Don’t look now, but cruising is becoming more family-friendly. So says John Shallo, online content editor at Cruise Addicts, one of the most active (as in, more than 160,000 unique visitors in October 2012) cruise ship forums on the Web. I recently sat down with Shallo to chat about these changing trends in the cruise business, and what families should look out for in 2013.
Q. Which of the family-friendly ships are your readers most excited to see next year?
A. Cruise Addicts [users] are very excited about the upcoming Carnival Sunshine from Carnival Cruise Lines. When the $155-million dollar transformation of the Carnival Destiny to Carnival Sunshine is completed, it will combine the best of Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 initiative and features all its own. Specifically, the ship will have one of the largest water parks at sea and feature Carnival's longest twister water slide. Another ship that has people talking: the Norwegian Breakaway from Norwegian Cruise Line. She’s due to arrive in April, and she will be the largest cruise ship ever to be home-ported in New York. The ship will have a three-story sports complex featuring the largest ropes course at sea, a 9-hole mini golf course, a spider web climbing cage, a bungee trampoline, a rock climbing wall and a basketball court. It also is expected to include The Waterfront, a collection of shops, restaurants and bars along a quarter-mile oceanfront boardwalk.
Q. In the past, I’ve found that shore excursions weren’t entirely family-friendly. To what extent has that changed in recent years?
A. Excursions are more plentiful for activities that are good for all ages, activity level and interests. Cruise lines know that young families may not be able to do all activities, especially if you have little ones. So they have a more choices that are better suited to families with small children. These include more beach days, island tours, butterfly farms and dolphin encounters. Families with older kids can take part in more adventuresome tours such as jet-boat rides, snorkeling, horseback riding, and more.
Q. How will dining plans change to accommodate travelers with picky eaters in tow?
A. For families, lots of options are keys to an easy vacation. More and more cruise lines are offering greater numbers of dining options for families. Royal Caribbean takes care of this with their My Family Time Dining, an expedited dining service, for kids ages 3 – 11. Through this offering, kids are served their meals and then picked up by the Adventure Ocean [i.e., the Kids Club] staff so mom and dad can enjoy a nice dinner to themselves.
Q. To what extent are cruise ships offering specific holiday-themed programs for super-young travelers?
A. Kids’ programs once off limits to babies will be allowed on more ships in the years to come. Right now, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas were the first to offer the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, where the littlest guests (ages 6-36 months) are cared for by trained professionals. Here, daytime and evening drop-off is offered, and an hourly fee of $8 applies. Disney Cruise Line ships feature a Little Mermaid-themed Flounder's Reef Nursery where kids ages 3-36 months are cared for throughout the day. Reservations and fees are required here too.
Q. What would you say is the most family-friendly cruise line and why?
A. Disney Cruise Line is still the premier family-friendly cruise line. So many wonderful things that cater to the whole family are included by design aboard a Disney Cruise. The VIP treatment starts with each family’s name being announced as they board the ship for the first time. It continues in the stateroom with dual bathrooms, privacy curtains and extra space. The entertainment, kids programs, and fireworks at sea further this unique experience.