The Royal Treatment:
Family Cruising on Princess (Part 2)
(Caribbean Princess, which will sail from San Juan during winter 2010-11, offers a robust children's program that allows parents to relax and enjoy their cruise.*)
... For the Kids, But Not All About the Kids
By Lizz Dinnigan, Senior Contributing Editor-Family Travel & Cruises
Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series about the author's first-hand experiences with the children's programming on Princess Cruises. For the best understanding of the program features, we recommend you read Part 1 first.
Shockwaves is for kids 7 to 12. If enough children are sailing, they are split into two groups -- Shockwaves Junior for those 7 to 9 and Shockwaves for kids 10 to 12.
The Shockwaves Junior facilities include a soft padded theater with large-screen TV, foozball, six Playstation 2 consoles, five tables with chairs for activities, Lego table and padded jungle gym.
For the older kids, the Shockwaves venue has a secret reading nook, dance area, large-screen TV, karaoke station, Playstation 2 and Wii consoles, foozball, juke box and table work areas.
Shockwaves activities include scavenger hunts, human bingo, talent shows, spelling bee, kids’ dinners and scrapbooking.
Children also make friendship bracelets, paper flowers, suncatchers, and shark-tooth necklaces; go on backstage and galley tours; and have Guitar Hero faceoffs.
An enclosed outdoor area for both Shockwaves and Shockwaves Junior participants has ping pong, basketball and dodgeball.
In the evening, kids in the program enjoy Casino Night, Hula and Island Dance Party, and Survivor Night.
Occasionally, Playstation 2 tournaments are held on the Movies Under the Stars screen.
Through a partnership with the California Science Center, kids enjoy such activities as "Make Your Own Rollercoaster" for Shockwaves and "Wizard Academy" featuring science magic projects for Pelicans.
(Jack Dinnigan is intrigued by a science project he received in Wizard Academy, presented by Princess Cruises and the California Science Center.*)
Just for Teens
(If teens are seeking a cool, fun place to dance or just hang out with other teens, Remix is the place on Caribbean Princess.*)
If I were a teen, I wouldn’t leave Remix. This club has everything.
Teens will love that Remix has plenty of cool techie toys -- such as Playstation 2 and 3, Wii, giant plasma TVs, a digital jukebox, foozball, air hockey, and karaoke machines.
(A small arcade is accessible only from Remix.*)
Day and night, teens are entertained with sports competitions, hip hop classes and hot tub parties on a teen-only private deck.
Teens might hone or learn DJ skills in a DJ booth workshop.
Other options include Texas hold-em tournaments, late-night movies and basketball shoot-outs.
A Teen Makeover program teaches the kids special make-up and skincare techniques.
(Remix has a casual and cool feel, giving teens a relaxing place to just hang out.*)
On formal night, teens may dine together in the main dining room.
Photos are taken as a remembrance, and the teens head out as a group to the theater to take in a show.
Too Old for the Program, But Still Young
As with all cruise ships, “there’s a gap for kids 18 to 20, who are too old for the [teen] program but too young to drink and gamble,” says Styne.
“The staff tries to get them to meet," says Styne. "They can’t drink, but they’re allowed in the disco."
This age group is a challenge for most lines. "It’s a different age — they’re [either] too cool or not too cool," Styne stresses.
Activities Outside Kid Zone
Seeking family fun outside of the children's program activities? First, peruse the main Princess Patter activities schedule.
Second, improvise and be creative.
Not all activities that families might enjoy are labeled "for kids."
(One option for families is to take kids to the Ballroom Blitz classes for cha cha and line dancing.*)
(Children are entertained by watching expert ice carvers poolside.*)
Both Jack and Casey were fascinated by poolside ice carving, as well as simultaneous vegetable/fruit carving, towel folding, and flower arranging demonstrations.
Families might also go together on galley or backstage theatrical tours.
Through Princess' "Scholarship at Sea" program, older kids might create a ceramic piece (yes, there’s a kiln onboard), try napkin folding or make a picture frame.
(Kids check out vegetable/fruit carvings.*)
Some supplemental activities are complimentary, others carry a nominal fee. But I've learned that while at sea, some of the best things in life are free.
Ping pong is always a fun family experience. Keeping the ball in play while the ship is moving can prove a fun challenge.
(Joe, Jack and Casey Dinnigan enjoy a game of ping pong while enjoying a sunny day in the Caribbean.*)
Hot tubs are scattered about the ship. Teens, pre-teens or even younger kids might enjoy playing basketball.
Families also frequent two main pools. The Calypso Pool has the movie screen and the Neptune Pool features live music. The ship also has two adults-only pools.
But my boys’ favorite thing to do on the Caribbean Princess -- when not in the Fun Zone -- was splashing around in the children’s pool area.
Here parents will discover a hot tub and 4.5-foot-deep oval plunge pool.
(Lizz' husband Joe helps 3-year-old Casey into that plunge pool, as older son Jack enjoys a swim.*)
My kids and other children particularly enjoyed a circular, one-foot-deep baby pool with a small slide.
Mother's Tip? Pack water toys!
I brought along several such toys, which my boys enjoyed sharing with other kids in the baby pool.
This provided hours of easy entertainment.
(Young kids enjoy sliding & water play.*)
Princess understands that you don’t necessarily need more restaurant choices, just more flexibility.
Caribbean Princess offers two types of fine dining in three identical dining rooms. The same menu is served in each.
Traditional fixed seating is available in the Palm Dining Room nightly at 6:30 and 8:30.
You’re assigned a set dining time and you dine nightly at the same table with the same passengers. This is the only one of the three main dining rooms where tables for two are available.
My preference for those with kids? I highly recommend the versatile, restaurant-style "Anytime Dining," available in the Island and Coral Dining Rooms.
The Island Dining Room (open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.) is on Deck 5.
The Coral Dining Room (open from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.) is on Deck 6.
You simply show up to the dining room whenever you want and eat with whomever you want.
(The maitre d' sometimes entertains children with magic during Anytime Dining.)
Just keep in mind that there are limited tables available for groups of 10 in Anytime Dining. So if you have a large group, you might want to make an advance reservation.
Using Anytime Dining, we had our own table for eight on several occasions -- sharing a table with our friends, the Buckwalds and their two kids.
(The Dinnigans and Buckwalds enjoy the flexibility of Anytime Dining.*)
At peak dining hours, usually between 6:30 p.m. to 7:30, you might have to wait a half hour for a table. But the process is a breeze.
Passengers are issued a beeper so they may enjoy a drink and relax comfortably at the bar (kids are welcome) while they wait to be called to their table.
What does the line offer to entice kids to chow down?
The main dining room's Kids’ Menu includes alphabet soup, salad, spaghetti and meatballs, hotdogs, burgers, chicken fingers, fish sticks, fruit salad and other kid-friendly fare.
(Casey Dinnigan cuts his French fries during Anytime Dining onboard Caribbean Princess.*)
There is no added charge for orange juice, apple juice, milk or chocolate milk for the kids.
One other nice perk is that the cruise line gives children an activity book to help entertain them while the whole family waits for the food to arrive.
(At right, Jenn Buckwald -- whose family dined with the Dinnigans onboard -- shows the activity book given to the kids.*)
Other dining options onboard Caribbean Princess include the casual buffets, Horizon Court/Café Caribe, The Prego Pizzeria and Trident Grill.
(Cafe Caribe's evening set-up features colorful table linens.*)
The room service menu has such kid-friendly options as hot dogs, burgers, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Freshly made pizza is delivered for a $3 delivery charge.
Sleeping for Four
Caribbean Princess has 1,555 cabins (1,112 outside and 443 inside), including 180 370-square-foot mini-suites with private balconies.
Our mini-suite was D701 on Dolphin Deck 9. It was the perfect locale -- just steps from an elevator bank and directly below the buffet (easy access for a quick breakfast) and Fun Zone.
This stateroom category is extra roomy. Our mini-suite could have easily accommodated five people.
The queen bed area is separate from a balcony-side sitting area, which features a sofa bed.
Both areas have their own flat-screen TVs. Our cabin steward also provided a striped curtain divider so our boys wouldn’t be disturbed by the light and sound from our TV while they slept.
(Jack Dinnigan holds the curtain divider.*)
Above the sofabed in these cabins is a pull-down upper berth; it's equipped with a small guardrail.
(Even when the sofa is extended, there’s room for the ladder to the upper bunk to remain intact.*)
Our balcony was spacious, with a table and four chairs. However, it’s not private.
Due to the staggered layout of the ship, it's quite easy to look up into all the balconies above. Those above also could peer down onto our balcony.
(The balcony configuration on Caribbean Princess is an open, spacious and staggered design.*)
That said, the balconies have one tropical benefit. Sun worshippers may soak up some rays just outside their cabin without having to go up on deck.
Storage in the mini-suites is quite ample -- from drawers to shelves to large closets.
These accommodations also have a mini-refrigerator, so it's easy for mom or dad to keep milk, medicine or formula cold.
Other amenities and features in this category cabin include a hairdryer, a full-length mirror, personal safe, bathtub, and vanity mirror. Outlets accommodate 110 volt appliances.
The room is also well-lit, with lamps and overhead lighting. Robes and slippers are provided, as are four pool towels that can be taken ashore.
In-cabin kids’ TV programming includes Boomerang and the Cartoon Network, plus a family movie channel showing such flicks as Aliens in the Attic and Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Getting cookies delivered to the cabin in the afternoons was a special surprise for my boys. Fruit is replenished daily upon request.
Each deck with staterooms has a self-service laundromat. You'll also find a sundries/toiletries shop in the boutiques.
From my perspective, this was one of the best cruises we've taken as a family.
My kids were old enough to participate in the children's program, a big plus for the adults.
(The Dinnigans and Buckwalds enjoy a bit of kid-free time onboard*)
Plus, the Princess children's program offers added perks -- such as complimentary evening group babysitting -- not found in all other lines' programs.
“An integral part of the parents’ vacation is if the kids are settled and enjoy the program, it allows parents to enjoy the other facilities,” says Styne.
“They have downtime just from knowing the kids are taken care of," he stresses.
You can't beat any cruise for vacation value.
But the child care elements of Caribbean Princess' product -- ensuring a fantastic cruise for family members of all ages -- were a cut above.
Lizz Dinnigan is a freelance writer and senior contributing editor-family cruising for SouthernCruising.com™. She is the former associate editor - cruise for Travel Agent Magazine, a major national weekly trade publication.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of either Lizz Dinnigan or Princess Cruises. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.