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Finding the proper ship - whether a floating resort or a yacht-size schooner - can turn your cruise into the vacation of your dreams. For a cruise to rate as one of your best trips ever, it’s imperative to match yourself to the right ship. First, size matters. Do you want a vessel small enough to call at off-the-beaten-wake ports, or large enough that there's a two-page daily activity list? Second, there’s the itinerary to consider. Do you prefer a vessel that stays in ports until late at night so you can sightsee past sunset, or do you know that by 5 p.m. you’ll be zonked and ready to hit the hot tub? Third, you need to consider the ship’s features. What matters to you most: a state-of-the-art spa, a lively casino, inventive tasting menus, cabaret shows, teen-specific programs….or all of the above?
So that you, too, can find a cruise that is the answer to your vacation prayers, decide what you want from your next sailing and check out the following categories of cruise vacations.
It’s no easy feat appealing to grandparents and parents, uncles and aunts, and kids of all ages while miles from land. These ships succeed:
Carnival Cruise Line
Itineraries: Europe and Caribbean
Great kids’ programs, an enormous spa, four pools, 22 different bars and lounges - there’s plenty to appeal to all ages aboard the just-debuted Splendor. And since a weeklong Caribbean cruise starts at $649, no one will quibble with your choice; this is one of the best values at sea. Camp Carnival caters to ages 2 through 11, Circle C to 12 - 14, and Club O2 to 15 - 17. Mom and her sisters might enjoy a spa treatment while Grandma walks the promenade. Everyone can go their separate ways during the day and meet back at the main dining room for dinner. 3,006 passengers.
Liberty of the Seas
Can’t agree on what type of cabins to book? This ship has tons of connecting rooms, in many cases from different price categories - so your teens can stay in an inside cabin while you unwind on your private balcony. Tweens flock to the water part and mini golf course, while the younger set enjoy the Adventure Ocean program’s science classes and scavenger hunts. Though kids are welcome at all restaurants, Chops Grill and Portofino’s see few of them. The main dining room is, however, another matter; here everyone congregates for meals en famille. 3,634 passengers.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Europe, North America
If your family is uniting to celebrate a wedding, the Crown Princess’s captain can perform the ceremony in the ship’s chapel. While the happy couple honeymoons, kids can color T-shirts, teenagers rehearse for the talent show, and parents take advantage of the golf simulators, wine tastings, and ScholarShip at Sea program. This isn’t the right choice for the smallest tykes, since the only connecting cabins open through the balconies. There’s more flexibility in the dining, with both fixed seatings and anytime restaurants. 3,070 passengers.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Mediterranean,
If the teens rule your group, they’ll love the Noordam’s Loft and Oasis deck areas, exclusively for their use. The former, resembling an artist’s New York loft, has TV, Internet, video games and karaoke. The latter is a sundeck with a waterfall, a snack machine, and dancing. Grandparents will appreciate that this ship is somewhat smaller than the others, so they won’t have to walk the length of several football fields just to get to dinner. The “sandwich generation” can spend their days in the demonstration kitchen, library, spa, salon, or the Crow’s Nest at the prow, a lounge by day and club by night. There are two pools, one adults-only. 1,918 passengers.
Traveling with youngsters is a challenge. These ships take the guesswork out of how to keep them busy all day and all night.
Disney Cruise Line
Smart parents base their choice of ship on their children’s ages, and Disney excels with infants and toddlers. On most ships your child must be three and potty-trained to be left in the child-care facility. While most ships do not allow swim diapers in any pools, The Wonder’s wading pool is an exception, and there’s a splash zone with interactive fountains, so even if you toddler can’t swim he can still burn up a whole lot of energy. The Wonder’s staterooms make life easier for families too: With one and a half bathrooms, neither tots nor parents ever have to wait. Other shipboard features include a waterslide that leads into a pool shaped like Mickey’s head, live musicals based on cartoons and a pirate party complete with fireworks display.
Parents will appreciate the adults-only pool, hot tub, spa, fitness center and restaurant, as well as the kid-free beach on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. The Wonder offers three or four nights cruises which can be combined with Disney World for a nice seven day family vacation. 1,918 passengers.
Freedom of the Seas
There’s no doubt that Royal Caribbean is a great cruise line for kids of all ages from three up, but where this ship really stands out from the competition is in its activities for teens. Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to install an on-board climbing wall, a FlowRider surf park, and an ice rink. And teens have been fascinated ever since. More than the hardware, though, the ship has carefully engineered its program so that it appears unstructured enough to appeal to most kids between the ages of 13 and 17. Boring out-of-touch adults –a.k.a. parents—are banned from the section of the ship dedicated to the teen facilities, where the kids can come and go throughout the day on their own schedule rather than be corralled into preprogrammed activities. To appeal to a fuller spectrum of tastes, the ship divides teens into two age groups: 12 through 14, and 15 through 17. Both have access to video games and musical instruments for jam sessions, but other components are separated. 3,634 passengers.
Other ships in the Freedom class - Radiance, Sovereign, Vision and Voyager - have similar programs.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Mediterranean,
This latest addition to Princess’s fleet debuts in November 2008. While the Ruby’s kids’ program mirrors those of the Crown Princess and the Emerald Princess and its facilities are generally similar, there is nothing like the thrill of setting sail on a spanking new ship. Onboard, the children’s programs are split among three age-groups: scavenger hunts and ice-cream parties for the Princess Pelicans (ages 3 -7); pajama parties, kids-only dinners, and Nintendo Wii video games for the Shockwaves (ages 8 - 12); and hip-hop dance lessons and air hockey shows for the Remix crowd (13 - 17). Families reunite in the evening to munch popcorn and watch a movie on the 300-square-foot LED screen by the pool. 3,070 passengers.
With onboard lectures and stops at historic ports, some cruises do double duty: They are a means of transport and portal of academia.
Majestic America Line
Itineraries: Mississippi River
Most folks board a Mississippi riverboat to gamble; those on the American Queen are there for a floating history lesson (they might even feel like they’ve stepped back into the nineteenth century, given all the antiques on display). Civil War buffs can visit battlefields and literary fans can wander through Mark Twain’s boyhood home. The river’s centuries of human settlement are traced in shore excursions that take in everything from prehistoric Native American sites to Amish farmland to John Deere’s Iowa mansions. 436 passengers.
Queen Mary 2
Perhaps the QM2’s enrichment programs earn such high praise because there aren’t any distractions when you’re 1,500 miles from land on one of the ship’s transatlantic sailings. Or perhaps it’s because Cunard recruits a rotating lineup of diverse and fascinating lecturers. Overachievers can also enroll in acting workshops given by London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, pick up some card tricks from the onboard bridge lecturer, or study the skies from inside the planetarium. 2,592 passengers.
Seven Seas Mariner
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Care to study photography, yoga, or French cuisine while at sea? The courses available during the Mariner’s Circles of Interest voyages are as diverse as the ship’s destinations, and dig deeper into the subject matter (food and wine, architecture and literature, health and wellness, environmental sustainability) than most onboard enrichment programs. Each topic is addressed in port as well as on board, so an oenologist’s cruise might visit a vineyard that isn’t normally open to the public. 700 passengers.
The Luxe Life
Need a ship filled with crème del la crème amenities and a crew who waits on you hand and foot?
Yachts of Seabourn
Itineraries: Caribbean, Central America, Mediterranean, Transatlantic
“Caviar in the surf” they call it: Uniformed stewards wade into the water balancing trays of caviar and champagne, the first course of the Legend’s silver-service beach barbeque. This all-suite ship’s staff will know your name by the first day and your favorite wine and deck chair by the second. The ultimate luxury: the luggage service, which shuttles your bags from house to ship and back again…208 passengers.
Itineraries: Africa, Asia,
Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, South Pacific
Like almost everything on board, this ship’s pillows are personalized to each passenger’s preferences: Choose one with soft goose down and feathers, a firmer blend, a hypo-allergenic filling, or a therapeutic foam cushion. Similarly, your in-room minibar can be stocked with your favorite wines , beers, spirits, and soft drinks - all complimentary. Every cabin on Silversea’s newest ship is a suite with some attended to by English Butlers. 382 passengers.