When it comes to family vacations, it’s hard to beat a cruise. Whether you are 8 or 80, there’s something for everyone. Of course, any parent of a teen knows they can come with their own set of challenges to keep entertained.
Stuck between wanting independence and also not quite being ready to be completely on their own, a cruise actually makes a perfect place to keep them interested, entertained, and happy.
Still, if you’ve never taken a cruise with a teen before, there’s a lot to know and even more that you might have questions about. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the basics and important things for parents to know when sailing with a teenager.
What to Know About Dedicated Teen Areas
Sailing a major cruise line like Carnival or Royal Caribbean? These are great options for families as they have broad appeal — including areas specifically designed for kids and teens.
In particular, teens will have their own hangout areas. You might be familiar with these spots for smaller kids, but the teen area are changed up to cater their age group. First, these spots generally have games and activities that will appeal to teenagers — video game consoles, foosball, and the like. Second, they also put on teen events like dance parties and socials that also cater to the age group.
The teen spots are broken down by age so you won’t have older teens having to hang out with little kids. As well, teens can come and go as they please, without needing an adult to check them in and out. In that way, they have some independence without the feeling they are being babysat during the cruise.
There’s A LOT for Teens to Do on the Ship
On the large mass-market lines, there’s a tremendous amount of activities that will appeal to teen passengers. In fact, arguably no age group has as much to do as teenagers.
First, there are the built-in activities on the newest and largest ships. Things like rock climbing, arcades, ziplining, and waterslides are all available on modern ships. And more unique items like go-karts, boogie boarding, and even roller coasters are available on specific ships.
Then there is the entertainment provided by the staff. In addition to the teen areas, there is everything from trivia to ping-pong tournaments to free-throw contests. Movies are usually shown poolside that also appeal to teen interests like Marvel films.
And then there is the social aspect of meeting and hanging out with others their age on the ship. In other words, if they say they are bored, it’s their own fault.
Cabin Space May Be Challenging (Two Rooms?)
There is one unique thing about cruising — especially with teens — and that’s figuring out how best to share cabin space.
Cruise cabins are small. It’s usual to see them in the 160-180 square foot range. For a couple, it’s cozy but plenty of space. For a family with a small child, it’s definitely manageable. For a family with a teenager or two, it’s going to be a challenge.
For one there are privacy issues as teens are used to having their own space. But simply having that many people and their luggage in one room is also a challenge.
Some people choose to simply book a second room for the kids to offer up some more elbow room for everyone.
Sixteen Years or Older Will Need ID to Sail
The best way to cruise — no matter a person’s age — is with a passport. It offers the most flexibility in case you were to unexpectedly have to leave the cruise early. However, most cruises that begin and end in the same port actually let you cruise with just a birth certificate. These “closed-loop” cruises fall under special rules meaning if your teenager doesn’t have a passport they are still allowed to sail.
One thing to know is that if sailing with a birth certificate, the passenger must also have a government issued photo ID (driver’s license) if they are 16 years or older. Under that age, and no ID is needed. So if you are sailing with two kids aged 16 and 14, one will need the ID and the other won’t.
Consider How to Keep in Touch Around the Ship
Before everyone starts going their separate ways on the ship, you’ll want to consider how you’ll keep in touch on the ship. You have a few options.
If everyone has wi-fi access, then you can use normal texting apps to check in with one another. If not, you can still text through the cruise line’s phone app, although there is usually a small charge (usually $5 per phone for the cruise) for access.
Of course, there are also the old-school methods of simply leaving a note in the cabin or making plans on when and where to meet before splitting up.
Be Sure Your Teen Knows Some Basic Rules
It’s likely that if you’re cruising with teens, then you plan on them being on their own quite a bit around the ship. That’s one of the nice things about cruising is that they can have their independence without mom and dad having to watch them every moment.
In that case, it’s important that they understand some basic ground rules.
First, you should make clear that climbing on railings is a absolute no-no. There are rails around the entire ship and it might be tempting to climb or sit on them (including videos on social media of some teens climbing over them as a thrill). This is dangerous and should never be done.
Another thing they should know is that some places are simply off-limits to passengers under 18. Adults-only pools have age limits as do casinos (though you can pass through). Kids should know that they are not to go into these places.
Picky Eater? Thank God for Cruises
Not to paint with a broad brush, but it’s a well-known stereotype that teenagers can be picky eaters. In that case, a cruise is ideal. Today’s newest ships can have upwards of 20 different places to eat. Options include everything from grab-and-go pizza all the way to fine dining.
So if you want to have a nice family meal where you all sit together and enjoy each other’s company, that’s certainly an option. On the other hand if you want to just let the kids fend for themselves while the adults enjoy a quiet meal, then they will have lots of choice.
In addition, if you do eat in a spot and a picky eater can’t find anything they want on the menu, don’t let that be a hurdle. If there is something they’d like, you can just ask the waiter. Often even if a dish is not on the menu, the waitstaff can often make an exception.
Keep an Eye on Onboard Spending
One of the great things about taking a cruise with a teenager is that you’re able to offer them some independence as they make their own vacation around the ship. Meanwhile, you can also keep tabs on them.
Case in point, each passenger is given a keycard when they board that serves as not just the room key, but also as an onboard spending account. When you want to buy something on the ship, you simply pay with the card. The spending is then added to your account and settled at the end of the cruise.
The good thing is that you can keep tabs on the spending in real time via the cruise line app, your stateroom TV, or visiting Guest Services. That way you know exactly what’s been spent and where. It’s a good idea to check in on this now and then to make sure nobody is going too wild with the card.
What to Know About Wi-Fi, Streaming, and Social Media on the Ship
These days we’re all connected, but for teenagers, wi-fi access can be an even bigger deal. There may be some adjustment to using the Internet on a cruise.
First, know that wi-fi is available, but pricey. It can cost upwards of $20-30 per day for one connection at the fastest speed (access for multiple devices is available for less per connection). However, even the fastest speeds will be slower than what they are used to back home. After all, it’s Internet at sea and thousands of other people connecting at once.
Streaming is available on the fastest connections, but can be hit or miss. Sometimes it works perfectly, other times it can be blurry. Social media is available, but video intensive apps like YouTube or TikTok can sometimes be unavailable, depending on the cruise line.
Bottom line: Yes, there is wi-fi Internet for teenagers to use, but don’t expect it to be like home.
There Is Curfew For Those Under 18
While your teenager might envision staying out late on the cruise, there are some guardrails in place. Even if you let your kid roam the ship on their own, the ship will normally have a curfew.
Typically, these curfews come into play at 1:00 a.m. If teens under 18 are out after that, they will need to head back to the cabin.
What if you’re out with your kids after that time? That’s no problem. It’s only unaccompanied teens that will need to return to the room.