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Cruise Issue : Kids Aboard : Children's programs and Disney characters make a voyage on the good ship Majestic the ultimate in family cruises.

March 28, 1993|EILEEN OGINTZ | Ogintz' Taking the Kids column appears weekly in the The Times Travel section

ABOARD THE SS MAJESTIC — The kids are everywhere on the ship, more than 300 on this four-day cruise, jumping in the postage stamp-sized swimming pool, lining up for ice cream cones, jamming the video arcade, eating chicken nuggets and French fries at every table in the packed dining room, winning $200 and $300 jackpots during the nightly bingo games, ringing the stage and giggling as the magician and comedian do their after-dinner acts.

I feel sorry for the honeymooners on board (though they insist they don't mind). Premier Cruise Lines isn't kidding when it touts its Disney-sanctioned cruises--which sail from Port Canaveral, Fla. to the Bahamas--as the ultimate family shipboard experience.

The families on board, like the kids, come in all shapes and sizes. There's the three generations of the Bixler-Foxworthy clan--22 strong--who gathered from Seattle, Los Angeles, Indiana and Florida for a reunion they had planned for a year; Julie Weith, a dance instructor from Los Angeles with her 4-year-old daughter, Chelsea; Brent Saunders, a prosecutor from a small town in Ohio, his teacher-wife, Shawn, 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter combining the cruise with a visit to Disney World (as many do with Premier-Disney packages), and Dave Bauer, a divorced father from Arlington, Tex., traveling with his two young sons. There are scores of grandparents, too, among the 1,000 passengers, some traveling solo with the grandkids.

I'm on board with my 6-year-old daughter, Regina. Like many here, it's our first cruise. We're all looking for the same thing: some R&R in the sun, mixed with that all-too-elusive "quality time" with the kids.

Though there are a growing number of cruises that offer programs aimed at children, Reggie and I chose Premier because it has the largest and most comprehensive children's program of any cruise line--more than 130,000 families choose Premier each year--and the promised visits of Mickey Mouse and pals. (Like other families on board, based on the ads we'd seen we expected to see the Disney characters everywhere for the entire cruise, but to the children's chagrin this wasn't to be).

We also were intrigued by the itinerary: two days of sailing aboard the Majestic, with its dis tinctive bright red hull, and two days of sun and snorkeling on the Abaco Out Islands in the Bahamas.

We paid roughly $1,900 for the privilege, which included a shared cabin in the mid-price range and air fare. The price was relatively high because we booked at the last minute during high season in December. Families can get better deals by reserving early, and there are other discounts available (see Guidebook on page L15.

Because everything would be taken care of on board--no hotels to find, no meals to fix, no sitters to get--I figured this was going to be the one family vacation that would defy the odds and be stress-free.

It didn't turn out quite that way. The following is my diary of some of the highs--and lows--of our cruise.

Day One (Sunday) Our cabin is tiny but well-appointed. "This is cute" Reggie says as she settles her doll on her bunk in the blue and cream-colored cabin. She can't believe how tiny the bathroom is. "No tub!" she says. I'm glad there are just two of us, though the cabin could hold four if the two upper bunks were used. She loves the porthole and immediately sets out to make herself at home. The cabins don't really contain anything special for the kids, though they are made to feel welcome with their own "Kids Call" schedule slipped under the door each day; it details the morning-till-night progams.

Reggie is excited and nervous as we set out to explore the ship, stopping for a late lunch in the Satellite Cafe adjacent to the pool. She's clearly relieved to see so many other little girls her age.

We can't wait to get underway. But almost as soon as we set sail late in the afternoon, we hit rough seas. Dinner, a five-course affair, is subdued: Like everyone, it seems, Reggie and I are fighting seasickness. I try a motion-sickness medication called Bonine, but it doesn't help. After a shot of Phenergan from the ship's doctor, I feel a lot better. Dramamine pills help Reggie.

I'm impressed with Premier's attention to the children in the dining room. Dress is more casual (although shorts are not allowed) than on other ships. There's a full children's menu, from burgers to ice cream. Kids with gourmet palates may order from the adult menu as well. Eight-year-old Clarke Saunders devoured shrimp cocktail, lobster, swordfish, clam chowder and French pastries. The waiters, who seem mostly middle-aged and foreign-born, joke with the kids, and even cut their spaghetti.

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