Trip Coach: February 13, 2007

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Luisa Frey Gaynor, family cruise editor for CruiseMates.com, answered your questions about family cruises.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Hi, I'm Luisa Frey Gaynor, a travel writer specializing in family cruising. Thanks for joining me. I'm ready to answer your questions.

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New York, NY: I have a five year old daughter and she really lives for dance and art. Are there cruises available that offer these activities? We're thinking of taking our first cruise this summer (in June, 2 adults & one 5yr. old). Thank you.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: RCI has a great youth program which usually features a daily "Adventure Art by Crayola" activity in which your daughter will be engaged in artistic activities. As for dance, none of the youth programs offer dance related activities for the kids, however, all the big family-friendly cruise lines (Carnival, RCI, Princess, NCL, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Costa Cruises) have big production shows many times throughout the cruise. Bring your daughter to the early shows and I bet she'll enjoy seeing the professional dancers up on stage!

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Brooklyn, NY: Are there any kid friendly cruises to Bermuda or somewhere close to the East coast for a family of four with two very active boys ages 5 & 8?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Yes, there are a number of family friendly cruise lines cruising from the East Coast to Bermuda. The Bermuda season is usually from May through October. Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas cruises from Bayonne, NJ all season; Empress of the Seas sails from August through October from Philadelphia; and Grandeur of the Seas cruises during the fall from Baltimore. Also, Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Journey sails all season from Bayonne, NJ. Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line offers departures from Boston aboard the Norwegian Majesty all season, along with sailings on the Norwegian Crown from Philadelphia in May as well as New York City from June through October.

I suggest the Royal Caribbean ships as being most family friendly, especially since they all have rock walls and other active facilities. NCL's Norwegian Crown is also a good choice; however, the Norwegian Majesty is a smaller, older ship with not as many amenities for kids and teens.

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Philadelphia, PA: I have two sons with very different interests. My 10 year old is into sports & my 7 year old is into crafts. Is their a specific cruise that will keep them both happy?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest a Royal Caribbean Int'l cruise for your active family, especially their mega-ships such as the Voyager class of ships (home to indoor ice skating rinks) or Freedom of the Seas. This ship entered the market last year with a huge splash--not only because it was the largest cruise ship ever, but because it has an area for surfing as well as a water park which kids love! All RCI ships have plenty of pools, a rock climbing wall, and most of them also have mini-golf courses which your athletic son will love. As for your more artistic son, RCI has a top notch youth program too. Each cruise usually features a daily "Adventure Art by Crayola" activity in which your son will be able to express himself creatively. They often incorporate the destination into the crafts activity--for example, making fake Greek vases out of Crayola clay when sailing to the Greek Islands.

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Hastings, NE: What time of year can I get the best fares/savings for my family to cruise?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Fall (Sept. through mid-November) is the best time to get savings for your family. Since it's back to school time, ships are slightly less full and this, coupled with potential hurricane season in the Caribbean, is the impetus for cruise lines to offer their lowest rates to the Caribbean. Cruising during this time might be best for a family with young children who aren't in grade school since this is traditionally "back to school" time for most older kids.

Also, check out Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises' annual Kids Cruise Free fares to the Caribbean during their November through April Caribbean season. This summer, MSC is also offering their Kids Cruise Free promotion on their European / Mediterranean cruises.

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NYC, NY: We would like to go to Nova Scotia with our 5 yr. old. Are there any special cruises that have lots of things (educational, exercise, etc.) for her to do?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: I recommend a five-day cruise out of NYC to Nova Scotia aboard Carnival Cruise Lines. They have a great youth program which features daily activities in various categories such as "Edu-Cruise" or "Exer-Seas" for each age group. These summer time cruises always have plenty of families aboard.

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New Richmond, WI: My kids are very active, to say the least! Can you recommend some ships that have a lot of active, outdoors activities?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: You have two options: either cruise on big ships, such as Royal Caribbean Int'l, which have tons of active "bells and whistles" on them--ranging from rock walls, to ice skating rinks, surf areas, and basketball courts--or cruise on a small, expedition type ships that offer lots of active things for kids to do ashore.

For example, kids can play soccer with local kids who live along the Amazon River aboard International Expeditions' cruises; go on kids-only nature hikes in the exotic Galapagos Islands aboard an Abercrombie and Kent voyage; earn their zodiac (small, inflatable boat) driving license on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise; learn to scuba dive during a Windjammer Barefoot Cruise; or learn to paddle an outrigger canoe with local Tahitian children on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise. This latter program is offered in conjunction with the Jacques Cousteau Society. These cruise lines, which headline these unique, hands-on activities for children ashore, offer family friendly departures during the summer season.

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Roselle Park, NJ: Do any of the cruises out of NY/NJ that go north have any beach time on their stops?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: There aren't many beach destinations on New England and Canada cruises. If your ship calls at Martha's Vineyard, then you're in luck for pristine beaches which are great for swimming. Also, if your ship stops in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, there is an excursion you can purchase which takes you to a coastal village and beach complete with sea caves. Here, however, the water is colder and the beach is better for combing for shells and rocks. Lastly, those ships calling in Bar Harbor, ME, are in close proximity to Acadia National Park, which has a scenic beach.

If you just want beach time and it doesn't matter if you sail north to Canada or south to warmer, beach climates, then I suggest you hop on a cruise from New York to the Bahamas and northern tip of the Caribbean. NCL and a few other lines offer these cruises either year round or seasonally during the summer months.

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White Plains, NY: We are a family with two teenage girls and can leave from NYC or Fort Lauderdale/Miami for a cruise in June. What cruise line and port would give us the best bang for our buck? and when is the best time to book to get the best discount? Also would we need two rooms or could we use one since omost of our time would be spent outside the cabin. (the kids are 13,15) Thanks.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Generally, the most family friendly line that gives you the "most bang for your buck" is Carnival Cruise Lines. They also have a very good teen program for your two young adults. You can either cruise north from New York to coastal Canada (summer season) or cruise all the way to the Caribbean from New York. These are the most cost effective options since you can drive to the port of New York and save yourself lots of money on four airfares compared to flying to Florida to catch a Carnival cruise. Generally, these days, the best discounts are offered the earlier you book your cruise.

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Maplewood, MN: Every year we do a family reunion with about 22 people. We've been considering a cruise but are not sure how this would work for a large group. Ages are 5 to 85. We're used to the difficulties of vacationing with a large group but are there things about cruising that would make it more difficult or less?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Family reunion cruises are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, Holland America Line offers a family reunion package with reduced rates for families booking five or more staterooms for the same sailing. In addition to the group pricing, every family member gets a soda fountain card for unlimited soft drinks, a free family photo per stateroom, and dinner for the entire family in the alternative restaurant on HAL ships. Those booking at least 10 staterooms get a complimentary upgrade from an outside stateroom to a verandah.

What's great about cruises is that there is literally something for everyone. From top rate (free) youth and teen programs, to educational lectures or piano bars at night for adults, everyone in your group will find plenty to do. The beauty of cruising as a group is that you can request for your extended family to eat dinner at tables right next to each other so that even if people want to do their own thing by day, you'll all be together in the evening. (Plus, no one has to cook or clean up, compared to if you rent a big house or condos for your reunion.) Also, cruising allows each individual family some privacy since they'd probably each book their own stateroom. This gives in-laws an option if they want a little down time from the group. Since cruise lines have tons of shore excursions you can opt for, chances are you'll find activities ashore that many in your group will want to do together too.

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Hamden, CT: We are looking to take a cruise in August to Alaska. We are a family of 6, so we will be getting two cabins. We heard the only way to really go is getting balconies. So we are determined to see Alaska the right way. We are looking at taking either the north or southbound trip. We have 4 children, their ages are 15, 14, 12, and 7. We have traveled with Carnival before(to Canada and Bahamas) and the kids have enjoyed themselves. Is it worth paying the extra for Alaska and going on Princess or Royal Caribbean than on Carnival? Any suggestions you can give us would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time!

Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest you look into booking one inside cabin and one outside cabin right across the hall from each other. That way, you'll save some money on booking just one outside cabin instead of two, but still have the great Alaska scenery outside one of your doors. Since you have teens, they could stay in the inside cabin across the hall. If you do this, you might want to bring a baby monitor to keep in their room so you can monitor their comings and goings easily!

It's really your call if you want to sail with Carnival again or switch to Princess or RCI. If you enjoyed Carnival, you may as well stay with them since they have a very good youth and teen program. Princess, though, has a huge fleet of ships sailing Alaska so you will have more departure date and itinerary options than Carnival. (Princess also offers youth and teen programming.)

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Mooresville, IN: Are there situations we could encounter when cruising with our special needs 21 year old son? He's never been on a cruise and would love Disney cruise lines. He uses a wheelchair for long-distance walking and he needs a helping hand when on un-level surfaces. We're both 50 yr's old and he is our only child. Would he access to any of the teenage programs? Or did we wait to long?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Before you even said he's fond of Disney, I was going to suggest Disney Cruise Line. They are very helpful as far as special needs. Unfortunately, your son is too old for the teen programming (must be 13 to 17 years old) but there is so much fun, family friendly programming on Disney Cruise ships that you and your son will have more than enough to do. From family interactive game shows to lavish Disney stage productions and even a Pirates In The Caribbean deck party and fireworks, you'll all be pleased--actually, more liked "wowed"!

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Toronto Ontario: What are the advantages and disadvantages of booking airfare through the cruise line? Since I'm travelling with kids, I want to avoid multiple changes of planes, really early/late depatures, etc. As well, how do I know whether they will be flying us in the day before? (need to know for school).

Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest booking the air yourself. Sometimes the cruise lines will route you on non-direct flights (which are usually cheaper) even though there are direct flights. Or you might end up with a return flight that is hours after you get off the ship, forcing you and your kids to wait way too long at the airport. (Generally, any flight after 12 noon is usually safe for you to book and will give you enough time to get off the ship and to the airport, unless the distance between the port and airport is extensive.) Thus, you have more control over your schedule if you book yourself, which with kids can be a crucial factor in avoiding whining!

If you do book through the cruise line, one of few advantages is that if your plane is delayed upon arrival, then the cruise line would be aware that you are running late and might try to hold the ship's departure if at all possible. With independent air, if you're late...your ship may sail without you.

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Bernalillo, NM: We are planning an Alaska cruise for Summer 2008. We are 60 and 62 but our children and grandchildren, ages 1,3,5,5 and 10 a the time for a total of 13 passengers. The main thing that we are interested in seeing are the Humpback Whales and then other wildlife. Should we go on an inside passage cruise, on a big ship or a small boat? We all live in the Albuquerque NM area.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Quite a quandary--there are plusses and minuses to seeing Alaska with kids by big vs. small ships. If you're very interested in seeing wildlife, then I'd suggest cruising aboard a small ship cruise line to Alaska such as Cruise West, Lindblad Expeditions or Majestic America Line.

However, with children as young as one and three years old, I think you'll be much more comfortable on one of the larger ships, such as those plying Alaskan waters from the Carnival, Holland America, Princess, NCL or Royal Caribbean fleets. Staterooms on the smaller ships tend to be tighter than the big ships and it might be difficult fitting a crib in them compared to the big ships. Plus, toddlers are very active and they have more room to roam on the bigger ships. Holland America and Royal Caribbean offer private babysitting while Carnival has group babysitting. While you may see wildlife from your large ship, though, there is a greater chance of seeing Alaskan wildlife from the deck of a small ship.

So I think you have to weigh your odds to see which is more important--seeing wildlife or the comfort of the littlest ones in your group.

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Palatine, IL: Are there any options for families over 4 besides buying two cabins? (out of the question). I am a single mom with 4 children ranging from 10-16...and we would love to take a cruise. Just curious!!! I am never able to do online price checks because they will never alow 5 passengers...which we most definitely are.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Yes, it does get pricier when you need a cabin for families with more than four members. A number of the larger cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean Int'l, offer family cabins which can generally sleep more than four in various configurations. I suggest, though, that you start researching your cruise about a year early if you're looking for family cabins--there are limited quantities of them and they tend to get booked early. Royal Caribbean is also a good choice since they have a very good youth and teen program and their ships have lots of active, outdoors activities which children teens enjoy. I suggest RCI's Voyager class of ships for your teens especially.

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Phoenix, AZ: Every two years, my mother-in-law's relatives get together for a July 4th family reunion. Since we are scattered from coast-to-coast, with the highest concentration in the midwest, we take turns hosting the event in our hometown or somewhere nearby. Rather than going to Iowa again, I would love to propose a family reunion on board a cruise ship. The passengers range from elderly (60s, 70s) to babies, to just about every age in between. There are typically between 50 attendees and most can stay about 4 days, usually over a weekend. What would be the best type of cruise to take and which port would be best to depart from? Obviously, we'd prefer southern California, destination Mexico.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Please see my response to the Maplewood, MN question about family reunions.

Specifically, if you're interested in a short 3, 4, or 5-day cruise to Mexico, I suggest Carnival (4 day cruises from Los Angeles and 5 day cruises from San Diego) or Royal Caribbean (3 and 4 day cruises from Los Angeles). Other lines, such as Princess, NCL or Holland America offer cruises to Mexico but they are 7 days or longer.

Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean have plenty of great programming for little ones in your group. Carnival's youth program starts at age 2 (youth counselors change diapers) and includes group babysitting. RCI's youth program starts at age 3 (must be potty trained) but there is private babysitting and daily 45-minute Fischer Price Aqua Babies and Tots interactive sessions (caregiver must be present) for those under three years old.

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Scottdale, PA: What are the best cruiselines for toddler/preschooler activities?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Most cruise lines' complimentary youth programming starts for youngsters aged three years old and over who are potty trained. However, there are a few lines which offer other options for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Disney Cruise Line has a wonderful nursery for infants and toddlers under three years old. It's staffed with professional nannies and there is an hourly fee. The nursery is not open round the clock but it does have hours daily. I suggest you book your desired nursery times soon after embarking the ship.

Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line both offer youth programming for those two years and older. While Carnival's youth counselors change diapers, NCL's don't. Thus, parents will get a beeper on NCL cruises if their little one is in diapers. The NCL youth counselors beep parents to come and change diapers themselves. Carnival also has group babysitting for little ones in the late evening and also early morning of port days.

Royal Caribbean has Aqua Babies (6 to 18 months) and Aqua Tots (18 to 36 months) programming daily on all its ships. The activities are hosted by a youth counselor and feature Fisher-Price toys. Care givers must be present with the little one during the daily 45 minute interactive play session.

Note that most cruise lines post a sign which does not allow those in diapers in the pools aboard ships. Disney Cruise Line is one of the exceptions since part of its kiddie pool has a separate filtration system, and thus they allow diapered children in designated parts of the Mickey Pool.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL: Hi Luisa, What is the best way to find a criuise deal for a single mom with two teenage boys? Are there any friendly cruise lines who do this? The children rates I have seen are per paying adult. Your help is appreciated.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Unfortunately, cruise lines do not offer a single parent rate. Thus, even if your second passenger sharing a room is a child or teen, they still have to pay the full second person rate. (Usually you pay the same rate per person for the first two people sharing a cabin and then a lowered third and fourth berth fare for any additional people in the cabin regardless of age.)

One option is to check out Costa Cruises' Caribbean sailings from November through April, when kids 17 years and younger sail free with two full paying people in their cabin. While one of your teens would have to pay the full adult rate, at least the second child would go free. MSC Cruises offers the same deal on its fall through spring Caribbean cruises as well as its summer Mediterranean sailings.

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Burlington, VT: My husband and I are considering a cruise with our somewhat shy 15-year-old daughter. Are all the teen programs the same, or might there be one or two that would be better for a kid who isn't ready to jump right in?

Luisa Frey Gaynor:

Actually, "jumping right in" is the best way for a teen to meet other teens. Last year, my also somewhat quiet teenaged daughter was on a cruise and she hesitated until mid cruise to check out the teen program, despite my urgings to go earlier in the cruise. By the time she decided to go to some of the organized teen activities, many of the kids had paired up already with their new found friends and she felt left out. At the end of the cruise, she vowed that on our next cruise she'd go to the teen programming the first day right away in order to make some friends to hang out with during the cruise. Even if it takes some bribing, try to get your daughter to go to the teen orientation session the first night right away to see what it's all about.

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Columbus, OH: We are a family of five who would like to try a cruise vacation to Nova Scotia this summer--late June or early July. My teenager, the oldest, is easily bored and doesn't really want to go. Are there any cruise lines that offer activities that teens would enjoy? She's fourteen. Thanks!

Luisa Frey Gaynor: I suggest checking out Carnival's five-day cruises to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. Carnival has a very good teen program complete with disco nights, scavenger hunts, going to see shows together, pool parties, etc. Carnival ships also have a spiral slide and a video arcade, which teens enjoy too.

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Carlsbad, CA: I would like to make reservations for a family reunion which numbers 23-25 people during the week of Dec 26 2007 on a cruise ship sailing either to the Caribbean or around the Hawaiian Islands. There would be additional expense of airfare no matter which coast we depart from . Do you have any suggestions for the most economical itinerary and how to obtain the best cruise price? Thank you so much.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: If you're considering Hawaii, I recommend going on a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise around the Hawaiian Islands for a week. They specialize in Hawaii and are the only cruise line that can sail solely around the Hawaiian Islands without having to call at a foreign port. NCL has a good youth program for those aged 2 to 17 years. If little ones aren't potty trained, parents will get a beeper to alert them when they need to come change a diaper. Hawaii is a wonderful destination for all ages.

Since you're considering a holiday cruise, I suggest you look into it soon ... they book up quickly.

For getting comparative rates, go to web sites like www.CruiseCompete where you can plug in your desired dates and destination and cruise only agencies will email you back what their best rates are. I suggest booking through cruise only agencies rather than big, anonymous groups like Expedia, since cruise only agencies are experts in this area. These days, rates don't vary too greatly due to new rules set by the cruise lines in an effort to level the playing field. You should call the cruise only agent before booking since they may be able to offer you a better deal verbally than what you see on line. Also, with human contact, you know who to go to if you encounter a problem after you book.

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Los Angeles area (Granada Hills), CA: We are looking for an Alaskan cruise for our family. We also would like a land extension into the Brooks Range. We are attending a wedding in Eugene OR on July 14 and want to leave following that. My son is 13 years old. We are very adventourous and enjoy outdoor sports like hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, bicycling, and camping.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Since you're "outdoorsy", I suggest going on a small ship adventure to Alaska. Some of the lines you might want to consider include Lindblad Expeditions and Cruise West. On these lines, you'll have guided nature hikes ashore and you'll be able to see wildlife much more "up close and personal" than on the big ships.

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Pocono, PA: We live in PA and we dont like to fly--is there any cruise that leaves from NY or NJ, and what are the recommended cruise lines? Thank you.

Luisa Frey Gaynor: There are a few different directions you can cruise to from New York City and New Jersey ports. In the summer, you can head to Bermuda (see answer to Brooklyn, NY) or go north to New England and Canada. Carnival is your best bet for a family friendly cruise to coastal Canada. Alternatively, there are a number of cruise lines, such as NCL, which offer year round cruises from New York all the way down to the Bahamas and the northern tip of the Caribbean.

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Germantowm, MD: My sister and I are trying to plan a cruise for her family (two kids ages 4 & 7) and mine (no kids). Any suggestions for a cruise or cruise line with activities for all of us together and then just for the adults/kids separate? Thanks!

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Actually, all of the big cruise lines offering youth programs are very family friendly, but definitely have tons for adults to do on their own. I recommend Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America, Costa, NCL or Disney Cruise Line. Actually, Disney has an adults only section on each ship containing a few bars, night clubs, etc, as well as an adults only pool and adults only area of its private beach in the Bahamas.

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Cincinnati, OH: Luisa, What advice to you have for a family of 6 adults, 3 teens and one infant to book a Caribbean cruise on short notice for the week of March 10th out of any port? We are not fond on Carnivale lines.

LuisaFrey Gaynor: At this short notice (for March 10), you won't be able to be too picky. If you prefer not to cruise on Carnival, I suggest Royal Caribbean since they have a huge fleet and hence, probably the best choices left for a Caribbean cruise next month. This is spring break season so it might be tough to get the cabins you want--but you never know!

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Kingston, NY: We have small children and we are looking to cruise. Is there any cruise you would suggest?

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Please see the answer to the question from Scottdale, PA regarding options in cruising for little ones. Thanks!

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Judy, Charleston, WV: We are a family of four ages 44, 46 with children aged 9 and 15. This is our first cruise. We will depart Ft. Lauderdale, FL on July 29 on a 6 day cruise visiting Freeport, Bahamas and Costa Maya, Mexico. As we have never cruised before, do you believe a 6 day cruise to be a good choice? As first time cruisers with older children what advise would you give? Any information about excursions would be appreciated as well. Thanks

Luisa Frey Gaynor: Yes, I think you'll enjoy a six day cruise. Frankly, on a three or four day cruise, you're just getting relaxed and it's all over!

Some advice I can offer regarding older children and teens aboard ship is to set some limits before your cruise. This includes curfews (mainly for your teen -- the teen programming starts later in the evening and goes into the wee hours of the morning) as well as limits for on board spending. The video arcades and internet use can get pretty pricey if your teen is really into them, like most teens are!

Also, I suggest leaving a note pad at a central place in your cabin for the teen to leave you notes as to where he/she is since on board ship, the teen will probably have a lot of freedom. We've always taken walkie talkies aboard ship with us so that my 13 year old daughter can get a hold of us when she's off on her own. I guarantee that by the end of the cruise, both children will have made some new friends and will want to cruise again!

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Luisa Frey Gaynor: Thanks for all your interesting questions. I hope you and your family will sail the high seas soon ... once you do, I bet your kids will be hooked on cruising like mine are. (My 13 year old daughter has been on over 25 cruises!)

Smooth sailing!

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