Updated August 21, 2018
A cruise provides families with teenagers the perfect solution for a vacation: Pick the right line and the right ship, and both you and your teens can enjoy quality time together and apart. Here's a primer on why cruises work well for teens and how to plan the best voyage for your family, as well as some rules you might want to consider for smooth sailing.
Cruising eliminates many of the typical travel-with-teens problems that occur on other types of vacations. A cruise can:
1. Fight boredom. At sea, your teen can tackle ropes courses, climb rock walls, go bowling, watch movies, surf on a simulator or ice skate, depending on the ship. Rather than feeling isolated from friends, your teen can meet new pals at creative programs where engaging "counselors" lead the group in pool parties, Wii competitions and scratch DJ sessions.
3. Cut extra food bills. Expenses for meals away from home add up, and growing teens are almost always hungry. On a cruise, you don't have to tell your budding epicurean that he can't order both the lobster and the pizza. Just belly up to the buffet and let your starving sailor pile the entrees onto his plate. Also, there's no need to dish out dollars if hunger hits the high-schooler between mealtimes. Most family-friendly ships feature extended hours for pizza parlors, burger joints and other eateries. Plus there's always room service.
4. Reduce after-dinner wars. When you inform your "I'm not tired yet!" traveler that the evening's entertainment will be watching TV in the hotel room, you're likely to get loud complaints. But on a cruise, you can relax in your cabin with a good book while your progeny dances at discos and mingles at the teen midnight pool.
Planning the Trip
Not all cruise lines target families, and among those that do, only some lines and some ships are better suited for teenagers. Here are some planning tips:
5. Include teens in the decision making. Ask your teen what destination he or she prefers. For a beach-loving 16 year old, a dream voyage comes with scuba diving, kiteboarding lessons and time to swim and sun on Caribbean beaches. For a history aficionado who recently studied ancient civilizations, a sailing that allows her to time travel by walking through Ephesus or Pompeii might be preferred.
6. Consider what's age appropriate for YOUR kid. Tween and teen clubs only work if they respect the developmental differences between younger and older adolescents. The best programs will feature one group for tweens and young teens, and another for older high school students. Princess Cruises' Shockwaves targets 8- to 12-year-olds, and Remix aims for ages 13 to 17. Norwegian Cruise Line's Dolphins is geared to ages 10 to 12, and Entourage, the line's teen club, encompasses ages 13 to 17. Disney Cruise Line's Edge operates for ages 11 to13, and Vibe gathers those 14 to17. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer separate activities and facilities for those 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. You know your tweens and teens best, so consider what type of age breakdown works for them.
7. Buy as much space as possible. Teens are wonderful people but awful roommates. If you can, put your teens -- especially the older ones -- in a separate cabin, even an inside one. They'll appreciate the privacy, and you will, too. And with teens in a separate cabin, you won't have to deal with their dirty socks on the floor or their whining when you wake them up as you dress for breakfast.
It's wise to obtain an extra keycard for your teens' cabin. This prevents you from having to pound on the door in the morning to wake your sleepy companions, and having a key may help ensure that teens don't party in their cabin since you will be doing unannounced "checks."
Establishing Rules, Privileges and Family Time
8. Stay in touch. Teens relish the onboard freedom of a cruise, as they can glide in and out of organized activities and hang out with new friends on teens-only sun decks and in adult-free clubs. Before boarding, agree on ways to communicate so you still know their general whereabouts. Use a cell phone that works at sea for calls, or sign up for an onboard app that allows you to text. Have your teens check in at the pool or your cabin at certain times, and establish an evening curfew, as well as consequences if they're not in on time.
9. Lay down the law. Explain the rules on alcohol and drugs, and talk to teens about sex. Think of a cruise as a weeklong party for your teens. Be aware that whatever you worry about your teens doing at a party on land can happen on a cruise.
10. Carve out some family time. Teens have so much fun on cruises that, unless you preplan things to do together, you won't see much of your almost-adults. Dinners together provide a great space for discussing that day's adventures and planning tomorrow's fun. Let your teen select some of the shore explorations, picking ones he's excited about so you can make some memories that will last long after high school graduation.