By Danielle Spano
Danielle Spano has over a decade of experience in the travel industry, having worked for cruise lines and agencies before opening her own Gainesville-based Cruise Planners travel agency.
Choosing the Right Cruise for Your Family
Cruise lines and ships have personalities that are as unique as your family, and finding the right one will make for the perfect vacation! According to Cruise Lines International Association, 42 percent of cruisers travel with children. The Association reports that satisfaction rates are higher when travelers cruise with others — sailing with your significant other is more enjoyable than going it alone and the fun increases as other family members join in. Research shows that satisfaction levels increase even further when you add children to the mix, so make your next cruise vacation a family af fair! Here are some insights to help you pick a cruise that will have everyone smiling at sea.
Today’s ships are destinations in their own right with activities, amenities and entertainment galore! Choose a large or mega-size ship, as those are most likely to have a greater selection of facilities for all ages. From water parks to bowling alleys, batting cages, mini-golf, sports centers and even visits from some of your favorite characters, there is something for everyone on board! Cruise lines provide endless entertainment with full-blown, awe-inspiring productions that break boundaries with interactive, ice-skating, Broadway, circus and even water shows at sea!
Although this is a family vacation, everyone needs some time to have their own fun. Choose a cruise ship that has kids clubs and teen hangouts so your independent explorers can have age-appropriate fun with their peers. For families with itty bitty ones, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have nurseries, and some ships have babysitting services on request. While the kids are away, parents can play at the ship’s bars and clubs for some grown up gallivanting or wind down with a visit to the spa. Some ships even have adults-only pool decks for some much needed quiet time, such as The Sanctuary on Princess Cruises. Whatever your mood, your ship is sure to have amenities to accommodate you.
SAFTEY AT SEA
Talk to your doctor about any precautions or vaccinations necessary for your itinerary. Be prepared and pack some Dramamine, especially if your family is prone to motion sickness. When booking your cruise, advise the cruise line of any medical or dietary requirements your family may have to ensure they can accommodate. Keep an eye on your prize; always make sure kids are supervised and are not roaming the ship on their own. Stranger danger is still a rule, even on vacation! Ships can be a sure temptation for every little climber with all those balconies and railings, so make it clear that the ship is not a jungle gym. Finally, it is important to stay healthy and avoid spreading illness while aboard a ship, so increase your hand-washing routine and use the sanitizer stations located throughout the ship.
The world is your oyster, so where should you take your family? For the adventurous family, Alaska is always a fan favorite. Explore America’s last frontier with its remarkable panorama and abundant wildlife. Whales, bald eagles, bears and moose will surprise and delight visitors of all ages. It is surely a cruise that will go down as one your family will never forget.
Whether your family prefers to stay active or just unwind in the sun, a Caribbean vacation is an easy solution for Floridians. A quick drive to a local port will get you on a ship to the Bahamas, the Caribbean islands and even some South American and Mexican ports, too! Snorkel, zip line and take a dune buggy outing if you are looking for adventure. Enjoy the local cuisine, do some retail therapy or just sink your feet into the sand for a more relaxing experience.
If history and culture are more up your alley, consider a venture across the pond to take a European cruise. Bring to life the stories your children study at school. Looking for a fairy tale vacation? Choose a Northern European cruise for a wealth of storybook castles and landscapes. Want some sun with your history? Take in all the art, culture and cuisine a Mediterranean cruise has to offer!
Family vacations don’t have to break the bank. Cardholders of certain credit cards like American Express can often get added amenities such as onboard credit, free specialty dining or even priority boarding. Keep an eye out for “kids sail free” offers where you’ll only pay port fees and taxes for kids sailing as the third and fourth guests in the cabin. This is a great savings if you are comfortable sharing the cabin space together.
For more space, adjoining cabins are a great option to keep the family close while affording a bit more privacy. These cabins are limited in availability, making them a hot commodity that sell quickly, so make sure to book early! Depending on the cruise line and ship, you can make yourself at home while at sea in multi-room suites with separate bedrooms and a shared living space. Suite categories often get extra amenities and services to make your trip more comfortable.
Schedules are hard to keep on vacation. Many family-friendly lines offer open-seating dining, where you can eat at your convenience. Choose a ship that has multiple dining options, and opt for casual venues where you can grab a kid-friendly meal instead of sitting down to a full-course dinner.
Passports are required for international travel, however you may use another proof of citizenship when taking a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. port. It is highly recommended, however, that you travel with a passport whenever leaving the country. If anything should happen and you had to fly back, you would be in a very difficult situation without it. It is a good rule of thumb that your passport expiration date extend at least six months past your disembarkation date, as many countries have passport restrictions relative to its expiration. Some countries may also require visas that must be acquired before arrival. When planning your trip, visit Travel.state.gov to confirm your destination’s entry requirements.
A family cruise can create memories of a lifetime. By choosing the right cruise and accommodations, you can set sail for the perfect vacation! Bon voyage!