The Latest News in Family-Friendly Cruises

Kids’ club activities of the past have evolved into complex offerings for multiple age groups. Pictured here is one of Holland America’s Club HAL layouts.

Twenty percent of Americans plan to take a family cruise vacation this year, according to a AAA survey released earlier this year. And while 70 percent plan one or two trips this year, a whopping 28 percent plan three or more family vacations. So, a cruise just might be in the mix. Here’s a look at trends, tips and developments in family cruising.

Embracing the Animal Kingdom: Young kids absolutely love seeing wild animals and marine life in their natural habitats. That makes Alaska, Central and South America, the Galapagos, Africa and other regions excellent draws for family travel given the wildlife viewing opportunities. Agents say wildlife options provide a good “family pitch point.”

For example, Paul Gauguin Cruises in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society offers a summertime “Stewards of Nature” program for kids 7-17. In Alaska, Holland America Line celebrates its 70th summer season this year, and anniversary activities should create marketplace buzz. Alaska shore excursions draw families with bear viewing, zip lining, hiking, whale watching, dog mushing and helicopter flightseeing.

Also big in Alaska is Princess Cruises, and its interactive Discovery at Sea experiences are based on Discovery’s brands and TV programming like “Shark Week” and “MythBusters.” Cruisers can star gaze with experts and take exclusive Discovery and Animal Planet shore excursions.

More Family Accommodations: Carnival Cruise Line will carry more than 700,000 children this year, the most in its history. The line’s newest ship, Carnival Vista, sails from Miami to the Caribbean year-round. One neat feature? It has new Family Harbor suites with access to a family lounge. Other family perks include Camp Ocean (kids club), the Seuss at Sea partnership and the industry’s first IMAX theater.

Home porting year-round from Miami later this year, the new MSC CruisesMSC Seaside will unveil a “Super Family Plus Fantastica Balcony Stateroom” (category FLP), encompassing three connecting staterooms with three bathrooms and two balconies. Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Bliss, will operate an inaugural summer season in Alaska in 2018 before home porting in Miami for winter 2018-19. It features new connecting staterooms ideal for large groups and families traveling together.  

Some families are opting for a small ship vacation. AmaWaterways, in partnership with Adventures by Disney, has family sailings on select European river cruises. The new 158-passenger AmaViola and AmaStella have both connecting cabins and triple accommodations. In the Galapagos, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic recently launched the 96-guest Endeavour ll with suites; solo, double or triple cabins; and seven sets of connecting cabins.

The Rise of Foodie Families: It’s not just mom or dad who enjoy cooking classes or culinary events. Kids love those too. Shore excursions or independent tours allow multigenerational families to sample Puerto Rico cuisine or whip up an authentic Italian pizza.  

Onboard some lines have family-friendly culinary activities. Crystal Cruises has cookie baking and pizza making within the Junior Activities program (kids 3 to 12). In MSC Seaside’s category FLP accommodations, those 3 to 11 receive free master chef and language classes.

Enhanced Water Safety: Since 2013, Disney Cruise Line has employed lifeguards to enhance safety for families with children enjoying the onboard pools. Last month, Royal Caribbean International began adding certified lifeguards at all its pools; all ships will have the lifeguards on duty by June. At least one lifeguard will be stationed at every pool (including the Solarium) during the pool’s posted “open hours.”

Royal Caribbean guests can also expect enhanced water safety signage, educational messaging, safety vests in three sizes for kids, children’s water safety flyers, and incorporation of water safety into the Adventure Ocean (kids club) emergency evacuation drill and passenger muster drill.

Kids Clubs Are More Extensive: The simple kids’ club activities of the past have evolved into complex offerings for multiple age groups, with everything from high-tech gaming to movies and hands-on learning activities. Partnerships with well-known brands, such as Royal Caribbean International’s DreamWorks Entertainment partnership, also brings well-known characters like Shrek or the Penguins of Madagascar to entertain kids of all ages. Last year, Costa Cruises added Peppa Pig World.

Lines also continue to invest in refurbishing kids’ clubs. Princess Cruises just revitalized and updated its youth and teen centers on Grand Princess. This month, those will also debut on Caribbean Princess and Majestic Princess. Others to be completed this year are Regal Princess, Sea Princess, Island Princess and Star Princess. In 2018, Crown Princess, Golden Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sun Princess, Royal Princess and Ruby Princess will get the updates, followed by Coral Princess and Emerald Princess in 2019.

Kid-friendly activities on AmaWaterways/Adventures by Disney’s Danube cruise include a strudel-making demonstration at Schönbrunn Palace in Austria.

Earlier this year, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Sensation emerged from a multi-million-dollar renovation that included the new Camp Ocean. Designed for kids 2 to 11, this colorful, nautical-themed play area features more than 200 ocean-themed activities, including arts and crafts and science-oriented programming.

Burgeoning Multigenerational Travel: It’s not just mom and dad and the kids anymore. A successful family cruise could involve a combination of grandparents and grandkids; adult siblings seeking a getaway; family reunions designed to meet-and-greet distant relatives; or perhaps a getaway for three sister-in-laws. 

Holland America Line recently partnered with O, The Oprah Magazine, for four upcoming cruises. Cruises are themed and designed to empower women, so moms, sisters, female cousins, grandmas and other family members can sail to Alaska with Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, the magazine’s editor-at-large, on Eurodam’s July 15 roundtrip sailing from Seattle. It’s all part of a new partnership and O-Magazine-inspired activities will be scheduled on four other voyages in late 2017 and 2018.

Navigating to Smaller Ships: Family cruising has navigated in a big way to global rivers, as mom and dad like the more intimate nature of the experience with a lack of crowds and lines. AmaWaterways, Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection are among those with family-themed departures and programming. Most river lines, including Avalon Waterways, Scenic and others, also have active shore trips or bicycle and hiking options appealing to families with teens.

Expansion of the Family Travel Window: While summer remains prime family travel season, the world has changed with home schooling of children and parents who telecommute or operate their own business. Life is more flexible for many families. Look beyond summer to holidays, spring break, and increasingly, other times of the year for family travel opportunities.