With more and more children accompanying seagoing parents year-round, many cruise lines now consider kids a permanent part of their passenger list. Gone are the days when junior cruisers were seen only during summer and holidays.
Parents have learned that one advantage to sailing with kids in the fall and winter is that many lines consider it their low season and price their cruises accordingly.
Premier, the official cruise line of Walt Disney World, combines trips to the Magic Kingdom with three- and four-day cruises.
The line recently has begun a fourth on-board children's program geared to 2- to 4-year-olds, called First Mate. It complements Kids' Call for ages 5 to 7, Starcruiser for 8 to 12 and Teencruiser for 13 to 17. Each program includes age-appropriate activities supervised by trained counselors.
Also new for Premier are three- and four-day cruises to the Abacos Islands in the northern Bahamas, where the ship Majestic is the only cruise liner to call.
For a family of four, the minimum price for a seven-night cruise and Disney World romp is $595 per adult, $225 for each child. Air fare is additional. For a child and single parent, a three-day weekend cruise can be as little as $520. Combine it with four days in the Magic Kingdom for $1,120.
Adults Off Limits
Princess Cruise Lines' sleek new Star Princess, with 10-day Caribbean sailings, has designated the Club House and Off Limits area as kids-only territory on all cruises. Supervised activities begin at 9 a.m. and continue until midnight.
The centers are equipped with a video arcade, jukebox, arts and crafts center, swimming pool, TV, game tables and refreshment bar. There is also a fully-equipped and staffed nursery for toddlers. A favorite of both kids and adults is the nearby Pizzeria, which creates specialties to order.
Including air fare from Los Angeles, a 10-day Caribbean cruise on the Star Princess is $1,965 per adult, $785 per child sharing a room with two full-fare adults.
The Seaward and the Norway, part of Norwegian Cruise Lines' Caribbean fleet, always have kids' counselors aboard. The youngsters' own shipboard newspaper, Kids' Cruise News, details the events hour by hour. On the Norway, the kids' area--called Trolland--is positioned conveniently next to the ice cream parlor.
This month, seven-day Norway fares begin at $1,195 for each adult, $595 for children sharing with parents. The seven-day Seaward cruises start at $1,045, $595 for kids.
Short Cruises First
A mini-cruise can be a fun way to introduce a child to cruising, thus helping determine if a longer voyage might be feasible in the future. NCL's MS Southward does three- and four-day sails from Los Angeles to Catalina and Ensenada.
With two almost-full days in ports, not a lot of on-board activities need to be planned. On holiday cruises, counselors take over for shore excursions, which include a trip to Estero Beach in Ensenada for a day of swimming and Frisbee-tossing.
Cabins on the Southward's three-day cruises begin at $440 per person for the cruise only, with double bed and folding upper birth for one child. A child sharing a cabin with parents pays an additional $190 for the three days.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines gives families a price break on their seven- and eight-day Caribbean sailings from Miami. Aboard the mammoth (2,200-passenger) Sovereign of the Seas, which calls at St. Thomas, San Juan and Labadee (RCCL's own private island), a family of four can cruise for a week for $3,550, including air fare from Los Angeles.
For this, kids get year-round activities geared to the 5-to-13 and 14-to-18 age levels, as outlined in the Ship Compass, which is slipped under cabin doors each evening.
Kids with an active mind-set can get into the ShipShape Program, which features basketball, triathlon competition and Frisbee-golf.
Through October on the SS Amerikanis, Chandris Fantasy Cruises lets kids 12 and under cruise free to Bermuda when they travel in the same cabin with their parents. The six-night cruise begins in New York.
According to Kids Seascape, the newspaper published daily on-board, a typical day begins with deck games at 9 a.m., followed by costume-making for the masquerade party, movies, a scavenger hunt and, for older kids, a party in the disco. A family of four can cruise for six nights for $1,490.
The CostaRiviera, one of Costa Cruises' six laid-back ships, has set aside the Pinocchio Room for small-fry activities, which extend non-stop from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Kids can even learn to speak a little Italian (the crew is Italian) and make their own pizza.
Costa gets high marks for its sensitivity to single parents. A single parent and one child under 12 can sail on a seven-day eastern or western Caribbean itinerary for $1,494. With two children, the total fare is $1,989. A family of four, with kids under 12, can do the trip for $3,590.
Cunard's QE2 bills itself as "the world's first floating playground." The Queen's Nursery for children up to 2, and the Play Center for ages 2 to 12, are both supervised by British nannies.
The Play Center is a color-splashed room where toddlers can zoom tricycles up and down carpeted ramps, and more sedentary types can pursue arts and crafts.
On the QE2, the Teen and Youth Center features a jukebox and lighted dance floor. And there's a separate pool just for kids. Five-day transatlantic crossings begin at $1,330, with kids paying half the adult fare.
The unstructured program for kids on Regency Cruise Lines' fall itineraries aboard their Regent Sea and Regent Star take place in special activity rooms complete with board and video games, plus coloring books and crafts. These rooms are off-limits to adults.
Itineraries include popular Caribbean ports. Kids under 18 sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults pay $665, up to $695 for weeklong cruises.