Kid-friendly West Coast cruises

This guest post was submitted by Erica from Cruise Web; she is the Social Media Coordinator and did a heap of research at my request. I asked her to share with us a few cruises that sail from the West Coast and other considerations for cruises as a family vacation.
ocean photo by Vinoth Chandar

Child-friendly cruising is becoming more popular and cruise lines are adding new features to accommodate families with each new ship. Today, ships also make their homeports on the West Coast, so there are some great options for families looking to leave from Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco instead of the ports on the Atlantic. Let’s take a look at each cruise port and a kid-friendly cruising experience you can choose for each one.

Leaving from San Francisco

Destination(s): Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii
Cruise Ship: Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess
Grand Princess sails year round from San Francisco and will sail to Hawaii during the fall and winter and Alaska in the summer.

The Grand Princess has a lot of features to please families cruising from San Francisco. Dining options include 24-hour room service, anytime dining (which helps with children, as we all know), and an Ice Cream Bar. There are three kid’s programs: Princess Pelicans (for children ages 3-7), Shockwaves (8-12), and Remix (13-17). These programs help kids make on-board friends and keep them engaged in fun activities like, karaoke, dancing and pizza parties.

Alaska is an adventure for children of all ages. There are magnificent glaciers to see, you can learn about dog sledding and even go fishing for the catch of the day. Mexico offers beautiful, beaches, and intriguing excursions like exploring Mayan ruins. Hawaii cruises are stupendous for children because of the wildlife, beaches, impeccable weather and laid-back culture.

Kid’s Programs: Princess has Kindermusik, a program to get young children moving and learning to music, on-board. Along with Kindermusik, children three and younger are welcome to play in the youth center when accompanied by an adult. Currently there is no formal program for children under the age of three.

Babysitting: Princess has group babysitting from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the youth center. Babysitting is an added fee of $5 per child per hour. There is no private in room babysitting available.

Baby Gear: There are cribs and high chairs available, but you must inform the cruise line ahead of time in order to guarantee you will have those available. To ensure you have all you need we recommend working with a qualified cruise consultant who can help you make the necessary arrangements.

Departing Los Angeles

Destination(s): U.S. Pacific Coast, Panama Canal
Cruise Ship: Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Jewel
Norwegian Jewel will have one sailing to the Panama Canal from Los Angeles in 2013 on September 27. The ship will only sail once from Los Angeles on a Pacific Coastal Cruise on May 8.

The Norwegian Jewel is a multi-faceted cruise ship that caters to both children and adults. This way, you can enjoy the features and services you expect from a cruise while your child is enraptured by kid-friendly highlights, including a special partnership with Nickelodeon where characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer are hosting activities onboard.

Your kids will enjoy the Sapphire Kid’s Pool with slides, or the Kid’s Café, a family-friendly dining option that offers pasta, soups, and a special kid-sized menu for smaller appetites. Older children and teens will find that the on-board entertainment options are superb. There are basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts, themed parties, and fun shows like Cirque Bijou (acrobats, dancing, singing, and more).

A U.S. Pacific Coast cruise is a great way to acquaint your children with the wonders of the West Coast, visiting ports such as San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Catalina Island, and Ensenada (Mexico). Panama Canal cruising is fun because it offers the time to explore all of the features and entertainment of the ship before arriving at one of the greatest engineering marvels of the modern era.

Kid’s Programs: Norwegian offers programs for children from 6 months old to 17 years old. However, a parent must accompany children aged 6 months to 2 years.

Babysitting: Group babysitting is available from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. in the youth center for children aged 3-12. The fee is $6 per hour for one child and $4 per hour for any siblings. Private in room babysitting is not available at this time.

Baby Gear: There are Pack ‘n Plays available for children. High chairs are also available on the ship. Be sure to notify your cruise consultant ahead of time to guarantee your child has the necessary amenities.

Cruising from San Diego

Destination: Panama Canal
Cruise Ship: Royal Caribbean International’s Legend of the Seas
The Legend of the Seas will have one sailing to the Panama Canal in 2013 on November 27.

Royal Caribbean is well-known to cater to children of all ages. The Legend of the Seas contains six pools and whirlpools, a rock-climbing wall, a video game arcade, and even a 12-hole miniature golf course! Kids can chow down on Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and depending on their age, they will be able to join one of Royal Caribbean’s youth programs: Royal Babies, Royal Tots, or Adventure Ocean Youth Program. There is a nursery, teen-only hangout areas and dance club on-board. Don’t forget about the That’s Entertainment Theatre, which features live performances for all ages.

As previously mentioned, a cruise to the Panama Canal will give your kids or teens plenty of time to explore all of the sweet highlights of the Legend of the Seas, and then experience first-hand the ship passing through the famous locks. For adventurous families some of the possible excursions include zip lining through the jungle or going on a tropical safari in Guatemala.

Kids Programs: Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Youth Program has activities for children as young as 6 months old. The Royal Babies program is from 6-18 month olds and offers interactive classes for these children and their parents. The Royal Tots program is for children who are 18-36 months old. This program has a series of 45-minute sessions like Fun On The Farm, Pirates and Princesses and Terrific Trips.

Babysitting: Royal Caribbean offers both in room private babysitting and group sitting. Group sitting is offered in the youth center from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Children must be at least three years old and toilet trained to participate. The cost of the program is $5 per child, per hour. In room sitting is available for all children at least one year old. The cost of the program is $10 per hour for one or two children in the same family and $15 per hour for three children in the same family.

Baby Gear: Royal Caribbean provides Pack ‘n Plays, but please make sure your cruise consultant is aware of your needs in order to reserve everything in advance. Highchairs are available on-board.

A few more things to consider

Cost of cruises:
Prices for cruises range significantly depending on the size of your party, the type of stateroom you choose, the length of the cruise, the cruise line and the destination you are sailing to. Just like booking a flight, cruise prices will fluctuate over time.

What’s Included:
Cruises include your accommodations, all your meals along with access to a myriad of on-board entertainment from the pool to the spectacular theater productions. Depending on the cruise line and your particular reservation, you may also have access to some specialized dining venues on-board. Most ships do not include alcoholic drinks, soda and certain juices in the fare, as well as entry into some specialty restaurants.

As you can see, there are some superb kid-friendly cruising options leaving from the West Coast, offered by some of the best cruise lines in the industry. Which cruise line seems to be the most kid-friendly to you? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks again Erica. The Cruise Web is a travel agency that specializes in cruising to provide travelers with the best value for their time and money when finding and booking a cruise vacation!

[Photo from VinothChandar via flickr]