Cruise Lines Ramp Up Kid-Friendly Features as Family Market Soars

by Fran Golden
Cruise Lines Ramp Up Kid-Friendly Features as Family Market Soars

This is the first of a two-part series on the family cruise market.

Getting "slimed," whipping on a zipline, thrilling to a watercoaster, getting drenched under a giant water bucket – kids are having a blast on cruise ships these days.

The family cruise market is growing. Not only in the ever-popular Caribbean, but also in Alaska and Europe. And that means big opportunity for agents.

Numbers tell the story
The potential sales are in the numbers.

Carnival Cruise Lines hosted 710,000 youngsters on its 24 ships in 2012 and expects 725,000 kid passengers in 2013. Those numbers represent records both for the cruise line and the industry, according to spokesman Vance Gulliksen.

Royal Caribbean had about 450,000 kids under age 18 on its 22 ships last year, according to spokesman Harrison Liu.

At Norwegian Cruise Line, about 200,000 kids sailed on its 11 ships last year, and that number has grown nearly 30% over the past few years, according to Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales, Americas.

Many are teens
About 42% of the kids on Norwegian are teenagers, she said.

"We're definitely seeing an increase in this market. On average, between 15% to 20% of guests on each cruise are part of a multigenerational travel group," Olivere said.

Families are now the second largest cruising segment, behind only the 55-plus age group, she added.

Shrek and SpongeBob
One way that cruise lines are attracting families is by offering young passengers a chance to mingle with cartoon characters – Mickey on Disney, DreamWorks characters (including Shrek and Kung Fu Panda) on select Royal Caribbean ships and Nickelodeon TV characters including SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer on Norwegian ships.

Marketing the characters gets the attention of parents and that's huge. "Much more so today, children are the ones driving their parents' decision to cruise," said Olivere.

Include kids in the discussion
"If the kids want to go, you're going," agreed Monica Pollack, a family travel specialist with Cruise Planners/American Express in Franklin Lakes, N.J. She said agents would be wise to bring their clients' kids into the vacation discussion.

"When you push the buttons that make the kids happy, the parents seem to accommodate," Pollack added.

A bonus for agents – young cruisers often grow up to be adult cruisers.

Family-friendly ship features
For the family crowd, cruise lines are touting a plethora of family-friendly attractions, especially on their newest ships.

These include the AquaDuck watercoaster on Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream; big WaterWorks waterparks and ropes courses on Carnival Breeze and Magic; bowling and an Aqua Park on Norwegian Epic; ziplines and merry-go-rounds on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas – to name a few.

When the Norwegian Breakaway debuts in May, the ship will bring Norwegian's first mini golf course, a huge ropes course and what is being billed as the largest waterpark at sea – with five multistory slides – plus a separate splashy area for little kids.

Carnival's redo of the Carnival Destiny, to be re-launched in April as the Carnival Sunshine, includes what the line is touting as the longest waterslide at sea.

Beefed-up kids’ programs
As they pump up the attractions, cruise lines are also beefing up organized kids' programs, including with expansive youth centers on the newest ships.

Looking to boost its family numbers, Norwegian last year invested in a major overhaul of its entire youth program, working with consultants to create Splash Academy, with a more developed curriculum that includes a circus school – where kids can learn juggling and tumbling routines – and port-focused activities, plus a separate program for teens called Entourage.

When Princess Cruises' new Royal Princess debuts in June, the ship will bring expanded youth center space including dedicated outdoor areas for young kids, 'tweens and teens – the older kids even get their own wading pool.

Family activities
The lines are finding families also want activities adults can do together with kids – hence such offerings as Carnival's new family game show in conjunction with Hasbro, where families compete playing larger-than-life versions of games like Sorry! and Yahtzee.

A complaint of some parents, said Mary Beth Casey, owner of the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise in Fort Lauderdale, is that organized programs are so good their kids never want to leave.

But for many parents, she added, a key factor in choosing a cruise vacation is that while the kids are occupied they actually get time to relax.

Next time: Agents share tips on succeeding in the family cruise market

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