A cruise vacation provides the oft-touted benefit of easily visiting multiple places in a short time frame while only unpacking once. Those benefits multiply when applied to exploring a whole continent such as Europe through international cruises. Your family can easily see most of the best known attractions throughout Europe on a 7 to 14 day cruise without the stress of backpacking, train schedules or navigating internal flights.
Although several domestic cruise lines with well established quality kids’ programs routinely sail international routes, you could add an adventurous twist to your next family cruise by booking international cruises with an international cruise line. And, several international cruise lines offer robust kids’ programs that can compete with domestic lines.
Sailing on an international cruise line instead of the more typical domestic lines can provide additional benefits of language and cultural immersion not readily found on your standard Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise. By taking a look at some of the international cruises offered by international cruise lines, it is possible to create a “mini” immersion/enrichment experience that suits your budget and style. (For tips on how to enhance the cultural and educational experiences on your cruise, check out this article from U.S. News & World Report.)
Exploring international cruises can also be a way to enhance a more extended land-based vacation with a cruise. So, for instance, you could cruise with a German-based cruise line as part of a German/Switzerland grand tour. Or, if you want to immerse your family in the cultures of the Iberian peninsula, you could incorporate a trip on a Spanish based cruise. This same theory applies to international cruises focused on Asia, Australia and the South Pacific.
So, as you are planning your next family adventure, expand your options with international cruises. Check out the ten cruise lines discussed below that all offer robust youth programming.
These British Lines Likely Offer International Cruises Within Your Comfort Zone.
If you are open to exploring international cruises with non-domestic cruise lines, British cruise lines provide an easy place to start. They provide enhanced cultural and educational enrichment opportunities without any language hurdles.
Cunard Cruise Line
Cunard represents the ultimate British cruise line. All three current vessels are named after queens — Queen Mary 2 (which sails the transatlantic crossings), Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. Cunard boasts a very long history that originates in mid 1800s. Interesting fact: Cunard is the only cruise line that allows pets.
The Cunard youth program provides supervised activities for children ages 2 to 17. The age group categories include The Play Zone for ages 2 to 7 (includes an outdoor play area, arts and craft station, carpeted indoor play area with blocks and toys, and tables for puzzles and games); The Kids’ Zone for ages 8 to 12 (gaming consoles, sports competitions, arts and crafts, karaoke); and the Teen Zone for ages 13 to 17 (table tennis tournaments, sport deck, dancing/discos).
Cunard’s youth program includes complementary group supervision in the evening. Cunard also has a Night Nursery available for children ages 6 months to 23 months from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at no charge, on a first-come, first–served basis.
P&O Cruises offers 5 family friendly ships and 3 adults-only ships. All of the family-friendly ships offer youth programming: Aurora, Azura, Britannia, Oceana, and Ventura.
The youth program (The Reef) provides supervised activities for children ages 2 to 17 structured across four different age groups. The Reef is open from 9:00 a.m. through 11:00 p.m. on sea days (with breaks for meals). Hours during port days will vary depending on the time of year and ship.
Splashers, for ages 2-4, enjoy a ball pool, puppet shows, creative play and outdoor play. Surfers, for ages 5 to 8, enjoy sports challenges, board games, active games like mini-Olympics, and outdoor play.
Activities for Scubas, ages 9 to 12, include gaming consoles, game shows, sports sessions, arts and crafts, evening discos and karaoke. The h2o activities for teens (13-17) include a mix of music, interactive games and discos, table tennis and football. During school holidays, activities will also include sports coaching and talent shows.
P&O Cruises offers a free Night Nursery for children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years from 6:00 p.m. through 2:00 a.m. Spaces are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. The nursery provides parents with a pager.
Thomson Cruises provides budget-friendly options to the British market. It tends to attract a younger crowd, with more families traveling during holiday periods.
The kids’ club groups children into ages 3 to 8 and ages 9 to 11. If larger numbers of kids are onboard a particular sailing, they will be divided into three groups – Tots (3 to 5), Team (6-8), and Tribe (9-11). Activities include arts and crafts, face painting, stories, themed parties, discos, and pajama parties. On some days, a kids breakfast is offered so that parents can sleep in.
Some Thomson ships offer a stage school for kids ages 9 to 16. For an additional fee, the school offers lessons in acting, singing, and dancing. The kids’ work culminates in a live show. Newer ships have a teen-only hangout space, as well as mini-golf and climbing walls.
Immerse Your Family in a Spanish or German Experience On These International Cruises.
AIDA Cruise Line
This cruise lines primarily serves the German market. The main language spoken aboard its ships is German. The passengers are largely German speakers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Aside from potential language issues, Aida offers a full range of youth programming starting at age 3. It has both kids and teens programs. Activities include games, crafts, workshops, special entertainment options, pirate parties and onboard safaris. You can also find water slides and rock climbing on its largest ship – AIDAprima.
Hapag Lloyd Cruises
This luxury cruise line primarily targets German markets, but its most recent ship (Europa 2) targets English speakers as well. The Europa 2 is a 516 passenger all suites ship with dedicated facilities for children. Knopf Club serves ages 2-3 (ball pit, sensory wall). Kids’ Club serves ages 4 to 10 (creative studio workshop, science lab, library, climbing wall, theatre, gaming consoles). Teens’ Club serves ages 11 to 15 (lounge, music, computers, disco, table football, DVD player, karaoke, gaming consoles).
Some particularly notable features: The ship offers a “late riser service for parents” on sea days where kids are picked up from their suite and whisked away so that parents can sleep in. Kids up to 11 cruise free if staying in cabin with at least one full fare adult. Kids 12 to 15 have a substantial discount.
Pullmantour primarily markets to Spanish speakers. Most passengers speak Spanish, but some information is made available in English. Pullmantour offers youth programming for children ages 3 to 6 and children ages 7 to 11. Daily activities include items such as workshops, face painting, and stories. Pullmantour also offers a teen club for ages 12 to 17. Teens can enjoy a teen disco, CSI games, and themed parties.
Soak Up True Mediterranean Ambience On These International Cruises.
You may likely remember the name Costa Cruises due to the disastrous Costa Concordia shipwreck in January 2012 (which ultimately led to a criminal trial and conviction of the captain). This sad event marred an otherwise long history of well regarded European sailing. This Italian cruise line has been subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation since 2000.
Costa Cruises offers a European experience with competitive pricing. European passengers dominate European itineraries with less than 10-20% of passengers originating in North America. This line attracts a large number of families.
Costa Cruises provides youth programming that covers four age groups: Mini for ages 3 to 6; Maxi for ages 7 to 11; Teen Junior for ages 12 to 14; and Teen for ages 15 to 17. Clubs are open from 9:00 am to midnight. On port days, parents may leave children on board with youth club personnel by providing 24-hour advanced notice.
For the Mini group, this cruise line offers a special Peppa Pig themed activities including a Peppa Pig dance party, a Peppa Pig luncheon, and souvenir photos. Costa Cruise also offers two additional fee-based programs that involve dress-up and role-playing: Princess for a Day and Captain in Training.
Costa Cruise offers evening collective babysitting at its youth club between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. This service requires advanced reservations.
MSC Cruises has historically been a Mediterranean based cruise line offering European sailings dominated by Europeans. But, it operates ships worldwide, and in recent years has been aggressively pursuing the North American cruise market with Caribbean sailings. At present, MSC has one ship based full time out of Miami (MSC Divina). The line will debut a second one in November 2017 (MSC Seaside).
MSC Cruises offers youth program activities for four age groups. The Mini Club serves ages 3 to 6. The Juniors Club serves ages 7 to 11. The Young Club serves ages 12 to 14. The Teens Club serves ages 15 to 17. The Mini Club and Juniors Club are generally open 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on port days. On sea days, the programs operate during that same time period, but close around meal periods. Activities in both the Mini and Juniors clubs include arts and crafts, group games, sports, gaming consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, and Wii), and dancing. MSC also offers Kids Around The Clock – supervised late-night play and napping for a small charge.
The Young Club and Teens Club have alternating hours during the day. Supervised daily activities in both clubs include sports competitions and tournaments, dance contests, social network games, and Wii/Xbox/PS3 games and challenges. Evening activities include a variety of music and dance based activities. The Teens Club also has weekly events such as a White Party, MSC Flashmob, a talent show, a special dinner, and a Prom Teens formal night.
Children under age 3 may enjoy the Mini Club facilities when accompanied by their parents during designated MSC Baby Time (which may vary based on ship or itinerary). During Baby Time, MSC provides Chicco educational and bilingual toys for family play.
MSC recently started offering a very limited drop-off service for infants– MSC Babycare Service. On sea days, children between the ages of 1 and 3 can be dropped off during two one-hour periods: 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. Parents must provide diaper changing and feeding.
Fly To The Other Side of The World For These International Cruises.
P&O Australia attracts a largely Australian clientele that includes many families. Minimum age to travel is 6 months within Australia and New Zealand, and 12 months for everywhere else.
This line features a full kids’ club for children ages 2 to 17 who are divided across four age groups. Turtle Cove hosts toilet-trained kids ages 2 to 6 (Duplo blocks, arts & crafts, talent shows); Shark Shack hosts kids who are ages 7 to 10 (building blocks, bungee trampoline, scavenger hunts, dance lessons); HQ hosts children who are 11 to 14 (video games, movies, lounge, filmmaking karaoke talent show); and HQ+ provides programming for the 15 to 17-year-old passengers (similar activities to HQ but in separate space).
Star Cruises, a sister cruise line to Norwegian Cruises, focuses on itineraries in the Asia Market. Of its fleet, the Superstar Virgo tends to attract more North American passengers.
Youth programming on Star Cruises consists of structured activities for children 1 to 12. There are various toys and games, a large indoor/outdoor play area, and a children’s water park. There is also a Junior Cruisers program that offers a menu of interactive learning activities and workshops such as etiquette training, dance, and fashion shows. Star Cruises also offers in-room babysitting for a fee.
Have you or your family given an international cruise line a try? Please share your experience in the comments.