Think you’re not “cruise people”? Think again. Setting sail as a family can actually be a brilliant combo of together time, fun, interesting (and educational) outings on land, and you relaxing by the pool while your child rocks out in the kid’s club. Take note: Princess Cruises is rolling out revamped kid’s club facilities, on-board programming and shore excursions in partnership with Discovery Consumer Products. We checked out the maiden voyage. Here’s our report!
photo: Princess Cruises
Oh, They’re Expecting You Alright
The partnership with Discovery Communications is not new; the cruiseline launched the Discovery at Sea partnership in 2015. However, the reimagined kids clubs, Discovery-themed programming and select excursions (i.e. on-shore explorations guests can book) are.
One of the best things about Princesses kids clubs is that, unlike some family-friendly resorts, there is no extra charge to use them. Yes, childcare is included in your vacation!
The Kids Clubs
Princess’ Kids Clubs got a complete overhaul. Camp Discovery, as it is called, features three spaces designed for kids of three different age groups. The Treehouse, for children ages three to seven, is a forest and animal-themed space; The Lodge, for cruisers ages eight to 12, is inspired by the great outdoors, and The Beach House, for the teens (ages 13-17) is a surf-themed lounge for hanging and socializing.
The Kids Club staff is of course, all about fun (the crewmembers on our ship seemed to really enjoy kids and their job), but they also take caring for your child seriously. Children are signed in and out of the kids club with a photo ID, and a handy beeper provided to parents or guardians goes off should any issue arise, calling you back to the clubs. (We saw one dad try to pick up his kid without photo ID; staffers politely told him he needed to go get it.)
In the Club
Each center features age-appropriate diversions, ranging from a tiny treehouse play structure, puzzles and books in the Tree House to Skee-ball, Xbox, foosball in The Lodge, and air hockey and plenty of couches for lounging in, appropriately, The Lounge.
But that’s really just the beginning. Evenings and days at sea are filled with programming (much of it with a Discovery tie-in) both in the clubs for the kids and to enjoy together as a family. (Things are quieter in the clubs when the ship is in port, as most cruisers leave on an excursion, but the clubs are open. Advance pre-booking is required on days in port.)
We traveled with a four-year-old who fully enjoyed all the activities in the kids club, including Pirate Night (pirate face painting and temporary tattoos, a treasure hunt and parade around the deck); Shark Night (learning about sharks, making shark hats, Shark Attacks game) and Pajama Night (nail art by Klutz, games, a movie, etc.) When we picked her up (programming is from 6 – 10 p.m., typically ending with a theme-related movie) she invariably had some kind of craft, a prize or toy and body-paint of some kind. She did, in fact, opt to go to the kids club over hanging out with her parents.
It should be noted that older kids on the cruise — even the teens — seemed to enjoy the activities designed for them as well. We say this based on observation and chats with other cruising parents.
photo: Princess Cruises
All in The Family
Parents can get in on the kids club action and Discovery-themed programming, too. Examples include a Family Carnival in the kids club, featuring assorted games and challenges, and tickets that can be redeemed for prizes; a Family Ship Hunt; a Family Kids Disco Party in the ship’s dance club; searching for Big Foot on ship (a nod to Discovery’s Mythbusters), and Stargazing at Sea — where the stars are indeed really bright!
photo: Princess Cruises
Family Fun Ashore As Well
With more than 300 destinations worldwide, there’s no shortage of fun things to do when ship is in port. Excursions include ziplining in Cabo San Lucas; whale-watching in multiple cities (Cabo San Lucas, San Diego, Victoria, British Columbia); visiting the LaBrea Tar Pits and Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, glacier and wildlife tours (Alaska); snorkeling and dolphin encounters (multiple ports) and even a visit to a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, a Princess Cruises exclusive partnership.
Our trip stayed close to home, with stops in Santa Barbara, where the brand new children’s museum Moxi is a must-do; Long Beach, Ca; San Diego, where we explored the city’s gorgeous, museum-packed Balboa Park, and Ensenada, Mexico, where we picked up a few souvenirs on the tourist main drag.
What’s To Eat
There are lots of ways to satisfy your hunger on ship, including two dining rooms, pizza and snack bars for light bites, ice cream and coffee on the go, a buffet for more causal dining, a gourmet pizzeria, and specialty restaurants Crown Grill and Sabatini’s, the last two of which are not part of the all-inclusive meal plans, but are nice for an upscale dining experience for a flat fee of $29. (If you have to choose one, do the Crown Grill, which specializes in steak and seafood.)
Our tiny dining companion did eat her fair share of pizza, but it’s worth mentioning that the gourmet pie on Princess was name Best Pizza at Sea by USA Today. Oenophiles may want to check out Vines, which in addition to a wide array of wines, serves complementary tapas plates.
What’s To Do
Princess does a good job of letting passengers know what’s happening on the ship in a variety of ways. Daily bulletins with programming notices and announcements are dropped at cabins daily, and the closed circuit television broadcasts information as well, including a morning show with cruise directors dubbed “The Wake Show.”
Of course, relaxing or playing at one of the pools (either indoor or outdoor) is a popular option; “Movies at Sea” frequently play on the large screen above the main pool area, with fare such as music concerts and animated films screening during the day and features playing at night (popcorn included!)
A variety of live entertainment is staged throughout the cruise, including magicians, standup comics and Broadway-style shows. (For those wishing to do some performing themselves, a “Voice of the Ocean” competition takes place throughout the cruise, with the winner receiving a trophy and, if of drinking age, a bottle of champagne.
Gamers can stay occupied too: there’s on ship bingo, board games in the ship’s library and giant chess and shuffleboard on the top deck.
For Adult Fun
Finally, for more adults-only fun, there’s an on-ship casino, a nightclub, several roomy bars with live music, a spa (we enjoyed a lovely massage), gym and even a “No Kids Allowed” area dubbed The Sanctuary, which can be visited with a $40 day pass or $20 half-day pass.
The Cost of Staying Connected
In our opinion, a cruise is the perfect excuse to log off and unplug; even if you aren’t in the middle of the ocean, it can feel like it.
However, if you start to twitch when not online for extended periods of time, internet access packages can be purchased, starting at $69 for 120 minutes, up to $199 for 680 minutes.
Princess does provide free access to the on-ship intranet, which is yet another way to stay on top of what’s happening each day. Perhaps most important, being connected to the intranet enables people to communicate via text — a feature that becomes key when various family members are in different parts of the ship.
Coming to a Port Near You
We sailed on the Grand Princess, the first in the fleet to receive the youth club upgrade, which leaves from San Francisco year-round. The Caribbean Princess and the Regal Princess are also outfitted with the new clubs; future rollouts include the Sea Princess in October, the Island Princess in November, with the remainder of the fleet completed by 2018. Get the full rollout details and learn even more about Camp Discovery here.
Princess Cruises depart from many other cities in the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Galveston and Anchorage.
Have you cruised as a family? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
— Mimi O’Connor
This trip was paid for by Princess Cruises but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.