Children and cruises need not necessarily be incompatible. All it takes is a little planning. There are cruise lines that welcome young passengers and cruise lines that discourage them.
But it's not just up to the line. Whether a child enjoys a cruise or not depends in equally large measure on his or her parent. Parents should not allow the ship to become a playground for an unsupervised child.
Children do not belong in bars, casinos or adult swimming pools, for instance. Nor should they be allowed to run about on decks where adults are reading or napping.
Vessels appropriate for children provide youth counselors and special indoor and outdoor areas set aside for children's activities, well away from the center of adult shipboard life.
At the same time, parents should not expect counselors to function as all-day baby-sitters. Most counselors are on duty only during certain hours that are published in the daily shipboard program.
Evening baby-sitting is available on some ships by arrangement through the purser's office; parents are expected to pay an hourly fee for this service.
Generally, the older and more independent and outgoing the child, the more pleasurable the cruise experience can be. Mature 10- to 12-year-olds and teen-agers usually take to cruising instantly, heading off on their own to explore the vessel from top to bottom, learning their way around quickly and striking up friendships with other passengers their own age.
A larger ship works better for children than a smaller ship, simply because there are more scheduled activities and more space. Many big, modern ships also have color TV in cabins, with all-day programming on one or more channels, good for keeping kids occupied during quieter times of the day.
A ship with frequent or daily ports of call would be more desirable for restless, active children than one that spends two or three days in a row at sea.
Bear in mind that many ships refuse to carry children under a certain age, so check the fine print in the back of the brochure or ask your travel agent to be sure your child qualifies. On some lines the minimum age is four months, for others it ranges from 12 months to 2 years.
Here's a rundown on which cruise lines like kids and which would be just as happy not to see them on board:
Small deluxe ships and expedition vessels such as those of Sea Goddess, Windstar Sail Cruises, Special Expeditions, Society Expeditions, American Canadian Caribbean Line and Clipper Cruise Line simply do not have the space to set aside play areas for children.
A few companies, notably Royal Cruise Line, Royal Viking Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, Sun Line's Stella Solaris and the Cunard ships Sagafjord and Vistafjord attract older passengers who may not want to share space with active, often noisy children.
But there are lines that encourage kids, and even offer special programs and prices for children this summer.
Premier Cruise Lines is ideal for young children because costumed Disney characters are on board during the sailing. The line's seven-day package combines a three- or four-day cruise to the Bahamas with a four- or three-day stay at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and includes hotel lodging, use of a rental car and unlimited admissions to Disney World, Epcot Center and the Disney-MGM theme park, as well as a free tour of NASA's Spaceport USA at Kennedy Space Center.
Prices range from $695 to $1,295 per person, double occupancy, for two adult passengers, and an additional $245 to $415 per child for third, fourth and fifth berths in the same cabin. Infants under 2 years old travel free.
Single parents can share a cabin with one child for as little as $595 on a weekend cruise, or book the Disney World Week package starting at $1,260 for the two of them. Group baby-sitting is available on board the ship from 10 p.m. to midnight for children 2 years old and up, at a charge of $3 an hour. Air fare is not included.
Carnival's Carnivale sails from Port Canaveral, Fla., with five- , six- and seven-day land and sea vacations that incorporate Walt Disney World vacations at prices ranging from $575 to $1,255 per person, including air fare, for the first two passengers in a cabin. Third, fourth and fifth passengers in the same cabin will pay from $545 to $595 per person, including air fare.
American Hawaii features seasonal $99 fares for each of one or two children 16 and under sailing with two full-fare adults in the same cabin. These special fares, in effect only from June 9 to Sept. 15, apply to all but the five lowest-priced cabin categories, meaning that parents will pay from $1,775 to $3,695 per person, depending on the cabin selected, for the seven-day cruise around the islands of Hawaii. Air fare is extra.
The Mississippi Queen, larger of the two steamboats that cruise the Mississippi all year, takes one child under 16 free when sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults. The boat makes three- to 11-night cruises at prices ranging from $445 to $5,400 per person, double occupancy.
Princess Cruises' Fair Princess, Dawn Princess and Sky Princess run activity programs for all ages, from nursery to teens, and a children's pool is just outside the youth center.
Star Princess is terrific for teen-agers with its vast sunning area, two swimming pools, three Jacuzzis, waterfall and all-day pizzeria. Princess ships will not carry children under a year old, and they restrict the number of children under 3 years old.