Mariner of the Seas is an outstanding choice for family cruisers. The facilities on this ship are among the largest in the industry -- encompassing 22,000 square feet -- and include computer stations, arts and crafts workshops, science areas and a video arcade. The ship is making a real effort to court families with teenagers; these young folks have three rooms to call home, including a nightclub (Fuel), a hang-out (The Living Room) and The Back Deck, which is a teens-only outdoor area.
We missed having a kids-only pool area like those on Royal Caribbean's Radiance-class ships, however.
Royal Caribbean's excellent Adventure Ocean Youth Program divides kids into age-appropriate groups. For instance, Aquanauts (the program for ages 3 to 5) may feature activities like "Alphabet Scavenger Hunt," story time and Adventure Theater acting classes by Camp Broadway. Explorers (ages 6 to 8) play backwards bingo, make their own surfboards and engage in basic science activities. Voyagers (ages 9 to 11) play foosball and capture the flag, as well as engage in science experiments that range from earthquakes to hailstorms. Even the teens are divided into two groups. Tweens (ages 12 to 14) have "open-mic" karaoke contests and a rock-wall challenge. And, the coolest group (ages 15 to 17) -- so cool, they don't have a kitschy name -- has its own dance parties and arcade competitions. In addition, Royal Caribbean has partnered with Fisher Price, Mattel and Crayola to offer a variety of kid- and family-friendly games and activities for all ages.
For the youngest set The Royal Babies Nursery (ages six - 18 months) offers interactive enrichment activities developed by the experts at Fisher Price; while the Royal Tots program (ages 18-36 months) offers 45-minute interactive playground sessions. A parent or caregiver must accompany all youngins during activity sessions.
Generally, activities at Adventure Ocean cease during lunch and dinner times, but there is the occasional organized meal outing (to Johnny Rocket's, for instance). On sea days, you can leave your kids (ages 3 to 11) at Adventure Ocean for a noon to 2 p.m. lunch-and-play for a cost of $7.95. Plus, new My Family Time Dining offers an option that lets kids finish dinner in the main dining room in 45 minutes, then get escorted by Adventure Ocean counselors back to the kids' club to play (letting Mom and Dad enjoy a more leisurely meal).
Late-night group babysitting in the kids' areas (for ages 3 to 11) is available from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for $5 per hour, per child. In-room babysitting for kids over the age of 1 (up to four children) costs $18 per hour and requires a 24-hour advance reservation.