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Cruising with your pre-teens can be surprisingly smooth sailing

If you still think cruising is for the retired crowd, think again!
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Simon Cohen, November 22, 2013 12:06:14 PM

Riddle me this: What do an 8 year-old girl and a 12 year-old boy have in common? Well, if they’re my kids, the answer is nothing. Well, that’s not quite true. They both enjoy driving their parents crazy with incessant squabbling.

So we have learned through painful experience that the key to a happy life with our two angels is to keep them very, very busy. Only when their minds are occupied by an activity do they stop thinking up new ways to torment each other (and us). So when it comes to planning a vacation, our relaxation is dependent on how much there is for the kids to do.

We’ve been lucky enough to have tried several types of vacations with our kids including: Camping, cottaging, resorts, and cruising. So far, cruising has been the biggest success. Here’s why:

Being on a ship is fun

There’s just no denying the fact that whether you are six or sixty, living aboard a floating city (which is really the only way to describe modern cruise ships) is tremendously exciting. Just looking over the edge from the 15th deck to the water down below is thrilling, but when you factor in the onboard entertainment (music, magic shows, arcades, movies etc.) and the myriad dining options, there’s a certain euphoria involved in cruising that often lasts the length of the voyage.

Pro Tip: Make a point of exploring as much of the ship as you can on your first day. There’s nothing worse than saying on the last day “I didn’t know we could do that!”

A floating city indeed. The Freedom Of The Seas’ completely enclosed Promenade is like a mall inside the ship, with shops, restaurants and bars.

You (and your kids) simply have no excuse for boredom

Not all cruise lines are created equal of course, but if you choose carefully you will find that it’s possible to fill up every waking moment with action (or not – it’s your choice). As I mentioned above, with pre-teens, this is very appealing. We just got back from a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Of The Seas and I’ve never seen so many options for kids. The kids’ program, which is staffed by professionals who have degrees in education, has structured and supervised activities for ages 6 months to 17 years. If your kids aren’t big joiners, however, they can still sample from mini golf, rock wall climbing, a surf simulator, dedicated kids’ pools, a video arcade that will impress even the most dedicated gamer, a real ice skating rink (Yes. An ice rink. On a cruise ship. For real.), cupcake decorating, 3D movies… are you getting the picture?

Pro Tip: Spend a few minutes with the ship’s schedule each evening so you don’t miss your favourite activities – not all of them run all day.

This ain’t no joke – some cruise ships actually have their very own ice rink, complete with what might be the smallest Zamboni in the world.

Shore excursions combine fun with education

One of the best parts about cruising is the chance to get off the ship at each port of call and check out their most popular attractions. Be it that perfect postcard-worthy beach, a zip-line safari through a rainforest, a visit to a butterfly sanctuary, or taking a jeep to the highest point on an island for some breathtaking views and photos, shore excursions are like vacations inside your vacation. Best of all, excursions booked through the ship are always led by professional and knowledgeable tour guides. You and your kids will learn some fascinating facts about your host country if you listen and ask questions.

Your kids would probably be content to spend an entire day frolicking in the specially-designed waterpark.

You’ll have to check with your cruise ship’s tour desk, but with a few exceptions, most excursions are suitable for kids of all ages.

Pro Tip: If your cruise line’s online booking tool lets you, try to read up on (and reserve your spots) on shore excursions before you leave home. The popular ones can book up quickly and room is always limited. As a rule, shore excursions can be cancelled and fully refunded up to 24 hours prior to the excursion’s departure time, so even if you’re not sure, it’s not a bad idea to book.

Cruising can be great fun for kids regardless which cruise line you book with, but here are some of the features we especially enjoyed while aboard the Freedom Of The Seas:

  • The dining room staff knows how to cater to kids. From making sure they got their meals quickly to remembering their favourite menu items, our dedicated waiter and his assistant spoiled our kids rotten.
  • Royal Caribbean has partnered with Mattel to create a special “Barbie Premium Experience” that fans of the famous toy will find irresistible.
  • Starbucks at sea! (Your kids might not care, but being able to order a latte in the middle of the ocean is kind of awesome)
  • Shows geared toward kids: ImagineOcean! is a 30 minute black-light show that is perfect for the youngest cruisers.
  • H2O Zone: It’s like a miniature waterpark, with kid-friendly hot tubs. Perfect for kids who aren’t comfortable being in a full-size pool.
  • Parent-controlled cruise cards. Your kids will get their own room keys which you can load up with a pre-determined amount of cash for spending aboard the ship. You can also place restrictions on where the money can be spent. Your kids will love their newfound financial independence.

A cruise can still be a complete experience without a rock wall, but let’s face it, having one on your ship is awesome.

At $350 per child, the Barbie Premium Experience isn’t cheap, but if your daughter (or son) is a fan of the uber-popular toy, their head will explode when they see what’s in store for them.

Images: Simon Cohen

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