Archive for December, 2010

Family Cruises: Not Just for Kids

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Adults enjoying the spa . . . aboard Disney Magic. Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

When people think of “Family Cruises,” the word “kids” tends to come to mind. And frankly, that scares a lot of people.  But Family Cruising is no longer the exclusive domain of parents and their children. Instead, it can refer to multiple generations of one family – or several families – cruising together as part of a special occasion.

My first cruise was a family cruise. It was 1998, and I was aboard the Norwegian Wind with my parents and my sister.  We sailed out of Vancouver to Alaska, and my love of cruising was born. Unlike most of the teenagers my age, I was an anomaly: I was perfectly happy to wander the ship, taking photographs with my 35mm camera. My sister was the social one.  With no real formal children’s programs to speak of, my sister made friends and quickly lost herself in the ship – much to my father’s dismay as he trudged the decks looking for her at three in the morning.

Eleven years later, I sailed with my parents again – this time aboard Crown Princess to Norway, Iceland and Northern Ireland.  While some things hadn’t changed (I still ran around taking plenty of pictures), our tastes had matured.  We were looking for a different product than the one we experienced in 1998. And we found it on Princess Cruises.

Therein lies the brilliance of family cruising: In as much as there are plenty of lines catering to mom, dad and the kids, there are an equal number of lines who may not necessarily court the little ones but are a fantastic fit for grown-up families looking for a great cruise vacation.

Choosing the right ship for the perfect family getaway can be a daunting task.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but there are a few that shine bright amongst the pack.  In that spirit, we present you with six of our favorite ships: three for families with children, and three geared towards adult families.

FOR FAMILIES WITH KIDS (AND THE YOUNG AT HEART!) Disney DreamDisney Cruise Line

Disney Dream - Delivery Voyage

The brand-new Disney Dream. Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line.

It’s tough to beat Disney. They’re so successful at what they do that even couples without kids have been known to travel on the line.  While the price of admission may be higher than many mainstream lines, their onboard product makes up for it in spades, and ensures Mom & Dad have as much fun as the kids. After all, you’re paying for it – shouldn’t you enjoy yourself too?

Can I Be a Kid Again? Disney's Oceaneer Lab aboard Disney Dream offers kids the chance to explore the sea.

Disney Dream is just that – a dream for young and old alike. When she launches next month, she will be the largest ship in the Disney fleet, measuring 1,115 feet in length and carrying some 4,000 happy passengers. The list of amenities is remarkable: kids are kept busy in Disney’s Oceaneer Club, offering them a chance to explore the sea, learn animation, and even stage their own production shows a’la Peter Pan. An interactive mystery game based around the ship’s artwork is also offered, as well as  a new feature for the entire industry: a dedicated spa for teens only called Chill Spa.

While the kids are kept entertained, Mom & Dad are looked after in style. The 16,000-square foot Senses Spa & Salon offers just about every treatment imaginable, while the Pink Champagne Bar serves up bubbly in a unique room made to appear to feature walls of cascading “bubbles.”  The line’s adult-only Paolo Restaurant is also here, along with Remy, featuring French-inspired gourmet cuisine and the option of a private “chef’s table” experience.

We’ll also be the first to admit: it’s tough to not get choked up when the ship’s whistle belts out “When You Wish Upon A Star” at sail away.

Disney Dream sails to the Bahamas on three, four and five-night voyages beginning January 2011. We’re excited already!

Mariner of the Seas – Royal Caribbean International

 

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas

 

“Wait a minute!” I hear you say. “What about Oasis of the Seas?” Oasis and her sister Allure of the Seas are excellent ships for families, but they are so huge they can be overwhelming at times – the oceangoing equivalent of Disneyland. Mariner of the Seas (and her near-sisters Voyager, Explorer, Adventure and Navigator) still offer that “WOW!” factor of big-ship cruising, but on a more manageable scale.

One of Royal Caribbean's famous nightly parades along the Royal Promenade on Mariner of the Seas.

Ships feature a mini-golf course, rock-climbing wall, large pool area, and the famous “Royal Promenade” where nightly parades and entertainment are on offer. Royal Caribbean has entertainment down to a science.  Kids who have never cruised will be spell-bound that all of this is possible on a ship. At the same time, parents will rejoice in several venues just for them, like Chops Steakhouse and Vintages Wine Bar.

Mariner of the Seas and her sisters sail to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe, New England, and South America.

MSC Poesia – MSC Cruises

MSC Poesia. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

 

Kids 12 and Under Sail for Free: it’s tough to beat that kind of promotion. Based in Genoa, MSC Cruises boasts a fleet of eleven stunning new ships that are slowly but surely making inroads in the lucrative Caribbean market – and no doubt causing some cruise execs many sleepless nights. In fact, a seven-day Caribbean cruise can be downright affordable for a family of four.  And because the line caters to kids, chances are your little ones will leave you alone for a bit as they run off to play with new-found friends.

MSC Poesia and her sisters have a lot going for them. They’re big, they’re new, and they offer all the amenities you’ve come to expect of mainstream North American lines, like an expansive pool deck, multiple dining options, and even a Princess-style theater screen poolside.

MSC Poesia sails the Eastern and Western Caribbean, and Europe.

FOR FAMILIES WITH GROWN KIDS Crown PrincessPrincess Cruises

Crown Princess, shown here in Akureyri, Iceland.

 

Launched in 2006, Crown Princess ushered in a number of firsts for the line. She was the first to offer the line’s highly-successful Piazza Atrium concept, complete with live performances, music, a cafe and a dedicated wine and sushi bar called Vines. Crown Princess also became the second ship in the fleet to offer Movies Under the Stars: a large LED screen mounted poolside showcasing new releases and special events during the evening hours, complete with comfy deck chairs and popcorn.

Crown Princess Movies Under the Stars / Geirangerfjord

Play It Again, Sam: Movies Under the Stars aboard Crown Princess

For families looking for a more grown-up vacation, it’s tough to go wrong with Crown Princess and her sisters, Emerald and Ruby Princess. In addition to a wide array of stateroom choices, many with interior connecting doors, there’s certain to be something for everyone on these 952-foot long vessels. Dedicated spas, a swim-against-the-current pool, a mini-golf course, and a wide array of specialty restaurants (skip lunch if you’re going to Sabatini’s – it’s tremendous!) provide all the benefits of big-ship cruising, but with a more intimate atmosphere.

Crown Princess sails the Caribbean, Europe, and Canada & New England.

Zuiderdam – Holland America Line

Holland America's Zuiderdam

 

Together with her sisters, Oosterdam, Westerdam, Noordam, Eurodam and the recently-launched  Nieuw Amsterdam, these ships turned Holland America on its head, becoming the first ships in the fleet to truly cater to families of all ages.  While the decor on Zuiderdam is funky and colorful, Eurodam is elegant and tasteful. Each ship has its own distinct personality, but each offers the same features attractive to families looking for a laid-back cruise vacation.

The fantastic Hydrotherapy Pool is an excellent way to unwind after a long day ashore. Pictured here is the Hydro Pool aboard the ms Eurodam. Photo courtesy of Holland America Line.

To start, their spas are some of the best at sea and feature a generous hydrotherapy pool, thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, and a full-size gym. This generosity extends to her staterooms, many of which are substantially larger than those found on other mainstream lines. Plenty of staterooms connect via interior doors, and balcony partitions on adjoining staterooms can be swung open, allowing families to celebrate on their own extended veranda.

All of this comes with Holland America’s legendary service – some of the best in the mainstream category.

Zuiderdam sails to Alaska, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest, and the Panama Canal.

Silver Spirit – Silversea Cruises

Silver Spirit in Key West, Florida

Silversea's Flagship, Silver Spirit

 

If you’re looking for a family reunion, but aren’t willing to compromise on quality, look no further than Silversea’s Silver Spirit.  Included beverages and gratuities means less time worrying about onboard spending and more time enjoying yourselves. And isn’t that what a cruise is supposed to be about?

The ship is beautiful, the service is exacting, the cuisine is tremendous – and yet, there’s not even a hint of pretentiousness onboard. The ship is also incredibly spacious; it’s unlikely you will ever find yourself standing in a line for anything.  With all the amenities of a larger ship, but in a much more human size, Silver Spirit seems catered to families.  Even balcony partitions on most suites swing open to allow rooms to be booked side-by-side.

If you sailed other lines when the kids were little, the time has come to reward yourself.

Silver Spirit sails to Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Panama Canal.

No matter where you and your family plan to sail in the coming year, Family Cruise Advisor is here to help.

2011 Family Cruise Vacation Shopping Guide

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Tips For Finding A Family Friendly Cruise

Making memories

There is no better remedy for combating the short, cold days of winter than planning a family cruise vacation. For some reason, just looking at itineraries and ship diagrams is enough to lift the spirits. But before long what started as a fun search for your next family vacation quickly becomes a nightmare as data-overload sends you over the edge.

To help keep things in balance, Family Cruise Advisor has put together a few tips to help make the cruise buying process a little more user friendly.

Think Value, Not Price

Disney Dream It

Although price is a good motivator, value is a better indicator that a cruise will be a success.

Consider what is included in the cruise price.

  • Does the ship have adequate care for infants? Some ships charge for babysitting infants because they do not have facilities for babies.
  • Does the ship offer kids programming for the ages you need?
  • Are soft drinks and juice included in the price? Disney Cruise Line has generous soda fountains and juice available around the clock. Other cruise lines do not.

Consider A Slightly Older Ship, But Watch The Size

When looking at price make sure you are comparing apples-to-apples. New ships typically have a higher price tag than slightly older ships.

Although Royal Caribbean International’s new Oasis-class ship Allure of the Seas has a lot of great features, pricing is significantly lower on Liberty of the Seas and her sisters in the Freedom-class. The cruise experience is almost the same: great kids programs, specialty restaurants, surf simulator, rock climbing wall, ice-skating rink, arcade, etc.

Royal Caribbean

Speaking of Royal Caribbean, watch the size of the vessel you select. For example, there are many features that are not available on Monarch of the Seas due to her smaller size. This is an example of too much of a good thing. Savvy shoppers will notice some great cruise fares on Monarch of the Seas, but this ship does not have the bells and whistles found on the larger ships in the fleet.

When to spend money for a cruise on a new ship

Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship Disney Dream is fetching top dollar for a product that is completely different than Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. The updated technology and innovations on Disney Dream are well worth the additional investment in vacation dollars.

Destination

Disney Cruise Line

In most cases when cruising as a family, the ship is the destination. However, families must also consider where the ship sails. Popular family cruise destinations for 2011 are: Europe, Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Depending on the age of your children and their tolerance for long flights, a realistic destination will become obvious. I say go for gold and head to Europe. But I am also the same person that took a three-month old baby on an six-hour flight to Hawaii.

Show Me The Money!

A lot of people think that if they wait long enough, cruise lines will offer deep discounts. Although this could be the case, when traveling with a family it is better to plan ahead to avoid disappointment.

Remember that there is little risk to putting down a deposit in advance. In most cases (Disney concierge class suites exempt) deposits are refundable. Final payment is due 90 days before the cruise. Some travel agencies and cruise lines will guarantee the price, which means that if the cruise fare goes down before final payment, you are entitled to getting the lower price.

Family Cruise Basics

Meet Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen, Germany

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream  has left the building and has begun the transatlantic crossing.

Disney Dream makes her transatlantic journey

Just a few days ago Disney Cruise Line‘s newest ship, Disney Dream left Bremerhaven, Germany on a transatlantic journey to Florida. Disney Dream will greet family cruisers starting January 26, 2011 on her inaugural cruise.

A Disney Cruise is always a great choice for families looking for a touch of elegance with just the right mix of kid-friendly amenities.

Family Cruise Advisor has compiled extensive reports about Disney Dream to help families navigate the many features and amenities on this new ship.

I am excited to see the blending of classic ocean liner design with state-of-the-art technology. Topping off my list of Disney Dream bells-and-whistles are the AquaDuck water coaster and Disney Cruise Line’s new adults-only Remy restaurant.

Disney Dream posts on Family Cruise Advisor:

  • An Overview of Disney Dream Highlights Too busy to read everything? This is a great place to discover the highlights of Disney Dream’s one-of-a-kind venues and experiences.
  • Disney Dream Youth Programs Everything a parent needs to know about youth programs on Disney Dream. The key to making sure the whole family has fun on a cruise vacation. Disney Cruise Line has one of the best children’s programs at sea. Discover what awaits your young cruiser.
  • Dining Options For Family Cruisers on Disney Dream. I appreciate a cruise line that offers a variety of food that appeals to both adults and kids, and I love how Disney Cruise Line staff will dispense ketchup for kids in the shape of Mickey Mouse as well as offering a sophisticated menu for adults in the no-kids zone specialty restaurants. Disney Dream is upping the game a bit in the food service department, especially for adults. For more on how Disney is pleasing parents and palates, read Disney Cruise Line, Michelin-starred Chef Create Perfect Pairing with French-inspired Remy Restaurant On the Disney Dream.
  • Entertainment on Disney Dream When you think of Disney, animation, technology and entertainment come to mind. It all comes together on Disney Dream, where entertainment
 includes live musical shows, first-run films, Digital 3-D movies and fun-filled family deck parties, which features the largest fireworks show aboard a cruise ship.

Can’t get enough? Check out our other Disney Dream stories on Family Cruise Advisor:

From Port Canaveral, Florida, Disney Dream will cruise to the Bahamas on rotating 3, 4, and 5-night cruises. All cruises on Disney Dream will visit Disney Cruise Line’s private Bahamian island Castaway Cay.