Disney Dream ’s Buccaneer Blast fireworks at sea are a must-watch for kids and adults alike.
Luxury means different things to different people. That’s particularly true for multigenerational travelers who desire to sail with their children or grandkids. Prefer a true luxury line with children’s services? Or, would you opt for a line not classified as full-ship luxury, but fielding pampering suites or an exclusive “ship within a ship” high-end complex? Here are five family-friendly ocean experiences with a luxury twist and extensive children’s activity programs.
Relax in The Haven, an exclusive complex of upscale suites on Norwegian Breakaway, and it’s easy to forget that this Norwegian Cruise Line ship is home to thousands of other guests. Accessible solely by key card, The Haven is a pampering suite space. It’s a ship within a ship with only 42 high-end accommodations; another 22 Penthouse suites outside the complex also qualify for exclusive Haven access.
The Haven has its own guest corridors, swimming pool, whirlpools, sunning area, lounge, restaurant and bar. Guests are pampered by private butlers and have concierge services. Yet, just outside The Haven, the ship’s amazing array of dining, entertainment and children’s activity programs await.
The Haven’s swimming pool is part of this suite space on Norwegian Breakaway.
A good option is the “Two-Bedroom Family Villa with Balcony,” which has a well-appointed living and dining area, balcony, master bedroom and stunning master bath with sea views. A separate small bedroom has a TV, convertible double sofa and a guest bathroom, doubling nicely for kid use.
Time to head out on the ship as a family? Check the Freestyle Daily as Dora the Explorer and other Nickelodeon characters appear in the atrium at select times. Norwegian’s Splash Academy and Entourage—supervised programs for kids, ages 3-17—entertain the children and teens so parents can savor personal time for a spa treatment or reading a good book from the onboard library.
Little children can relish splashing and sliding around the tame Kid’s Aqua Park with colorful SpongeBob and other character figurines while water jets spritz on and off. Older children (height requirements apply) and adults can zip down the twin racing water slides and five-story corkscrew water slide atop the ship.
Sports Complex also offers a creatively designed miniature golf course as well as a full-size basketball court and a challenging ropes course. One scary feature of that course is “The Plank.” You’ll walk gingerly eight feet beyond the ship on a narrow beam. Yes, a safety harness protects you and “surviving” the walk means bragging rights when chatting with fellow family members.
Couples might leave the kids in group babysitting and head for Norwegian Breakaway’s cool Ice Bar (reservations required); parkas are provided and several frothy drinks included. Then it’s on to the new Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian. The signature entrée is Dover Sole, perfectly prepared and very tasty, but if you prefer fish light on the sauce, alert your server.
A family “must” is the frenetic “Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy” inside the Spiegel Tent. Roller skaters twirl round a tiny circular floor as one swings the other in perilous fashion. Jugglers, costumed wait staff, artistic gymnastic-like acts, and even a contortionist who somehow miraculously fits himself into a small box are part of the constant flow of skilled acts. Norwegian recently upgraded the fixed meal; expect shrimp, filet mignon, an appetizer, dessert and coffee.
NorwegianBreakaway sails weekly year-round from New York. Sister ship, Norwegian Getaway, will sail year-round from Miami, starting in January.
Pure Luxury for Families:
Couples who regularly sail on luxury ships can’t imagine sailing elsewhere for their next cruise. Crystal Cruises welcomes many multigenerational family groups and individual families onboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
Junior Activities Directors sail on summer, holiday and other voyages with more than 10 children booked, and kids 3-17 receive the Surf Runner or Teen Scene daily newsletter. During their time with the Junior Activities Directors, children—with their parents’ permission—are free to come and go as they please.
Crystal’s ships have dedicated children’s playrooms for those 3-7 and 8-12. Fantasia is a creative place with crafts, games, a children’s cinema and Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 kiosks. Other diversions include computer play, scavenger hunts, hide-and-seek, story times, stretch-ercise, bridge and galley tours, cooking and pizza making. Young cruisers might put on a fashion show, enjoy artists’ performances, participate in a mask parade, play trivia games and compete in mini-Olympics or relay races.
The Royal Loft Suite on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas comes with access to Concierge and Suite services.
Teens 13-17 have separate activities; they often participate in disco and karaoke events, paddle tennis tournaments and evening pool parties. They might learn to make sushi, try a new dance move, watch movies or play video games in the Waves arcade.
What’s special? Affluent parents and grandparents love Crystal for its customized, personalized approach to service. During one recent cruise, a grandmother was traveling with her teen granddaughter who’d met a young man cruising with his parents. The teens requested a table so they could dine together in the main dining room. It was a lovely surprise when they arrived to discover flowers and other special perks just for them.
Parents might take out children’s books and child-friendly videos from the library and families might view a movie in the Hollywood Theater. In-stateroom babysitting for children one year and older is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Crystal’s Owner’s Suites or Penthouse Suites are luxurious digs for grandparents, parents or the group’s matriarch or patriarch who’s purchasing the vacation for the entire family. These suites have plenty of space for a small family group to dine or watch a movie. Butlers will assist with special arrangements.
In June, Crystal added more connecting staterooms on Crystal Symphony to meet burgeoning demand by families, who want to book one stateroom and reserve an adjoining one for the kids. Crystal Symphony now has 10 such connecting staterooms and 89 staterooms with a third berth available. On Crystal Serenity, there are 50 connecting staterooms and 154 staterooms with a third berth available.
Children love the ice cream bar and Trident Grill’s hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza, as well as the kids’ menus in the restaurants. But affluent guests often have children accustomed to life’s finer things, so young guests are just as apt to dine in an elegant dining room and order caviar, frog legs or escargot. Crystal’s executive chefs and culinary staff will also prepare customized dishes.
A Lofty Experience:
Panoramic views, a baby grand piano and private library are among the perks of the Royal Loft Suite onboard Royal
Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. These two-level suites are the line’s most appealing and have a humongous extended balcony.
On the lower level is a contemporary living area, the library and an indoor dining table for eight. Two loungers face the two-story windows. Just off the foyer is a guest bathroom with a large shower as well as the suite’s second bedroom. Outside, the covered and extended balcony has outdoor dining space for eight, a wet bar, LCD TV, entertainment and whirlpool.
An interior stairway brings guests to a spacious master bedroom loft and master bath, a light, airy space. Nice Touch: Views outside the two levels of glass show off the sports deck and ocean. The Royal Loft Suite sleeps six; two twins convert to a king bed in each bedroom. The sofa is a double bed sleeper. An adjacent Crown Loft Suite can accommodate two more guests.
All Royal Loft Suites can access a menu of Concierge and Suite services, but there are no private butlers. Ask your concierge to book a romantic table at the elegant 150 Central Park, while your children are in group babysitting or an evening teen program. The restaurant’s refreshing Cucumber Martini is a must before ordering from Michael Schwartz’s seasonal food and wine tasting menu.
Fresh produce for this dining venue is sourced from small Florida farms. Menus rotate between a Meadow Menu and an Artisan Menu. We suggest starting with a Florida lobster and lychee salad paired with a Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs wine from California’s North Coast. Other courses include cauliflower soup, a jumbo lump crab cake, homemade broccoli pasta and a grilled Harris Ranch New York strip steak; all are paired with a savory wine. Bittersweet chocolate cheesecake is accompanied by Blandy’s Madeira from Portugal.
Families choose the Oasis-class ships for such activity choices as a skating rink, rock climbing wall or surfing pool, as well as the supervised children’s, tween and teen programs. A Royal Babies and Tots program provides professional care for little ones six months to two years of age.
Hint: Find a good spot along the Royal Promenade for the big DreamWorks parade with streamers and costumed characters from Madagascar, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Separately, stroll through the open-air “Boardwalk” and ride a carousel as calliope music plays. Horse sculptures leading up to the ride show kids how carousel animals are created. At certain times, the line also sets up Boardwalk bean bag tosses, face-painting or arts and crafts activities. Shops sell stuffed animals and souvenirs, Johnny Rockets serves up burgers and fries, and divers and swimmers perform amazing feats at the AquaTheater. Look skyward to watch the zip line.
Global Luxury, Family Aura:
Delivering casual luxury with modern design, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ new Europa 2 attracts a global clientele for its spacious suites and favorable guest-to-crew ratio. Official languages for this European styled product are English and German. Europa 2 also fields a strong family focus. It has onboard kids’ programs, and shore excursions designed for kids, teens or the whole family. The ship also offers family-themed sailings.
Kids three and under are welcomed with a complimentary Baby Welcome Package including a changing mat, baby bib, toiletries and more. Within the supervised Knopf Club, kids 2-3 play games in the ball pit, explore a sensory wall, listen to stories in the cuddle lounge and nap on a cot. Children 4-10 might paint, enjoy handicrafts, play games or enjoy educational programs.
In addition, kids might learn to cook, tour the bridge or experiment in the ship’s research laboratory. Those 11-15 hang out in an onboard Teens’ Club; they compete on a Wii or PlayStation, play table football or relax in iPod chairs. Guided by Junior Activity Directors, teens design their own cruise programming such as a photo workshop, teen party or choreography lesson, along with shore excursions with kayaks, Zodiacs or mountain bikes. Teens also dine as a group with Teens’ Club supervisors.
While the children are being entertained, parents can head for Europa 2’s Ocean Spa. But this spa isn’t just for adults. Kids eight and above might enjoy the children’s spa package. A popular choice is the chocolate body wrap.
Europa 2’s biggest draw, however, may be the spacious suites for those who—unlike the case on many North American products—like to vacation “in” their staterooms rather than spend so much time in public areas. Of course, guests will head out for seven restaurants and a sushi bar, along with entertainment and activities.
That said, many guests treat their accommodations like a personal condo. The Owner’s Suite has the most lavish digs and space, but families also frequently reserve a “Family Apartment,” with separate areas for kids and adults separated by a door and a verandah. Everyone is together as a family but also has private space.
Suite furnishings for families with toddlers or infants include a baby changing mat, a travel cot that doubles as a play-pen, bath tub for babies and a toilet seat for toddlers. Parents in suites can also request disinfection of baby bottles, warming of baby food and babysitter service outside normal hours.
When adults head out as a group to dine, they can put the kids in babysitting or the group children’s dinner. Given the line’s European heritage, order the melt-in-your-mouth Chateaubriand at the intimate, French-inspired Tarragon. Europa actually stocks 25 different types of beef onboard. Another guest favorite is the Serenissa Restaurant for Ligurian or Neapolitian delicacies, such as beef carpaccio with roasted pine nuts and olive oil and spaghetti with duck ragout, apples, parsley and Parmesan cheese.
Entering a Disney Cruise Line ship’s atrium, families are greeted by crew who line up and clap as the PA system booms with a live voice that exclaims: “Now please welcome the Smith family onboard Disney Fantasy!” From then on, it’s nonstop entertainment on all of Disney’s ships.
Fun to watch: Cinderella, Snow White or Belle greet children and adult fans in the atrium or check out the kids who’ve received a princess or pirate make-over at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. And on Disney Fantasy or Disney Dream watch guests riding a flowing river of water inside a clear, cylindrical AquaDuck tube encircling the top deck pool area.
But for adults seeking time for a spa treatment or a good book, the supervised Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab activity programs available on all ships will entertain young children with games, computers, science projects and themed fun. Edge is a tween-exclusive space for those 11-14, while Vibe is a hip hot spot for teens 14-17. The extensive choices offered by these children’s and teen programs are mind-boggling.
Not surprisingly, Disney’s accommodations were also designed with families in mind. On Disney Fantasy, for example, the “Concierge Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah” sleeps five and has separate living and main sleeping areas separated by a privacy curtain. Families sleep on a queen bed, double convertible sofa and upper berth pull-down bed. Presto! When the upper berth is pulled down, a ceiling mural of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Wendy and her brothers soaring through a celestial sky is revealed.
Families appreciate Disney’s flexible split-bath concept, with a full bath (vanity, sink, tub/shower) and half bath (vanity, sink and toilet). It allows multi-tasking when families need to wash up and get dressed for an evening out.
Want even more pampering and space? Suite and concierge category guests have concierge services and can utilize the exclusive Concierge Lounge. Opt for the Disney Fantasy’s luxurious “Concierge Royal Suite with Verandah,” which sleeps up to five. Reflecting Art Deco décor, the suite has floor-to-ceiling windows in the main living space. It has one opulent bedroom, two bathrooms (including a master with a rainshower and whirlpool tub), a dining salon, expansive media library, pantry, wet bar and a private verandah with its own whirlpool. The master bedroom has a queen-size bed, and there is also one wall pull-down double bed and one wall pull-down single bed in the living room.
Disney’s approach to main dining rooms effectively entertains families, who are rotated on different nights through the three different restaurants. What’s nifty is that table mates and waiters follow along. Don’t miss Animation Magic night in the Animator’s Palate restaurant; this technological wizardry is on Disney Fantasy and was just added in drydock to Disney Magic. Kids and adults doodle on paper placemats while they’re waiting for their food. The “art” is collected by the waiters and soon the laughter begins as each family member’s stick figure dances with Donald Duck or another Disney character on a big video screen in the restaurant.
Definitely take the kids to the pirate-themed night on the top deck and the Disney shows. For an adults-only night out, ask the concierge to reserve a table at either Palo or Remy. At Disney Fantasy’s Palo, order the potato gnocchi served with Gorgonzola sauce and asparagus, or perfectly cooked sea bass wrapped in parchment paper with vegetables and Salmoriglio sauce.
The Grand Suite on Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Europa 2 is built for those who like to vacation “in” their staterooms rather than spend much time in public areas.
Another Big-Ship Option?
This fall, MSC Cruises is unveiling its exclusive “MSC Yacht Club” ship-within-a-ship, upscale enclave on MSC Divina. Look for an online review soon. Sailing year-round from Miami, this ship has new features designed to better appeal to a North American clientele. For more information, visit www.luxuryta.com.