Taking a vacation as a family can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your lifetime. Though I am not a parent myself, I know that family travel does come with some downfalls. Traveling as a family can be extremely stressful, and it doesn’t always allow parents their much needed vacation downtime.
Many families choose to cruise because of the various activities offered for children on board. Cruising also provides families with another advantage, the ability to travel to different cities and countries without having to unpack, haul luggage around, and the other hassles that travel entails.
When people think of family friendly cruises they often look to companies like Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Carnival. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a fan Disney cruises for young kids, I had a blast on the cruise when I was little. But as an adult who doesn’t have much of a connection to Disney characters, movies, and more, I don’t know that that would be the cruise I would choose to take for my vacation.
If your main priority is to make your kids happy, then these larger ships that have waterslides, characters, comprehensive activities for children, and more are perfect. However, if your goal is to have an enjoyable family vacation that provides quiet relaxation and less stimulus around every corner, you may want to look at other cruise lines.
In this article we will look specifically at the children’s programs, or lack thereof, on premium cruise lines Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, and Princess Cruises; upper premium cruise lines Viking, Azamara, and Oceania; and luxury cruise lines Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, and Regent.
Club HAL is near and dear to my heart as someone who took many Holland America Line cruises as a child. The programs within Club HAL are broken into three different categories: ages 3 to 6, 7 to 12, and 12 to 17. In each of these programs, children are constantly supervised by staff members while doing activities.
According to Holland America Line’s website, activities could include painting, sing-alongs, and treasure hunts for the youngest children; ice-cream eating contests, gaming tournaments, and parties for the tweens; and cocktail parties, trivia contests, and video games for the oldest group of teens.
While I had a great time in Club HAL as a child, my last Holland America Line cruise had no children on it. So while these sailings may be great for children under the age of 17 who will be occupied by kid’s programs, there is a bit of a gap in activities for older teenagers and people in their early 20s.
*Note that Club HAL is not offered on Prinsendam or Maasdam.
Though I never got to experience Camp At Sea as a young traveler, this program sounds the most appealing to my inner-child. Celebrity has partnerships with Xbox, Lonely Planet, Fat Brain Toys, and more. This allows Celebrity the ability to offer customizable children’s programs that cover four different categories – art, recreation, culinary, and S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Where on other cruise lines each child of the same age may be doing the same activities and everyone else their age every day, Celebrity allows children to choose activities based on their personal interests.
S.T.E.M. is geared toward children who have an interest in maths and sciences and includes activities such as programming, building robots, and other various experiments. Art is pretty self explanatory, it features craft based activities. The culinary program allows children to make and explore different cuisines. Lastly, the recreation program adds an active component to Camp At Sea.
Apart from the kids clubs, Celebrity has great entertainment options for travelers. Its exciting new partnership with American Ballet Theatre is so special and unique, and while watching ballet was entertaining to me, as an adult, it was also entertaining to the children onboard as well.
Like Club HAL, Princess Cruises Youth and Teen Programs hold a special place in my heart. And no, it is not just because I won the Best Manners award at age 5 on my first Princess cruise.
Like Holland America Line, Princess also breaks its kids club into various groups by age: Princess Pelicans, ages 3 to 7; Shockwaves, ages 8 to 12; and Remix, ages 13 to 17.
According to Princess’ website, activities for the Princess Pelicans may include disco nights, t-shirt coloring, ice cream parties, and more. The facility for this group of children includes play areas, art corners, game gables, jukeboxes, and splash pools. Princess has partnered with the California Science Center to provide science activities for these young travelers.
Shockwave activities include yoga, scavenger hunts, talent shows, movies, and more. This group can also take part in Princess’ partnership with the California Science Center with “Science on the Seas.” Facilities house play areas, big-screen TVs, video games, foosball tables, and more.
Lastly, Remix activities include deck parties, dance classes, DJ workshops, hot tub parties, and much more. Teens can even take part in teen formals and casino nights. This teen program also includes a Teen Makeover course which teaches teens about makeup and skin care. Facilities offer big-screen TVs, video games, karaoke machines, air hockey tables, and more.
Princess also features a Jr.CHEF@Sea Program which allows children to prepare food in the main galley areas of the ship.
Well, this one is easy. Viking does not allow passengers under the age of 18 on any of its sailings. So, if you’re looking to book a family vacay, your children must technically be adults.
Azamara allows children onboard its ships, however there is no kids program. There have been multiple times that I have traveled with children on other cruise lines that do not offer kids programs without having any trouble. However, it should be noted that during sea days things can get to be a bit boring.
My recommendation for any cruise line that doesn’t have a kids program is to know if your children are willing and able to entertain themselves. If your child is happy sitting in a stateroom reading, or going to a lounge and occupying themselves with an iPad or a game of some sort, then you may not run into any issues. It is just important to note that activities are going to be limited.
Ralph puts it best in his review of Oceania, “The one group Oceania will not appeal to is families with young kids. By design, the line’s ships have no kids facilities and offer no kids’ programs.”
However, there is one sailing that is geared toward young travelers with multiple departure dates each year. The Alaska Explorer Youth Program is crafted for children ages 5 to 12 and includes various actives and Alaska inspired events for young travelers.
Though Oceania does allow children as young as one year of age onboard, it does not provide any childcare services with the exception of the Alaska Explorer Youth Program mentioned above.
Crystal offers many activities for young travelers during holiday and summer seasons. The Junior Activities program is geared toward children ages 3 to 17, and features venues for young children and teens. Whether it’s scavenger hunts, dance parties, movie nights, cookie baking, karaoke, or something else, children will be able to find something to do on board.
Crystal Cruises does not allow children under six months on any sailings, and may restrict the number of passengers under the age of three on certain sailings.
According to Crystal’s website, “A limited number of staterooms on each ship and yacht are designated for triple occupancy. Crystal Cruises discourages the use of third berths for adults due to the size of the bed. A third person age 12 and over may travel in a triple occupancy stateroom, cruise-only (subject to space availability) at the minimum cruise-only fare for that cruise. Children age 11 and under traveling as a third berth guest are charged 50% of the minimum cruise-only fare for that cruise. Optional air may be added to these fares at an additional cost.”
Like Azamara, Silversea and Seabourn do not have any sort of children’s program at all even though they allow children on sailings.
My experience with Silversea at age 17 was great, however I wouldn’t recommend taking a child under the age of 12 aboard. During my sailing, there was a young girl around age 10 who I spent a lot of time with. However, having multiple children on the same Silversea sailing is pretty unlikely considering that the sailings offered by this line are almost always completely comprised of adults.
It is also important to be mindful of other passengers. Though expensive is a relative term, the cruise fares on Silversea and Seabourn can be quite steep and other passengers may not take well to toddlers or young children causing a scene at any given venue on the ship.
Regent Seven Seas’ Club Mariner Youth Program is designed for children ages 5 to 17. It features a range of activities from putt putt tournaments, to dance parties, to movie nights. All programs are supervised by counselors.
Though the description given by Regent regarding the youth program is not in-depth, Regent does encourage family travel through incentives. Children aged 17 or younger are able to sail either free or for a reduced rate.
Many cruise lines invite kids onboard, but don’t offer any solutions toward keeping them entertained. Now that may be a problem for some, but there are plenty of great options for families who want their kids to take part in various kids programs.
My advice? Know your child, know what they are comfortable with, and know how they behave. If your child needs constant supervision and attention and stimulus, then you would be way better off going on a sailing that offers children’s programs so that you are able to relax.
My cruises as a child left me with some of my favorite memories and though family cruising can be stressful, if done right it is rewarding and memorable.