The Best of Family Cruising

Cruise lines are now more family-friendly than ever. Before you chart your course, check out these brand new (or newly renovated) ships.

Crown Princess
Princess Cruises (www.princess.com)

Departs: Brooklyn, New York

Itinerary: 9-day Eastern Caribbean cruises to Turks & Caicos, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Bermuda and four luxurious sea days scattered along the way.

What’s Special? The focus is on learning, but activities are also fun. At innovative programs sponsored by the California Science Center, children can design roller-coasters or dissect a squid. The Princess Peer Factor competition pits you against other families in events like pizza making and ice carving. At the “Bee at Sea” you and the kids can spell your way to grand prizes.

Just for Kids: Three different youth centers offer kids 3 to 12 plenty of activities. All centers are equipped with age-appropriate movies, music, video games and board games. Kids choose from a variety of activities, from puppet shows and pajama parties for the younger set to makeovers and karaoke parties for teens.

Perks for Parents: At The Sanctuary, a secluded pool area, “serenity stewards” spritz you with Evian and dispense chilled face towels. Hang in a hammock or retreat to one of the outdoor cabanas for a relaxing massage. Stick around for sunset, when yoga classes are held poolside.

Price: Staterooms start at $999 per person, double occupancy; $499 per person for 3rd and 4th passengers in cabin.

Liberty of the Seas
Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com)

Departs: Miami, Florida

Itinerary: When it debuts on May 19, 2007, Liberty of the Seas will alternate between 7-night eastern Caribbean cruises (calling on San Juan, St. Maarten, and private island Labadee) and 7-night western Caribbean sailings (visiting private island Labadee, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel).

What’s Special? This huge vessel (which joins sister ship Freedom of the Seas as one of the largest to set sail) offers deck after deck of adventure for active families. After you tackle the three-dimensional rock wall and FlowRider surfing pool up top, head to the bottom level for a whirl around the ice skating rink. Or join one of the hands-on family programs: Aqua Babies (for 6 to 18 months) and Aqua Tots (for 18 to 36 months) are 45-minute playgroups geared for tots and parents; the Build and Grow program invites you and kids ages 5 to 11 to construct and decorate a wooden cruise ship.

Just for Kids: The H2O Zone, on the main pool deck, is a shallow wading area perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. Kids also rule in the camps Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5), Explorers (ages 6 to 8), Voyagers (ages 9 to 11), and Navigators (ages 12 to 14). Kids 15 and over can enjoy activities like hot tub parties and Mocktails and dancing in the teen-only nightclub, Fuel.

Perks for Parents: Head to the Solarium, where you can catch great views of the ocean from whirlpool-Jacuzzis that extend 12 feet out from the sides of the ship. Or throw some punches in the boxing ring at the Ship Shape Fitness Center.

Price: Staterooms start at $900 per person, double occupancy; $240 per person for third and fourth passengers in cabin.

Norwegian Pearl
Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com)

Departs: Miami (from January through mid-April 2007 and October through April 2008) for Caribbean; and Seattle (from mid-May to mid-September 2007) for Alaska.

Itinerary: 9-day Southern Caribbean cruises call on Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Tortola. Seven-day Alaskan cruises sail through Glacier Bay, visiting Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria.

What’s Special? The “Freestyle Cruising” policy gives you freedom to decide when and where to dine. You won’t be locked into scheduled seatings or formal nights. Choose from 10 restaurants, including a Japanese hibachi grill, an Italian trattoria and a tapas bar. Even the staterooms are flexible. Suites and junior suites can interconnect to create 2- to 5- bedroom areas.

Just for Kids: Part of Deck 12 is specially zoned for children. There’s a kiddie pool, a video arcade, Aqua Kids’ Club and the Metro Teen Center. This is where the Kid’s Crew programs meet for crafts, cooking classes, treasure hunts, and pizza-making. Groups include: Junior Sailors (ages 2 to 5), First Mates (ages 6 to 9), and Navigators (ages 10 to 12). Teens (13-17) socialize at supervised parties, sports competitions, and team-building challenges.

Perks for Parents: Kids Crew programs include one kids-only dinner per sailing, so you get a night to yourself. After a candlelight meal in one of the specialty restaurants (like Cagney’s Steakhouse or Le Bistro French Restaurant), head to the very-hip Bliss Ultra Lounge, with a bowling alley and a rock wall!

Price: Staterooms start at $429 per person, double occupancy; $249 per person for 3rd and 4th passengers in cabin.

Liberty
Carnival Cruises (www. carnival.com)

Departs: Fort Lauderdale, beginning November 19, 2007

Itinerary: 6-day cruises call on the Bahamas, Grand Cayman and Costa Maya, Mexico; 8-day cruises alternate between Eastern Caribbean (San Juan, St. Thomas/St. John, Antigua, Tortola and Nassau) and Western Caribbean (Costa Rica, Panama and Costa Maya, Mexico).

What’s Special? Cool off in 4 different pools, one with a 214-foot-long corkscrew slide. Come together at multigenerational activities like ice cream sundae-making, or go your separate ways while kids make friends at Camp Carnival. The baby equipment rental program (featuring strollers, infant swings and bouncy seats for $25 a week) makes it easier to bring along the tiniest of cruisers.

Just for Kids: Creative types will love the cool new programs: They can paint masterpieces in “WaterColors,” learn a musical instrument in “SeaNotes,” or construct custom-made helicopters in the “H2Ocean” science workshop. There’s lots of unstructured fun in the indoor play center, with a wall that displays movies and cartoons, and an arts and crafts center featuring spin and sand art and candy-making machines. Over at the “Without Batteries” teen club for ages 15 to 17, kids can hit the dance floor and mocktail lounge.

Perks for Parents: Harry’s reservations-only supper club is a great place for a romantic dinner, while the kids dine in Camp Carnival. Afterwards, check out one of the Vegas-style shows in the theater, and stop for a nightcap at the Paparazzi wine bar.

Price: 6-day cruises start at $429 per person, double occupancy; $329 per person for 3rd and 4th passengers in cabin. 8-day cruises start at $699 per person, double occupancy; $399 per person for 3rd and 4th passengers in cabin.

Wonder
Walt Disney (www.disneycruise.com)

Departs: Cape Canaveral, Florida

Itinerary: 3- and 4-night Bahamian cruises.

Ports of Call: Nassau and private island Castaway Cay,

What’s Special: Disney characters host activities, and a sprinkling of pixie dust is evident in every design detail. Though not new, the Wonder got a makeover in October 2006. Now not-yet-potty-trained tots can splash in the Mickey Pool’s toddler water play area. A giant movie screen has been added to the Goofy Pool, so families can gather round for Disney classics and sporting events. And the actual Flying Dutchman ship, featured in the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, has anchored at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.

Just for Kids: Disney is the only cruise line to offer a child care program for babies, who are cared for in Flounder’s Reef Nursery (for infants through age 3). Older kids will have a blast at the Oceaneer Club (for ages 3 to 4, and 5 to 7), featuring Captain Hook’s pirate ship playground and a dress-up center. Kids 8 to 12 go to “infinity and beyond” in the Buzz Lightyear- themed Oceaneer Lab, where a computer simulator shows them what it’s like to steer the ship. Teenagers have their own special space in Aloft, a cool hangout with soda bar, plasma TVs, MP3 players, and trivia games.

Perks for Parents: Escape to the Vista Spa and Salon, where you can have a massage or facial in one of 3 new spa villas, with private verandahs, hot tubs and open-air showers. Cap off your day with dinner in the romantic (and kid-free) Palio restaurant.

Price: 3-night cruises start at $349 per person double-occupancy; 4-night cruises start at $399 per person; children’s prices start at $149 per person with two paying adults.

Ellen Parlapiano

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