Last updated: 09:57 AM ET, Thu July 21 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Evolution of Cruise Kids Programs

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Disney Cruise Line | Jason Leppert | July 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Evolution of Cruise Kids Programs

 Photo by Jason Leppert 

I wasn’t even two years old when I went on my very first cruise in 1985, and back then Princess Cruises’ original Royal Princess didn’t even have a kids facility onboard. Since then, children's programs have become exponentially more elaborate. Now at a time when Generation Z is greatly influencing family purchasing decisions, youth cruise options are more crucial than ever to include.

Now 32 years old, I’m a millennial who has seen the evolution of cruise ship kids programs from their nonexistent start. Three decades ago, children on cruises were an afterthought, which makes sense given that they were then frequented by retirees over families.

After a couple of cruises on the Royal Princess, my family began to sail rather regularly on the then-new Crystal Cruises upon its 1990 launch. Back then, passengers turned heads when they saw a child onboard, but at least the Crystal Harmony actually had a kids space. Mind you, it was just a single room with a simple padded incline to crawl on, some activity tables and a few classic Nintendo NES video game consoles. By the time the Crystal Symphony emerged, the space grew to include a ball pit and several arcade games but not much more.

 READ MORE: MSC Cruises Reveals Enhanced Onboard Family Programs 

There wasn’t even a youth staff back then. On Crystal as well as Princess, such duties rested not on an entertainment staff but the production show cast. I have fond memories of playing games like Marco Polo in the pool hosted by the ship’s dance troupe. As time marched on, a number of Crystal executives went on to develop a new cruise line for Disney, and my family started to get wind of what was in the works.

As a huge Disney fan, having grown up in San Diego down the coast from Disneyland, I was instantly intrigued. Of course, by the time the Disney Cruise Line launched in 1998, I was nearing 15 and was alas already too old for Disney’s Oceaneer Club (pictured above). For fear of a ship overrun with unruly children, my folks surprisingly stayed clear of the line until 2012 when the Disney Fantasy was introduced. We changed our tune by then, realizing just how well the line entertains behaved children in their expansive dedicated areas while pleasing children-at-heart adults just the same.

 READ MORE: The Best Family Cruise Programs at Sea 

The Disney Cruise Line was no doubt a turning point in the cruise industry as a casino was ditched in favor of a much larger children’s facility, one that has set the standard for every other cruise line since (even including Princess Cruises’ new Royal Princess). And it’s not just about the hardware, kids activities have grown to feature everything from character meet-and-greets to a full-fledged Jedi Training Academy show onboard “Star Wars” Day at Sea theme cruises. Plus, shore excursions are even tailored to families to be more engaging to children on ocean cruises and now even Adventures by Disney river cruises aboard AmaWaterways.

Today, millennials nearly equal baby boomers as the largest demographic of cruisers, and they definitely take their families along for the ride, expecting something for everyone to enjoy, and their wishes are being granted across the entire industry. Oh, how I wish I was a kid again to partake in all the new fun as well.


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