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How to help your teens have a safe (but fun) cruise vacation

In many ways, a cruise vacation is an ideal setting for independence-seeking tweens or teens. Old enough to be let off the leash a bit, they are often free to roam within the perimeters of the floating resort. After all, where can they go and how much trouble could they possibly get into?

Well, don’t let down your parental guard completely. With thousands of passengers and crew aboard the larger vessels, a cruise ship is like a small city on water and so all aspects of street smarts (make that deck smarts), stranger-danger awareness and the buddy system should apply. If you’d want to keep tabs on your kids in an unfamiliar town, do so on a ship.

Most cruise ships offer special teen lounges, such as the Fuel nightclub (above) on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas.

There’s no need to be an overprotective, paranoid killjoy, but do communicate to find out where they are going, whom they are hanging out with and what they are planning to do. Get introduced to the friends they click with at the youth club or teen lounge, and try to meet the parents. Just be aware who is having an influence, good or bad, on your kid.

Here’s a few tips to keep your teens safe on your next family cruise vacation:

Depending on your family’s size, stage and configuration, you may opt to bunk your older offspring in their own stateroom (ideally adjoining or across the hall). They’ll love the privacy, extra sleep-in time and extended bathroom privileges, but you may feel like there’s not a lot of “family time” on this supposed “family vacation”. Try to have most if not all meals together – make it a non-negotiable. Pick a designated time and place to meet up and check in with each other at other times throughout the day too.

Many cruisers recommend using a two-way radio or pager to keep in contact on board. Find out ahead of time if your ship rents these out to passengers, or consider bringing a set with you (pack extra batteries, you’ll need them). Not all cruise ships are enabled for cell phone usage and even if yours is, it’s not necessarily an economical option once roaming charges are factored in.

It’s worth mentioning that many teen lounges, cafes and even staterooms are internet zones, so if you’re concerned about unsupervised surfing you many want to block internet access from their key card accounts.

Kids clubs, youth programs and teen hang-outs are done well on most cruise lines, giving you peace of mind that your children will be engaged in a fun, safe, supervised, age-appropriate environment. Coffee houses, internet lounges, discos, teen-only sun decks, and private teen beaches are just some of the attractions for this age-set on various cruise lines.

Note, however, that on some ships kids as young as 10 can sign themselves out of the program and then wander at whim. Give them a common-sense pep talk before allowing them this kind of liberty, even if they groan and eye roll at you. For example, explicitly tell them not to go into other people’s cabins and not to invite other’s into theirs. It never hurts to reinforce these basics.

With the relaxed, fun, party atmosphere on the cruise ship, your older teen may feel some peer pressure to drink. Granted, the charge/key cards used onboard are coded to flag your child’s under-21 status and bartenders are trained not to serve alcohol to minors. However, just like at home, it is easy enough for a plucky teenager to find someone of age to buy the drinks. Just be aware and monitor your kid accordingly.

Generally speaking, cruises are a safe holiday option for your teenaged traveler. Crime and safety incidents for all ages are relatively rare, but they do happen. Mishaps stemming from burgeoning freedoms and limit-pushing exploration can happen at home or onboard. Like a ship’s captain, parents must keep careful watch to gently guide their kids on course as they navigate the uncharted waters of adolescence.


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