|Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob are among the Nickelodeon characters entertaining families on Norwegian Breakaway // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
PART 2: This is the second of three articles in a "Mom's Notebook" series about the "family cruise experience" onboard Norwegian Breakaway. This series is reprinted courtesy of SouthernCruising.com, which retains all rights.
By Lizz Dinnigan
Sailing on a family cruise is all about keeping every member of the family happy. On a Norwegian Breakaway sailing to Bermuda this summer, I enjoyed plenty of family time with my husband Joe and sons Jack, 10, and Casey, 7.
RELATED STORY: Part 1 of my first-hand "Mom's Notebook" details the boarding process and tips for parents, as well as my "wow factor" choice of the three-level Sports Deck as the ship's top feature; I also discussed the pools, hot tubs and SpongeBob themed "spray-ground." Check out that story at www.travelagentcentral.com/family-cruises/moms-notebook-about-norwegian-breakaway-part-1-47801.
In this article I talk about Splash Academy, the Nickelodeon themed events and other family activities onboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
|Splash Academy, the kid's club on Norwegian Breakaway, has colorful decor and techie features. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
But while we spent a lot of family time together on the ship, our boys also desired to with other kids their age at Splash Academy, the ship's complimentary supervised children’s program. It's a fun, parent-free zone.
As a mom, I definitely appreciated the flexibility. Our children were free to participate as much or little as they and we wanted. Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) also nicely splits children participating in the Splash Academy into four separate age divisions, each offering age-appropriate, camp-style activities.
Turtles is for little ones 3 to 5, Seals is for those 6 to 9, Dolphins is for children 10 to 12 and Teens is for those 13 to 17. There’s no crossover of age groups, except during one hour early in the morning for Freestyle Free Play, designed to satisfy younger siblings who don’t like to be separated from older brothers and sisters.
Facilities-wise, the bi-level Splash Academy is quite spacious with an interior staircase and private bathrooms. At the front is a formal, gated reception area.
|Splash Academy has creatively themed play and colorful facilities. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Overall, I liked the security set-up. Only authorized family members 18 and older are permitted to drop-off or pick-up kids. They must present their stateroom key card and the process is automated. “Security is higher here than in the casino,” emphasizes Michael Simpson, the ship's youth program manager.
Downstairs, the venue is spacious and partitioned into separate areas for crowd control. There are soft mats for physical activities, a movie theater, craft tables and beanbag chairs.
Younger kids spend most of their time downstairs. For example, my Casey and playmates in the Seals age group enjoyed the blocks and buckets as well as group games including tag. One section of the floor here also has a light-up dance floor.
Participating in Dolphins, the next older age grouping, Jack spent more time upstairs and played team events like gaga. This space also has 30 Wii video game consoles.
“The basis of our program is engagement,” says Simpson. “The counselors give themselves silly nicknames because they’re easier to remember, like Jumanji, Ketchup and Twix. We draw them in with themes. We create lesson plans to try new things, and we use the creativity of the individual counselors. It’s about participating with the kids—that’s the formula we use.”
|Splash Academy gives both adults and kids "me time." // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Jack Growing Up
It was music to my ears when, after his first time in Splash Academy, Jack said: “I made a new friend today.” While he's participated in many kids' club programs in the past (both on Norwegian and other lines), this year the activities program had a more noticeable impact on him.
If parents give the green light, Dolphins can receive sign-out privileges, enabling them to check themselves out of camp and return to the cabin on their own. Jack was elated that we gave him sign-out privileges.
He proved to be very responsible. We would wait up for him each night until he safely returned to the cabin.
Every night after dinner, Jack also insisted he participate in the evening Dolphins programming in the Bliss Ultra Lounge between 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Located just off the casino, Bliss is dimly lit and has an illuminated bar and video light wall. While kid-friendly refreshments were served, the venue created a party atmosphere that tweens love.
Some nights Jack even opted for Splash Academy rather than seeing a show with the rest of the family. What was a big draw? He particularly liked such activities as Mission Impossible Spy Night, World Domination, Island Survivors and Farewell Pajama Party.
“The Dolphins love their own space,” said Simpson. “It’s a delicate thing. They don’t want to be seen as kids. You can’t miss that first connection with this age group. We try to reach them early, because once we got ‘em, we got ‘em.”
During the day, Joe and I would notice Jack waving to kids at the pool. One new friend came up to us at the buffet to say hello. This familiarity made a big ship seem more intimate.
Younger Kids, Guppies and Babysitting
As for the other age groups, Casey happily played in Seals -- enjoying such activities as Circus Skills, Pirate Plunder and Super Heroes versus Villains. Those in the younger Turtles group had their own fun play with Fairytale Island, Olympics, Cowboys in Outer Space and Rumble in the Jungle.
Simpson says the counselors have a special technique to ease children arriving for the first time. “When they come in, we give them a high five and then engage them in icebreaker games. We alternate between active and passive games to get them excited and then calm them down again.”
Parents of Turtles and those with special needs are issued beepers; parents of older children can request a beeper if they so choose. It's a complimentary service, but if you lose the beeper, expect to pay $150 to replace it.
Separately, the Guppies program accommodates babies 6 months to 2 years, but's not a drop-off. Parents must accompany their child. Guppies have their own small playroom and also have access to Splash Academy during specified hosted times when center is closed to the camp.
“The Guppies room is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” says Simpson. “Each day we mix up the toys; one day could be tents and tunnels, and another day would be transportation. There are no cribs, and diapers must be changed by the parent.”
Babysitting? Nightly from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Splash Academy transforms into the Late Night Fun Zone, which is another name for babysitting. The cost for this service is $6 per child, per hour, and $4 for each additional sibling.
Teen Hang Out
On Norwegian Breakaway, teens have their own designated hang-out space called Entourage, and they are free to come and go as they please. On our cruise, Entourage was always packed.
“The goal of Entourage is to make social circles,” says Simpson. “It’s a hub to make new friends."
Teens played at Wii and PS3 stations, competed against each other with air hockey and foozball, and participated in a roster of activities that included Murder Mystery, Amazing Race, Photo Scavenger Hunt and Dares.
Fans of Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob and other Nickelodeon favorites will revel in seeing all the characters come to life onboard Norwegian Breakaway. On the first night is a “Family Welcome Social” featuring Nick Slime Smoothies, ice-breaker games and music, and several characters. Our kids absolutely loved the festivities.
“Nick has always done children’s programs well,” says Julie Valeriote, cruise director, Norwegian Breakaway. “There’s strategic planning. We incorporate the characters into activities and have unannounced pop-ups. We put them on the gangway when kids are coming in from port."
The little ones will never forget Storytime with Dora and Dora’s Dance Party, while the older set will want to volunteer for the “Nick Live! Poolside Slime Edition,” where they will compete in Nick challenges such as “A Pie in the Face.”
|Casey Dinnigan. 7, loved the Pajama Jam breakfast with colorful Nickelodeon characters and fun foods. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
From our family's perspective, the highlight is the memorable “Pajama Jam.” Space is very limited, so it’s crucial to register as early as possible. We participated in this event on the Norwegian Gem two years ago, and the breakfasts were very similar.
A mom's tip? Arrive extra early to secure seats next to the dance floor for the best views. My Casey had terrific lines of sight to some of his favorite characters, who are adept at engaging with the children, yet putting on a great show.
Kids love wearing their pajamas to the Manhattan Room and partaking of the Pajama Jam's eye-popping breakfast buffet. Families will be treated to rainbow waffles, "splattered paint" pancakes, colorful Jell-O cubes, fruit skewers, pastel donuts and hot dogs in a blanket.
During this fanciful program, kids are given a souvenir cup filled with streamer wands and bubbles. They love watching the Nickelodeon character song-and-dance performances. There are also fun photo opportunities with each of the characters.
|Casey Dinnigan, 7, enjoyed the Nickelodeon character antics at the Pajama Jam // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
This program is very appealing to younger kids. My seven year old had a ball. While my 10-year-old also enjoyed it, my assessment is that he probably was about the maximum age for it. Still, we all had a great time.
Two Pajama Jam events are held during the voyage and cost $20 per person.
Family Time Onboard
While the kids were in Splash Academy, my husband Joe and I enjoyed free time for reading, sunning, enjoying a beer at the pub and strolling around the ship.
|Jack Dinnigan flies at the bungee jump. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
When the boys were with us, though, we easily kept the kids entertained by trying different activities every day. It’s incredible how much you can squeeze into a day on Norwegian Breakaway.
The ship offers corkscrew and free-fall waterslides; an extensive aerial ropes course with a zipline and walk-the-plank ledge; rock climbing; nighttime hot-tubbing; Nickelodeon character meet-and-greets; a SpongeBob-themed spray park; bungee trampoline, fireworks; a 24-foot-high enclosed spider web spiral slide, mini-golf, 3-D movies, bowling and more.
Many activities were free, a big plus for parents watching the budget. Among the favorites? We loved watching our boys scale the rock-climbing wall. The line was usually at least 20 minutes long, but it was entertaining to watch guests trying it before your turn. It helped pass the time.
We also took a break from the tropical sun and watched a 3-D movie, "Thor: the Dark World," in the theater one afternoon. Norwegian provided 3-D glasses and individual popcorn bags.
Family-friendly movies such as "Gravity," "Frozen" and the Muppets were also shown indoors on the gigantic screen in the ship's atrium or outdoors at Spice H2O.
One unusual family activity that I'd highly recommend? Opt for the Family Pizza Making at the Garden Café. We were given a dough round and designed our own pizzas with various toppings. After they were baked in the oven, then we chowed down on our creation.
My kids enjoyed the pizza making activity immensely because it was run by the Splash Academy staff, whom they knew and had bonded with throughout the cruise.
|A pizza making event onboard was a hit with the Dinnigan boys. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
We also played the game show "Deal or No Deal" in the Atrium, watched the fruit-and-vegetable carving demonstration and enjoyed the fireworks display from our cabin balcony.
There were so many other options for families, all listed in the Freestyle daily newsletter. Among the choices were family dodgeball, a scavenger hunt, Family Feud, a hotdog-eating contest, teen and kids spa parties, a balloon-twisting lesson, glow party for teens, hip-hop dance classes, karaoke, bingo.
The fee-based “Family Cupcake Decorating Class” is inspired by TLC’s Baking With the Cake Boss. It features themed cupcake decorating and a fondant layer cake class.
Recreational amenities onboard Norwegian Breakaway include four ping pong tables, a giant chess board, shuffleboard and an arcade.
Our kids also liked the three circus-style fun mirrors outside the Spiegel Tent.
This ship even had a spectacular fireworks display one evening, as shown in the photo at right.
I honestly have to say that during our one-week cruise, my kids never said they were bored; there was always a "bucket" list of activities they wanted to try.
To read more about the amazing water activities and ropes course, check out Part 1 at www.travelagentcentral.com/family-cruises/moms-notebook-about-norwegian-breakaway-part-1-47801.
Just as when visiting a land-based theme park, it's helpful to know beforehand what the ship's minimum-height requirements are for the thrilling slides and ropes course. Kids must be 42 inches for the Spider Web, rock wall climbing and all waterslides (except Free Falls) and 48 inches for the ropes course; a milder ropes course is available for younger kids.
Stay tuned for the final article in this series. Part 3 of this "Mom's Notebook" series will cover family-friendly accommodations and dining onboard Norwegian Breakaway.
For more information, visit www.ncl.com.