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When you know that more than 25 % of all cruise vacations are booked by families with children, it is hardly surprising that most cruise lines now offer extensive programs, facilities and special activities for children of all ages.

Not only does this mean that kids can spend their vacation having fun with children of their own age, but that the adults in the family can relax too in more serene pursuits while still leaving the option open to spend some quality family time together at mealtimes, in fun onboard activities, and in shore excursions.

The programs on offer are diverse and imaginative.

Aboard Disney Cruise Line, it's good to be a kid. Both the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder have nearly an entire deck dedicated to entertaining children ages 3 months to 17 years. While children at Flounder's Reef Nursery, Disney's Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are enjoying their dedicated spaces, parents can enjoy the ship "worry-free," thanks to an onboard paging service that allows children to contact their parents at any time during the cruise and anywhere on the ship.

Carnival which carries over 600,000 Kids every year has numerous kid-friendly amenities, enthusiastic youth counselors and spacious state-of-the-art facilities for kids. In addition to a full schedule of fun, its “Camp Carnival” has morning-til-night activities, expansive indoor play areas stocked with a wide variety of games and toys. Arts and crafts centers, including spin and sand-art machines, “activity walls,” indoor climbing mazes and computer labs are also featured on several vessels. When it comes to dining, young cruisers get the full Carnival “Fun Ship” treatment, with expanded children’s menus offering a variety of kids’ favorites, as well as a “daily junior special” promising something new and different each day.

On Norwegian Cruise Lines there are activities for kids of all ages. For Juniors (ages 2 to 5) there is storytelling and painting, developmental activities, age-specific games and family activities; for First Mates (ages 6 to 9) there are the children’s pool area, a pizza-making party, games and parties, crafts and classes; for Navigators (ages 10 to 12) sports activities, team-building challenges, games and parties and the video arcade; for Teens (ages 13 to 17) there are teen discos, sports and activities, the video arcade and movies and parties.

Before you book your cruise, however, it may be wise to check that the kids’ programs are operating on those days you plan to sail.

Also, the length of cruise may dictate the number of children aboard. The longer the trip, for example, the older the passengers and the less likelihood of lots of other playmates.

But it’s not all just about fun. There are other issues when cruising with kids such as necessities like baby sitting services, overall costs and safety/security to consider.

Most cruise lines offer baby sitting services. The main difference is in the type of service, group or private, and the costs for those services. Also be aware that availability can vary by destination and time of year.

As far as general costs are concerned, most cruise lines offer generous discounts for children, some even offer special rates for a second cabin for teens. It is worth asking about.

And to further save money, some ships have cabins that sleep five with fold out beds from sofas that are made up each evening while you are out at dinner. Royal Caribbean International, for example, caters for families by offering special suites that sleep up to six people.

Also, with costs in mind, remember to budget for all the unexpected “extras” like souvenirs, sodas, and gratuities for the youth counselors.

Another important element of the family cruise is the question of safety.

Many families on a cruise adopt a “family security plan” that includes bed checks, curfews and restrictions similar to the ones in place at home. Some plans identify a crew member as a contact person or an easily accessible place as a rendezvous in case the family gets separated either onboard or on shore.

Most importantly, families are encouraged to make their children aware that just because they are on vacation it doesn't mean that they needn’t be aware of things like predators and drugs. Being on vacation should not lull the family into a false sense of security.

Also make sure the family is aware of the life boat procedures. Children need to be made aware of the importance of the life boat drill held on the first day, and they need to know exactly where to go in the case of an emergency should they have to do it alone.

The key thing when traveling with the family on a cruise is to make sure you do your research beforehand.

Find out exactly what your particular choices of cruise ships offer kids. Their web sites will have all the details. And also make sure that they offer those facilities and programs on the dates of your cruise. Don’t of course forget to make sure that what they have to offer the adults is what you want as well.

Then compare the various stateroom options for cost and effectiveness - there’s no point in two very cheap cabins if they are on opposite sides of the ship, and you really do need to keep an eye on the teenagers especially if you remember what you used to get up to at their age.

And finally, after making your younger family members aware of your security plan, lifeboat drill and all the other necessities, all you need to do is what you came on the cruise for ... have fun!
All Rights Reserved 2008 © Prow's Edge Cruise Magazine - free cruise magazine and resource cruise guide packed with news on cruises, cruising, cruise lines, commentary on the cruise industry by top cruise line executives, recipes and cuisine tips from cruise line chefs, medical tips for cruise passengers, and suggestions on suitable books on cruising and travel.