8 Tips for Cruising with Your Teenager

As any parent will tell you, teenagers aren’t the easiest travel companions. On a small trip — like a weekend getaway — a young adult’s special needs won’t be an issue. But for big-ticket items like a family cruise, you’ll definitely want to plan ahead for the inevitable sulks, complaints of boredom, hunger, and everything else. Here are 8 tips that will make cruising with young adults a lot easier, or at least less scary.

Stay active on the ship: Teens hate being bored, and nothing leads to boredom faster than physical inactivity. So pick a cruise line that emphasizes physical activity — ice skating, swimming, surfing, rock wall climbing. Lines that fit the bill are Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). All RCI ships have rock walls while some have basketball courts and miniature golf courses. RCI’s Voyager and Freedom-class ships have ice skating rinks while the Freedom-class ships also have FlowRider surf parks. NCL’s newest ships have rock climbing walls.

Disney Cruise Line itineraries in the Caribbean call at its private island, Castaway Cay, which features a teens-only beach where young adults can play football and water volleyball.

Stay active ashore: Teenagers love shipboard activities, but they don’t want to be stuck on a boat for days on end either. Indeed, nothing will lead to a “whine-fest” faster than cruising by a port without stopping. So pick a cruise that has more than enough port stops and a lot of interesting shore excursions. According to CruiseMates.com, the Caribbean is a favorite destination among teens because of the abundance of onshore adventure activities. Mexico is #2 because of the water sports activities. Bermuda, Hawaii, and the Mediterranean rank third, fourth, and fifth, respectively.

Let them find their space: Teens like to be with their own kind, which is why many cruise lines now have both Teen Rooms and exclusive outdoor areas on the ship designated just for them. Some of the best teen spaces at sea, according to CruiseMates.com, include Holland America Line’s outdoor “Oasis” and Disney Cruise Line’s The Stack. HAL’s “Oasis” — a teen area that can be found on all the line’s Vista-class ships — has a waterfall, a hot tub, a thatched hut, palm trees and lounge chairs. The teen club on Disney’s The Stack is reminiscent of the set from Friends, complete with brick fireplaces, wood floors, leather couches and sports trophies. There’s even a “bar” where teens can order smoothies.

They’re kids but they don’t know that: Even though they’re not old enough to legally drink alcohol, most teenagers like to act like adults in a setting similar to an adult bar or cocktail scene. Cruise lines have figured this out, and many now offer clubs for young adults, and some even offer “mocktails,” or non-alcoholic beverages, along with hi-tech dance floors and DJ booths. Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International are two of many lines that offer such clubs for young adults.

Enforce socialization: Make sure your young cruiser attends the teen program on the first night and following day of the cruise. That way, he/she will get to know other teens early in the cruise. If they wait too long, cliques form and they may feel left out. Some teen-program activities are specifically designed to help teenagers interact.

Don’t pick a cruise for seniors: Teenagers just start waking up in the afternoon, so don’t pick a cruise line where the carpet rolls up at 8 p.m. Lines that have teen clubs that stay open late include NCL (open till 2 a.m.), Princess Cruises (open till 1 a.m.), and Royal Caribbean (the 12- to 14-year-old-teen program stays open until 1 a.m. and the 15- to 17-year-old clubs just get started at 10 p.m. and go “until the wee hours,” according to RCI). The Teen Room on Disney’s The Stack is open till midnight, and Carnival’s teen programming goes until midnight or 1 a.m., depending on the itinerary.

Avoid hunger pangs: Teens love pizza and midnight buffets, and there are plenty of cruise lines that cater to this need 24/7. Some of the top cruise lines for late-night munching include Princess Cruises (all ships have a 24-hour food court), Carnival Cruise Lines (24-hour pizzerias and late-night bistros), NCL (24 hours daily at Blue Lagoon restaurant), and Disney Cruise Line (Pinocchio’s Pizzeria is open until midnight and offers late-night snack stations by entertainment areas).

Sleep in separate cabins: You may want to consider booking adjoining cabins if you are traveling with a teen and a younger child. That way, your teen can sleep in while you get up earlier with the younger ones. Adults will like this, too, as their late-night slumber won’t be interrupted when a bouncing-off-the-wall teen stumbles into the cabin at 1 a.m. after an evening of hanging out in a teen club.

Families stink, remember? Don’t be offended if your teen doesn’t want to hang out with you and any younger siblings once he/she finds a group of friends on board. However, make sure that you lay down some rules at the beginning of the trip, such as when the family will dine together or go ashore as a group for an excursion.

Luisa Frey Gaynor

Planning a cruise? Check out Fodor’s Caribbean Cruises to get the scoop on what to pack, how to prepare, and to put in that carry-on.