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On family vacations, cruise ship kids clubs provide independence. Here’s everything you need to know.

Last spring, Sarah Brumfield and her husband, T.J., took their two daughters on a Carnival Cruise Line sailing, and while the family spent a lot of time together, the couple also did their own thing away from the kids.

Brumfield, 39, could attend a comedy show, and her oldest child, Zoe, could later belt out a Britney Spears song with a friend she’d made on board at a teen club.

“I love family vacations,” said Brumfield, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska. “It’s just that sometimes, especially on longer family vacations, you’re kind of on top of each other a lot, and it can get kind of stressful, and you don’t really get a break.”

Kids and teen programming on cruise ships provide a welcome respite, allowing families to spend quality time together while also having their own space as needed.

“I think it makes me feel a little more independent, especially as you get older,” said Zoe, 17.

These programmes even influence whether the family, who take “one big trip” a year, goes on a cruise or another type of vacation, according to Brumfield. She is one of many travellers who have found kids clubs to be an appealing incentive, allowing children to play while knowing they cannot go too far.

‘They do a great job with that structure.’

The programmes allow for a different kind of quality time for other travellers. Brendan Peoples and his husband, Edgar Castlow, cruise with their five young children once or twice a year. They make a point of spending time with each child two-on-one while their other children are at the club, in addition to having alone time as a couple on an excursion or at the spa.

“We get time to ourselves… but we only get one-kid personal time,” the Houston-area tax adviser explained.

Peoples, who only sails with Carnival Cruise Line, claims the line’s programme is much more than “parking them in front of a video,” and that it provides a variety of activities that his children enjoy.

“They do a great job with that structure, so they don’t get bored easily… “Every day is different,” the 54-year-old said.

What is the minimum age for children to attend the kids clubs?

According to Bianca Rios, owner of the travel agency Ahoy Vacations, mainstream cruise lines typically have dedicated programming for young children, preteens, and teenagers, and group children by age, though the exact ages of the groupings may vary by line.

“I think one of the best parts about cruises is that there’s always somewhere where they can go and be entertained,” Rios said.

According to her, children must be at least three years old and potty-trained in order to use the kids clubs, and participation is limited to 18 people. “That’s important if they’re turning 18 during the cruise,” she explained.

What activities are available at cruise line kids clubs?

When it comes to children’s clubs, not all cruise lines are created equal. Some lines, such as Disney Cruise Line, have more elaborate programmes than others, according to Kristi Marcelle, a senior travel adviser at family-focused travel agency Ciao Bambino!.

“That’s basically nirvana for kids because there’s so much to do and it’s very engaging and hands-on,” she said.

The line provides a variety of activities for people of all ages. According to the Disney Cruise Line website, the Oceaneer Club for children aged 3 to 12 has storytelling sessions and play areas, while the Edge for guests aged 11 to 14 has a dance floor and karaoke, among other onboard amenities.

The Splash Academy for potty-trained 3-year-olds through kids age 12, which includes crafts, scavenger hunts, and more, and Entourage for teens 13 to 17, “where they can hang out, play video games, watch movies, and have themed dance parties,” according to a spokesperson in an email.

According to Marcelle, guests can get a good idea of “whether the cruise line is family-centric or family-friendly” by looking at the kids club offerings, whether on the cruise line’s website or by consulting a travel adviser.

According to Rios, the lines provide a schedule that travellers can consult to see what’s available. However, keep in mind that some activities may necessitate advanced registration.

In general, parents can preregister their children for the clubs or sign them up on the spot, though this is mostly necessary for younger children 12 and under who are in “secured programming,” according to Rios. She also mentioned that icebreaker activities are common in youth programmes on the first day so that kids can get to know one another.

How much do children’s clubs cost?

Kids clubs are generally included in the cruise fare during regular hours, according to Rios, but child care for children under the age of three will almost certainly be extra.

Other fees may apply to passengers. While Norwegian’s programmes are free, the company does charge a $1 per minute late-pickup fee “if children are not picked up before the venue closes,” according to a spokesperson.

“The Splash Academy also offers a Late-Night Fun Zone, where parents can drop off their children between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. for an additional group-sitting fee,” the spokesperson added. That fee is $6 per hour, plus $4 per hour for each sibling.

Similar programmes may exist at land-based resorts, according to Marcelle, but the offerings on cruises are more diverse because guests spend the majority of their time on board. “On a ship, they’re more comprehensive,” she explained.

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