What kinds of port activities do kids enjoy the most?
Look for excursions tailored to your child's interests to keep boredom from setting in; here are some suggestions.
Traveling with kids can be a chore or a fun, "edu-taining" experience. By doing a little pre-departure homework on sights and attractions that interest your children, you can avoid the "I'm bored" syndrome on the road or at sea.
We have rarely been on a cruise or land trip that my five-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter didn't enjoy. Part of the trick is compromising what you do and see on land. This doesn't mean skipping Big Ben and the Tower of London in order to visit kid-favorite Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, but it does mean that both you and your child should be able to choose an attraction or activity that you're passionate about. For example, on a recent cruise to Bermuda, my son -- who loves animals and dinosaurs -- was content to know that one of our days ashore would be spent visiting the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. I, on the other hand, happily anticipated our morning at lovely Horseshoe Bay Beach.
Many kids, especially those in pre-school and grammar school, have particular interests and hobbies. By coupling your child's interests to appropriate land options, you are sure to have a memorable cruise filled with positive words like "awesome" rather than whining.
Here are some suggestions of typical childhood interests and appropriate attractions you can visit by cruise ship:
As I mentioned, my son is extremely knowledgeable about animals and dinosaurs. Thus on an upcoming Alaska cruise, we'll take a shore excursion called Whale Quest, which guarantees we'll see a whale or other large marine mammals during our boat ride. Another idea for animal lovers cruising in Alaska is an excursion to the dog sled camps, where kids can visit kennels of the Iditarod dogs and then ride a sled that is pulled by them. Sitka also has a raptor rehabilitation center where children can see these large birds up close.
Many other itineraries, including New England/Canada and Baja California (the latter frequented by small ships), offer great options for whale watching.
When my daughter was in grammar school, she adored monkeys. Thus, many years ago, we opted for a small ship cruise to Costa Rica, where I got a wonderful photograph of Alex cradling an injured, baby monkey at a rehab center. She'll always cherish that experience.
For itineraries or ports that are not generally nature-oriented, head to the zoo or natural history museums. If you're on a cruise departing from New York City, check out the Central Park Zoo, with its beautifully landscaped pathways. Also in New York is the American Museum of Natural History, complete with a huge dinosaur collection and dozens of preserved mammals.
Before or after a Caribbean cruise departing from Miami, you may want to visit Parrot Jungle, which is like a zoo but with a tropical twist.
Miniature knights in shining armor will be attracted to many Northern European itineraries, particularly those calling in the British Isles and Ireland, due to the proliferation of ancient castles. Here your child's imagination can run wild. From ramparts to moats, childhood storybook tales of princes, swords, and damsels in distress come to life. In the Mediterranean, the walled city of Malta will also appeal to those who are fascinated with the past; and the Roman Coliseum will conjure up images from the movie "Gladiator."
The eastern coast of Mexico has plenty of temples to satisfy a youngster's interest in Mayan culture. Just be aware that many shore excursions to these temples are extremely long and hot; thus young children may not appreciate this option. These full-day tours are better for pre-teens and teens.
Also in North America is the Halifax citadel, an attraction on New England/Canada itineraries that call in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This classic fort offers daily parades of costumed historical re-enactors. Much further south, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is El Morro, a massive fort overlooking the Caribbean that's great for inside exploration as well as flying kites outside on its grounds.
Older children and teens with an interest in World War II will find an excursion to the Arizona Memorial/Pearl Harbor extremely moving. Similarly, cruises calling in Amsterdam give families the option of visiting the Anne Frank house, complete with the annex where Anne and her family hid for so many months during Nazi occupation.
FLOWERS AND PLANTS
The Caribbean and Bermuda are great spots for kids who appreciate flowers and plants. Many Caribbean islands offer easy walks through tropical gardens. One of the most popular is El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Park System. It boasts more than 240 species of tropical flowers and trees.
Bermuda's Botanical Garden is a quiet paradise that can be reached by taxi from Hamilton and St. George. When my daughter was in pre-school, she enjoyed walking among the "pretty flowers" there.
Many Alaska cruises that originate in Seattle also call in Victoria, B.C., home to world-renowned Butchart Gardens. This wonderland of flowers boasts winding paths, cascading fountains and foot bridges - great for a child's imagination.
There's something fishy going on here! Obviously, the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda are treasure troves for kids who love to view life under the sea. Glass-bottom boats and snorkeling excursions abound throughout the region. Other favorites include semi-submarine adventures that take you partially underwater to view marine life. Many spots, such as Bermuda and Aruba, also offer 'swim with the dolphins' adventures. Usually children have to be a certain age or height to participate in this exciting (but expensive) excursion.
You and your family can also view marine life at Coral World in St. Thomas, which is full of aquatic tanks for easy viewing. If you're on an East Coast cruise that sails between New York and the Bahamas or Caribbean, chances are your cruise will call in Port Canaveral. While there, check out Sea World in Orlando for tons of options including exciting marine life shows.
NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURES
Both the East Coast and West Coast have wonderful options for youngsters who appreciate Native American cultures. Before or after Alaska cruises starting in Vancouver, check out the Museum of Anthropology's extensive collection of artifacts from the Northwest Coast. In Alaska, visit Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan, with its large totem pole park. At the long house here, Native American dances are performed in colorful red and black capes. Your child might even be selected as one of the guest dancers!
On the East Coast, stop at New York City's American Museum of Natural History to see its extensive Native American collection. In downtown Manhattan, spend some time at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the American Indian, said to have the world's largest collection of artifacts from Indian cultures.
Cruises a are great way for youngsters to see the world's natural wonders, often from the comfort of a cruise ship deck. Obviously, Alaska offers many options, including seeing glaciers up close. In Glacier Bay, park rangers come aboard and often give a special kids' talk about glaciers. There's even a glacier in the state's capital city of Juneau.
Hawaii is another "hot spot" where kids can see awe-inspiring natural attractions. I was surprised at how impressed my teenaged daughter recently was by Volcanoes National Park, since it's hard to impress teens! She thought it was pretty cool to walk over steam vents and lava paths as well as through lava tubes. Waimea Canyon in Kauai is another natural wonder that kids and teens alike will always remember.
If you're headed to Europe, the Norwegian fjords will surely get your kids and teens to say "wow". Cruising through narrow fjords with sky-high waterfalls on either side is a refreshing European option for nature lovers.
For all those Jimmy Neutron fans, there are plenty of spots to visit in East and West Coast ports. On the East Coast, don't miss New York City's Rose Center (attached to the American Museum of Natural History) for the most high-tech space shows in the country. If you're cruising out of New York down the East Coast to Port Canaveral, visit nearby Kennedy Space Center, a great excursion for budding astronauts.
On the West Coast, San Francisco's Exploratorium is a hands-on museum that keeps kids "edu-tained" for hours.
Some itineraries and ships themselves hold interest for future scientists. For example, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 has a planetarium where a number of different star shows are presented during each cruise. Those with a penchant for engineering should opt for a Panama Canal itinerary. Children and parents alike marvel at the technical wizardry that went into designing the Panama Canal.
Do your kids regularly say, "Take me out to the ball game?" If so, you can easily reach historic Camden Yards in Baltimore to watch a baseball game, as well as Shea and Yankee Stadiums in New York City, which are accessible from the midtown pier via subway.
All aboard! Trains and trolleys are favorite hobbies, especially for young boys. On an Alaska cruise, opt for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad excursion, which takes you high into mountainous passes. Also on the West Coast is the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco. After visiting the museum, hop on a one-of-a-kind ride of the city's historic cable cars. To avoid a long wait for a trolley, try riding them early in the morning.
On the East Coast, Baltimore has a well-known train museum. The B&O Railroad Museum is complete with a roundhouse full of historic trains. Families can also go on a short train ride from the museum.
If you're cruising to Bermuda, there is the Bermuda Railway Trail for biking. While trains no longer travel the rail trail, there are historical markers along the way.
I'm a firm believer that if you involve your child in something active, they will remember it forever. I guarantee that if you couple your youngster's interests with sights they can interact with, they'll learn more on your cruise than they ever could from a book.