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Babies OnboardMay 30, 2012 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|Kids Pool aboard NCL’s Norwegian Gem is equipped for pint-size splashing and playing.|
Many cruise lines have supervised children’s programs that entertain kids, a great perk for vacationing parents who can take some much needed “me time.” The adults then have the freedom—without the kids in tow—for a romantic dinner, spa day or shore outing.
But what if your client’s child is under the age of three? In the past, few cruise lines offered supervised program options for kids under the age of three. But that’s changing. For example: The family-friendly Disney Cruise Line has a robust Flounder’s Reef Nursery for children ages three months to three years. On Cunard Line, certified British nannies take care of children ages one and up.
Camp Carnival, the Carnival Cruise Lines’ supervised kids club, now accepts children two years of age and older, as does Norwegian Cruise Line’s Splash Academy; kids two and under are part of the Guppies program. Norwegian is updating its entire children’s and teen program. Norwegian Gem now has the new kids’ options and the line plans to roll out the program to all ships in its fleet over time.
Royal Caribbean’s Baby Boom
One of the biggest developments of late, however, is the rapid expansion of the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, first introduced on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas by Royal Caribbean International. It’s now been recently added to many other ships in the fleet as part of the Royal Advantage dry dock upgrades.
Grandeur of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Splendor of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas all have been updated with the new nursery facilities. Updates for Serenade of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas are set for November and December respectively.
Are there really that many babies and tots on most cruises? Trade experts say it’s a lot, particularly as boomers retire and bring their kids and grandchildren along on a multigenerational family vacation. And clients of all ages traveling with kids are attracted to the inclusive value of cruising.
Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, says 55,000 babies and tots under the age of three travel on the line every year. That’s an astounding number that equals the entire population of Harrisburg, PA, and Belize City, Belize, for example.
|Royal Caribbean ships feature professionally staffed Royal Babies & Tots Nurseries.|
Simply put, babies are big business. “The family market is very important to us,” notes Freed. And cruise lines that give folks a break from their parenting duties—even if just for a few hours or a day—provide guests with a cherished vacation bonus, says Lizz Dinnigan, a professional mommy blogger (tri.gmnews.com, search “Dinnigan”) and former associate cruise editor at Travel Agent who has sailed on multiple cruises and experienced the dilemma of not having the ability to put a toddler in a supervised cruise program.
“A few years ago, I cruised with my two sons when they were five and two,” said Dinnigan. “Only the older one was permitted in the kids’ program. For seven days, we chased the toddler away from the pool, from the edge of the ship, out of the closet in the cabin and away from other diners’ tables in the restaurant. It was not a vacation for us, just a change of scenery. He cried when we hired a babysitter in cabin. We did not get a moment to ourselves.”
Dinnigan sailed last year on Oasis of the Seas, but by then her youngest one was old enough for the kids’ program. While he no longer needs the service, she thinks it is wonderful for parents.
Vicky Garcia, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Cruise Planners/American Express, says agents understand that cruising in and of itself is a great family vacation. With the Royal Babies & Tots program, Garcia says that vacation is more accessible to those families that have kids under three.
Since those families with three-year-olds and even younger kids are often visiting theme parks with multiple kids, why not a cruise? To promote the product, “we at Cruise Planners are using this in the marketing we do for our agents in several ways,” Garcia explains. “First, we use basic images that show families with young children or babies.” Plus, she says they highlight the nursery when promoting family reunions and group cruises.
|New nursery onboard Royal Caribbean’s Splendor of the Seas.|
As a result, Garcia says, “We are seeing increased interest from this segment as the parents feel they can enjoy some activities with or without the kids…It’s a win-win for all! The agent, the parents, the kids.”
Royal Caribbean’s Royal Babies is for kids ages six months to 18 months old. The Royal Tots program is for kids 18 months to three years. These offer parents childcare drop-off options in the daytime and evening with a qualified staff. Each youth staff member has a four-year university degree in education or recreation, is CPR certified and has passed criminal background checks. Those handling the babies and tots are also trained as nannies.
With its partnership with Fisher-Price, Royal Caribbean also offers a Fisher Price “Free Play” room filled with toys for those under three. However, parents must participate with their child. Royal Babies will enjoy Musical Inspiration, Come to My House, which reinforces learning of everyday concepts, and other themes. Royal Tots sessions include Fun on the Farm, Out & About in the Neighborhood and more.
In a lending program, parents may also borrow and exchange toys to keep the little ones engaged and occupied.
Space is limited in the supervised Royal Babies and Tots Nursery program, so clients with tiny tots should book early; tell clients to talk to the staff and learn what options are available. Advise them to make a reservation right away if there is a specific time they absolutely must have to themselves, such as if they have booked a special shore trip.
Also, while the Adventure Ocean and teen program are complimentary, there are fees for the more staff-intensive nursery program. The charge is $8 per hour for babysitting in the nursery; Fisher Price activities are part of the program so there is no additional charge. If clients do book a time and fail to return at the appointed time, additional fees will apply.
One nice perk: The staff in the nursery will give parents a brief report when they return to pick up the child, it indicates any diaper changing, feedings, nap times and so on.
Parents traveling with infants and toddlers can also now pack lighter for their cruise with Royal Caribbean’s Babies 2 Go! program, where parents can order organic baby food, and diapers, wipes and creams by Huggies for delivery to their staterooms upon their arrival. These baby essentials and more can be ordered online through Royal Caribbean’s “Gifts & Gear” section at www.royalcaribbean.com.
How often do parents leave their little ones? “On average, we see that a baby guest is in the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for approtximately three hours each day” says Harry Liu, the line’s manager of brand communications. “For mom and dad, that could be enough time to enjoy a wonderful meal in a specialty restaurant followed by a show.”
In addition, many lines now offer Toddler Time, where parents participate with their toddler in special “edutainment” programs in the kids’ club or elsewhere on the ship.