Today I want to talk about cruising with kids. When Tim and I sailed on Freedom of the Seas (click the link for my thoughts on this ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet!), we went without our kids. And I’ve got a post I’ll be writing next month all about how important it is to get away WITHOUT your children. I mean, you get to eat incredible food without having to make it, share it, or clean up afterward, for goodness sake!
But I know that isn’t always possible, and I also know that it is fun to have vacations as a family. And I will tell you, I don’ t think anyone on the press trip was more surprised than me about just how kid-friendly cruising could be. I had no idea! And while I don’t regret NOT bringing my kids, I can tell you now that I wouldn’t hesitate to take them on a family cruise in the future.
Royal Caribbean has a great partnership with DreamWorks, and that means that you’ll find fun characters from movies like Madagascar and Shrek popping up on the ship. They are so fun to encounter! You also can take your kids to the movies in the theater (we caught a 3D matinee showing of The Croods and absolutely loved it!). Or maybe you want to enjoy breakfast with the characters. Royal Caribbean offers a special character breakfast, so you can definitely do that!
Another fun special program that might be of interest to little ones is the Barbie Premium Experience. This comes at an additional cost of $199, but includes SO many fun things! When you arrive in your cabin, you’ll have a special sign on your door including your child as a Barbie girl on board, and you’ll also find a Barbie, some fun Barbie clothes, and a beautiful plush blanket and pillowcase set on the bed.
Your child will also get to experience a special fashion event where they actually make clothes for their dolls (I was super jealous and totally wanted to get in there and start designing clothes…I spent HOURS doing this with scraps of fabric as a child!). They also get to have a special tea party while on board. This is a great way for your kids to get to know other kids on board, too, and make friends!
If you are traveling with younger children, then you’ll want to know about the Royal Babies and Tots program. Babies must be at least 6 months old to sail, so that is something to keep in mind if you are expecting or have a brand new baby. Babies and toddlers go to the area of the ship shown above, where well-qualified staff are on hand to watch and play with them so mom and dad can have some time together.
The children participate in an art at sea program to stimulate their learning and development, and they also have an excellent selection of Fisher-Price toys to play with. They even have a very cool toy lending program. Parents can borrow and exchange toys (yes, taking them back to your room!) so that your child can have something new to play with every day and you don’t have to devote space in your luggage to toys! The nursery also has a lot of open play sessions designed for parents who want to spend a little 1-on-1 time with their kiddos in a very baby-friendly environment. It’s also a great way to meet other parents with babies and toddlers on board.
One thing that is important to note is that the Royal Babies and Tots program is not completely free. If you want to leave your children to be cared for, there is a cost of $6/hour during the day, and $8/hour in the evenings. Each family is allowed to pre-book 16 hours per child, and can only book one of the formal nights. Babysitting time beyond that cannot be pre-booked, and is strictly based on availability.
I met the staff watching the royal babies and tots, and I toured the nursery and felt very comfortable with what I saw. But if you want my own personal opinion, I would wait to cruise with kids until they are 3 and potty trained, and here’s why: programs for kids 3-17, for the most part, are FREE!!!! The program is called Ocean Adventure, and it is broken up into several age groups, which I LOVE!!!
- aquanauts 3-5 years
- explorers 6-8
- voyagers 9-11
- teens 12-14
- teens 15-17
Each age group has their own specific area for fun and games and hanging out, and their own dedicated staff. I was very impressed to hear that the children’s staff all have at least a bachelor’s degree in recreation, education, or a related field, as well as 3-5 years experience working with children. They are qualified!!!!
I was especially impressed with The Living Room, which is a coffee-bar and hang out space for teenagers. It looked like something I would have thought was super cool as a teenager (by the way, the baby toys are laid out because it was open play time…not because they thought teenagers would like them! The teens were out doing something else during that timeframe).
Activities run for teens until the wee hours of the morning, so they get to feel like they are having a true vacation and getting to stay up late, and mom and dad are also getting to have a true vacation and stay up late!
One other thing I really appreciated hearing was that unless you are a parent, you are absolutely not allowed if you are 18 or over. No exceptions. That line gets a little blurry between 17 year olds and 18, 19, and 20 year olds, but Royal Caribbean is dedicated to keeping those under 18 not in the same space as those over 18. Which is something parents of teenagers would appreciate, I know!
The children really have some incredible programs, from science, to art, and even to theater. In fact, we were treated to a glow-in-the-dark puppet show while on board. The image is blurry because the fish in the scene were swimming around. It was delightful, I have to say!
In addition to all of the incredible structured programming on the ship, you’ll also find many spots on board that are kid and family-friendly. The H2O zone is a colorful family water park (there’s even a small splash zone for little ones in diapers). There’s the flow rider surf simulator for older kids, a 9 hole mini-golf course and golf simulator, and sports court with basketball, paddleball and volleyball, and The Wall, which is an expanded signature rock climbing wall. There’s even an ice rink on board with dedicated ice skating times for families!
And if you just want to play some games, tweens and teens in particular will like the Challenger’s Arcade. You’ll even find movies for children playing in stateroom televisions, and adventure family library for quiet reading activities, and Royal bedtime stories happening in Adventure Ocean, where children are encouraged to wear their pajamas!
After seeing what Royal Caribbean has to offer for families with children, I can tell you that I’m pretty blown away by it, and that if I was a kid, this would be the best vacation EVER!!!
Have you ever cruised with kids? What was your experience like? If not, did you have any idea that cruising could be this kid-friendly???