Cruise lines have been outdoing themselves lately to attract the family cruise market. Norwegian Cruise Line has teamed up with Nickelodeon, Royal Caribbean has partnered with Dreamworks (think "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda"), Disney Cruise Line is building two new ships and MSC Cruises lets kids sail free on every cruise. Combined with expanded kids' and teens' clubs, video arcades, waterslides, outdoor movies, basketball and mini-golf onboard, cruising truly has become an ideal family vacation.
But with more and more under-18s boarding cruise ships, especially during school holidays, there can be a down side. Couples looking for a romantic getaway sans children may find themselves on a ship with 1,000 kids onboard. And while many of these junior cruisers are happily ensconced in youth activities or spending time with their families, we've heard rumors of unsupervised kids and teens roaming the hallways, taking over elevators and hot tubs, and creating mayhem for their elder shipmates.
So we wanted to know -- what's been your experience cruising during a school holiday period? When we last conducted this poll in 2005, responses were mixed. Many readers thought that cruise lines did a great job handling the influx of kids, but negative responses and people who refused to ever cruise again during school vacation were plentiful as well. We wondered if enhanced kids' spaces and programming over the past few years would have improved the situation.
Here's what we found out:
Have you cruised during school vacation weeks (Thanksgiving to New Year's, Spring Break, Summer)?
Summary: 90 percent said "yes."
Were children a part of your group?
Summary: Roughly 70 percent said "yes" -- and 30 percent said "no." This was up from the 50 - 50 split we saw in our original poll. For travelers cruising with kids, more than half vacationed with kids in the 4- to 12-year-old age group. A "mix of ages" was the next largest group (nearly 25 percent), followed by teens (16 percent) and infants and toddlers (6 percent).
How well did the ship handle the influx of kids?
Summary: In the four categories, the top ratings -- "Exceptionally well (we never saw 'em)" and "Reasonably well (some hullabaloo but by and large children were well entertained and well behaved)" -- scored significantly higher than "Fair-to-middling (at certain times of the day kids would take over some public areas but were otherwise occupied)" and "Poor (the inmates were overpowering the asylum)". But we still saw our fair share of negative comments.
On which cruise line/ship did you travel? Summary: Results won't surprise you -- the large majority of respondents cruised on family-oriented lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL and Princess. Only a handful reported traveling on upscale lines like Crystal and Regent Seven Seas (and comments were generally quite positive).
Do you think cruise ships are doing a better job at keeping kids entertained and well-behaved than they have in the past?
Summary: Apparently, yes! Almost 80 percent of respondents felt that the cruise lines had improved.
And finally, we asked: Would you sail again during a family holiday season?
Summary: In our last survey, "yes" beat out "no" by only a couple of hundred votes. This time, the result was more definitive, with just over 70 percent of travelers saying they'd cruise during school holidays again.
Beyond the ratings, many of you took the opportunity to express your opinions on kids and cruising -- and here's where the most interesting stuff lies. Cruise lines received both cheers and jeers for their efforts to keep kids entertained and happy (and out of adult venues). And while happy families are eagerly signing up for their next cruise, naysayers cite a range of problems, blaming everyone from the cruise lines to the parents to the kids themselves for onboard misbehavior.
Here's what you had to say:
Kudos to the Cruise Lines!
"While children were all over our ship, they were all occupied in activities be it at Camp Carnival, swimming pool, water slide area, mini-golf etc. We never witnessed any kids causing chaos or disturbances," writes first-time cruiser MinniGI. "Our kids themselves had a wonderful time and so want to cruise again!!!"
Writes six-time cruiser ckrollrn, "Disney Cruise Line did a remarkable job of keeping all 900 kids onboard during spring break completely entertained. Most of the children we saw onboard were very well behaved and so taken and excited with the vast variety of kid related offerings onboard. The counselors went above and beyond and were so genuinely kind and interested in the kids and provided a safe, fun atmosphere in the kids club. My kids were begging to go back to the kids clubs!"
"The kids program was outstanding," notes an anonymous Norwegian Spirit past passenger. "Our children were hesitant to go at first, but by the second day they were wolfing down their meals so they could get back to the program."
Member murphysam notes that "Princess does an excellent job of keeping children of all ages entertained. I have been sailing with my son since he was 4 and he's now 14 years old. I've definitely noticed in the past two years less children running wild."
"On a positive note, the pools and hot tubs that are designated as 'adult' only have significantly helped the problem of kids taking over in those areas," says avid cruiser (15+) Margaritas4me. "Overall, I still think cruising is the best 'Family Vacation'. Ships are getting more and more creative on ways to entertain the entire family no matter what the age."
But You Can't Please Everyone All the Time
"It has nothing to do with holiday season, just the fact that other than the water park area on Royal Caribbean, which we prefer over just a waterslide, and sticking your kids in some camp area with strangers, there is nothing for them to do with their parents!!" complains mmbabyg. "Hard to believe that some parents actually want to spend time with their kids!! There are no activities they can do together!!!"
"Our 9 year old daughter has been on 15 cruises on various cruise lines. I believe the cruise lines who tout 'family cruises' are not the best ones for children. The cruise lines with the reputations as being 'not family friendly' have been the best for our daughter by far!" comments CruiseJude, who thinks Holland America, Celebrity and Princess are better for kids than Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL.
Carnival fan taxcruisemom says, "I would love to take my kids on another cruise, but they do not really appreciate the cruise as much as they should. I even had them say the dreaded B word -- Bored!!! I was amazed that my children did not have enough to do and my youngest child (who was 10 years old) only went to Camp Carnival twice and one time was with me participating. Our next cruise is planned without the kids."
"Too many kids everywhere on summer cruises. Adult pool area was packed beyond capacity. The newer ships definitely have nicer facilities for the kids (the only exception would be NCL) but unless they have great staff kids are not going to want to go to the programs," says lov2cruise707.
And Someone Always Has a Horror Story
"Staff on the ship kept the kids entertained during the day but they ran wild in the corridors, knocking on doors, during the early evening and later. They came into the bars where the entertainment was for '18 and over.' We talked to some folks after the cruise at the airport and they said they would never cruise with Princess again because of the kids," comments jackiemac, who sailed on Caribbean Princess but prefers the line's smaller ships.
Lidolounger reports, "Hot tubs become snorkeling centers, kids controlling elevators to the point that we witnessed older adults comment that they would go back to their cabin instead of being frightened by the kids running lose all over the ship."
Who's The Biggest Problem? Some Say Tweens and Teens…
Carnival fan jandrmccabe writes, "Although cruise lines like Carnival do quite a bit to entertain most children, the 'tween' kids (children between the ages of 8 & 12) are left to their own devices. They are too young to be in the 'Teen' scene and too old to be with the smaller children, doing arts and crafts. My son who was 10 at the time got bored with video games when he realized that there was really nothing more for him. The other problem we ran into was that those same 'tween' kids were often left unsupervised. Often we would find 4-6 children in the hot tubs, splashing and having a great time for themselves to the point of not being able to walk near the hot tubs because one child was doing cannonballs into it."
"We love kids and the cruise lines do a great job with the young kids 2-12. But the teenagers even with all there is to do think it is funny to get the old folks upset. They love to do as teenagers have done for centuries and dare each other to do more and more irresponsible things," says fr926.
…Others Say Adults…
TCF writes, "It's not so much the younger kids [as] it is the 18+ group...rude...too much alcohol...no parental supervision...no ship security supervision."
"Please know that the small children were not the problem. The problem was the college people and older people that act like children," says ktravis. "We would sail again but only with certain cruise lines," writes Celebrity fan bluseas. "We would NOT sail the other major cruise lines during these high volume child times because when we have sailed these other lines, even the adults cannot follow the rules or act in a civilized manner -- how could we expect the children to?"
…Still Others Blame the Parents
Janet524 writes, "I feel the cruise lines are trying their best to provide programs and entertainment for children, but the cruise staff are not the parents. On our Christmas/New Years cruise, unsupervised kids were allowed to run rampant through the halls, congregate on stairways and, in general, be disruptive. If I could spank someone, it would be the parents -- not the kids."
"I raised my child with manners. I have no tolerance for the barbarians that are out there now letting ill mannered children run amok," says 2desertrats!
"No matter how many programs, contests or planning a cruise line offers, and they have all vastly improved their kids programs, the bottom line is still how well the parents themselves have taught their children respect and manners and are willing to discipline their offspring," writes cruisecrasy, who's cruised on most of the major cruise lines. "Unruly children with thoughtless, lazy parents spoil many cruises and I choose, for that reason, to cruise when very few children (and prefer none) will be onboard."
One Solution: Adults-only cruise!
Tomjadg solves the problem this way: "I understand that there needs to be, and should be, family vacations (cruises), but there should also be 'adults only' cruise options. It would be a gold mine for cruise lines to make available some cruises [for] people who want some peace and quiet, and to not have to deal with small children that would be better off at a Chuck E Cheese. 21 and over would be fine."
But Ultimately Having the Right Attitude Helps
"I enjoy having some kids onboard rather than just old people like me," writes 68-years-young Bear.
"I have never had any problems with any of the kids on any of my fourteen cruises," writes Cuizer2, who has sailed on several Royal Caribbean ships during school vacation weeks. "Kids splashing in the pool. Big deal. I'm already wet head to toe. Sometimes I have a little fun and get them back."
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor