When Facebook gives way to face time

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightTeens talk to each other on a cruise. My wife made that observation on a recent cruise we took with our two daughters.

I instantly knew what she meant. It wasn’t just that they were conversing, but that they were doing it without the constant reference to a mobile device, seemingly grafted to their hands.

It is very refreshing to see teens talking to each other unaided by devices. Call it one of the unintended benefits of a cruise vacation.

Internet access on a cruise is expensive. As the father of a teen, I say great. It provides me with an excuse to just say no to connecting online. I told my two girls on the cruise they could have the scrap minutes at the end of the cruise after I had used most of my package for work.*TomStieghorst

Once, telecommunications were so difficult at sea that disconnecting was a universal experience for cruise passengers. That has gone away as connections got more reliable and prices for service came down.

So adults can no longer hide from the office, take a break from clients or escape from everyday interactions by taking a cruise. That has its upsides, of course, but not a few of us would willingly trade them away.

As parents, however, one of the worries we have with our teens is whether they will squander the chance to see the world and experience new things because they’re glued to their phones 24/7.

Like the time a few years ago when I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park only to find my daughters’ eyes feasting on a 2- by 3-inch screen instead of the 12,000-foot vistas and overlooks.

My kids make friends with other kids from all over the world on a cruise. My older daughter spent the cruise comparing lives with new friends from England. My younger daughter is still in touch (via social media, of course) with a group from California she met last year on a Holland America cruise.

I like to think that one reason for that is that they are out of touch with old friends long enough to make new ones. Of course, the minute we make the dock, they’re eagerly scanning the waterfront for an Internet cafe.

So far cruise lines have focused on improving Internet quality, rather than reducing the price of a profitable service. But Royal Caribbean International is about to up the ante with the imminent debut of O3B on Allure of the Seas, which promises “land-like” connection speeds.

For now, access is expensive enough that I can keep my kids off the grid on a cruise. I hope it stays that way. Call me old-fashioned, but there should be some place where face-to-face communication thrives, and if it is on a ship, so much the better for cruising.


5 Great Cruise Ships for Teens

New cruise ships have teen appeal down to a fine artBy: Marilyn Green

Mini-golf can be a shared experience for the family. // © 2014 Norwegian Cruise Line

Mini-golf can be a shared experience for the family.

// © 2014 Norwegian Cruise Line

Teenagers are notoriously picky, caught between childhood and adulthood and ready to reject anything that borders on childish or dull. The cruise lines — aware that these are not only very influential members of the family when it comes to vacations, but also tomorrow’s adult cruisers — have gone to great lengths to provide this group with a kind of onboard paradise without disturbing the rest of the passengers. The most successful ships have features that draw the whole family together while offering teens their own space, with skilled and hip supervision.

Teen clubs and facilities are getting larger, extending to private sundecks, discos, spa services, refreshments and even pools. In this digital era, cutting-edge technology is a necessity, as is social media access. Many ships separate younger teenagers from the older ones, sensitive to the gulf between the rapidly changing age groups.

Families with teens can choose from connecting rooms, suites and special family accommodations, depending on finances, family culture and the age and maturity of the teens. For larger family groups, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line are all offering accommodations that can sleep five or six people.

Teenagers are as diverse in their tastes as adults. What pleases an athletic teen will not necessarily excite an animal lover or a passionate Internet or video game devotee. The ship, itinerary and onboard culture need to be considered in making decisions for teens as well as adults.

Oasis of the Seas
It’s hard to imagine any teen, regardless of taste or temperament, getting bored on Oasis. Whether hanging out with other teens in their own space or trying out the FlowRider surfing simulator, the rock-climbing wall, the ice-skating rink, the zipline, the basketball court and more, teens will have lots of options on this state-of-the-art ship.

Royal Caribbean set up a teen advisory board, which resulted in offerings such as the Scratch DJ Academy, a youth spa and very trendy teen-only areas for ages 12-14 and 15-17. The staff hosts theme nights, karaoke competitions and more. Plus, young adults have a mind-boggling number of casual dining options, including Johnny Rockets, boardwalk candy and the Wipeout Cafe.

Besides connecting rooms, families with teens can opt for family cabins that sleep up to six people, lofts with bedrooms upstairs and downstairs or the Presidential Family Suite with enough space for 14 people.

Carnival Breeze
Carnival Breeze features quaint cabins — 230 square feet with two bathrooms and sleeping arrangements with drop-down bunks that open up the space by day.

During waking hours, teens can enjoy the poolside theater or the Thrill movie theater, with special effects added to the 3-D entertainment. The WaterWorks aqua park has the 320-foot Twister waterslide and the SportSquare has plenty to keep a whole family involved, including a lighted basketball court, a suspended ropes course, 18 holes of mini-golf and outdoor workout stations. The Breeze’s comedy clubs have graded entertainment for various levels of sophistication as well.

Carnival also splits tweens and teens, with Club 02 for cruisers 15-17 and Circle C for 12- to 14-year-olds. Supervised parties that last long after most of parents have gone to bed will make teens happy, as does a trendy dance floor with great lighting effects, 16 television screens, a bank of computers, a soda bar and pizza, T-shirt decorating and game nights. There’s even a youth spa that offers treatments from body scrubs to hair braiding.

On shore, teens can join their families or go on teen-only supervised trips such as dolphin encounters or mountain-biking excursions.

The Breeze is also loaded with casual dining delights, including the burger joint of chef Guy Fieri, sushi and 24-hour hand-tossed pizza.

Norwegian Breakaway
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway has a lot to offer young adults, including five multi-story waterslides, with a pair of stomach-flipping free-fall slides and side-by-side slides for racing. There’s a formidable ropes course along with The Plank waterslide, extending eight feet over the sea, plus plenty of team sports for all ages to enjoy.

Entourage is Norwegian’s teen program for ages 13-17. The club has snacks and sodas, an arcade, multi-player action games and a disco at night.

Norwegian, which broke the rigid tradition of dinner seatings and opened up entertainment and dining arrangements with its “freestyle” schedule, has as many dining venues as a small town. Teens can satisfy their appetites with choices including 24-hour pizza, fish and chips, sushi and Teppanyaki.

The brand-name entertainment onboard is a huge plus for teen passengers as well as adults: Second City comedy sessions are a big draw and, until 11 p.m., teenage passengers are allowed entry into the Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club.

Family accommodations include the Haven’s 603-square-foot, two-bedroom Family Villas that can accommodate as many as six guests. Villas offer two bathrooms as well as living and dining rooms. Family staterooms in various categories sleep five, and there are plenty of connecting room combinations to book as well.

Royal Princess
Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess offers a number of enrichment classes among its 40-odd adventures — from ceramics to digital photography in the ScholarShip program. The giant-screen Movies Under the Stars are designed to appeal to all ages, and a batting cage and a laser shooting range offer active entertainment. Among other sports options are Princess Links (an onboard mini-golf course) and basketball as well as tennis, bocce and croquet on artificial lawns.

Royal Princess’ teen club, Remix, is designed for 13- to 17-year-olds, and the line responded to teen feedback by creating a private outdoor area with a lounge, wading pool, sunbathing area and space for alfresco parties and all sorts of competitive games. Indoors, teens have a very trendy lounge area, hip-hop dance classes, a DJ booth and video game tournaments. Mocktail parties and formal gatherings, including a group trip to see live shows, are offered as well.

Teens can hit the creperie or the new bistro options in the buffet when they get hungry. Other choices include a crab shack, a fondue restaurant, a pastry shop, a pizzeria and barbecue beside the pool in the evenings.

Fifty staterooms onboard can be connected, the most on any Princess ship, and there are 36 suites ranging in size from 440 to 705 square feet that sleep up to four people. Royal Princess also has four-berth inside cabins, outside cabins and mini-suites.

Disney Fantasy
Disney has been a pioneer in family accommodations, with its split bathroom design making life much easier for family groups. The Fantasy offers a variety of configurations that serve groups of up to five people, including 241-square-foot Deluxe Family Oceanview staterooms with queen-size beds, a convertible sofa and pull-down beds. Concierge suites also accommodate as many as five guests and have a whirlpool tub and a walk-in closet.

During waking hours, the AquaDuck, the first watercoaster at sea, ranks high among features for all ages. The length of 2½ football fields and speeding out over the sea, the ride offers thrills to please even the most cynical teen. Deck parties and onboard movies are popular nighttime activities.

Tween club The Edge welcomes 11- to 13-year-olds and is in the forward funnel of Fantasy. It has a huge wall of video monitors for playing games, computers with access to social networking sites and porthole views of the AquaDuck. For teens 14 and older, Vibe has its own splash pools, lounges and club. They also have access to computers, complete with social media apps that allow them to share every move they make. Vibe also features a smoothie and soft-drink bar, plasma televisions, a dance floor and an adjacent sundeck. Karaoke, Internet gaming, dance classes and more are available, and adults are not allowed, apart from staff members. Teen-only shore excursions are also available on Castaway Cay, which offers a private teens’ retreat on the beach called the Hide Out.

Animator’s Palace combines food with the pleasure of seeing your own hand-drawn figures animated and shown during dinner, and Flo’s Cafe offers pizza, wraps, burgers and chicken tenders to meet teen tastes.

It’s no accident that the top ships for teens are all recent ones. Cruise lines are constantly raising the bar, creating more dedicated facilities and bells and whistles that are hard to match on older vessels. Upcoming ships promise even more excitement for this fickle yet important demographic.