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Most cruise ships have an onboard kids club but figuring out how to make it work best for your family isn’t always child’s play. Read on to discover how to make a cruise ship kids club work for your family with these tips from myself and Rebecca, the manager of the kids club on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas. Did you know that teens should always go to the first session (even if they’re not that keen)?  Or that it’s far better for parents with tots to call and check on their little one rather than dropping in?  What if the kids club is over subscribed, can you still get your child in? (the answer is yes, but only if you know how).

Meet Rebecca, the Adventure Ocean kids club manager
Meet Rebecca, the Adventure Ocean kids club manager

Like most cruise ship programs, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean divides children into small, age appropriate groups for each developmental stage rather than, say, having ages 3 – 8 all together. Younger children find this arrangement more fun and less intimidating while for older ones it is simply a relief. The novelty of being hounded and idolised in equal measure by a pack of hyperactive little kids wears thin very quickly when your child is one of the older ones! What group your child is in depends on their age. There are Royal Babies (6-18 months) & Royal Tots (18-36 months), Aquanauts (3-5 years), Explorers (ages 6-8 years) and Voyagers (ages 9-11 years) plus a separate tweens and teens program with teen-only hangout areas.

This means siblings who are close in age might not be in the same group. However, as the Aquanauts, Explorers and Voyagers rooms at Adventure Ocean are side-by-side children will be able to see each other and feel comfortable that their brother or sister is close by. Occasionally on trips which are out of school holidays you might find children get put together in a blended age group. This is fine if your child is somewhere in the middle (ie. age 7) but if they’re one of the youngest or one of the oldest it can be problematic. If your kids aren’t having a good time for any reason, always talk to the kids club staff as they will work very hard to find a solution. Whether you have teens or a tot, here are some targeted cruise ship kids club tips:

Royal Babies & Royal Tots

Do you have a little one aged under 36 months? If so, make sure there is a Royal Babies & Royal Tots nursery on board as not every ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet has one. In room babysitting costs $19 per hour for up to 4 children which can be more cost effective than the $8 per hour charge for unaccompanied Royal Babies & Royal Tots at the nursery. Why not team up with another family and save?

Stay with your child for a little while before you leave them on the first day and introduce them to the carers so they can start having fun before you quietly slip away. Pick up the phone and call to check how they are going. Little ones can become upset and confused if you drop in and then leave without taking them with you so check on them by telephone instead. Your child will be having so much fun that toilet trips will invariably be left until the very last minute, something our family learned the hard way on our first cruise! Avoid clothes which are hard to get off (ie. overalls with tricky clips) so trips to the toilet are hassle free.

Royal Babies & Tots Nursery
Royal Babies & Tots Nursery

Royal Caribbean Aquanauts

If you only leave your child aged 3 to 5 in the program for an hour or so the first few times, any worries about Mum or Dad not coming back will quickly disappear and they’ll be begging you to leave them for longer next time. Consider scheduling an afternoon nap for children this age if they are attending the evening program as fun, busy days combined with late nights can cause tears and tantrums in under 5s. Bring your own floaties as these are not available for purchase on board.

Royal Caribbean Explorers

Royal Caribbean Explorers is the name given to the kids club group for ages 6-8 years. Join your child for some of the scheduled Family Activities on the ship. These are usually fun, team oriented activities designed to be enjoyed as a family. The Family Treasure hunt is great fun! Don’t miss the Pirate Parade with Puss in Boots on the Royal Caribbean DreamWorks ships like Voyager of the Seas. Ask the Adventure Ocean staff what night it will be on so you don’t miss it.

Puss in Boots with his very cute band of pirates
Puss in Boots with his very cute band of pirates

Royal Caribbean Voyagers

Voyagers are kids aged 9 to 11 years. This group can sign themselves in and out of the kid’s club (with parental permission) but unless they are very level-headed and well behaved, this probably won’t be appreciated by other passengers. Put a group of 9 year old boys together and there are bound to be hi-jinks, even if they are normally good as gold. Withholding sign out privileges until your child is closer to 11 than 9 is worth considering. Lay down some ground rules prior to the cruise. Are your kids allowed to have friends back to the cabin?  Do they have to return by a specific time each day? Can they get themselves treats at the buffet between meals? 

If you set ground rules beforehand, there won’t be any misunderstandings that could potentially spoil the holiday mood. Schedule some ‘family challenges’ of your own. Our family of three each chose an onboard activity that everyone had to try (even if they weren’t keen!) – Flowrider (me), climbing wall (Dad) and mini golf (son). It is extra fun if you award a small ‘prize’ from the onboard gift shop for the ‘winner’ of each challenge. We all had a ball trying activities that we wouldn’t normally do and even surprised ourselves sometimes.

Family Challenge time! Mother and son tackling the climbing wall together.
Family Challenge time! Mother and son tackling the climbing wall together.

Tweens and teens

While many parents prefer to avoid school holiday sailings due to the amount of children on board, they can be an ideal choice when you are travelling with tweens and teens who will revel in the opportunity to hang out with new friends. Even if your teen says they aren’t sure if they will join the program, it is VERY important for teens to attend on the first day as this is when friendships are formed.  If your child skips this session but decides to join in a few days later, it can be hard for them to make friends.

Kids club tips

Always be on time (or even a little early) for pick up. The staff will love you for it! Hold off booking that romantic dinner until the second night of the cruise as most kids club programs start the day after you have boarded the ship. Check the daily program to see if your child needs to wear or bring anything special, eg. the kid’s club waterslide on Radiance of the Seas is open from 1pm to 3pm most days. Are you cruising during a major holiday like Halloween? Pack a costume as there is sure to be a special event at the kid’s club.

If you prefer dining as a family, consider having the children’s meals served first so they can eat with you then join their friends at the kids club. Older children can sign themselves in but if you are travelling with under 9s, the My Family Time Dining program offered by Royal Caribbean is an excellent option. Available during the main dining room’s first seating, it has children served within 40 minutes and collected by the Adventure Ocean staff so adults can enjoy the rest of their meal at leisure.

Tips for school holiday cruises

Register at the kids club on the first day and ask any questions about the program. Check if there are any special activities like the Pirate Parade during the cruise and find out when these on so you can plan accordingly. Don’t panic if the kids club is too full for your child to attend on the first morning. This session is always extremely busy but once the rush dies down there will be plenty of spaces available for the rest of the cruise. For younger children who aren’t accustomed to day care or kids clubs, the first day can be a little overwhelming due to the large number of children. Consider delaying your first visit until the second day of the program when things are quieter. And the most important tip of all is….have fun!

Disclosure: The writer travelled on Voyager of the Seas as a guest of Royal Caribbean.

Want more great cruise advice? Check out our tips for choosing the perfect cruise, cruising with grandchildren, cruising with tweens and cruising with kids of all ages, solo cruising, the best activities on Ovation of the Seas, doing a Transatlantic cruise with kids, cruising in Australia or Papua New Guinea, Iceland cruise tips, cruising on a megaship, scoring a bargain cruise fare, cruising the Mediterranean, making the most of a cruise ship kids club, luxury cruising with kids, and the Byron Beach Club onboard P&O Cruises. We have also reviewed Disney Wonder, Pacific Adventure, Celebrity Edge, Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, Pacific Encounter, Carnival Splendor, Voyager of the Seas, Nieuw Statendam, Viking Helgrim, Pride of America, Coral Expeditions in Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef, Celebrity Solstice, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.