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Cruisin’: Cruises make great family excursions

Nov 01, 2023 08:00AM ● By Ann Marie O’Phelan

Carnival Celebration docks in Caribbean waters in Grand Turk. Images courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line

Instead of piling your kids into the minivan and driving 16 hours to a destination, all the while listening to the looping question, “Are we there yet?”, think about taking a family cruise. From spas to gyms to casinos for the adults, and from youth clubs to pools to waterslides to on-deck mini-golf for the kids, there’s plenty of fun for all. Plus, with many costs such as food, amenities, and entertainment built into the price, they can be surprisingly affordable.

Celebrity Cruises, part of the Royal Caribbean Group, travels to more than 300 destinations. In Florida, its ships depart from Tampa, Miami, Orlando (Port Canaveral), and Fort Lauderdale.

A stop in the Bahamas offers thrilling fun for all travelers on a Celebrity Cruise

Its youth program, Camp at Sea, changes with every cruise, as it includes more than 500 activities, from arts and recreation to science and technology. The Teen Club is for young adults to socialize with other cruisers, enjoy sports competitions, experience silent disco parties, and join video game tournaments. Shore excursions include family-friendly options such as cultural tours, water sports, and exploring ancient ruins. Celebrity cruisers departing from Florida and heading to the Caribbean will have double the number of trips to choose from for the 2024-25 season. Also new to the Caribbean Cruises lineup is the “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” a private island in the Bahamas where the young ones can play in an aqua park, the older ones can enjoy a waterpark, and all can relax or participate in activities such as snorkeling.

Even the pickiest of eaters can find something to love on a Celebrity Cruise as there’s an array of foods from various restaurants, with meals inspired by the regions the cruise line travels to. One standout is the immersive and high-tech Le Petit Chef dinner experience, featuring a multicourse menu brought to life by lively animations of a tiny chef who tells the story behind each dish, followed by the real-life dish placed in front of the diner for a wow-worthy experience.

Another cruise option is Princess Cruises, a brand that first became known during the 1970s-era television show, The Love Boat. Princess ships sail to more than 330 destinations and depart from ports worldwide. In Florida, they leave out of Fort Lauderdale and Orlando (Port Canaveral). The line’s newest and largest ship, Sun Princess, is scheduled to begin sailing from Fort Lauderdale in October 2024.

Enjoy a taste of the bayou at Emeril's Bistro. Image courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line

For kids the cruise line offers the Royal Princess Youth and Teen Centers, which provide a safe way for young cruisers to engage in activities and make friends, while allowing parents some adult time. Princess partnered with the Discovery Channel to create themed activities at the youth centers geared for specific ages from 3 to 17 years old. Princess excursions offer a chance to go sightseeing, partake in cultural and history activities and adventure, and explore nature and wildlife; many of the excursions are endorsed by Princess partners, Discovery and Animal Planet. 

At the Game Zone, families can enjoy oversized backyard games, comfy lounge sectionals, and a kid-friendly bar setting to enjoy cocktails and mocktails.

Families can eat dinner together every night of the cruise and satisfy different tastes with a variety of casual dining options, specialty venues, and special kids’ menus across the ship.

The MedallionClass Experience—available on all of its ships—provides cruisers with a wearable medallion, a quarter-sized device that enables everything from expedited contactless boarding to locating loved ones anywhere on the ship, as well as enhanced services such as having whatever guests need delivered directly to them, wherever they are on the ship. 

Princess guests heading to the Bahamas can enjoy its private resort destination—Princess Cays—ideal for multigenerational travel, offering kayaks, sailboats, snorkel equipment or floats, world-class beaches, and a complimentary lunch buffet.

Carnival Cruise Line also departs from worldwide destinations, and out of Florida, its ships sail from ports in Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando (Port Canaveral), and Miami.

A stop in the Bahamas offers fun activities for all travelers on a Celebrity Cruise. Image courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Recently Carnival expanded its youth program across its entire fleet for all age groups. Those 6 months to 2 years of age can participate in activities as part of the Turtles Program. Older children up to 17 years of age can join the Teen Program, where they can hang out, listen to music, sing karaoke, and more.

Carnival ships fleetwide include the Carnival WaterWorks aqua park, SportSquare mini-golf course, and courts for basketball and pickleball. Its Excel-class ships feature BOLT: Ultimate Sea Coaster, the world’s first roller coaster at sea. Offshore excursions include plenty of family-friendly opportunities such as snorkeling, hiking, and exploring.

Carnival offers a variety of food options across its fleet of ships—from pizza and burgers to fine dining, with dozens of new dishes created by Carnival chefs and curated by chief culinary officer Emeril Lagasse.

As you plan your family cruise, check out the special offers available on all the cruise lines, making this vacation a better value and a good option for your family’s next time away.

Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.