CRUISING, Family-Style

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The Perfect Storm Trio of  waterslides on board Harmony of the Seas, set to debut in May 2016.
The Perfect Storm Trio of
waterslides on board Harmony of the Seas, set to debut in May 2016.

Considering what’s afloat in the way of coming attractions—from a new Disney “Star Wars” adventure and Norwegian’s first nursery for tiny tots, to Carnival’s new Family Harbor Cabins and Holland America’s first purpose-built staterooms for family groups—it’s scarcely a stretch to say that a cruise-shopping family never had it so good.

What’s more, clients who think an uber-luxury ship or easygoing river vessel must surely be less than eager to roll out the gangplank for Mom, Dad, and the kids should be encouraged to think again.

Aboard ships of all sizes and styles, “a cruise is the perfect choice for families of all sizes and ages,” points out Karen Quinn-Panzer, CruiseOne franchise owner and vacation specialist. “A cruise with the contemporary lines offers limitless fun for each member of the family, regardless of their age. How many resorts offer free child care with really fabulous activities that the kids can’t wait to get into?”

When it comes to an abundance of action-packed activities, Quinn-Panzer gives the nod to Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.

“Disney’s newest venture, coming in 2016, is a Star Wars area they are creating within Disney Dream’s Oceaneer Club for kids 3 to 12,” she notes. Kids will virtually pilot the Millennium Falcon. Disney will also add a high-tech interactive space based on the Disney Infinity video game.”

Kicking off in January is Star Wars Day at Sea on select Disney Fantasy sailings—a day-long event with a deck party, favorite characters, and screenings of “Star Wars” films including the new Disney XD animated series.

Along with Norwegian’s first-ever nursery for ages 6 months to 3 years, Quinn-Panzer continues, “older kids aboard Norwegian Escape, the line’s newest ship coming to Miami this November, can enjoy the biggest ropes course at sea, walk the plank, and splash in four theme park-quality water slides.”

Then there’s Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, arriving this fall at Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey. Says Quinn-Panzer, “Anthem will offer Seaplex, the largest indoor activity space at sea, complete with bumper cars, a roller-skating rink, a basketball court, table tennis, and Royal Caribbean’s first circus school! Plus Royal Caribbean’s DreamWorks Experience has favorite animation characters like Shrek and Fiona, as well as character breakfasts.”

Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, meanwhile, set to debut in May 2016 with Mediterranean sailings, will be the world’s largest cruise ship and the first in a new generation of Oasis class ships. The ship will feature Splashaway Bay, an interactive aqua park for kids, Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea touting a 100-ft. dramatic plunge, and The Perfect Storm trio of water slides. The ship will homeport in Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale in November 2016, and offer 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings.

As all trend-watching travel consultants are well aware, and confirmed by CLIA, families and multi-generational groups make up one of the fastest growing segments of cruising. It’s a fact not lost on industry leaders. Holland America wizards, for example, taking note of the 25,000 children and their families currently boarding the company’s 15 ships each year, will unveil the line’s first-ever purpose-built family accommodations when Koningsdam debuts in 2016. The 32 new oceanview staterooms will range from 222 to 231 sq. ft., house five people, and show off such parent-pleasing amenities as two bathrooms.

As for the aforementioned Family Harbor Cabins, they’re set to debut on the newest ship in the Carnival fleet, Carnival Vista, set to launch in 2016. Situated within a dedicated family zone aft on Deck 2, “family ergonomic” quarters are designed to house five people and offer a pair of bathrooms. Parents and children will have separate sleeping quarters, and small fry will be treated to their own toiletries, robes and slippers. Nearby, the Family Harbor Lounge will serve as a secluded hangout for the whole gang with large-screen TV, board games, and snacks.

Carnival’s Camp Ocean, a new marine-themed program for children, will immerse ages 2 to 11 in the wonders of the sea with educational games the likes of Sea Creature Discovery, and creative projects such as Make Your Own Sailboat.

Prefer the luxury picture? Consider German-born Hapag-Lloyd’s elegant Europa 2. Surprisingly, for such a high-end, sophisticated product, children are welcomed from age 2, with child care that includes both activities on board and excursions for youngsters and teens. Newly marketed to North American passengers, the ship sports seven suites with connecting doors specifically designed for families. Plus a popular service available on days at sea: for parents who yearn to sleep in, kiddies from age 2 are collected straight from the suite and trundled off to breakfast. In addition, shore excursions are planned for the entire family—or parents may opt for an adults-only land experience while their offspring are happily entertained on board.

While nearly all sizeable, family-beckoning ships have attractive facilities devoted to various age groups from young children to teens, smaller vessels are serving up something different. Un-Cruise Adventures, which formerly scheduled its Family Discoveries Program only for select dates, is currently revamping and broadening the program to include more sailings. Children ages 8 and older are now welcomed aboard all vessels for all destinations and departure dates (Safari Quest the exception; children come aboard only on private yacht charters).

“What’s not to love about our all-inclusive activities?” asks Un-Cruise’s Sarah Scoltock. “Our focus on exploring nature and wildlife up-close in remote areas is just plain fun. Think kayaking, snorkeling, whale watching, hiking, beachcombing. It’s not just another vacation.”

Clients who would jump at the chance to ever so subtly advance their kids’ education (shhhh!) by introducing them to historical treasures and culture-rich opportunities should check out AmaWaterways. You’ve heard all about the river cruise line’s partnership with Adventures by Disney, setting out on its first-ever European river itineraries in 2016. Participating families will sail aboard the new AmaViola, custom-built to be family-friendly with a dozen staterooms that can sleep up to three; six sets of adjoining cabins with connecting doors that can accommodate up to five; and four suites with convertible sofabeds for up to four. The new layout will be similarly featured aboard sister ship AmaStella, also debuting in 2016. Also on both, shipboard spaces are being reimagined for staging activities for kids, teens, and grown-ups.

Eight-day Adventures by Disney journeys on the Danube are set for July 7-Aug. 4, 2016, visiting Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary—with a holiday sailing Dec. 22. A 3-day pre- and post-stay in Prague is also on tap. On board and in each destination, eight guides will serve as hosts, along with the services of local experts and AmaWaterways’ hospitable crew.

“Many parents and grandparents love that they can have adult time with their own activities while the kids have fun with others their own age,” Quinn-Panzer sums up. “Then everyone can enjoy family time at meals and take in entertainment together.”

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