FAMILY CRUISES ON THE 'FUN SHIPS'

New amenities and activities make large ships the perfect spot for a family vacation

  Remember the old days when cruises were for the idle rich? Remember when ships with senior clientele were referred to as "God's Waiting Rooms"? Remember when the only people who went on cruises were the "newly wed and nearly dead"? Over the years, there have been a number of jokes about cruises being for seniors. And while seniors love to cruise (Carnival carried more seniors than any other line last year), the average age has come down into the mid 40s and the style of ships has changed to reflect this younger clientele, evidenced by features such as Royal Caribbean's rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks. However, the truth is that the greatest changes have come with facilities and programs designed specifically for families.

  As the average cruiser has gotten younger through the years, that cruiser's children are no longer off in college or married with their own kids. They're in pre-school, grade school and high school. The average cruiser is someone who takes family vacations, not getaway vacations in his or her golden years. As a result, cruise lines have created children's programs that have raised the bar on all vacations. Why do today's cruise lines cater to families with children? Because that's the way people are vacationing as opposed to years past

I find it interesting that one of the most successful family cruise lines today is Carnival, a company that built its reputation in the 1970's with "Fun Ships" catering to the "nearly wed." Times have changed, demographics have changed and Carnival has changed. The line's "Camp Carnival" program expects to host 400,000 kids this year alone - more than the total number of all passengers (adults and children) expected to sail on Disney Cruise Line! While many lines offer superb children's programs (NCL and Royal Caribbean are true stand-outs), I wanted to take the opportunity to make you more aware of some of Carnival's programs that you might not know about simply because most people think of Carnival more like the company it was in the 70's than the company it is today.

NEW TEEN SHORE EXCURSIONS

  One of the more exciting developments is that Carnival has added a new teen shore excursion program, providing teenagers an opportunity to enjoy a variety of fun and exciting on-shore activities - everything from cave tubing and mountain biking to swimming with dolphins and stingrays - with other teens sailing aboard the "Fun Ships."

Currently available aboard 15 of the line's 18 ships with fleetwide implementation expected by the end of the summer, the new program provides children ages 12-15 an opportunity to select from three different age-appropriate shore excursions per port - all at special discounts of up to 20 percent off the regular price.

  Teens sailing on a particular voyage vote on the tour of their choice; the excursion with the highest number of votes is then selected as the group's chosen activity for that port. A member of the ship's youth staff accompanies teens on all excursions.

  "Teens have their own unique vacation expectations and this new program not only provides them with a variety of fun, interesting landside tours but also an opportunity to select their own excursions and enjoy these activities with others their own age," said Bob Dickinson, Carnival President. "Plus, by providing teens with an enjoyable shoreside experience, combined with the fun, high quality vacation that a Carnival cruise provides, we're laying the groundwork for them to come back and sail aboard the 'Fun Ships' as they move into adulthood," he added.

  The new teen shore excursions are available through Carnival's popular "Camp Carnival" program. Reservations must be made in advance with the "Camp Carnival" staff once on board.

NEWEST SHIP SPECIALLY DESIGNED FOR FAMILIES

  As just one example of Carnival's commitment to family cruising, take a look at the new Carnival Glory. Measuring 110,000 tons, she will be the largest ship ever to sail from Port Canaveral, a port which is known for embarking family vacations due to its proximity to Disney, Universal and Sea World in Central Florida. The Carnival Glory begins year-round seven-night cruises on July 19.

Spacious Play Areas, Fun Science/Geography Projects

  The focal point of the Carnival Glory's "Camp Carnival" program is Under the Rainbow, a 4,200-square-foot play room that is divided into four distinct areas - an arts and crafts center with spin and sand art and candy making machines; a video room with a 16-monitor wall displaying kids' favorite movies and cartoons; a computer lab with educational computer games and the latest PlayStation 2 game consoles; and a children's library with various youth-oriented books and magazines. Under the Rainbow will serve as the venue for many "Camp Carnival" activities, including geography and science projects, part of the line's EduCruise program offering hands-on science and geography projects designed to enrich kids' knowledge of the cultures and landmarks featured within Carnival Glory's seven-day Caribbean itineraries. The colorful playroom will also be the site for the line's babysitting service, which is available from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. nightly and costs $6 per hour for the first child and $4 for each additional child in the same family.

Fun-Filled Activities

  In addition to EduCruise projects, kids of all ages sailing aboard Carnival Glory will enjoy a variety of fun, supervised activities morning-til-night. Sample age-appropriate activities include "Play Dough Fun," storytelling and sing-a-longs for younger cruisers and scavenger hunts, late-night movies and pool parties for older kids. Recently added activities include snowcone making, cake-decorating and pizza-making sessions during which children can make their own culinary creations under the watchful eye of Carnival Glory's trained youth staff. Activities such as make-your-own sundae sessions, arts and crafts, and family water play are "multi-generational" and provide parents, children and grandparents an opportunity to participate in activities together as a family.

Increased Emphasis On Teens

  With teenagers comprising a significant portion of Carnival's passenger base, the line has responded to this unique market by creating Ultraviolets, a combination game room/teen dance club featuring a DJ, state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, including a "video wall" displaying continuous music videos, a dance floor and "mocktail lounge" where teens can relax, socialize and enjoy sodas and other non-alcoholic specialty drinks. The 1,800-square-foot room will also house a library with teen-oriented books and magazines, video game units and computers loaded with popular gaming software.

Other 'Family Friendly' Features, Special Dining Options

  Carnival Glory will also feature four swimming pools, including a children's wading pool on Sun Deck 12, along with a 214-foot-long twisting, turning water slide. Kids can also rent the latest GameBoy Advance hand-held video game units. The line's popular fleetwide stroller rental program offering single and double strollers for rent by the day or the week will be available on Carnival Glory, as well. The cost is $6 per day and $25 per week. Dining is considered a highlight of any "Fun Ship" vacation and Carnival Glory will offer a variety of kid-friendly culinary choices, everything from special menus in the main Golden and Platinum dining rooms to a two-level casual eatery, the Red Sail Restaurant, serving hamburgers and hot dogs, and 24-hour pizza, ice cream and frozen yogurt. Kids can also enjoy dinner with the youth counselors each night in the poolside restaurant. A special children's turn-down service offering freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on the first and last night of the voyage is also available. Carnival Glory, like other "Fun Ships," will offer the "Fountain Fun Card," which provides unlimited soft drinks throughout the duration of the cruise for a flat, one-time fee. The cards, which are purchased once on board, cost $22.95 per child for Carnival Glory's seven-day Caribbean cruises.