds of people from all over the world. Your teens will be exposed to different cultures and social behaviors during their cruise. Most of these encounters will no doubt be good but bad can always be found with the good. Thousands of families cruise safely and happily but there are instances where either teens get into serious trouble or trouble finds them. Cruise ships operate under maritime laws and the port countries that you visit may have very different laws than we have in the US. Breaking those rules could have life altering consequences for your teen. You may think your teen is participating in a supervised teen club when in reality, your kid may be off in a private cabin with their brand new BFF who happens to be of legal drinking age. Make sure your teen knows what rules they need to follow along with safety and legal implications. Set curfews, check in times, talk to the parents of their new BFFs, etc. Be ready to follow thru and discipline if necessary. Even though your teen may KNOW the rules, it doesn't insure that they will follow them. When you take a vacation with your kids, it doesn't mean that you can take a vacation from being a good parent.
FOOD - Any parent who has tried to feed a teenage boy will appreciate the fact that cruise ships include all the food you can eat. Cruise lines used to just offer formal dining complete with ball gowns and tuxedos. Today's ships still offer these features for passengers who want them but modern ships offers tons of eateries, buffets and even room service. While passengers gain choices, many of these food options come with additional price tags and fees. That specialty coffee and cupcake might just set you back $15! Make sure your teen is aware of these extra expenditures so that you're not bankrupted at disembarkation.
SPENDING MONEY - Cruise ships run on a cashless system. Passengers are required to create a shipboard account with a credit card during the registration process prior to sailing. Normally one account is created per family. If your teen wants to buy "extras" like that $15 coffee & cupcake, his shipboard card would get swiped and the amount would be charged to the credit card your family has on file. Can you see the potential for disaster here if your teen decides to buy coffee & cupcakes for all their new found friends? Once you get onboard your ship, parents can go to the pursor's office and set up a cash account for their teens. You can load your teen's specific ship board card/account with a set amount of money for extras like video games, snacks or souvenirs. Once they spend the money on their account, that's it. Their spending is cut off. Parents can choose to reload more money on the card...or not. It's a great way to teach them about budgeting without worry.
EXCURSIONS - Some cruise lines are offering specialized excursions just for teens on port days. You will need to check with your particular ship or sailing to see what is offered. There is an extra fee for these teen excursions and parents will need to sign permission and waivers for their child to participate. Parents may see a family cruise as a great opportunity for family bonding while your teen may hold the exact opposite opinion. It's best to be informed and discuss expectations about excursions in advance to avoid possible meltdowns in the moment.
Teens often feel empowered by being an active part of planning a family cruise vacation. Utilize their talents. Travel can level the playing field between parents and teens. Give them the opportunity to surprise you with their skills. No doubt they will have the interactive TV and room service ordering system figured out LONG before you can find the remote.