20 Tips, Advice & Things to Know for Cruising With Teenagers

Doing anything with teenagers can certainly have some challenges, but cruising doesn’t have to be one of them.

Open pool deck on Norwegian Jade

In fact, when it comes to a vacation with something for everyone — from teenagers to parents, along with any other age — it’s hard to beat a cruise ship. There are things to do that will match any taste, from active adventures like waterparks and rock walls for teenagers to fine dining and casinos for parents.

And who of any age doesn’t enjoy a good meal or some time by the pool?

But truth be told, sailing with teens can be different than sailing with other adults or smaller children.

Too old for some things on the ship that cater to kids, yet too young for many parts of the ship like the casino, teenagers are a bit in-between. As well, sailing with a teenager means the challenges of giving them some independence to have their own vacation, but not letting them run wild for the entire time.

If you’re navigating the challenge of sailing with a teenager on your cruise, here are some tips and advice to make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.

Use the Cruise as an Opportunity for Independence

Teens are growing into their own, and that means looking for independence from parents. Cruise ships are a great place for them to “stretch their legs” and have some time on their own while also giving mom and dad a break.

There are plenty of places on the ship for teens to hang out, and it’s a relatively safe atmosphere. They can visit the pool to play, or enjoy the waterslides, rock walls, and other activities on the ship.

With a relatively confined area, there’s no real worry about them getting lost, and it’s easy to check in with them when you want to make sure they are ok. Meanwhile, they can get to enjoy time to themselves without parents watching their every move.

We’re not saying to let them run wild across the ship for days on end, but letting them spread their wings a bit is a good way to ensure they enjoy their vacation and learn some independence.

Every Cruise Ship Has an Arcade

Teenagers and arcades go together like peanut butter and jelly. Fortunately, all the major cruise ships will have an arcade somewhere on board. Some are relatively small with a few games, while others can be quite large.

You’ll find lots of different games from shooting arcade games to skill cranes, air hockey, and racing.

The games don’t use quarters, instead, you swipe your room keycard and the cost of the game is added onto your shipboard account. For that reason, you want to be sure that your teen can budget and track what they’re spending so that you don’t end up with a surprise bill.

Purchasing Wi-Fi Is a Good Idea

While some people use a cruise for a chance to disconnect, if you’re traveling with a teenager, then it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase the ship’s Internet package. Let’s face it, all of us live so much of our lives online, and that extends to our kids.

While it can be pricey (often around $15 a day), it’s a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home. Wi-Fi lets you check email, message, and stay up to date on social media — even when you’re in the middle of the ocean. If you have teens who have to be online, it’s nice to know that the option is available to keep them happy.

There Are Teen Areas… But They May Not Be for Every Teenager

All major cruise ships have kids areas. They are places designed specifically for parents to let their kids have fun in a supervised atmosphere so that kids have something to do while parents can get some free time.

These areas are broken down by age, with one for smaller kids, another for kids that are around 7-12 years old, and then an area for teenagers.

But any parent knows there’s a big difference between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old. For that reason, some older teens might find the idea of going to a designated kids area a little lame. Even so, it’s worth checking out. It could be that there are other teens there that they can meet and hang out with during the cruise.

Soda Drink Packages Can Keep Teens Happy for a Few Bucks a Day

On the cruise, tea, water, and some fruit juices are free. You can get them in the buffet or dining room. However, other drinks are a charge. That includes soda and bottled water.

If your teenager is going to want to regularly drink soda or other beverages that aren’t included with the fare, then you might look into a soda package.

With these packages you pay a set daily fee (prices vary by cruise line, but expect to spend about $10 a day). Then, you can get just about any non-alcoholic beverage you want. Considering that a soda or bottle of water runs $2-3 each, it doesn’t take much for you to get your money’s worth.

They are a good idea if you have a teen who will want to drink something other than the free drinks, and you don’t want to have to worry about budgeting. You simply get the package and you’ll know exactly what you’ll spend.

The Gambling Age is 18 on Cruise Ships

Horizon Casino

If you have an older teen, then they might be able to do something more “adult” on a cruise — gamble.

Most places on land you have to be 21 years old to play the slots or throw dice. Cruises have an age limit of just 18 years old to gamble. Sure this only applies to a group of teens who likely already consider themselves adults, but if they’ve been waiting until 21 to head to Las Vegas, a cruise ship can cut three years off the waiting.

Your (Older) Teen Might Be Able to Drink On Their Vacation

While the age for gambling is 18 on a cruise ship, another adult vice — drinking — requires a minimum age of 21 years old for trips that sail from the United States. That means in most circumstances they can’t drink on the ship (some cruise lines may allow a waiver signed by a parent also onboard).

But if you are traveling with an 18-year-old, then they are legal drinking age in many ports of call. So while they can’t have a beer or cocktail on the ship, they could have one just down the pier.

Look For More Active Excursions

Excursions in ports of call are a big part of the cruise experience. It’s a chance to get out and go explore away from the ship and do things you wouldn’t be able to do back home. They can easily be the most memorable part of your vacation.

There can be dozens of shore excursions to choose from that range everything from hanging out on the beach or car tours of a port to more engaging things like snorkeling, parasailing, and more.

If you’re traveling with a teenager, then we’d suggest opting for the more active excursions. These trips are likely to be more exciting to teens and keep their interest instead of hearing complaints about being bored.

Teach Your Teen Budgeting With the Onboard Account

We’ve talked about letting your kid have some independence on the cruise. One other way you can teach some independence is letting them live under a budget.

On a cruise, all your spending is done on your room keycard. Not only does it open the cabin door, but it also works like a credit card. Whether getting a drink or playing an arcade game, you just swipe the card, and the transaction is charged to your account.

So instead of handing your kid cash to spend on the cruise, you would make sure they have a card. In this way, you can teach them about staying on a budget. Give them a daily allowance on what they can spend and let them figure out how they want to spend it.

Don’t worry, you can check the account in real-time via the cruise line app on your phone or the cabin TV. This allows you to keep an eye on things just in case.

Stress the Importance of No Sitting or Climbing on the Ship’s Rails

View of cruise port from balcony

Not to be alarmist, but there are some people seemingly each year that fall overboard on a ship. Often the case was that they were sitting on the railing the circles the ship and fell over.

That’s why it’s important that you make it clear that kids should NEVER sit or climb on the ship’s railing, even if they are holding on to something. With a ship rocking and the wind blowing, all it takes is one lapse in judgement for a tragedy to occur.

The good news is that railings are high — usually around chest level for a teenager. So as long as feet are kept on the ground, there isn’t a risk of accidentally falling overboard.

Yes, You Can Bring Snacks (and Sometimes Drinks!)

We all know that teenagers can eat more than their fair share. At the same time, they might be picky eaters.

In this case, you’ll be happy to know that you can bring snacks from home on board, but there are some rules. The snacks must be pre-packaged and unopened. So while you can bring candy bars, for instance, you can’t bring on homemade cookies. As well, things like chips and other snacks are just fine.

Some lines — including big names like Carnival and Royal Caribbean — also let you bring on a small amount (usually a 12-pack) of non-alcoholic drinks. So if you have a teen who likes soda or a special brand of drink, then you can bring it along and save some money versus spending on board to buy a beverage.

Teens 16+ Need a Photo ID + Birth Certificate to Sail (or a Passport)

If you can, get a passport before you sail for each member of your family. Passports are much more flexible for travel and in many cases can get you off the ship faster.

But the issue with passports is that they can be pricey to get and take weeks to receive. That’s why many people opt to instead sail with a birth certificate.

If your cruise allows it (most round-trips cruises do), then sailing with an official birth certificate to show citizenship is pretty simple. But just know that teenagers 16 years and older are typically required to have a government-issued photo ID as well.

Look to your cruise line for specifics of what’s needed, but usually teenagers under 16 just need the birth certificate.

Stay in Touch With Each Other on Cruise Line Apps

These days all the major cruise lines have apps that you can download to your phone. On the app, you’ll have tons of neat features at your fingertips. It includes ship maps, daily schedules, info about venues on board, and more.

But for teens and parents, there is one very helpful feature — chat capability. Without purchasing wi-fi access, you can chat with other people on the ship via the app.

There is usually a small fee ($5 or so) to access the feature during the cruise. Being able to check-in no matter where you and your kids are on the ship can be well worth the small cost.

Buffets Are Great for Picky Eaters

Is your teenager a picky eater? Many are. In that case, the ship’s buffet can be a miracle. With tons of different options, there is something for everyone. From simple dishes like pizza and burgers (which are always available) to lots of other options that change daily, there’s a wide variety.

If someone has a special diet, like being vegetarian, the buffet can also serve up lots of choices.

Perhaps best of all, the buffet is open long hours during the day, so no matter when they get hungry, it’s likely that your kid can grab something to eat.

Be Aware of Curfew Times

If you let your teenager explore the ship on their own, keep in mind that cruise ships have a curfew for passengers under 18 years old that aren’t accompanied by parents.

The curfew time will vary by cruise line, but it’s usually around midnight or 1 a.m. After this time, you’ll want to make sure your teens are back in the cabin.

That’s also the time when most things are winding down on the ship, with most of the entertainment ending and venues closing. In other words, despite having a curfew, it’s not likely that teenagers will be missing anything happening on the ship.

Some Lines Let You Stream Movies/Shows Via Wi-Fi

For many of us, streaming shows is part of our evening routine. And while there’s a lot happening on the ship, sometimes it’s nice to relax in the cabin and watch a show.

Of course, streaming is also big among kids as well. In that case, you’ll be happy to know that streaming is available on some cruise lines — and more are likely to add the service in the future.

But in order to be able to stream, you’ll need to sign up for an Internet package, and usually the highest-tier one available. (Cruise lines usually offer different tiers of Internet, which vary by speed and what you can access.) This can get pricey, so expect to spend between $20-30 a day for this level of service, depending on the cruise line.

Traveling With Two Teens? Look to Get Another Cabin

Cruise cabins are small, but efficient. Technically they can hold four people, but that’s a tight fit unless you’re talking about two adults and two small children. If traveling with a couple of teenagers, then we’d suggest getting an additional room.

Not only would this give parents more space (and privacy!) for their own vacation, but it will also give the teens more independence. As well, connecting staterooms are available, so you can both have more space.

One other option instead of springing for an additional room is to look at larger suites on the ship. You may actually be able to upgrade to a larger and nicer cabin to give everyone more space for less than the cost of paying for two rooms.

Evening Entertainment May Not Interest Teens

No one ever wants to hear the complaint of “I’m bored!” On a cruise, it shouldn’t be heard with so many things to do. That said, we think many teens would choose to avoid the evening theater shows if given the option.

Of course, you can’t speak for everyone, but production shows typically aren’t aimed at teenagers. For instance, teens may not be interested in at-sea renditions of musicals like Grease or Footloose. And some of the game shows (such as the knockoffs of “The Newlywed Game”) are definitely geared toward entertaining an older audience.

There is still plenty to do on the ship, but the evening production shows might not be a favorite for some teenagers.

Movies By the Pool Might Be a Favorite

Main pool on Carnival Horizon

Cruise ships have huge pool decks that are popular, but in the evening they can be ghost towns. To use this space in the evening, movies are played on a huge screen that overlooks the deck. So you can lay on a pool lounger or even hang out in the hot tub while watching.

These movies tend to be big-name films that have broad appeal, such as Star Wars or superhero movies. As well, popcorn is sometimes served.

The films attract teenagers and kids (especially those who aren’t interested in the production shows in the main theater) and happen regularly throughout the cruise.

Teens Are Going to Love the Sport Deck

If there’s going to be a spot on the ship that teenagers will like the most, it’s probably the sports area.

Modern ships all have most of their physical activities here at the top of the ship, toward the back. This includes putt-putt, waterslides, climbing walls, and other features like Royal Caribbean’s Sky Pad (a jumping activity with trampolines and bungee cords) and Flowrider or Norwegian’s go-kart tracks. In addition there is often a basketball court and outdoor workout equipment.

While there’s plenty to do on your own in this area, the staff also hosts competitions during the cruise for things like putting challenges, free-throw shooting, and volleyball tournaments. It’s a fun way for teens to stay active and entertained on the cruise.

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Tanner is the founder of Cruzely.com. Having grown up on the coast and sailing on everything from a 50' pleasure craft to the newest cruise ships, he's drawn on his experience to write hundreds of articles about every aspect of cruising. He has been quoted in The Washington Post, USAToday, and CBSNews, along with dozens more publications and websites. His homeport is Galveston, but he's visited and sailed from ports all around the country, including Miami, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, Seattle, Los Angeles and more. You can contact him by emailing [email protected]

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