Future of Cruising – Kid-Friendly or Kid-Only?

Celebrity Solstice, Docked in Santorini

I took my first cruise in 2002 and have been hooked ever since. I am by no means a cruise expert, but I do love this popular vacation option. (see my post Save Money-Take a Cruise?) If done properly, cruising is not only a lot of fun, but can be a great budget travel option as well. Unfortunately, the cruise lines seem hell bent on taking some of the magic out of cruising.

Disney Cruise Line is probably to blame. I love Disney and they have done a great job of defining their cruise niche. I always thought Disney was a welcome addition to the cruise universe as I believed it would be a magnet for families, thereby reducing the number of children on other mainstream cruise lines. I have no problem with children in general, I actually like them in small groups. But I don’t have any and frankly the last thing I want on a relaxing trip is to be annoyed by the braying of hundreds of children dashing around and doing cannonballs in the pool.

Pool Area, Celebrity Solstice
Pool Area, Celebrity Solstice

Some of the cruise lines understand this and have sought to cater to individuals who don’t want to be trapped on a floating preschool for a week. While they do offer children’s activities, it is not their main focus. Most notable in this ever shrinking category are Celebrity, Holland America and Princess Cruises. The other main lines, Royal Caribbean (which owns Celebrity), Norwegian and Carnival seem to be headed in the extreme opposite direction.

These lines have always catered to families, which is fine. I cruised with Norwegian (NCL) in 2002 and Royal Caribbean (RCCL) in 2004 and both were amazing trips. There of course were a lot of families on board, but the focus of the ship was not to cater to children and so their presence was not annoying. Some recent events though seem to be changing the focus of these cruise lines completely.

Disney is successful because it is Disney. Its movies and characters are world renowned icons. Wanting to capitalize on the success of these character cruises, RCCL recently entered into an agreement with DreamWorks Animation to bring Shrek and other animated characters on board and NCL has an agreement with Nickelodeon to offer the same experience. (What happens if Sponge Bob falls in the pool?) Additionally, on their new ships you find everything from vast water parks to multistory video game experiences. Combined, I do not get an image of quiet relaxation. Rather, I imagine these new ships to be veritable floating amusement parks. That’s fine if that is what you truly want in a vacation, but for me, and millions like me, it is strong incentive to avoid these ships at all costs.

Lindblad Expeditions Ship
Lindblad Expeditions Ship-Not an Amusement Park

I understand why the cruise lines are doing this, they want to increase the numbers of families on board and make more money. That’s fine, no problem with capitalism. However, that is not their audience, as much as they would like it to be. According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the average cruiser is over the age of 50, travels as a couple and takes multiple cruises. Shrek does not appeal to this demographic! Giant, kid infested water parks is not enticing for people who want to get away from it all. Hell, I’d need a trip to just get away from the ship.

You may ask what set me off on this tirade. It was the introduction of the new NCL Epic, the latest megaship to be launched. I was sincerely excited about the Epic and was even anticipating a future cruise. That was until I read the feedback from the first cruisers on board this behemoth. I love megaships, I really do. I like the feeling of being in a small city at sea. I was appalled though at the images coming back from the first few days. It seems to me that it truly is more of an amusement park than a cruise ship.

Cruise vacations are events. They are not usually entered into impulsively, they are instead thought out for many months and sometimes years. People ultimately cruise for the relaxation, civility and luxury of it, something at which the cruise lines still excel. No where else will a waiter remember your name and your favorite food and drink. No where else can you nap while watching the ocean race past. No where else can you see some of the most spectacular sights of the world from the water.

That is why I implore the cruise lines, please do not sell your soul. Please do not abandon the formula that made cruising the popular activity it is today. Do what you know best, and do it to the best of your ability. I still love cruising, but I will certainly be more discerning when choosing my next cruise vacation.

What do you think? Am I overreacting or have some of the cruise lines gone too far? Also, I haven’t been on the new ships yet and I look forward to being proven wrong.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

8 thoughts on “Future of Cruising – Kid-Friendly or Kid-Only?”

  1. Well, I can’t say I agree with you because I love, love, love me a Disney Cruise! However, I understand your desire to keep some cruise lines more adult-focused. If I were ever to venture on a cruise without my kids, I would likely choose one of the lines that doesn’t cater to kids. However, I will tell you that Disney Cruise Line is NOT like a floating amusement park! DCL is actually quite understated and classy. The Disney touches are subtle instead of in-your-face noise & color. There are plenty of spaces that are “adult only” on a Disney Cruise too (like pool areas, the spa, Internet cafe, and fine-dining Palo restaurant). You might consider checking out a Disney Cruise sometime…I bet you’d love it! :-)

  2. First of all, I’m glad I’m not the only one who views cruising as a great vacation option (I get the sense that the vast majority of the travel blogging community feels oppositely). And so, as a fan of cruises every once in a while, I totally agree with what you’re saying. There are a lot of people who go on cruises for the luxury and the escape. If you want an amusement park, go to Disney World for the week.

    But, at the same time, I do think cruising is a good family vacation option. (I just recently went on one with my whole family, and made my case here: http://dangerousbusiness.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/making-a-case-for-cruises-why-they-make-good-family-vacations/).

    So I suppose I can see things from both sides. The cruise line industry is clearly trying to figure out how to stay afloat in a struggling economy. But that propbably means it’ll make some poor decisions along the way.

    My advice: Try an Alaskan cruise. It’s a whole different cruising crowd.

  3. I’ve never been on a cruise before, so I obviously don’t have any firsthand experience to offer. Cruises have never really appealed to me, but I can honestly say I’ve never once looked into one at all, so I cannot sit here and slam something I know nothing about. Although I prefer an environment with more culture and options, I do see the appeal of relaxing and not having to “try” when on vacation. I’,m sure a cruise is something we’ll eventually look into and consider as we end up looking into all manners of travel in order to try something different.

    The thought of a kid-centric cruise sounds awful for me, someone without kids who wouldn’t want to be on vacation with a plethora of children running around. I love kids, so I hope I’m not offending anyone with them, I just don’t think kid-friendly and relaxing belong in the same sentence when it comes to a vacation.

  4. I completely agree with you, Matt. We have been on two cruises, both with Carnival, and the second cruise was the best, by far! We finally figured out that the best time to go to avoid kids is when the vast majority of them are still in school! We cruised mid-May and, although there were some kids on the ship, the numbers were much smaller and, therefore quieter, than our first cruise which was at the end of May-beginning of June. We also found out that cruising before the Memorial Day weekend meant that the cruise was cheaper and the tropics were not as hot and humid for our excursions.
    But, I agree that there should be adult-only cruises or at least adults-only areas of the ship. This includes areas like the pool, restaurant (or at least part of it), night clubs, etc. I’d love to be able to eat my meal in peace and quiet without a kid screaming and crying or whining about how he doesn’t like the food. And, this feeling goes for the land-based restaurants out in the real world, too. When my husband and I (who don’t have kids in case you haven’t guess it by now) go out for dinner, we want to enjoy each others company, not the noise of kids having a melt-down at the next table. If kids can’t eat at the table and be quiet, then leave them at home and hire a babysitter when you want to go out. It will make all of our lives better, but I guess that is another post, right?

  5. Although there has certainly been increased polarization between the mega and smaller ships of late, you still have to love the options… there really is something for everyone. I would likely never pick an Epic or Oasis for just myself and my wife, but they are currently my first choice for a family cruise with my elementary aged children. And they would probably be an even better choice for a family reunion or other group, especially if there were first time cruisers involved. I believe the larger ships are making a good effort to balance out the different cruising styles with their adult only, or suite only areas and services, making them a great option for most. Hopefully the mid and small size lines don’t try and compete on the amusement park level and simply keep doing what they do best. I strongly prefer the small ship style but am not at all afraid to go big either.

  6. I’ve been on two cruises, one 3 day and one 7 day cruise, both on carnival. Cruises are certainly a cheep way to have a vacation. Of course that depends on how much you like to drink, because once they have you on the ship, you’ll quickly know how they really make their money.

    The good thing is, you do get to see a a lot places. The down side is you get to see a lot of places, there is really not enough time to experience any of the culture beyond the tourist trap ports. Which is probably why the backpacker community aren’t big fans.

    The last one I went on was in April and there was a lot of kids because of spring break. It didn’t really bother me because I was with a singles group of about 230 people. We had our own private events and dining areas, so that took a lot of the screaming kids out of the equation.

    Cruising isn’t for every one and I am looking foreword to my backpacking trip next year where I’ll get to experience the culture that I missed on the cruises.

  7. Matt, I hear you. I also don’t like the idea of screaming kids when trying to relax.

    But,there ARE options for those of us who don’t want the kids cruise experience. As you pointed out Princess, Celebrity and HAL. Not to mention some of the luxury lines like Seabourne, Regent, etc.

    Families are a growing market for cruise lines (thus, shrek and spongebob), so I don’t blame them for going after this market. However, I do think that cruise lines should make an effort to better design adult-only areas in these large amusement park ships. Disney is the only one that does this well, that I know of.

    Great post, Matt. It highlights the fact that choosing the right cruise line is important! We had a similar post here: http://meetoncruise.com/blog/choosing-the-right-cruise-line and I put in a comment referencing this excellent post. Thanks!

  8. I suppose what is needed is Colleen discusses – a better way of separating adult and kid areas. No matter what, I have not been happy with the pictures and reviews of the NCL Epic. It seems to have gone completely over the line.

    Faraz – I appreciate what you say, but I also don’t think it’s right to drive couples without kids to the more expensive lines. We like deals too and I don’t think I should have to put up with the virtual circus the new ships have become in order to get them. Simple delineation of areas on board would be the way to go. The way they used to!

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