I'm the family cruise editor at CruiseMates.com. I think cruising to Europe is a great way to see the Continent with kids -- much more relaxing and enjoyable for kids than dragging them around by bus and/or train via a land trip. Also, having the same cabin and ship during the 3 weeks gives them familiarity that kids like. This is important since the sights and sounds they will hear during your tip will certainly be new and foreign to them. The ship's youth program will give them the opportunity to blow off some steam with other kids, so that hopefully they will be geared up to be intrepid travelers when in port. As you are probably aware, there will be LOTS to see and do while in port. I suggest you buy "Cruise Vacations with Kids" guidebook (by Candyce Stapen, Prima Publishing). I wrote a new section in the book on cruising to Europe with kids and l list the major European ports with age-appropriate activities for children.
NCL's Sun is certainly well-equipped in the kid-friendly department with a dedicated children's room, video arcade, pools, etc. We cruised NCL to Alaska a few years ago when my daughter was four and she really liked the youth program. The counselors were very friendly and due to the itinerary (as will be the case on your European cruise), there were plenty of kids aboard but not an overwhelmingly amount as can be the case in the Caribbean.
Make sure you do your homework as far as what you'd like to do with the kids while in port. (It's far too expensive to buy shore excursions for your whole family in each port and kids like independent exploration too). Have a wonderful trip of a lifetime!
Luisa Frey Gaynor
We just got back from a month in the Med with our girls, 7 (actually turned 7 halfway thru the trip) and 11. The first few weeks were land based, a Villa in Tuscany for a week, a resortish hotel on Lake Garda, and then a hotel in Venice. After a few days we boarded the Rotterdam for 12 days through the Med, and then spend a few days in Barcelona after debarking there. I found out two amazing things. 1) Kids can be the most intrepid travelers! They liked museums. (See hints below.) They liked ruins. They liked shopping for souveniers. They were happy to walk, literally, miles to see stuff. Trains were a treat. Ferries were a treat. Even the autostrada was a treat. They were enthralled with the AutoGrill...Okay, from a ship you'll be missing out on the truck stops but...
2) Everything looks different when you go with a kid. I had been to Italy and the Riveria before, but with my husband, or on business. But the kids! Okay, we hadn't noticed that most the art was naked. (Though after awhile of staring, the kids thought the David was cool too.) We hadn't noticed exactly how many gelato place there were. The kids weren't interested in the ancient bordellos, but the bugs outside! (For some reason, in Pompeii and in Ephesus the tour guides tend to dwell on bordellos. The kids weren't interested, okay, I wasn't even that interested. But the bakeries and the libraries, and the homes of the rich, well, they could spend more time there.) They found paddle boating around a lake as interesting as staring at old buildings. They loved climbing things, towers, duomos, stairs, and liked the views they got out of them. They loved trying new foods.
Now, for hints:
Kids like the shore excursions!
Yes, they were much better at following the flag than I was. (I'm not an organized tour person.) They can do the triple person level of diffuculty, with much less sweat than I could. Just remember, take water (or buy bottled water on the tour) and you can quickly stop for snacks instead of taking pictures sometimes, it puts them in a much better mood.
Kids love Magnum bars!
Speaking of snacks, if you are looking for a safe food, try the Magnum ice cream bars. They are kind of like Haagen Das bars, but with an extra layer of good stuff, really they love them. Gelato also was a big hit. Regardless of country, gelato flavors seemed to be called out in Italian. Ciocolate is Chocolate, Mente is Mint, Fraggola is Strawberry. Good luck.
Museums can be Fun!
Our kids let us spend hours in the Uffizi as they were on their art treasure hunt. Just buy a bunch of post cards from the gift shop at the beginning (at the Uffizi they have a package of their greatest hits) and hand out cards to all children. They must then find the picture they have the post card of. We gave them hints, like the pictures in the Uffizi are in order of when they were painted, so they would put their post cards in order. Now my 7 year old can pick out Bottecelli's Venus anywhere. They also are incredibly good at mimicking statues. Let them stand in front of the statue and try to pose just like it.
Before hitting a castle or ruin tell them the story of the folks that were there a long time ago. If you don't know the real story, make one up. Then let their imaginations run wild. My children raced with the early Olympians in Olympia, and then again in the arena of the first modern Olympics in Athens. They baked with the bakers of Pompeii, and wandered the streets of Sirmone with the princess who lived in the castle.
Let them bring home treasures!
Okay, you may not think they need a little carpet for their dolls. (I found one for less than $5) or a keychain with a weird symbol on it, but different things hold memories for them. Let them pick their own souveniers, especially if they've been troopers. We gave our daughters allowances for souveniers per week, and let them pick what they wanted. If there was something we wanted for them (Italian shoes, a watch from Venice) we would buy it for them.
Don't forget free time!
Our girls, particularly the younger one, liked the shore excusions, but liked them best when they were half day ones. We had Grandparents with us, who also liked to go back to the ship after the excursion, leaving my husband and I, and maybe our older daughter, to explore the ports on our own in the afternoons. If your ship has kid's activities in the afternoon that would be great. They loved hitting the pool after a day amongst the ruins.
The ship is great, as after two weeks our kids really missed pancakes, and the ship gives them the comfort food of home.
What wonderful tips, Cathy! Thanks so much for writing all of the above. We would like to go to Europe in the next year or two with our sons, ages 9 & 11.
Kids are wonderful, uncomplaining travellers and are often much more pleasant to be around than adults! Ours have been on 5 cruises and we have more booked. We wouldn't even dream of going without them!
Thanks again for the insight! It sounds like you had a vacation of a lifetime!
I really wanted to take my boys (15 and 20) to the Baltic or Europe this summer. Things didnt work out, but I definately have it on my wish list for next summer.
I think Europe can be a wonderful experience for kids. BUT I think u have to KNOW YOUR KIDS.
Below I've clipped and pasted a post from the TEEN message board, that should serve as a bit of a warning to give this subject serious thought when booking
I have 10 months of planning and I already wrote down the the postcards and souveniers. That was a great idea! I'll probably have tons of questions over the next few months. I think my little troopers are going to have the time of their lives (along with Mom & Dad).
I also had a wonderful Med cruise with my 13-year old girl and 21-year-old son on the August 11 Millenium cruise. And I didn't even have half the foresight and creativity you did! I loved so many of your ideas, wish I had thought of them.
In our case, we took shore excursions in only two places (Ephesus and Egypt), and did independent touring in Athens, Rome, Naples, Villefranche and Barcelona.
On our independent touring, we kept the number of sights to one or two major ones in each port, and had fun figuring out the trains and subways to get there (and taxis if needed!) We brought our maps, and had them figure out how to get to the train station from the ship. Or how to get to the Acropolis from the subway station. And we let them know that it's okay to head down the sidestreet that looks interesting.
I hope that they learned that there are many different ways of travel, and that there are advantages and disadvantages to each of them. The tours are great to cover a lot of ground, particularly where public transportation is limited and time is short.
Independent is also good. Taking local buses, trains, and subways can be fun, if not as "efficient" as taking a tour. Besides, you get a better chance to observe the locals and get a feel for their lives that way. And you have some control over how long you spend at the museum or the ruins.
Either way, or some combination, is fine.
My most important tip: Be sure they each have their own camera, and let them take lots of pictures of what they find interesting. Both of mine had digital cameras. They enjoyed taking pictures of themselves by holding the camera at arm's length away while standing in front of a sight. They also loved to find a favorite spot and take a whole series of snaps around a full 360 degree circle. Fun pictures, goofy pictures, and lots of little things us grownups hardly notice. (Did you notice how many cats there are in the Colisseum?)
And, I am a firm believer in this, even for younger children. We have some terrific pictures from Europe that my son took when he was 6 with a cheap disposable camera. (At Buckingham Palace, I got lots of 'standard' pictures of the Changing of the Guards, but he also took lots of pictures of a convoy of camouflage-color trucks passing on the road nearby.)
I agree, kids are great travelers, and wonderful companions on a trip. Just show a little willingness to see things from their perspective, and you will have some memorable experiences!