Pizza parties and karaoke seem downright ho-hum when compared to paddling an outrigger canoe or zipping around the BVIs on a ski jet.
Options for kids (and the kids themselves) are more sophisticated than ever, and if you look beyond the scope of the homogenous mainstream lines, you'll find a handful of cruise companies catering to the tastes of today's well-traveled children (and their parents).
Here are some atypical offerings from a handful of small-ship and one-of-a-kind lines.
Chill'n Out (and Under) with Cousteau
For kids with a thing for the great outdoors, the Ambassadors of the Environment program on Radisson Seven Seas' (tel. 800/477-7500; www.rssc.com) Paul Gauguin will be a big hit. Launched last year, the fun and educational program will be offered again this summer on all 7-night cruises between June 11 and August 20 out of Papeete, Tahiti. Kids 9 to 15 will get to do a bunch of neat interactive activities created by ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of legendary oceanographer and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau. Where else would you get the chance to learn about different kinds of coral and fish species through hikes, snorkeling, whale watching and diving excursions. The ships' youth counselors, who lead the way, all have college degrees in natural or environmental sciences and training from Jean-Michel Cousteau's team. Who needs scavenger hunts and pictionary, when you can explore the rain forests and reefs of Polynesia, visit temples and ride in an outrigger canoe?
The kids' program is part of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' six-year-long partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society (OFS). Now offered fleetwide on select sailings in the Amazon, Falklands and Chilean Fjords, mom and dad will enjoy lectures by OFS experts on topics from sharks to plankton and diving technology, plus guest appearances by Jean-Michel himself and live TV uplinks from dives conducted by Cousteau and his team in the various regions visited. Guests will actually be able to ask the divers questions, live, as they explore the deep waters below the ship.
Join the Club, This One's Totally Cool
The 110-passenger SeaDream (tel. 800/707-4911; www.seadreamyachtclub.com) twins are intimate and clubby. Cuisine is a top draw, as is the service and casually elegant vibe. These ships are geared to well-traveled movers and shakers with high expectations, not families schlepping strollers and Elmos. So, while you won't find any sort of formalized kids activities or play areas, as you wouldn't with just about any ship of this size, what Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing, ipod-carrying teen wouldn't be totally into sporty toys like ski jets, mountain bikes, sea kayaks, and even Segway Human Transporters? All this cool stuff is carried aboard the ships for use in port for any passenger over 16.
The ships' 195-square-foot standard staterooms can sleep three, with the third passenger destined for the room's couch. Standard amenities include flat-screen TVs with Internet capabilities, plus DVD and CD players. When sharing the cabin with two parents, rates for children up to age 12 are $100 per day and for 13+, they're $200 per day. Not bad considering these all-inclusive yachts typically go for between $2,000 and $5,000 per person for a 7-night cruise in the Caribbean or Mediterranean. Rates include all spirits and wines as well as tips and some crew-led shore excursions.
Queen of Kids
The Queen Mary 2 (tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com) is about tradition, taste and elegant things. Fancy meals, fine wines and afternoons in the spa are what a transatlantic crossing or Caribbean cruise on this classy liner has in store. Or so one would assume. In truth, ball bins and X-Boxes are also a part of the offerings. Who knew the new queen was so good with kids. The ship offers one of the most comprehensive kids programs at sea, believe it or not. Complimentary activities are offered all day long until midnight for children as young as one-year-old; most lines only start their programming for ages two or three. The youth staff includes two or three British nannies who have completed a special two-year program in England.
The roomy playroom at the aft of Deck 6 can be divided up to accommodate different age groups. For the one to six crowd, there are plenty of toys, arts and crafts, a play gym and ball bin, plus a separate nursery with cribs and toddler beds for naptime. Just outside on deck is a small wading pool and another play gym. For the 7 to 12 set, half of the playroom is stocked with beanbag chairs, board games, TVs and Xboxes for video game playing. Teens do stuff around the ship like behind the scenes tours and watching movies in the theater. Plus, children with a cerebral side will totally enjoy the ship's cool planetarium, gym, and extensive library and bookshop. Dining options include the King's Court buffet restaurant and the special children's tea offered daily from 5pm to 6pm in the Chef's Galley.
Pirates and Cargo Pants
Calling all fun-loving kids who can part with their laser tag and Game Boys for a week, step aboard a Windjammer (tel. 800/327-2601; www.windjammer.com) tall ship for a taste of adventure. For ages 6 to 17, three of the fleet's five eccentric sailing ships offer a "Junior Jammer" kids programs during the summer. Though none of the ships carries more than 122 passengers (double occupancy), so many families are drawn to this quirky line that 30 or 40 kids per cruise during the summer is par for the course. Before you say, "youch, that's way too many kids on a small ship," consider you're in port every day, with only a few exceptions, so many passengers are ashore exploring the islands. Plus, the ultra-casual, "anything goes" atmosphere puts to rest any fear of disturbing the neighbors. With flip-flops and tube tops about as formal as it gets, who's going to complain about a little noise? These ships are like summer camp for the whole family, only here, mom and dad can unwind with free rum swizzles while the wind catches the sails and pushes the ship into the next day of adventure.
On itineraries in the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and the southern Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire an Curacao, the Legacy, Polynesia, and Amazing Grace have counselors for two main age groups (6-11 and 12-17) who supervise activities between 9am and 9pm daily in empty cabins or in unused public rooms. Younger kids get to do arts and crafts, face painting, hair braiding, building sand castles, knot tying, hoisting the sails, and visits to the bridge, while teens can do stuff like sailing, snorkeling, volleyball, navigating, and kayaking. There are even introductory scuba classes for 8- to 10-year-olds and 11- to 16-year-olds. One child between 6 and 11 sails free May through early August when sharing a cabin with parents.
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