What cruise lines offer for young children

With extensive, high-quality childcare on board large ships, there’s plenty of reasons for young families to book a cruise, writes Joanna Booth

Entertainment for all ages

Most mainstream lines offer clubs for tots up to teens, splitting children into separate groups by age so they can keep activities appropriate. For the youngest cruisers, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises have baby clubs starting from six months, and P&O Cruises has a nursery play area for under-twos, although tots here must be accompanied by a parent.

P&O Cruises’ main kids’ club starts from just two years old, a year younger than most lines. At the other end of the age spectrum, teens can enjoy video games, sports tournaments and activities including DJ training on Royal Caribbean ships and a drone academy on MSC.

Themed activities

Spaces and activities are frequently far more elaborate than those in hotel kids’ clubs, and many lines have tie-ins with other brands to add extra excitement.

Disney is the undisputed king in this arena, with the clubs on its newest ships featuring immersive areas from the worlds of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar that’ll make kids feel as if they’ve walked into their favourite film.

Bricks abound at MSC, down to its partnership with Lego, while Princess Cruises themes many activities around Discovery TV shows, including Animal Planet and MythBusters.

Cruise kids club

Babysitting on board

Cruise ship kids’ clubs not only give parents the opportunity for daytime relaxation on board, but many also allow evenings or even a day on shore without the kids in tow. Evening sessions can run right up to 10 or 11pm, often with group childcare and teen clubs extending until 1am; P&O Cruises’ night nursery takes babies as young as six months.

Princess also offers junior cruisers two special dinner evenings with their new friends, so parents can split off for a guilt-free romantic meal. Many cruise lines allow parents to leave children on board in the kids’ club on port days, though sometimes a day or two’s notice is required.

Amazing value

For the most part, kids’ clubs are free, adding palpably to a cruise holiday’s value-for-money aspect. The exceptions tend to be the baby clubs and late evening sessions, which usually come with a per-hour charge – although this is invariably lower than parents might expect to pay for private babysitting in a hotel.

Additional needs

Royal Caribbean’s cruises are autism-friendly; it makes exceptions to its toilet-trained policy in its Adventure Ocean clubs and offers pagers and phones to parents of autistic children so they can have immediate contact.

Disney’s Open House hours are a boon both for children with extra needs and for those who are shy, inviting parents to enjoy the club facilities together with their kids.

PICTURES: : Disney Cruise Line/Mariah Wild; Royal Caribbean/Michel Verdure

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