It's a testament to Royal Caribbean's far-reaching Adventure Ocean youth program (for kids ages 3 to 17) that, on our cruise, which took place firmly in the midst of a major school holiday period, the 1,400 (!) kids onboard were not only engaged but also proved a joy to be around, rather than a disruption. I can't tell you how many parents I talked to who said that their children were having so much fun in the program that they'd hardly seen them.
What stands out with Adventure Ocean is the breadth and range of activities, regardless of age. The program includes activities that are focused on enrichment and recreationally-inclined, occur during mealtimes, encourage family participation and offer creative outlets. Each of the five different age levels have dedicated facilities, yet the programs also make use of the ship's other features, from recreation to dining.
Aquanauts: For kids in the 3- to 5-year-old age group, activities occur in 15-minute intervals and range from beach games and hula-hoop contests to story time and the creation of fish kites via the ship's partnership with Crayola. Adventure Science makes learning fun with hands-on science experiments. I was especially enchanted with the day two opportunity for tykes to get their photos taken with the captain. To participate in Aquanauts, children must be potty-trained.
Explorers: The program for 6- to 8-year-olds changes in half-hour intervals and is centered on the Explorer room, where there's space enough for free play (cartoons, coloring, board games), AdventureArt by Crayola, dancing and even bingo. The occasional group meal takes place at either Windjammer or Johnny Rocket's, and the Royal Caribbean dancers even hold a dance class for the kids.
Voyagers: The 9- to 12-year-old set participates in activities that include a hula-hoop competition, AdventureArt, Crazy Tag and AdventureScience enrichment.
Note: A relatively new addition to the program for Aquanauts, Explorers and Voyagers is a "lunch and play" feature on sea days; for $7.95 per child, kids have a two-hour playtime (typically, the facility would be closed at lunch) that includes food and activities. All three groups participate in family-friendly play, like karaoke and scavenger hunts. Group babysitting, dubbed "Late Night Party Zone," is available during the evening; the cost is $5 per hour, per child, and it runs until 2 a.m.
In-stateroom babysitting is available for children from 1 year old onward. The cost is $10 per hour for one or two children, $15 for three or more from one family.
Teens, ages 12 to 17, are divided into two groups, though, in some cases, they do share activities and venues. Other times, they're separate, such as with disco nights in the Labyrinth. (The 12- to 14-year-olds are able to participate from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., while the older group gets the 11:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. time slot.)
Teens (12 to 14): This group is supervised by Adventure Ocean Staff and is based in The Living Room. The program is far less structured; there are a handful of group activities, such as dodge ball competitions, mini-golf ball-driving, bingo, karaoke, "boogie boarding under the stars" at the FlowRider and clay-sculpting. But, there's lots of free time for just hangin' in The Living Room.
Teens (15 to 17): Home for these passengers is Fuel, a teens-only nightclub that's got a juice bar, a bunch of comfy chairs and not much else. There are a handful of activities, mostly recreationally inclined (teen ice-skating, Scratch D.J. Academy, Wii tournaments). Otherwise, there's no group counselor, and teens pretty much just do their own thing. Teens also have access to a specially-dedicated outdoor deck area.
A very popular destination on my cruise was the ship's vast games arcade. It's located right in the center of the kids facilities and was dominated, as a result, by young passengers.
Children younger than six months are not permitted to cruise on Independence of the Seas. Royal Caribbean has, fairly recently, implemented a program for the youngest passengers -- 6 months to 3 years -- that it calls Royal Babies and Royal Tots. Activities are in concert with Fisher Price. A parent must be present for the handful of activities that are planned each day.
Independence of the Sea offers My Family Time Dining. In this new initiative, aimed at kids, ages 3 to 11, families who choose the traditional dining option can enjoy special, expedited service for the kids; after 40 minutes, Adventure Ocean counselors pick children up, and they return to the age-appropriate facility while parents finish their meals leisurely.