Spending Quality Time On The Ocean Blue

It's tough to satisfy both a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old. As a father of both, Ignacio Rodriguez of Miami knows that well. So he was a bit anxious when he and his family took a four-day cruise to the Bahamas last year on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' Nordic Prince. But to his relief, the kids were kept fully entertained with a full schedule of sports and activities during the day and dancing in the discotheque at night. "It was a very nice experience," said Rodriguez.

Unlike many family vacations in which parents sacrifice rest and relaxation to ensure that their children have fun, cruise lines are trying to put together vacation packages that will satisfy everyone. While Mom is taking an aerobics class and Dad is napping by the pool, the kids might be rollerblading in a group around the main deck or playing games in the video arcade. In the evening, after the family dines together, the parents can go off to the casino, the teenagers can hang out in the juice-bar disco, and the little ones can stay back in the night nursery with a baby-sitter.

JAZZY JUGGLERS. The emphasis on pleasing passengers of all ages has led to the creation of a cruise line dedicated to family vacations. Miami-based American Family Cruises (AFC) is set to start operations this Christmas with a series of seven-day voyages in the Caribbean. Founder Bruce Nieremberg, in a joint venture with Costa Crociere of Genoa, Italy, spent a year developing the company, during which time he did extensive interviews with parents and children. From their suggestions, he has added more sports such as basketball and baseball (including a batting cage), a television studio where kids produce an hourly news show that is transmitted across the ship, and a computerized windsurfing simulator so children can learn on board before putting their skills to test in the water. Nieremberg has also hired a band of mimes, jugglers, and magicians to perform throughout the ship. And a flexible meal schedule has been set up: Food is served continuously from 6:30 a.m. to past midnight. Selections range from pizza and burgers for children to a candlelight sit-down dinner for the adults.

AFC cabin prices range from $895 per parent for an inside regular room to $2,095 for a suite. For children 2 to 17 years old, the price is $395 during the peak season, but they travel free during parts of January, June, September, and December. AFC also allows single parents to pay the double-occupancy rate for regular cabins. AFC will have week-long cruises that leave from Miami and stop in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, and Key West starting in December. Cruises to the Western Caribbean (from Tampa) will begin in December, 1994, and to Alaska (from Vancouver, British Columbia) in May, 1995.

Many other cruise lines are making kids a big part of their business as well. Carnival Cruise Lines began supervised children's programs more than 10 years ago, and according to President Bob Dickinson, its ships carry more than half-a-million families annually. Carnival divides children into four age groups, supervised by trained counselors. Younger kids stage talent shows and put together a Fun Club newspaper. Older kids participate in lip-syncing sessions and limbo contests. Royal Caribbean has had some type of children's programming since the line was launched 25 years ago, and activities have been greatly expanded, says spokesman Lloyd Axelrod. Activities are planned for youngsters in three different age groups. Like other big ships, Royal Caribbean has arcades, playrooms, and discos. Premier Cruise Lines combines a four-day cruise with three days at one of the Orlando-area theme parks for $2,836 to $5,536 for a family of four. Nieremberg helped develop this idea before he started AFC.

BACK TO BASICS. But not all cruises are suitable for children. Some are directed at adults looking for privacy or a romantic vacation, a time when kids can often be in the way. Josephine Kling, president of Landry & Kling, Miami-based corporate cruise specialists, says families should avoid small, deluxe ships of 200 to 300 passengers, which are most often geared toward adults. Susan Lloyd-Davies, marketing director at Los Angeles CruiseMasters, a family cruise specialist (310 397-7175), advises sticking to trips of no longer than 10 or 11 days. Even if the line you want advertises children's programming, inquire about specific ships before you book. For example, on some trips to Alaska by Princess, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean, kids' activities are limited and at least 15 children are required before the companies put a counselor on board.

Cruises can provide a fun and safe family vacation, offering not only amusing things for everybody to do but also a chance to visit new locales. Even when family members split up to engage in different activities, they are never too far from one another. Best of all, your kids can't wander off very far on a ship.

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