Consumer Reviews Reveal 20 Most Popular “WOW” Cruise Ships for Families

Enjoying the Flowrider on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, voted one of the 20 most popular ships for families © 2014 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas and Celebrity Eclipse top the list of the 20 most popular cruise ships for families.

The list is based on reviews from thousands of cruise travelers gathered between January and June 2014 by CruiseCompete, an aggregator of cruise bookings. (Read the actual ship reviews on CruiseCompete.)

  1. Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
  2. Celebrity Eclipse
  3. Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas
  4. Holland America Eurodam
  5. Princess Cruises Island Princess
  6. Celebrity Solstice
  7. Holland America Ryndam
  8. Norwegian Epic
  9. Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
  10. Princess Cruises Ruby Princess
  11. Holland America Rotterdam
  12. Disney Fantasy
  13. Princess Cruises Crown Princess
  14. Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas
  15. Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas
  16. Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
  17. Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
  18. Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess
  19. Celebrity Summit
  20. Carnival Conquest

For more information on cruise vacations, contact a cruise expert at www.CruiseCompete.com.

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Cosmonaut training in Russia? Cruise Lines Offer New Surprises for Adventure Seekers

Crystal Cruises is featuring a Baltic cruise which includes a visit to Star City, Russia’s NASA and the opportunity to experience an actual Russian Cosmonaut Training course on advanced space equipment: the centrifuge, zero-gravity flight, or hydro-space program.

The trend toward offering travelers more intensive, authentic experiences that engage and enrich is moving through the entire industry.

Cruisegoers, for example, are increasingly opting for active, engaging experiences when they hit the seas or the rivers of the world.

In response, cruise lines are offering more ports of call in exotic locations, ships that feature an extraordinary range of action activities, and shore excursions that are original, exclusive and often impossible to organize on one’s own.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, offers a sampling of unconventional experiences that can be found on a cruise:

Alaskan Wilderness Family Expedition: An extreme 5-7 mile glacier hike may not be for every family, but adventure seekers who want an up-close view of Alaska’s wilderness, waterfalls and wildlife can take an extreme 5-7 mile glacier hike, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Laughton Glacier Hike does just that. Adults and children (ages 9 and up) are led by an expert guide on an Alaskan wilderness trek, complete with a scenic train ride and a traditional Alaskan meal.

Exploring One of the World’s Most Remote and Coldest Islands in the World: Hurtigruten, specialists in Arctic and Antarctic cruises, is the only cruise line that visits Jan Mayen, one of the most isolated islands in the world and home to a large population of polar bears. Excursion activities include learning Arctic winter survival skills or bush craft, including how to make a fire, fish, and throw a lasso in the harsh climate.

Traditional Junk Overnight in Vietnam: AmaWaterways’ cruise-and-land guests on the “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itinerary spend the night aboard a contemporary junk sailing UNESCO World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The most distinctive feature of junks, which were developed during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and used throughout Asia for extensive ocean voyages, is their broad, fully battened sails. Guests enjoy dinner and breakfast onboard taking in the bay’s scenery including dramatic limestone cliffs and rock formations during this exclusive offering.

SCUBA Training and Certification in French Polynesia: For treasures underneath the sea, Paul Gauguin Cruisesm/s Paul Gauguin is the only luxury ship in the French Polynesian islands offering PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification onboard. Programs that are offered include the Discover SCUBA Diving class, or resort certification, and PADI Open-Water Diver certification. Children 10 years and older can apply for Junior Open-Water Diver Certification.

Saving the Coral Reefs of Bonaire: To help save and protect precious coral reefs that delight divers and snorkelers, Cunard has a new volunteer-excursion for 2014-2015 the Coral Restoration Dive Experience. The program (only for PADI certified divers) connects passengers with the Coral Restoration Foundation in Bonaire where they receive hands-on instruction on basic coral reef preservation.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dracula: Oceania Cruises’ itinerary in the Greek Islands and Eastern Mediterranean includes a stop in Constanta, Romania, featuring a day trip to “Dracula’s Haunts and Best of Bucharest” in Transylvania, with a drive through the bucolic Prahova Valley and then on to Bran Castle, where the legend of Dracula was born.

Russian Cosmonaut Training: Guests looking to set their sights on space can do so sailing on a Crystal Cruises Baltic cruise to St. Petersburg, with a flight to Moscow and an overnight in Star City, the Russian equivalent of NASA headquarters during the 20th century “Space Race” – home to the largest centrifuge in the world. The excursion includes experiencing one of three actual Russian Cosmonaut Training courses on advanced space equipment: the centrifuge, zero-gravity flight, or hydro-space program.

For more on information on cruise vacations and to find a CLIA cruise counselor to plan a cruise vacation of a lifetime, visit www.cruising.org.

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Crown Cruise Vacations Picks Best Cruise Lines for Solo Travelers

Norwegian Breakaway docked at Bermuda. Breakaway offers studio cabins, specifically designed and priced for solo travelers with an innovative bathroom design. The studios also have private keycard access to the Studio complex and an exclusive two-story Studio Lounge with a bar © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Traveling solo can be a great way to relax and enjoy a cruise, but you want to be sure to plan well and that your ship and itinerary make sense, say the cruise experts at Crown Cruise Vacations. Finding good pricing as a solo traveler can be a challenge, because the cruise lines look at the market value of their cabins on a per-person basis, and they are usually priced at double occupancy rate.

When sailing alone, you’ll pay what’s known as a “single supplement,” which means you pay for the entire cabin, and your individual rate will be higher than if you were sharing the cabin with another passenger.  However, in the interest of relaxation and solitude, many travelers find that this added expense is well worth the cost.

As more people take to traveling solo these days, enjoying their quiet time as well as the opportunity to make new friends, Hurtigruten continues to offer a long held policy of sailings without the penalty of a single supplement. Guests traveling alone and booking a double-occupancy cabin will pay the same per person rate as if they were traveling as a couple on select departures of the six- to 12-day itineraries along Norway’s fjord-filled west coast – including the holiday sailings. The route, named the “world’s most beautiful voyage” by Lonely Planet, runs between the UNESCO-listed harbor city of Bergen and the Norway/Russia border town of Kirkenes, with 34 ports of call in both directions.

Right now, MSC Cruises is offering exclusive rates on select MSC Divina Caribbean sailings where certain sailings are offered at a reduced fare to solo travelers for a limited time.

Ultra luxury lines like Silversea, Crystal and Seabourn may be more conducive to solo travelers in some respects with smaller guest numbers overall that can make solo travelers feel more at home in a cozy sense. These lines do not offer solo cabins per se, but may have pricing that factors in one versus two guests in a cabin.

NCL’s Norwegian Epic has 128 studio cabins priced for solo cruisers, with no extra supplement required.  Norwegian is the leader in number of cabins offered, with cabins equipped with full-size beds, tvs, and private bathrooms. Cabins are inside but look out onto corridors and include shared social space in the Studio Lounge or you can mingle with other passengers in the mainstream offerings.

Holland America Line does not offer solo cabins and does charge 140 to 200 percent of the cabin fare, but there are plenty of things to do for solo guests. HAL has a matching service for those looking to share a cabin (Single Partner’s Program). There are also social gatherings to be included in on longer voyages and gentlemen hosts that Holland offers solo ladies looking for a dance partner.

Cunard does not have solo cabins and usually charges 175 to 200 percent of the cabin fare, but has many programs like lectures and theatrical performances that are conducive to solo travelers. Cunard also offers gentlemen hosts for ladies looking for dance partners.

Sophisticated cruise specialists at Crown Cruise Vacations provide exclusive offers, exceptional value & unparalleled service and can assist with experienced cruise information and bookings. For more information and to book a cruise call Crown Cruise Vacations, which is based in Princeton, NJ, at 1-877-283-1114 toll-free USA/Canada, +1-609-945-9801 direct dial or visit http://www.crowncruisevacations.com/

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CruiseCompete Issues Guide to Best Cruiseline Children’s Programs

Frolicking on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. CruiseCompete has produced a guide to the best children’s programs afloat © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

If your family is planning a summer cruise, one of the most important considerations in choosing a cruiseline and an itinerary is the children’s program that is available. Children’s programs on cruiselines range from nonexistent to truly stellar, so it’s worth doing careful research before booking a family cruise.

To that end, the cruise experts at CruiseCompete have compiled a list of the best cruise line children’s programs and detailed their highlights. For a comprehensive listing of the lines and their full children’s program information, including the minimum ages accepted by each line please click here.

(Note: Cruise line children’s program information is direct from the lines and is subject to change, so confirm details when you book your cruise. The age parameters may vary by line so be sure to check each one individually.)

The cruise lines do not offer a children’s program, per se, for older teens (organized children’s programs generally stop at age 17) and college-aged children; however, they do offer many activities and amenities for this age group. Please click here for tips and tricks on traveling with young adult children.

Here are highlights of what each line offers (an asterisk * indicates that a complete children’s program is available for toddlers to teenagers):

Carnival Cruises’ Children’s Programs: Camp Carnival designs its children’s activities for three age groups: 2-5 years, 6-8 years and 9-11 years. Our counselors, each with education or childcare experience, make sure everyone has fun. At mealtime, kids get their own menus, with faves like mac & cheese, chicken nuggets and more. Camp Carnival Night Owls (fees apply) enable kids to stay up late having fun while their parents also enjoy themselves well into the night. (*)

Celebrity Cruises’ Children’s Programs: The Fun Factory, available 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, has the latest gaming technology and kids can participate in various sports, crafts, music, karaoke, treasure hunts, theme parties and movies. (*)

Crystal Cruises’ Children’s Program: Space dedicated to children is rare on luxury lines, yet Crystal has designed its ships to accommodate multiple generations. They offer spacious staterooms in a range of categories as well as suites, third berths and connecting staterooms, child-friendly cuisine, activity programs on select sailings for ages 3-17, a Fantasia playroom and a video arcade for teens.

Cunard’s Children’s Programs: Cunard offers something for all ages and the program is broken down into 3 categories; the Play Zone (ages 1-7) the Kids Zone (ages 8-12) and the Teen Zone (ages 13-17). The line also features a Night Nursery, which is available to children aged 12-23 months and is open from 6:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. (*)

Disney Cruise Line’s Children’s Programs: Disney is all about family cruising and its programs are probably the best offered; accordingly, their prices tend to be higher than other lines. They offer excellent daycare centers for ages 3 months to 3 years. The Oceaneer Club offers four distinct play areas for older children. Special needs children are welcome. Edge is a “tweens” club and Vibe is for teenagers 14-17. (*)

Holland America Line’s Children’s programs: Tweens aged 8-12 can take part in Club HAL’s video game tournaments, scavenger hunts and karaoke disco parties. They also have the option of taking part in Holland’s National Park Service Jr. Ranger Program on Alaska cruises. (*)

MSC Cruises’ Children’s Programs: MSC offers two clubs for younger children (Mini Club 3 to 6 years; Junior’s Club 7 to 11 years) and focuses on offering age-appropriate activities such as arts and crafts, swimming, sports tournaments, parties, talent contests and onboard adventures. Teens ages 13 to 17 can meet up at the teen club and participate in planned activities and parties. The line also has dedicated areas for teens like the Graffiti teen disco, where events include MTV competitions, the teens hit list and a variety of other themed evenings.

Princess Cruises’ Children’s Programs: Passengers ages 13-17 can enjoy all of the coolest amenities in Princess’s teen lounges. The teen lounges feature all of the latest tech, like PS2/PS3 and Wii games, movies and music. Teens can also participate in activities such as Casino Night, hip hop dance lessons, sports tournaments, teen makeovers and more. (*)

Royal Caribbean International’s Children’s Programs: The minimum age to sail is 6-months’ old, with a 12-month age requirement for some cruises. Royal Caribbean has a dedicated nursery for children aged 6-36 months that holds interactive playgroup sessions. Daytime and evening drop-off is available for $8 an hour. (*)

You can book a cruise on one of these family-friendly lines at www.CruiseCompete.com.

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