Vacationing with Teens and Tweens: Our Spring Break Cruise on Royal Caribbean
Okay.. I have to get one thing out in the open before I start… I was in NO way compensated for this review. No free wifi, no free drinks, nothing. This trip was 100% funded by me and the big guy. What you’re reading here is a completely open and honest opinion. Which you know that you always get with me, but didn’t want you to think anything else 🙂
We took our first cruise 8 years ago on Royal Caribbean when the girls were 5, 7, and 9 and it was quite possibly the BEST vacation ever. Definitely the best one up until that point of our lives. Even though we were cruising with a pro (my mom) we were unsure of what to expect. We’d heard good things about them and we’d heard bad things about them and I’ll say this – it’s true –
You either love cruises or you hate them… there is very little in between when it comes to them.
That first cruise, we loved. Everything was new! and big! and fun! The kids program they have onboard (Adventure Ocean) is second to none. They set it up so that if you’re a parent, you almost get two vacations – one with the whole family and one as a couple. Our girls always wanted to be in Adventure Ocean.. all of the counselors are (for the most part) education majors and since Crayola is a sponsor, there are activities galore. You truly feel good about them wanting to spend their time in there.
And yes.. even a little sniffly when you spend a ton of money on an excursion like the Dolphin Excursion and as soon as it’s done, the kids say “can we go back to the boat now??”.
We loved that cruise so much, the next year we did it again and this time convinced the besties to come with us with their then 6 year old as well as their 16 year old exchange student. This time, their girls (again) loved the cruise but the besties fell into the “hated it” category.. (told you.. there are only 2 camps with cruises) We still enjoyed it immensely and again, there was plenty for the kids to do but I did notice that our oldest who was close to 12 at that time, wasn’t as thrilled with Adventure Ocean as she had been the year before. She was reaching the point where she would have preferred to do something more exciting and active than just stay on a boat. I did look at a whitewater rafting trip before we went on the cruise (see https://www.americanwhitewater.com/california) and I think she would have had much more fun doing that.
This year, when we made the last-minute decision to take a cruise for spring break, the Rooster and I were really curious to see if the experience would be as awesome for the girls this time around since they’re older (12, 14, and 17 if you’re new around here). Some of the things we mulled over were:
- Would they be interested in the Teen Room at their age?
- Would there be enough other on-board activities to keep them happy if they didn’t like the Teen Room?
- What about food for our 14YO vegetarian?
- Would they survive without wifi?
- If they didn’t like any of the offerings, would they make our life miserable?
I’m here to answer each of those for you now.. please keep in mind that we’ve only sailed on Royal Caribbean so therefore, I have nothing else to compare it to. Other cruise lines probably have similar programs for teens and your travel agent can help you decide which one will be best for your family.
How the Teen Room/Programs Did:
This was the biggest curiosity point for us. According to the Royal Caribbean website their angle with those 12 – 17 is this:
“Our teen program isn’t some structured set of classes or rules – these “almost adults” deserve a vacation all their own. So we give them the freedom they deserve to join pre-planned events throughout the day or simply hang out in teen-only spaces – with Adventure Ocean staff that keep the good times coming.“
That being said, they broke the 12-17YOs into two groups – 12-14 and 15-17 – a division of ages which I agree with.
Here is a sampling of the activities they offer each group:
Ages 12 to 14
Get active with rock climbing competitions, dodgeball and Dance Dance Revolution, then take it down a notch at BBQs and movie nights. Plus, the chance to let your star shine with open mic nights, talent shows and Scratch DJ Academy.
Cassie, the 12YO loved it and Sydney, the 14YO, felt completely out-of-place and wanted to do the things the 15-17YO group was doing. Cassie and Sydney were both excited to get to the room to see what they offered – totally remembering how much fun they had 6 years before and I have to say, neither of them had anywhere close to the same experience they did in Adventure Ocean.
I asked them both which of the activities they actually participated in or saw was available to them.. I know Sydney was there the first two nights but after that, the only thing she did was a dive-in movie. Cassie was slow to warm up to it the first couple of days, but once she met a few friendly faces she was good to go. One thing that Sydney pointed out and I agree with her is that I wish parents had the ability to age their kids up to the next group. I’m not talking about if they’re 12 moving to 15, but Sydney will be 15 in less than a month and would have been much more at ease with the 15-17 year old group.
Ages 15 to 17
Join new friends at theme nights, pool parties and teen dinners. Feeling the competitive spirit? Bring it on the karaoke stage, on the Wii or at the basketball court and see who takes home the glory.
As for this age group, I wish I had more to tell you but Mackenzie the 17YO saw nothing that appealed to her in the least little bit. Our only saving grace for her was the fact she had a couple of friends who just happened to be on the same boat. I know they have a teen nightclub but I don’t have anything to report back on that one as she never took advantage of it.
My final take:
Royal Caribbean does a good job of offering this age group things to do that should appeal to them and if anyone knows how hard they are to please, it’s us parents. It’s hard to have activities that won’t seem too ‘young’ for them but if you’ve got teens/tweens that are uncomfortable meeting new people, you’re out of luck. In all honesty they’d probably have more fun on A Booze Cruise in Magaluf, but if you insist on taking them with you, they can just about get through it. One of the nice things is that it’s pretty safe to let them do their own thing. RCCL has a curfew for all guests 17 and under of 1am and mine never even came close to staying out that late without us.
If your teens/tweens are active, there’s definitely a lot for them to do. From rock climbing walls to miniature golf (and golf simulator) to the swimming pools and surf simulator, they will definitely stay active. They have a running track, half-court basketball court and a gym as well. We took advantage of the rock climbing wall and the flow rider but anytime we wanted to try out the miniature golf, it was always too crowded…something to be expected with 4,000+ people on a boat. They do offer a teen spa and video arcade but be prepared to spend a pretty penny to take advantage of them.
There are also shows that they may be interested in. My mom, Sydney, and I took in the most shows and they were enjoyable and just long enough that you felt entertained without feeling over-committed.
This could be a whole post on its own. For every island you stop on, there will be TONS of excursions to choose from. This particular itinerary included a stop on one of Royal Caribbean’s ‘private islands’ which was a beach extension of the boat. Any of the activities on that island, however, was an additional cost and it was pretty steep. They have a zipline that will cost you $100 for the most exhilarating 3 minutes of your life. There is a water park aspect to it (think giant blowups on the water) and while not as expensive as the zipline, it would still set you back $30 a person. We opted for the “hang out on the beach for free” excursion..
Excursions aren’t cheap so we have a “one excursion” per trip limit and that’s our big, special, family day. We chose to do the stingrays the day we were in Grand Cayman and it was awesome. Crowded where the stingrays were, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly so. Too bad the rest of Grand Cayman wasn’t affordable… we ended up blowing $160 for lunch for the 5 of us after the fact.
But it’s not just excursions that are expensive.. often, the beaches of the destinations aren’t free either. In Jamaica, you could spend $50 per person just to get TO the beach and that didn’t include beach chairs, food, drink, etc. Our best deal came when we went to Cozumel and went to the Paradise Beach Club.. there was no charge to get in as long as you spent $10 in food and drink (easy with our group) and chairs were $2. It was clean, great service and we had a great day. (Spoiler alert.. we’ve decided Cozumel is our next vacation…)
Oh, the food… if you’re going on a cruise do yourself a favor and lose at least 5-10 pounds before you go because the one area that cruises do very well is the HUGE amount of food offered. Most of it’s included in the cost but a few of the outlets like the cupcake place, Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks, etc. are a cost above and beyond that. One thing the girls loved doing was ordering room service which is included in your cost with only a small charge for ordering after midnight.
One big change for us since our last cruise is our 14YO eats no meat except for seafood. While there is always seafood on the menu, we worried she’d get tired of it eventually, so I was completely blown away to see they had vegetarian options that weren’t just seafood! As a matter of fact, her favorite meal came our last night when she had a Sweet and Sour Chicken that was made with either tempe or tofu. Don’t ask me.. I eat meat.. 😉
Being Connected… or Not
Oh boy. This is a tough one. One of the things that the Rooster and I discovered that we really like about cruises is being disconnected. And 6 years ago, the girls weren’t an issue when it came to that but this time around? It was something we were concerned about… could our tween/teens go 8 days with no internet? No access to Snapchat? Instagram? Texting?! The 17YO even said that she was willing to pay for the wifi with her own money because Royal Caribbean (and all the others) do offer a wifi package. But like all things cruising, it ain’t cheap. $20 a day for 7 days PLUS their 18% service fee and it’ll cost you more than $150 for the week to be connected. Not horrible for one person, but for 5?? No way, no how.
One thing that I really, really wish that RCCL had was some way to connect as a family on the boat. Some cruise lines do offer an onboard texting package but RCCL is not one of them. This is a HUGE disservice to RCCL’s passengers – especially if you have tweens/teens. I can’t tell you how many times I needed to find one of my kids and either didn’t or burnt 1,000 calories (not that that’s a bad thing) hoofing around the boat to see if I could find them. This is the reason why you’ll see so many families with 2-way walkie talkies. I really wish we had had thought to bring those this time because it would have made life so much easier.
My final two cents…
If You’re Going to Cruise with Tween/Teens
All in all, we had a great time on this cruise. Was it the same WOW experience we had when they were younger? Absolutely not, but how can anything be bad when there’s salt, sun, and vacation at hand? I can see now why there is a stereotype when it comes to traveling. This stereotype of older people going on cruises while teens are traveling around as a Cultural Care Au Pair because it’s more exciting for them. Looking back on it, I’m not sure that I would do a cruise with tweens/teens again but if you do, here are some suggestions:
- Budget – Whatever you set as your budget, add at least 50% to it. Between the onshore excursions and shopping, the extra things on the boat like the spa, arcade, etc. will cost you far more than you’re expecting. If you’re not familiar with how cruises work, there is NO cash exchanged on the boat. It’s all done via your ‘sea pass’ and trust me, that can get away from you faster than you can say Bon Voyage. Which is what cruise lines hope will happen.
- Set a Spending Limit – As soon as you possibly can, make your way to the guest services desk and set a limit on how much your kids can spend on their sea pass. For us, it was $50 which (in my opinion) is more than enough since 99% of the things they need are covered in their package. This will give them spending money for the arcade, extra food outlets, etc. without giving you a coronary when you get your final bill.
- Buy the Soda Package – Trust me, it’s worth it. The only drinks that are included are water, tea, lemonade, and coffee. If your kids like Starbucks, juices, and bottled water there is a premium package that will cover those as well.
- Travel with Friends – This isn’t always possible, but if you can swing it – do it. Your tween/teen will be much happier if they have a built-in buddy to hang out with – especially if they’re not comfortable with meeting new people – which is not uncommon at this age. As I mentioned earlier, we would have been toast had our 17YO not had her friends to hang with. She would have been miserable and we would have been, too.
- Take 2-way walkie talkies – This may seem like a hassle but you won’t think so if you have to spend half your time trying to connect with the people in your group. Oh and don’t forget the extra batteries.
- Plan Excursions Ahead – This needs to be a family decision. One tricky thing with teens/tweens is that they all have different interests which can make planning excursions challenging and ultimately, a budget buster. Unless you’re rolling in the dough, I don’t see how many families can afford to do more than one or two big excursions. Figure out the one that appeals to the majority of you and go with that one.
I hope this helps you decide whether or not you’d enjoy a cruise with your teens and/or tweens. If you’ve sailed with them when they were younger, I’d be interested to hear if your point of view shifted like ours did. While we love to cruise, I don’t know if I’d recommend it to my friends without some lengthy discussion on what kind of vacation experience they were looking for. The Rooster and I seriously contemplated booking another one while we were onboard (they offer HUGE incentives to do it while you’re there) but in the end, just couldn’t justify the expense for the experience. I would love to hear if the newer, bigger boats have more offerings but I can’t imagine that they’d be enough to keep the teens entertained. I’m thinking an all inclusive in Cozumel is calling our name for 2017…