Tips for Cruising With Teens

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

A family cruise vacation can be one of the best travel options for families with teens. Today's cruise holidays are filled with teen clubs, high-energy activities and exciting shore excursions. Cruise ships offer family vacations loaded with endless choices for exploration and entertainment, but families with teens should be prepared and make their ship selections wisely.

If you're cruising with teens, here are a few tips to make your vacation easier and a lot more fun:

1. Get your expectations in line. Understand that your teen won't want to be with you constantly and plan your vacation accordingly. Set times when you expect your teen to be with you, such as for meals and certain family activities. Make sure you and your teen have reviewed these before booking the cruise.

2. Choose cruise ships with lots of activities. Teens are miserable when they're bored, both on land and at sea. If your teen likes to be physically active, look for cruise ships that offers a wide variety of activities, such as ice-skating, bowling, rock climbing, trampoline jumping, surfing, miniature golf, and basketball courts. Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) have newer ships that easily fall into this category. In addition, choose a ship where a wide variety of teen programs and activities take place daily at regular times - not just every once in a while.

3. Pick a ship with dedicated teen spaces. Cruise lines understand that teens like to have their own places to hang out and they've designed their ships accordingly. Disney Cruise Line offers cool teen lounges called The Stack (Disney Magic) and Aloft (Disney Wonder) equipped with couches, a soda bar, plasma screen TVs and computer Internet stations. Holland America's ships have The Loft, a space designed like a New York artist's loft, and most have The Oasis - a teens-only sun deck complete with a waterfall. All Royal Caribbean ships have a dedicated teen area and 6 ships have 3 teens-only spaces: Fuel nightclub, Living Room for just hanging out, and the Back Deck outdoor sun area. Most Carnival Cruise Lines ships have dedicated teens-only facilities and several even have separate spaces for Circle "C" (12-14 years) and Club 02 (15-17 years) containing dance floors, lounge areas, and plasma screen televisions.

4. Check on teen program age categories. Cruise lines have different ways of grouping teens for their programs. On some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, teens ages 15 and older have their own separate activities. On other cruise lines, such as Holland America and Disney, older teens are lumped in with the 13- and 14-year-olds. These age classifications can create opportunities for some families who have siblings who want to be together - or problems for those with teens who view 13- to 14-year-olds as "babies." Choose the option that works best for your family.

5. Look for late night activities and snack options. Most teens tend to be night owls, so choose a ship with teen clubs and activities that stay open late. Norwegian Cruise Line's teen club generally closes at 2 a.m., Princess Cruises' teens club closes at 1 a.m., Carnival's programs end at midnight or 1 a.m. depending upon the itinerary, and Royal Caribbean's activities go "until the wee hours" for older teens and until 1 a.m. for 12- to 14-year-olds. Disney Cruise Line's teen room closes at midnight. In addition, check to see if your ship has 24-hour dining options to quell potential late-night hunger pains. Major cruise lines such as Carnival, NCL, Disney and Princess all have late-night pizzerias and 24-hour dining areas.

6. Pick an itinerary with fun shore excursions. Cruise lines offer a wide variety of destinations and itineraries from which to choose. Select one with plenty of port stops and lots of exciting onshore excursions, adventure tours, and water sports activities that will appeal to your family's interests. Discuss shore excursions options in advance and try to avoid selecting too many that depart early in the morning.

7. Set the rules in advance. Cruises can be one of the best vacation options for families with teens. To avoid having your cruise turn into a vacation nightmare, however, establish the rules in advance and be prepared to enforce them. Let your teen know when you expect them to be at meals, discuss activities in which you expect them to participate, set a firm evening curfew, and ask them to let you know where they are while onboard. Many parents use an in-cabin dry erase board or texting to communicate with their teens on the ship. Discuss alcohol, sex and drugs. Review any cruise line rules or codes of conduct with your teens and check to make sure they're being observed.

8. Consider separate cabins. While some families choose to remain in the same cabin, others purchase two staterooms or connecting cabins to give teens some separation and more room to spread out. These arrangements allow parents to have an easier time dealing with late-rising teens and enjoy some private time for themselves. If you do this, however, have a frank discussion about who is allowed to come into the cabin, curfew times and any other rules - as well as what will happen if they're broken.

9. Urge participation. Make your teen go to the teens' program activities on the first night of the cruise and again the next day - even if he/she resists. Teen friendships and cliques form within the first 24 hours of the cruise. Some families allow teens to bring along a friend to hang out with on the cruise. If you planning to allow your teen to bring along a friend, however, review your cruise rules with the teen and his/her parents in advance and discuss how a variety of situations might be resolved. Also be sure to bring along a notarized form giving permission for the teen to travel with you on your trip and authorizing medical treatment if necessary.

10. Buy the soda wristbands or cards. These entitle your teen to unlimited soft drinks - and will likely pay for itself with a day.

11. Establish a daily budget. Allow your teen to have a set amount each day to spend as they wish, such as on video games, specialty food items, or in the gift shops. Monitor your ship account on a regular basis to make sure there are no surprises. In addition, review any rules for cell phone and Internet usage before booking your cruise and once again when boarding the ship. Active usage can add up to hundreds of dollars in charges very quickly. If Internet usage is necessary and shipboard service is too expensive (usually in the range of $55 per 100 minutes), visit local Internet cafes in your ports of call.

12. Let them sleep in late. Nothing makes teens happier than sleeping in as long as they wish. Room service and 24-hour dining options make it easy for everyone. If you have a shore excursion that leaves early in the morning, remind them the night before and arrange to wake them up in the morning with plenty of time to spare.

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