Published in the Toronto Star
On Thu Feb 15 2007
What a shock to find that once I got past the empty video game stations and their blaring theme music, the playroom – filled with children ages 3 to 5 – is all quiet, except for one little boy who is standing in front of a group and singing his ABCs.
It’s talent day – one of several themed days at the onboard kids club – and a good example of how these clubs are changing. No longer simply a holding place for kids, many cruise lines now aim to fill them with knowledge as well as snacks.
“I think a lot of people misunderstand and think the kids cruise clubs are like babysitting,” says Linda Garrison, a cruise expert for the popular advice website about.com.
Many kid clubs are now sophisticated programs that offer science experiments, cultural excursions, dress-up days and talent shows.
But experts agree parents can spare themselves a lot of aggravation by comparison shopping before signing up their kids.
“One size does not fit all when it comes to family vacations,” warns Suzanne Kelleher, co-founder of the family-friendly travel site wejustgotback.com.
“One cruise might be great for teenagers but not for toddlers,” she points out. “Most kids clubs aim for the 5 to 12 zone and, if your kids are outside that zone, sometimes you don’t get your money’s worth.”
“Just because there is a picture of a family on their website doesn’t mean there’s anything at all there for your child,” she says. “It’s about learning how to ask the right questions.”
So how can you be sure your next cruise vacation doesn’t make you want to jump overboard? Ask these five questions before leaving home: