What Parents Should Know About Cruise Ship Kids' Clubs

Thinking of taking the whole family on a cruise aboard a ship with a kids' club? That's great! Kids' clubs offer two main benefits: First, they can give you a much-needed respite from your children. Nicole Melancon, mom and blogger at Third Eye Mom, told Jetline Cruise, "Also critical is doing a cruise that offers a [kids'] club where the kids can go for a few hours of the day or evening and the parents can get a break." Second, kids' clubs can teach your children independence, as a teenager told USA Today: "I think it does make me feel a bit more independent, especially as you get older."

Not all cruise lines have kids' clubs, and those that have them offer different activities and entertainment. For instance, Carnival Cruise Line has Dr. Seuss-themed events and spaces, while Princess Cruises features "Mythbusters"-like science experiments. But in general, here's what you should know about kids' clubs at most cruise lines.

Fun facilities for kids

Because these spaces will be used by young children and teens, kids' clubs are all decked out in décor that appeals to these age groups. You can expect a themed area if a cruise line partners with a brand, such as Carnival's collaboration with Dr. Seuss. The space is also furnished with kid-sized tables and chairs — there might even be a kid-sized bathroom, according to Cruise Critic.

"I think one of the best parts about cruises is that there is a dedicated space for everyone, even from the smallest baby, teenagers, college kids. There's always somewhere where they can go and be entertained," Bianca Rios, owner of Ahoy Vacations travel agency, told USA Today. So, you'll find an indoor or outdoor play area and kiddie pools for the little ones, plus toys, arts and crafts supplies, and big TVs. Meanwhile, teens could have couches in their lounge, a bar that serves "mocktails," a dance floor, and game consoles.

Activities and entertainment

Before starting your day, check out the newsletter delivered daily to your stateroom where all the kids' club activities are listed by age group (per Cruise Critic). Your kids could be doing sports, trivia and games, arts and crafts, karaoke, theme parties, cooking classes, science experiments, and many more. But, remember that the number and kind of activities your children will be participating in during your cruise depends on the cruise line and ship.

For instance, senior travel adviser Kristi Marcelle says Disney Cruise Line excels when it comes to kids' club activities, offering more than other cruise lines, including storytelling and character performances (per Family Vacation Critic). "That is basically nirvana for kids because there [are] so many different things to do and it's very engaging and hands-on," she told USA Today. Meanwhile, MSC Cruises has Chicco and Lego toys, while Royal Caribbean offers a toy lending program (per Family Vacation Critic). Bianca Rios advises parents to learn about the kids' club offerings by checking the cruise line website and your cruise schedule or talking to a travel adviser (via USA Today).

Age requirements

Most cruise lines accept children ages 3 to 17 in their kids' clubs, per Cruise Critic. If you have younger children, make sure they are potty trained, unless you're boarding a Carnival Cruise Line ship. The cruise line not only accepts children as young as 2 years old but also welcomes youngsters into its kids' club, Camp Ocean, even if they're not potty trained yet. However, you must leave diapers and toiletries for your child with the youth staff. Most cruise lines are also firm in implementing the maximum age requirement. This means an 18-year-old won't be admitted to join the kids' club even if they're still in high school, according to Cruise Critic. However, they can participate in meet-and-greet events that some lines organize as well as join any of the regular activities on board.

Cruise lines often divide children into age groups: preschoolers (3 to 5 years old), school age (6 to 11 years old), young teens (12 to 14 years old), and teens (15 to 17 years old). The age groups make it easier for kids' club staff to provide age-appropriate entertainment and activities. But, if there are only a few children on board, staff will manage the kids as a group.

Hours of operation

Most cruise lines' kids' clubs are open from the morning, around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., until evening at about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., while teen lounges close later at roughly 1 a.m. But the exact hours vary from cruise line to cruise line, according to Cruise Critic. Staff usually supervise these facilities — a great benefit, according to Business Insider — so you'll be more confident to part with your children and enjoy your day. Even teen lounges have counselors on-site all the time. You'll need to sign in and out for your younger children, but teens can sign in by themselves, which also means they can leave the kids' club anytime.

The kid's clubs typically don't operate during lunch and dinner times, giving you and your children time to bond over food and talk about the day's activities. Cruise Critic also notes that some kids' clubs may open earlier during port days, typically 30 minutes prior to the first tour, but may or may not have staff on board to supervise your children. For those late-night dates, you can leave your kids in the care of staff for group babysitting typically from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at extra cost.

Price and inclusions

Cruise lines don't normally charge for kids' club activities in the day and early nighttime, according to Cruise Critic. However, your cruise fare doesn't include the nursery, group babysitting on late nights, and any kids' club outings during lunch and dinner. The hourly fee is around $5 to $8 per child, with a small discount for an additional child (per Cruise Critic). So, if you have two children who need babysitting, for example, you'll have to pay full price for the first one and pay a slightly smaller amount for the second one.

USA Today lists other additional costs you might incur. If you have a child below 3 years old who needs child care, you'll also need to pay extra. Some lines, such as Norwegian, will also charge you for picking up your child late. Cruise Critic also notes a replacement cost for any lost ID bracelets, which staff use to keep track of your kids.