Whether your family has cruised before or not, you may want a more intimate youth program for your kids than those offered by the large, year-round cruise lines. During the summer months, the number of cruise lines offering youth programs or special family departures almost doubles. Many lines with only seasonal youth programs -- mainly available in the summer and sometimes during major winter holidays -- offer itineraries and experiences that are more off-the-beaten-track than the large cruise lines with year-round programs.
If you're concerned that by summer's end, your home may resemble an animal house with kids climbing the walls, why not book a CruiseWest voyage to Costa Rica, where your children can see real monkeys up close and personal? Or maybe your youngsters would like to relive the lazy summer days on the Mississippi River a la Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. If so, consider checking out Delta Queen Steamboat cruises, where your family can fly a kite off the back of the ship or even play the ship's calliope. Another unique way to go with kids is aboard Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, where you and your (barefoot) youngsters can hoist the ship's sails together. Alternatively, if you are looking for a more upscale cruise experience with your children, the summer youth programs at Crystal Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas or Celebrity might fit the bill.
Following are the many seasonal options for your family.
The youth program maintains the same hours whether in port or at sea: 9 a.m. to noon; 2 to 5:30 p.m.; and 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. Group babysitting is available in the youth room for children ages three to 12, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., at a fee of $6 per hour per child. Private babysitting is available in your stateroom for $8 per hour per child (maximum two). Make arrangements for private babysitting as early in your cruise as possible through Guest Relations or Stateroom Services departments.
A special complimentary service offered to all is "Parents' Nights Out," when youth counselors take children to a pizza party during dinner on the two formal nights of a seven-day cruise.
Some of Celebrity's youth program highlights include: *Summer Stock Theater: Celebrity's Summer Stock Theater program is great for future thespians. The Ship Mates perform songs and dances; Cadets have the main speaking parts; and Ensigns are responsible for directing and producing the play, including stage equipment and scenery design. *Young Mariners Club: Participants get behind-the-scenes glimpses of various aspects of the ship, from the food and beverage to entertainment departments. *Junior Olympics: This activity takes place poolside and is quite a splash! *Clown Party: Kids get to clown around at this party, highlighted by a visit from a clown, a magic show, and plenty of treats to eat. *Treasure Hunt: This family activity features children dressed as pirates, parents armed with cameras, and a pirate providing clues as to where his hidden treasure awaits. *Masquerade Party: The younger children get to create their own masks and then parade them around the ship. *Magic Lessons: Abracadabra! Even those who aren't Harry Potter fans will enjoy learning a wee bit of magic from Celebrity's professional magician.
For more information, go to www.celebrity.com
All three ships in the fleet have dedicated youth rooms equipped with Sony Playstation R games and computers with entertainment and educational software. The Crystal Harmony's youth room, Fantasia, was recently refurbished. Other kid-friendly amenities on the ships include a library with a selection of children's books and videos for the televisions/VCRs that are in all staterooms; a pool; putting green; and paddle tennis court.
Highlights of the Alaska Junior Activities program this year will be an Alaska Art Expo in which children can display their handcrafted Alaskan-style creations, such as frosted sugar cube igloos. Naturalists will give kid-specific talks about the wildlife, glaciers and other natural attractions of the Last Frontier.
Three-bed staterooms are available in a range of categories, as well as suites and connecting staterooms. Cribs are available if requested in advance and private baby-sitting is offered too.
For more information, go to www.crystalcruises.com
RADISSON SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
Children are broken up into two age groups: five to 11 and 12 to 17 years. In the Baltic, the youth program is offered to those six years and over. Generally the youth program hours are from 9 a.m. to noon; 2 p.m. (2:30 on port days) to 5:30 p.m.; and 8 to 10 p.m. Teen programs usually start an hour later in the morning and end an hour later in the evening.
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' youth program is geared toward fun yet educational activities that provide children with insights to the areas they visit ashore. For example, in Alaska activities range from making your own totem pole, to decorating cookies in the shape of animals and making U.S., Canadian, and Russian flags. In the Baltic, some of the activities related to the destination include decorating a fake Faberge egg, making a Russian nesting doll, and drawing an ugly troll.
For more information, go to www.rssc.com
WINDJAMMER BAREFOOT CRUISES
Windjammer's "Junior Jammers" youth program is available for those between ages six and 18 years old aboard the Polynesia and Legacy. Since these are sailing ships, children under six years old are not allowed aboard for safety reasons. For the 2003 season, the youth program will be available from June 9 - August 25 on Polynesia (departs St. Lucia for Southern Caribbean) and from June 6- August 8 aboard the Legacy (departs Miami for the Bahamas).
Every summer, Windjammer offers discounts for children. For the 2003 season, a child in the same cabin (age six to 12) gets to sail free with two full paying adults. Single parents can bring one child in the cabin at full fare and the second child in the cabin goes free. Alternatively, if you book six adults at full fare, you can bring up to three children and one more adult for free.
Children are divided into two age groups: six to 12 years and 13 to 18. Youth counselors aboard the Polynesia and Legacy offer private babysitting from 9 p.m., when the official youth program ends, to midnight. The fee is $10 per hour per cabin.
While none of the large cruise lines take children off the ship for activities -- other than their private Bahamian islands -- this is a main component of the Junior Jammers program. From swimming to snorkeling, hiking to a fortress, and walking into town, there is a great array of group activities ashore led by the youth counselors. All these excursions are free of charge.
The dive instructors on the ships also offer an introduction to snorkeling and diving for kids. For those six to eight years old, there is "Sassy," which is a free introduction to snorkeling and diving. "Sassy" gets youngsters comfortable with using underwater gear near the water's surface. "Bubble Maker," for those eight to 12, introduces children to going underwater for very brief periods. There is a fee for this course.
When at sea or in the evenings, on-board youth activities range from a costume night to a karaoke night, deck games, or crafts. Although there aren't non-stop planned activities from sunrise to sunset as on larger ships, your kids can enjoy some unique nautical fun like hoisting the sails, steering the ship's wheel, and even sitting in the widow's net while docked!
For more info, go to www.windjammer.com
Once again this summer, CruiseWest's 100-passenger Pacific Explorer offers six-night family Costa Rica sailings. The departures are July 12, 19 and 26, and August 2 and 9 from San Jose. Prices start at $1,545 for adults including shore excursions. Any child age 12 and under sharing a cabin with an adult saves 50%, while those 13 to 21 save 25%. These discounts are available to single parents traveling with one child.
CruiseWest recommends that children be at least six years old to sail; youth activities are geared toward those from six to 12 years and for those from 12 to 21. Children can dine an hour ahead of the parents with the youth counselor on board.
During these family cruises, a counselor is on board to lead the children in special age-appropriate activities, such as short hikes in the forest to look for monkeys, Spanish lessons, horseback riding, water skiing, and banana boat rides. Some multi-generation activities for families include jungle wildlife walks, Zodiac river trips, snorkeling, kayaking, volleyball, and beach barbecues. Throughout the itinerary, there are wildlife refuges and pristine beaches to enjoy and explore.
For more information, go to www.cruisewest.com
DELTA QUEEN STEAMBOAT CO.
While Delta Queen Steamboat Co.'s Mississippi Queen and American Queen do not have structured children's program, the entertainment staff on board "make sure that additional activities are available even if only a few children are aboard," according to a spokesperson. While children are also welcome aboard the Delta Queen, this 1927 ship only has double cabins. Presently, a child age 16 or younger can travel free in some staterooms on the Mississippi and American Queens when sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults.
There are many family oriented activities for children to participate in with their parents throughout a Delta Queen steamboat cruise. These include flying a kite off the ship, enjoying the swings and rockers on deck, making their own ice cream cone with all the fixings, playing ping pong, or participating in craft sessions such as making Mardi Gras masks for the Captain's Night Second Line parade. The ships themselves have some unique aspects for families to explore such as the Engine Room, Pilot House, and calliope. Each day, a lively "River-lorian" imparts tales for children of all ages to listen to. Some special activities planned when children are aboard include a scavenger hunt, slumber party, and pool party (on the Mississippi and American Queens). At the end of each cruise, youngsters receive a Cub Pilot's Certificate signed by the captain.
Depending on the itinerary, kids ashore will enjoy exploring Mark Twain's cave, touring a Cajun swamp via boat, seeing reenactments at 19th century forts and battlefields, watching baseball bats being made at the Louisville Slugger Museum, and visiting the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
The Mississippi and American Queens offer a Junior Steamboaters menu with favorites like honey fried chicken or macaroni and cheese. Although formal baby-sitting programs do not exist, passengers can usually find an off-duty cabin attendant or waitress who is willing to watch children for a few hours at a nominal charge.
For more information, go to www.deltaqueen.com