Four new trends in cruise kids’ clubs

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Multigenerational travel and family-friendly cruising have become a huge part of the market, and onboard kids’ clubs have had to increase their entertainment and supervision offer accordingly. However it’s no longer enough to have the kids taken away all day so parents can relax – more mindful parenting trends mean that it’s important that those kids genuinely enjoy their cruise as much as mum and dad. We’ve looked at the new breed of kids’ clubs to see what they’re doing differently to really engage their smaller passengers.

1. Baby love

Kids’ clubs traditionally started at toddler age, with some requiring toilet training as a minimum standard for entry. More cruise lines are now noticing that new parents with children aged two and under need more than just babysitting and bottle-warming services. They’d like to have fun too!

Look out for: playgroups and programs that offer activities for parents to have fun with their little ones. NCL’s Guppies group (6 months to 2 years) at their Splash Academy run a separate soft playroom for babies accompanied by their parents to enjoy age-appropriate activities, like the Wee Can Too program involving artistic fun with edible, food-based paints. Royal Caribbean’s Royal Tots and Royal Babies programs hold interactive play sessions in their ships’ lounges, while both P&O and Carnival have dropped their minimum age to two years of age, and don’t require toilet training – parents must leave nappies and wipes, and carry a pager from the staff. Cunard also has a minimum of two years of age in their Play Zone – parents must be onboard on port days. Nurseries are available on several lines, such as Disney, Cunard, P&O and Royal Caribbean.

2. Be-tween the lines

The best way for teenagers and ‘tweenagers’ to relax and really enjoy themselves is to be among their own. There is an increasing trend to separate under-18s into more specialised age groups than the standard 13 to 17 year old ‘teen’ group, to maximise enjoyment and social ease.

Look out for: programs that separate the tweens from the teens. P&O offers HQ for ages 11 to 14, and HQ+ for 15 to 17 year olds. Royal Caribbean’s 15 to 17 age group enjoys sports events and themed costume parties, while the 12 to 14s get into karaoke and rock-wall climbing. Tweens on Costa ships can learn everything from juggling to hip-hop dancing, while the 15 to 17s explore filmmaking or enter the Miss or Mr Teen competition. MSC, Disney and Carnival now have separate clubs for 12 to 14s and 15 to 17s too. On Disney’s Dream and Fantasy, tweens have a great space in the faux second funnel of the ship.

3. Nightlife

Kids’ entertainment doesn’t finish at the end of the day, with themed parties, interactive shows and after-dinner activities keeping their social calendar full.

Look out for: creative ways to keep the kids amused in safe and supervised ways. NCL holds pirate-themed nights and include a video jukebox and dance floor in their mega kids’ clubs on Breakaway and Getaway; P&O invite teens to get their music on with Teen Jam, even performing for audiences. Carnival’s Night Owls program costs a little extra but allows kids to play games and enjoy pizza parties or facepainting, while Cunard opens up its G32 nightclub exclusively for teenagers on some nights. My Family Time Dining on Royal Caribbean serves kids (aged 3 to 11) their food within 40 minutes of seating, so they can be collected for evening fun at the Adventure Ocean club, leaving parents to relax.

4. Come and go

The magic of having teenagers on a ship is they are old enough to look after themselves, yet there are only limited places they can go (this is a good thing, if you’re a parent!). On many cruise lines, kids of any age are issued wristbands at the beginning of their cruise which get them entry into activities and the kids’ club, but now some lines have relaxed their grip a little and allow teens to come and go as they please – as long as parents have signed a waiver.

Look out for: smart choices for teenagers to help them genuinely enjoy their holiday. MSC has a prepaid Teens Card for kids to spend anywhere on board, with credit bonuses when passengers charge it up. NCL’s Entourage space is open until 1am every day and allows freedom of movement for teenagers (with a signed waiver). Carnival, Pandaw and Disney include teen-only shore excursions so families can enjoy their own pursuits even in port.