Today's mega-ships have been likened to floating cities, and like any city, a certain level of criminal activity will occur from time to time. We don't mean to scare you. Many people never have a problem, but we've all read the news reports about theft, fights and sexual assaults that occur onboard. Most adult travelers know that by staying alert and using common sense, it's pretty easy to have a good time without incident. But traveling with the kids -- especially teens -- can be a whole different story.
Kids on cruises yearn for freedom. They make new friends and want to explore the ship, hanging out sometimes into the wee hours. While many have roamed freely and were just fine, others -- like the 15-year-old girl who was allegedly raped on a Carnival cruise -- weren't so lucky. Raising kids to use good judgment is the first step in keeping them safe onboard, but throwing in a few rules they have to follow only keeps them safer.
Cruise Critic reached out to our members to come up with a few rules parents might want to consider implementing on their next family sailing.
Never go into someone else's cabin or invite someone into yours.
Impress on children that even if a buddy needs to grab something from his room, they should wait for him in a public place. It might seem harsh, but even if they trust the friend, they can't be certain who is waiting behind that heavy cabin door. Corollary rule: If a child is alone in the cabin, he should not let in a crew member if the visit is unexpected or if the child feels uncomfortable. Room service can always be left at the door.
Never accept a drink from someone else or leave yours unattended.
It's sage advice for cruise travelers of any age, really -- and it doesn't matter if you're drinking juice, soda or booze. If a kid is skeptical about this one, one Cruise Critic reader suggests slipping Tabasco in your teen's drink when their back is turned to prove how quickly a drink can be doctored.
Check in on a regular basis.
It's up to parents to determine how often their kids check in and whether they must do it in person, or via walkie talkies, cabin-door white boards or designated notepads. Check to see if your cruise line offers a cell phone app that enables phone-to-phone messaging onboard the ship. This one goes both ways -- kids need to know their parents' plans and where they can find them, just as parents need to know where they'll be. If those plans change, it's both parties' responsibilities to alert the other.
You must be in the cabin by your curfew.
There's not much reason for kids to be roaming the ship in the middle of the night. That doesn't mean parents can't let their kids stay out later than usual when on vacation -- parties in the kids' clubs often go until 1 a.m. But let your teen know he or she has to be back in the room once the party is over.
Adult areas are off limits without parental supervision.
That means bars, discos and especially crew-only areas. If the teen lounge isn't happening enough, there are plenty of other public, high-visibility areas for fun.
Use the buddy system.
While there isn't always safety in numbers, it's better than being alone. Have siblings/friends from your travel group stick together, or if kids are hanging out with new friends, parents might want to make a point to meet them (and their parents).
While some cruise lines allow kids 18 or older to drink, no line OKs the hard stuff for kids and high school-age teens. Cruise Critic does not promote underage drinking and would like to remind our readers it is illegal. Alcohol consumption by minors frequently leads to a whole host of problems. But if parents plan to turn a blind eye to underage drinking onboard (or think their kids might break the rules and acquire booze on the sly), they should at least make sure their teens know not to overdo it and to have a sober friend watching out for them. Corollary rule: One parent should be sober at all times as well. The last thing kids need is two parents unable to make smart decisions or assist them if they're in trouble.
This list is fairly strict, and we can see parents thinking: How in the world will I get my independent kids to mind these rules? The answer is simple. If they break even one rule, they will suffer the most horrible punishment imaginable: the next 24 hours spent entirely by their parents' sides.