A decade ago, activities for children on cruise ships were limited. Concessions to kids typically involved strapping a waterslide to the pool deck. Today, however, the major family friendly lines are vying to outdo one other with the greatest WOW! factors, thus establishing their ships as the best for family friendly cruises.
Waterslides still reign supreme — but today they are mega-slides that drop, twist, turn and race kids — and willing parents — along the length of the ship in ways that land-based resorts can’t compete against.
Family cruises have never been easier for parents or more exciting for kids. Many ships also feature Adults-Only Escapes. Following are four of the most innovative features on six ships for family friendly cruises.
1. Disney Cruise Line: Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy
The WOW! Factor on Disney Cruise Line’s newest ships is the AquaDuck, a 765-foot-long “water coaster,” which whisks you along an enclosed transparent waterslide-style tube high above the decks of Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. The first of its kind at sea, the AquaDuck drops you through the Forward Funnel, torpedoing down four decks before you splash into a lazy river at the end of the plunge. Just make sure your kids meet the height requirement of 42 inches.
Other innovative family friendly features: inside staterooms featuring digital “portholes,” which are LCD screens that show position-relative views taken from cameras mounted to the exterior of the ship.
Another innovation: Animator’s Palate, which debuted on the original Disney ships, took a giant leap forward on the newest Disney vessels. You’ll see the dining room come to life during mealtimes, with screens that emulate the effect of being in an aquarium with Crush and other characters from Disney’s Finding Nemo.
2. Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Breakaway
The WOW! Factor on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship is the multi-story Aqua Park, featuring five full-size water slides, including twin Free Fall slides. The latter are billed as the fastest slides at sea, where you stand up in a chute and abruptly drop through a loop.
Breakaway also features a sports complex that spans three decks, one of the largest at sea. The complex includes a rock climbing wall, a ropes course, mini-golf, a spider-web cage, bungee trampoline and notably, The Plank. If you’re daring, you can walk The Plank, which extends 8 feet over the side of the ship and way above the water. You will need to wear a harness for this activity.
3. Royal Caribbean International: Oasis and Allure of the Seas
On Royal Caribbean’s gargantuan twin sisters. Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the WOW! Factor is the nightly aquatic performances at the outdoor AquaTheatre, where you’ll watch daring acrobatics and dives as well as jets of water that can shoot as high as 65 feet.
Royal Caribbean’s largest vessels also feature time-tested favorites, like the company’s signature rock climbing walls — which it introduced to the rest of the industry — and the FlowRider, a surfing simulator at sea.
New on the twins is zip-lining. Thanks to design that left the central part of the vessels open, it’s possible to zip from one side of the ship to the other high above the Boardwalk, one of seven “neighborhoods” aboard the vessels.
My own children, especially my teenage son, enjoyed all of these activities on Allure of the Seas.
4. Royal Caribbean International: Quantum of the Seas
On Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, which begins sailing in 2014, you and your kids will be able to drive bumper cars and step aboard a full-blown, London Eye-like, jewel-shaped glass capsule that will transport you up to 300 feet above the ocean.
Along with all of these innovative thrills for kids, ships are also improving the family friendly staterooms. Families today have a broader selection of stateroom configurations than ever before, with more interconnecting staterooms than in the past and more family friendly suites.
Also, childrens’ programming has made great strides with age-appropriate activities and facilities from ages 2 years old and up available on nearly all ships these days. The programming allows for a good mix of time apart and time together. It’s hard to think of an easier vacation for families or a more enjoyable one for the kids than on today’s modern kid-friendly ships with WOW! factors that make for memorable time together at sea.