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Nancy Vinson remembers the days when “family cruising” meant the
occasional grandparents bringing grandkids along on an otherwise
staid ocean sojourn.
“There was hardly anything to choose from by way of shore
excursions or onboard activities. And if you wanted an upscale
line, there was Royal Viking and not much else,” recalled Vinson,
an agent with over 20 years experience who is now president of
Vacation Discounters, Inc. in San Ramon, Calif.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ president and CEO, Bob Dickinson, has
“When I started out in this business, the average age of the
cruisers was ... well, practically deceased, so we weren’t counting
on much repeat business,” he said. “Now, we have kids coming
onboard at age 2, 4 or 6, and it’s a whole different ballgame. Once
you get them on a cruise, you’ve practically got an annuity if
you’re the travel agent.”
Indeed. These days, agents are no longer asking themselves if a
cruise is the right vacation product for their family groups; but
which line provides the closest match to their clients’
Fortunately, cruise lines are doing a better job at defining
“The national ad campaigns are great, because the public is
better informed. All you have to do is watch television to see that
Royal Caribbean is going after active families. And Carnival is
making a push to be a little more upscale,” said Vinson.
Carnival Cruise Lines is certainly spiffed up these days, with
its Today’s Carnival enhancements.
“The message we’d like to get out to agents is that if they
haven’t been on Carnival lately, they haven’t been on Carnival,”
The 110,000-ton, 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty debuted in
July 2005 with the line’s first-ever Mediterranean cruises.
Amenities such as bow-to-stern Wi-Fi; specialty coffee bars and an
upscale seafood area; custom-comfort beds and duvets; and a giant
LED screen poolside are making agents take a new look at the Fun
Kids are likely to be most impressed by the Carnival Liberty’s
4,200-square-foot children’s play area, home to its Camp Carnival
programs. The ship’s Club02, a teen hangout aimed at 15- to
17-year-olds is one of the sleekest teen spaces at sea, featuring a
dance floor, large-screen plasma TVs, video game units, listening
stations and lots of Coca-Cola. The Club02 lounge is being rolled
“Kids, like adults, have changing needs and interests. They want
more choices, just like their parents do,” said Dickinson. “It’s a
constant challenge for us to keep coming up with interesting
options for them, but it’s one of the things that makes the job so
Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean International, is
equally enthusiastic about the changes his line has made to meet
the challenges of the family market.
“Travel agents in general know that our evolution in the past 10
to 15 years has been strongly focused in the area of family travel,
including multi-generational family travel,” said Goldstein.
Focusing on a younger, more active cruiser has been a Royal
Caribbean hallmark in recent years, and it has paid off.
“The average age of our passengers is 42, and we carry an
enormous number of people under the age of 18. At least a third of
all passengers are traveling in connection with some sort of family
group,” Goldstein said.
Becoming the “active family” cruise line didn’t happen
“We put an enormous effort into the design of the Voyager-class
ships,” said Goldstein.
Voyager is what put the line on the map, so to speak, when it
comes to grabbing the family-cruising market with their iconic
rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, in-line skating, miniature
golf and Johnny Rockets diners.
Royal Caribbean will outdo itself this June when it introduces
Freedom of the Seas. She’ll be the world’s largest cruise ship, at
160,000 tons, with a passenger capacity of 3,634. Those are stats
even King Kong wouldn’t sneer at. Based on TravelAge West’s sneak
preview of the ship last summer, she’s got a whole lot to keep
In addition to super-sized versions of the Voyager-class
features, Freedom of the Seas has a top-deck waterpark that
includes the Flowrider, the world’s first-ever surfing attraction
Splashy new attractions are a great way to reel in the family
cruising market, but Goldstein points out that Royal Caribbean has
tweaked its onboard programming, as well.
“Our Adventure Ocean Youth Program is absolutely comparable with
anything out there right now. It has evolved, due to the needs of
our guests,” said Goldstein. “They said they wanted more segmented
age groups, and that’s what we did. We came up with the
Fisher-Price Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots programs, in which parents
and kids can interact together.”
Rethinking the Stateroom
On Freedom of the Seas, families that play together can also stay
together. Six stateroom categories can accommodate four or more
persons. And the huge Presidential Suite, with four bedrooms and
four bathrooms, accommodates up to 14.
“Fifteen years ago, I don’t think we had a single
family-oriented stateroom in the fleet,” said Goldstein.
Oh, how times have changed. Across the industry, new staterooms
designed for families are popping up. Princess Cruises’ newest
ship, Crown Princess, will debut in June, offering Caribbean
cruises from New York and San Juan. She’ll have a family suite
category of interconnecting staterooms with balconies, as well as
features (the giant Movies Under the Stars screen, for example)
that have made her sister ships so popular with the family travel
Families celebrating a very special occasion might consider
Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, Norwegian Jewel. The Jewel’s
Garden Villas (like those on her predecessors, Norwegian Dawn and
Norwegian Star), feature a living room, dining room and three
separate bedrooms, as well as a private garden with a hot tub, al
fresco dining area and patio. Norwegian Jewel also features an
entirely new stateroom category, the Courtyard Villas. The 10
villas are positioned around a private courtyard with a swimming
pool, Jacuzzi, small gym and private sun deck. Each 572-square-foot
Villa includes a bedroom with a king-sized bed for parents, and
another for up to three children. In addition to the Garden Villas
and Courtyard Villas, the Jewel’s family-friendly accommodations
include suites and junior suites that interconnect to create
modules of two to five bedrooms.
NCL America, the American-flagged division of Norwegian Cruise
Line, has carved out a niche in the Hawaiian Islands since
launching Pride of Aloha in 2004. The newly built Pride of America
debuted in 2005, with a theme that salutes all things American. The
ship also features another new stateroom category Family Suites
that accommodate a family of eight, plus a range of interconnecting
cabin categories. A third new ship, Pride of Hawaii, is set for
delivery this spring. The largest U.S.-flagged passenger ship ever
built, Pride of Hawaii will feature Garden Villas, Courtyard Villas
and a large number of interconnecting family cabins.
With Hawaii as a backdrop (and overnights on several islands),
NCL America can offer as diverse an array of shore excursions as
found on any itinerary. Family members can learn to surf on
world-famous beaches, cycle down the face of a volcano or golf at
some of the most breathtaking and challenging courses in the
“Shore excursions are so much a part of family cruising today,”
said Lee Mackey, manager of the Leisure and Corporate Department of
Worldview Travel in Santa Ana, Calif.
While venues such as Hawaii, the Caribbean and Alaska remain
popular, many families are now looking for something new and
“I have one family that was interested in an ‘enrichment
experience,’ so I booked them on a Cruise West Costa Rica sailing.
It was an eco-travel cruise, and they went on shore excursions
through the jungles,” said Vacation Discounters’ Vinson.
Even lines not traditionally known as family-oriented are making
huge headway into the market. Holland America is actually one of
the first lines Mackey now recommends to families.
“There are lots of reasons that Holland America is a great
choice right now. Cabins are larger than average, the Signature of
Excellence amenities are great, and there’s a sense that the line
is really paying attention to the family traveler,” Mackey said. “I
just had a multi-generational group return from a Thanksgiving trip
on Holland America. The kids were 5, 7 and 9, and they raved about
it. There were activities and shore excursions geared to every age
Holland America’s newest ship, the ms Noordam, will debut in New
York in February. She’s the first new-build in the fleet to contain
all the Signature of Excellence enhancements, such as the high-tech
Culinary Arts centers and expanded Greenhouse Spa and Salon. The
ClubHAL children and youth facilities have been enhanced, as well.
There’s even an “after hours” program that takes care of kids until
midnight, so mom and dad can enjoy a night out. One Signature of
Excellence feature that’s already garnering rave reviews is the
Oasis, an extremely popular teen-only sun deck; and the Loft, a
teen lounge that resembles an artist’s loft.
Small-Ship Lines Too
Another trend Vinson has noticed is that family cruisers are not
necessarily sticking to the mass-market lines.
“We have a family who took a Crystal cruise, and they loved the
luxury. Crystal is a great choice if the kids are older, and it’s
the type of family that would enjoy onboard lectures,” she
Radisson Seven Seas’ Club Mariner program, available on select
sailings, keeps little sailors enthralled while their parents enjoy
the perks of a luxury cruise.
“Their slogan is ‘luxury goes exploring,’ and that’s a perfect
description of the line,” said Vinson. “I recommend it to families
interested in soft adventure. Maybe it’s not great if you’ve got an
18-month-old, but there are lots of families who match up with it
Worldview Travel’s Mackey has had family groups take over a deck
on Sea Dream Yacht Club sailings. And Windstar Cruises has seen an
upswing in families, as well. New luxury amenities such as Apple
iPod Nanos, Bose SoundDock speakers and Wi-Fi, seem practically
tailored for today’s teens.
“While known as a romantic, couples-oriented cruise line,
Windstar’s motor-sailing yachts do attract families, often
traveling with teens and pre-teens,” said Diane Moore, Windstar’s
vice president of marketing and sales. “There’s no need to dress up
in cocktail dresses or ties for dinner, and open seating means they
can eat when they like each night.”
As cruise lines across the board continue to enhance their
family cruise appeal, perhaps its time to take a new look at the
line that started it all, Disney.
“Disney Cruise Line continues to deliver a distinctly different
cruise vacation while focusing on the reasons our guests choose to
sail with us our world-class product and exceptional guest
service,” said Disney Cruise Line president Tom McAlpin.
The ultimate in kid-centric cruising has been sprinkled with a
little more of that famous pixie dust. Ocean Quest is a new kid’s
area that features a replica of a ship’s bridge, complete with LED
screen and “windows” that let kids look out over the bridge via
live video feed from the actual bridge. A simulation game let
little cruisers sit in a traditional captain’s chair and “steer” a
cruise ship in and out of various ports. (Hey, can adults play,
Disney Cruise Line introduced a new Broadway-style production,
“Twice Charmed,” last year. And it is also offering the only
fireworks display aboard a cruise ship. The excitement takes place
as part of the Pirates IN the Caribbean dinner and deck party, that
includes a duel between Captain Hook and Captain Mickey. Also new
in the Goofy’s Pool area on the Disney Magic is a jumbo LED screen
Another change this year is that the line will offer special
itineraries in addition to its three-, four- and seven-night
Bahamian and Caribbean cruises. The Disney Magic will explore the
Mexican Caribbean on seven-night sailings (one per month from May
to December) that call at Costa Maya, Cozumel and Castaway Cay. The
Disney Wonder will sail a new 10- and 11-night Southern Caribbean
itinerary in September, with new port calls at Barbados and St.
Kitts. And the Disney Magic will sail a special 10-night Caribbean
Adults sailing on Disney ships can now indulge themselves more
than ever too. Disney Magic has emerged from a recent dry dock with
three new spa villas at its Vista Spa & Salon.
So, will family cruising continue to evolve? Certainly.
“More than ever, people want to spend quality recreational time
with their families, and the cruise lines have responded to this
trend,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of CLIA. “Cruise
ships provide the very best opportunity for families to vacation
Carnival’s Dickinson couldn’t agree more.
“We may have been slowed down by hurricanes in 2005. But
consumer confidence is up, and the industry has made a strong
rebound,” he said. “Instead of taking fam trips right now, travel
agents should be in their offices selling. I’m sure 2006 will be a
We couldn’t agree more.
Carnival’s Conquest Class
Carnival Liberty has shown that the Fun Ships can provide upscale
perks for parents, while the kiddies can enjoy Camp Carnival,
Club02 and the array of features that bring more kids to Carnival
than any other cruise line.
This upscale line is a multi-generational favorite with families
that appreciate luxury, fine dining and onboard lectures.
Grandparent-grandchild bookings in Alaska are especially
Disney Cruise Line
Kudos for not resting solely on the draw of the Disney name. The
line has kicked up onboard programming for kids and relaxation
options for adults. (And, the first-run Disney and Miramax films in
the movie theaters are a huge bonus.)
Holland America Line
My, what a difference the Signature of Excellence makes. Forget the
once-stodgy image HAL is happenin’ when it comes to family fun.
Teens love the new Oasis sun deck areas.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn
Though she’s not the newest kid on the block at NCL, her whimsical
decor, T-Rex kids’ pool area and the tiny buffet table and chairs
in the dining room make everyone wish they were a kid again.
The Love Boats have become Family Boats, with the first (and
quickly copied) poolside LED jumbo screens, consistently
high-ranked kids programs and a new ship featuring an atrium
Radisson Seven Seas
“Luxury Goes Exploring” adds up to adventure for younger cruisers.
The line’s Club Mariner program, on selected sailings, offers
behind-the-scenes diversions while parents enjoy the pampering.
Royal Caribbean’s Voyager and Ultra-Voyager ClassThe pulsating beat on the line’s television ads encourages
cruisers to “get out there,” and families are doing just that. Ice
rinks, rock-climbing walls, Johnny Rockets and some of the largest
dedicated kids’ spaces at sea are already kid-magnets. Freedom of
the Seas’ new surfing attraction promises to become a must-do for
Sea Dream Yacht Club
For extra-special occasions, family groups can take over an entire
deck. It’s like having your own luxury yacht.
The popular choice for honeymooners is just as likely to carry
active families that love the ships’ watersports, casual elegance
and upgraded amenities in the cabins.