5 Family-Friendly Caribbean Ships
Tots to teens find a wealth of fun on these tropical cruises
By Andy Dimond
Disney Cruise Line
A cruise ship also provides a safe, controlled environment, where everyone in the family can pursue their interests, either individually or together. Today's ships have youth centers and children's programs staffed by trained counselors who are great with young ones. They'll entertain and supervise your kids, leaving parents free to enjoy some time alone.
In this feature, we've focused on five family-friendly ships that cruise the Caribbean, departing from five different U.S. embarkation ports. The first four ships offer multiple departures throughout the summer. The fifth, Norwegian Spirit, sails these tropical waters from November 2009 until April 2010, making it a worthy option for a winter holiday or spring break family trip.
Learn more about these and other terrific options for cruising with the kids at FamilyCruise.com, a Web site from Vacations To Go. All rates quoted below are from the company, which specializes in deeply discounted cruise fares. To speak to a Vacations To Go travel counselor, call (800) 338-4962.
The Carnival Conquest departs on weeklong itineraries from Galveston, TX, located about an hour southeast of Houston. The Carnival Cruise Lines ship weighs 110,000 tons and has room for 3,700 passengers -- in a megaliner that size, there's no shortage of things to see or do. The kid-friendly features include three separate age-appropriate venues.
Camp Carnival is designed for youngsters ages 2 to 11 years old, and it features an outdoor wading pool, a great selection of toys, a computer area, video games, board games and arts and crafts, including an area where kids can concoct edible candy artwork called Pucker Powder. And once they're all sugared up, it falls to the experienced Carnival youth team to supervise them as they burn off all that energy; counselors are assigned to each age level -- ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11.
The hangout of choice for tweens is Circle "C." Cruisers ages 12 to 14 have this place to themselves, with games, movies, parties and activities designed especially for this often-picky age group. Children must register with Circle "C" to participate, but they can come and go as they please and join in as many or as few activities as they like. The hottest feature of all may be the dance floor where young teens can get down to the latest club-rockin' beats.
Finally, there's Club O2 for the teen set, ages 15 to 17. The diversions here include Ping-Pong, basketball, volleyball, pool parties, trivia contests, karaoke, video games, scavenger hunts and dance parties. An onboard teens-only lounge provides comfy seating, TV screens and nonalcoholic drinks. There's also the unique perk of special teen-oriented shore excursions. Under the guidance of one of Carnival's counselors, older kids can explore exotic ports of call with the new friends they've made.
Great features for the adults include the Toulouse-Lautrec Theater, an entertainment venue decked out in Moulin Rouge-style crushed red velvet, as well as an onboard spa, casino and intimate, reservations-only supper club.
The Conquest sails a classic Western Caribbean itinerary this summer, beginning with two days at sea followed by Montego Bay in Jamaica, Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, and Cozumel on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Vacations To Go lists discounted rates this summer starting as low as $529 per person, based on double occupancy.
Perhaps the biggest brand name that comes to mind when you think "family" and "vacation" is Disney. For a decade now, Disney Cruise Line has operated two beautiful, nearly identical vessels. One of them, the Disney Magic, sails to the Caribbean from Port Canaveral, FL. This five-star, 2,500-passenger liner, with interiors that are art deco by way of Toontown, has 15,000 square feet of dedicated kids' space, including most of an entire deck.
Kids ages 3 to 7 congregate at the Oceaneer Club. The youngest guests will enjoy coordinated playtime with activities based on beloved characters in the Disney pantheon. There's King Triton's Court (nautical-themed learning games), Do-Si-Do With Snow White (dance lessons) and Mouseketeer Training, with a special visit from Mickey himself.
The 8- to 12-year-olds go to Oceaneer Lab, where the imaginative activities include participating in a sound effects lab, embarking on a shipwide scavenger hunt, whipping up batches of "Flubber" and even hand-painting Disney animation cels.
The teen area, the Stack, is billed as a cross between a dorm and a loft apartment, but with counselors to keep a watchful eye over the scene. Activities include filmmaking, hip-hop dance lessons, fitness classes, talent shows, "gender wars" contests and a spooky haunted pirate experience called Dead Man's Challenge.
Don't think that the kids get all the fun, though. Disney cruises have a full slate of grown-up attractions, too, such as an adults-only pool and an entertainment district with a sports bar, a chilled-out lounge and a hot dance club featuring live bands and the latest hits. And, there's plenty for the family to enjoy together, from movies at the pool to Broadway-caliber stage spectaculars, a 3-D cinema and the incredible Animators' Palate dining room, where the interior slowly changes from black-and-white to color over the course of your meal.
The Magic sails three different weeklong Caribbean trips from Port Canaveral; depending on the itinerary, ports can include Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles and Key West at the southern tip of Florida. All cruises stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's own private island in the Bahamas. You can also combine a week at sea with a few days at the "happiest place on Earth," as Port Canaveral is just a quick shuttle ride from Walt Disney World.
Vacations To Go offers starting cruise rates this summer of $999 per person, based on double occupancy -- 50 percent off the original brochure rate.
The largest ship of Princess Cruises, the 116,000-ton, 3,120-passenger Caribbean Princess, departs from the cruise terminal in Brooklyn, NY, and embarks on an interesting itinerary that swings by the Atlantic island of Bermuda on the way to San Juan in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and the Turks and Caicos. Four leisurely days spent at sea on this nine-day trip barely give you enough time to explore all that the vast five-star ship has to offer.
Young guests are separated into three age categories: Pelicans (ages 3 to 7), Shockwaves (ages 8 to 12) and Remix (ages 13 to 17). Kids in Pelicans and Shockwaves are kept busy with movies, cartoons, scavenger hunts, ice cream and pizza parties, pajama parties and kids-only dining. Teens are treated to sports tournaments, dance parties, "mocktails," talent shows, karaoke and hip-hop classes; they also can retreat to their own teen center with PlayStations, board games and large-screen TVs.
Pleasures for parents aboard the Caribbean Princess include an Internet cafe, library, the Crooners piano bar and the Vines Wine and Seafood Bar, which serves more than 30 wines. Steal away for some quiet time at the Sanctuary, a shaded Zen-like retreat staffed by stewards who can supply you with smoothies, herbal energy drinks, plush towels and MP3 players with noise-canceling headphones.
Reduced summer rates for island-bound trips aboard the Caribbean Princess start at $999 per person, based on double occupancy.
Liberty of the Seas
This spring, Royal Caribbean International launched an array of fun new features and activities for families cruising aboard its ships, including the enormous, 4,375-passenger Liberty of the Seas, which sails to the Caribbean from Miami.
Parents can accompany their Royal Babies (ages 6 to 18 months) and Royal Tots (ages 18 to 36 months) to interactive play groups designed by the child experts at Fisher-Price. A morning "stroll and roll" reserves the onboard jogging track for guests with infants in strollers. Parents also can order baby food, diapers and wipes to be delivered to their stateroom, which makes for lighter luggage.
Counselors with college degrees in education, recreation or related fields supervise the Adventure Ocean youth program, divided among ages 3 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11. Innovative offerings that appeal to notoriously hard-to-impress teenagers include DJ lessons, a nonalcoholic cocktail competition, a surf simulator, a graffiti wall and even an onboard snowball fight. They also have their own hangout, the Living Room, and a disco that's open until 2 a.m.
Highlights for grown-ups include a wine bar and a Latin-themed lounge as well as creative fitness facilities like a full-size boxing ring, ice-skating rink, a nine-hole miniature golf course and a rock-climbing wall. At night, the whole family can head to the ship's library for bedtime stories with milk and cookies, and kids are even encouraged to come in their pajamas.
The Liberty of the Seas offers two alternating Caribbean-bound vacations from Miami. All cruises stop at Labadee, the line's gorgeous, private resort paradise on the north coast of Haiti. Other port calls include Cozumel, Grand Cayman, San Juan, St. Maarten and Ocho Rios in Jamaica, depending on the itinerary.
Rates this summer start as low as $849 per person, based on double occupancy.
Beginning in mid-November, Norwegian Spirit from Norwegian Cruise Line sails south from New Orleans, stopping at Costa Maya, Mexico; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel. As unique and exotic as this itinerary is, the 1,966-passenger Spirit offers plenty of excitement on board, with amenities calculated to wow both young and old.
The Celebrity Teen Disco makes room around its dance floor for air hockey and foosball tables, while the Starlight Video Arcade offers everything from shoot-'em-ups to flight simulators to pinball. For younger kids there's Charlie's, a child care center with a cinema, arts and crafts activities, a computer lab and a quiet area with a nursery and cozy napping space. Buccaneer's Wet and Wild pool area is a hit with kids of all ages, offering a selection of waterslides, a paddling pool and a hot tub just for kids.
The Spirit also claims 10 inviting bars and lounges, including a Bavarian biergarten, a Bollywood-style nightclub and the astronomy-themed Galaxy of the Stars observation lounge. Other perks for Mom and Dad include a full-service beauty salon, spa and gym. The Maharajah's Casino is another great place to escape the tots, where you can try your hand at blackjack, craps or Caribbean stud poker.
Norwegian Spirit sails to Caribbean ports from Nov. 15, 2009, through April 4, 2010. Rates for that period start as low as $529 per person, based on double occupancy.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in May/June 2009. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.