On the first night of our Alaska cruise on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, my husband and I fell asleep with our younger child. We then woke up at 1:30 a.m. and realized our teenager was missing.
"Where could he be? The teen program shut down at midnight!" my husband said. "I'm sure he's somewhere hanging out with other kids," I said, trying to stay calm.
Of course, being your typical, slightly hysterical, American parents, we were both thinking: What if he fell overboard? What if some crazy person has kidnapped him? What if he's lying injured somewhere?
We could have called security, but we were a little worried about getting in trouble, since teens have a curfew onboard and ours had violated it. Besides, if you have teenagers, you know that when they're missing, you never call 911 until you've called all of their friends and the local pizza place.
So, rather than issuing an amber alert, my husband went hunting. He headed up to the teen lounge first, but there was only one other person up there -- a guy who looked suspiciously like another dad. As it turned out, he was searching for a missing kid, too. A few minutes later, a ship worker said he'd seen all the teens heading to a cabin together.
This only replaced one set of fears with another, though it must be said that, had one of our kids been missing at this hour at a land resort, we would have been completely frantic. Still, the question arose: They were heading to a cabin to do what? My husband gave up and came back to our cabin, and a short time later, our son showed up. Apparently, one of the kids was on a cruise with her grandparents, who had given her her own room to hang out in. They headed there when the teen center closed.
And then, our son asked who wanted to join him for a dip in the pool. Never mind that it was 2 a.m.
I was smart enough to decline and went back to sleep, but my husband -- good sport that he is -- and our younger son, awakened by all the commotion, agreed. By all accounts, they had a lot of fun.
The next morning, my teenage son could not be roused for love, money or breakfast. We went to the dining room, and some time around 11 a.m., Mr. Big Shot woke up. He'd missed breakfast, and it was too early for lunch.
"No worries," he said. He reached for the remote and ordered room service.
This was our first cruise, so I have no idea how he knew about room service -- or that it could be ordered from the TV using the remote. But, it was another sign of just how at-home teenagers -- lazy, crazy, stay-out-late and sleep-all-day teenagers -- are on a cruise.
Ultimately, neither he nor our younger son ever ate with us in the dining room; they were having too much fun with friends their own age. We did have a few teen sightings, though. We saw him playing volleyball and enjoying the pool with his friends, and one night, when we squeezed into the last remaining seats in the rear of the theater for a show, we spotted him in the audience -- in the very front row with (naturally) all his friends.
Our young son also could not be pried out of the children's center, where he played games and sports and did science experiments. Other things he loved: the rock-climbing wall, basketball court, Ping-Pong, buffet and milkshakes at the cafe.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you're taking a cruise with kids, however:
First, be sure to buy wristbands or soda cards so they can get unlimited soft drinks. The wristband pays for itself in a day.
Second, set a daily budget. Say the kids can have $5 or $10 a day to spend as they wish -- on video games, specialty items like milkshakes or in the gift shop. Our younger son liked the game arcade, but our teenager saved his allowance up and, on the last day, bought a small gold chain.
Third, do your homework before you book. Find out what age groups the children are divided into and where your child will fit in. Some 5-year-olds don't mind being in with little ones, ages 2 to 5; others might prefer a ship with a group for 5- to 8-year-olds. And, some 12-year-olds would rather be with 13- and 14-year-olds than with the 10-to-12 set. Sometimes, 15- to-17-year-olds get their own space; other ships lump them in with 13- and 14-year-olds. Siblings may be a factor too, depending on whether you want them together or apart.
Fourth, if you are traveling with teens, remember that nothing makes them happier than sleeping late, and they'll probably figure out how to order room service before you do. Just make sure they know what the ship's curfew is and that they must let you know where they are.