Star Clippers, for example, is repeating a "kids sail free" offer it trialed last year. On July 24, children under 18 pay only port taxes (and get their own cabin) on a Turkish Riviera voyage on the 170-passenger sailing ship, Star Flyer. This represents a huge saving for a family of four: £2,320 (approximately $3,480).
When a similar offer went out last year, Cruise Critic members were concerned about children running amok on niche ships that are generally adults-only and don't offer kids' programs. Member Island Collector said at the time: "I have made several trips on Star Clippers over the years; there have only ever been a very few rare young well-watched children on board and they've never had real child-friendly programs on any of the cruises I've done." Member Kool cruiser simply added: "What on earth was their marketing department thinking of!"
But Mary Stuart-Miller, a spokeswoman for Star Clippers, tells us the family angle is a success, and that not all families want the environment of a big ship with structured kids' clubs. "We carry a lot of European guests who wouldn't think twice about bringing children," she tells us, "so we steer families towards particular departures and organise entertainment to keep kids occupied. Our sports crew are fantastic at putting on treasure hunts and games for younger kids and we find teens love the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' feel of the ships and the water sports."
Seabourn is in a similar position; while the luxury line certainly isn't targeting families, the presence of children during school holidays has become a fact of life. And with offers like $2,499 per person for a week sailing from Venice to Rome in August -- 50 percent off the normal fare -- the trend may well continue. Andrew Magowan, vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, explained to us: "Seabourn's position is that during key peak travel times, i.e. August in the Med and Christmas in the Caribbean, we have noticed that there has been a small but noticeable increase in guests choosing to travel with their children.
"Seabourn has not sought to encourage this and/or pro-actively market to families. I conclude that more and more guests are beginning to understand the true value of a Seabourn cruise and therefore are prepared to travel with their children as they do not want to miss their luxury cruise experience."
As such, Seabourn is now laying on discreet activities such as arts, crafts and team games for kids during these busier sailings away from the busier public areas of the ships.
In contrast, river cruise specialist Tauck is actively encouraging families to join its special "Blue Danube Family Riverboat Adventure" in July, from $2,790 per person excluding airfare, with child-friendly activities throughout the weeklong cruise. There's a scavenger hunt in Bratislava; a trip to the Prater amusement park in Vienna, followed by an apple-strudel-making lesson onboard; a family bicycle tour in Durnstein; a trip round some of the locations in "The Sound of Music" in Salzburg; and a marzipan-making session in Passau.
And Crystal, which has always stood out among the luxury lines for offering kids' facilities and activities onboard its ships, is expanding the scope of its kids' programming to accommodate increased numbers of cruising families during the summer months. In addition to longer hours of supervised children's activities, Crystal is introducing new programming, such as sushi making, dance lessons and parties, itinerary-specific language classes, and even golf workshops with PGA pro instructors. Plus, its Families Memories program gives extra perks -- such as a free cruise fare, tour credit and family portraits -- to large family groups who book together.
All of these programs sound quite appealing to me as a parent of a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old who refuse to go in children's clubs but love cruising. What's your view? Do kids have a right to cruise on any line? Let us know!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
Photo appears courtesy of Crystal Cruises.