Tips for planning a cruise with hard-to-please teens

More than 67 percent of all U.S. fourth graders scored "below proficient" and are not reading at grade level, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Literacy advocate and bestselling author Monica Holloway, of Cowboy & Wills [Simon & Schuster], is passionate about promoting literacy and spreading awareness for autism.

Choosing the right cruise can provide teens with the independence and activities they want, along with fun the whole family can share

Traveling with teenagers can be challenging, as any parent who has ever tried to sightsee with a scowling, foot-dragging, eye-rolling, fledgling-adult can attest.  “You’re looking at Ephesus and they’re whining and asking ‘why are we here?’ says Candyce Stapen, a family travel expert and USA Today travel editor.  “And if your teenager is unhappy, you will be too.”

Cruising can be an ideal solution for teens, says Stapen.  However, there are some important things to keep in mind when planning a cruise getaway with teens that the whole family can enjoy.

  • Get teens’ input up front.  “If you don’t get their input, you’ll get complaints, at least for the first day or two,” Stapen says.  “Maybe your teens just studied ancient history and would love to visit the places they learned about, or maybe they just want to go to the beach on this trip.  In the end, it’s your decision, but discuss it,” she suggests:
  • Seek age appropriate programs.  “Look for programs that break out younger and older teens,” she says.  Developmentally there are big differences between a 13 year old and a 17 year old.
  • Give them some free rein.  On a cruise, teens can go out for pizza, plan their own activities and get together with friends without needing to be driven anywhere or ask you for money. 
  • Keep in touch. “My teens didn’t like it when I stuck my nose into the program, but it’s important to be sure there’s some supervision and things are going well,” she says.  Also make sure they have a set time to check in with you — at least twice a day – in person or take your own walkie talkies with you to avoid cell phone charges.
  • Carve out family time.  Between sports, parties, and all the other teen activities, the hardest part of cruising may be finding family time.  Stapen advises booking a few shore excursions in advance that the whole family will enjoy together.  Often, a big highlight for teens is dining together formally, informally or at specialty restaurants.  It gives them a chance to dress up and flaunt their personal style. 

The cruise lines that actively court the family market understand the importance of keeping teens positively engaged and have been meeting the challenge with an ever-growing array of “wow” amenities and activities.

“Teens have a strong voice in family vacation planning, so our member lines keep their fingers on the pulse of what they want,” notes Christine Duffy, president & CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).  “In addition to the dance parties and sports that teens have long loved, the cruise lines continue to add more innovative features to appeal to this growing group of cruisers.”

“Many ships are upgrading their teen lounges with cutting edge technology and trendy décor and adding teen-only sun decks, special spa treatments and unusual activities such as movie making,” Duffy notes.

Teens also are drawn to the creative water parks and other adventurous and indulgent amenities that ships have introduced in recent years.  Zip lining, surfing, basketball, and rock-climbing walls at sea all give teenagers something to tweet about.

Here is a sampling of some of the special ways CLIA lines are delighting their teenage guests.

  • COMPETITION AND TEAMWORK take many forms for cruising teens. On Holland America Line, for example, teens can compete at Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and mind-expanding board games, offered via a partnership with Cranium, while on Carnival Cruise Lines, games based on reality TV shows such as “The Bachelor/Bachelorette,” “Fear Factor” and “Survivor” are played daily.  And Disney Cruise Line offers chances for teens to dabble in the world of stage and film.  Depending on the ship, teens might perform as zombies in a blockbuster movie or work together in teams to produce actual films that get screened onboard.
  • THE LATEST VIDEO GAMES are pretty much a given on a cruise catering to teens. But when it comes to technology, there’s so much more.  MSC Cruises Fantasia-class vessels offer the chance to experience the thrill of car racing, thanks to a Formula 1 race simulator.  There’s also a 4D movie cinema that enhances 3D movies with physical effects such as movement and mist.  Princess Cruises’ new 3,600-passenger Royal Princess, slated to debut in June, will feature a new teen lounge, Remix.  Here, a Princess DJ booth loaded with cutting-edge tracks will invite teens to create their own playlists and relax or dance to the latest club mix.  And with Celebrity Cruises, teens enjoy complimentary access to GoPro cameras and the Celebrity iLounge, which offers computer stations and instruction in filming and editing.
  • COOL EXPERIENCES — the kind teens rave about to their friends — take many forms.  Teaming up with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society, Paul Gauguin Cruises offers educational eco-adventures such as rainforest hikes and visits to ancient temples (marae), vanilla plantations and black pearl farms.  Crystal Cruises’ “Magic Castle at Sea” program features magic shows and classes on select cruises as well as the chance to learn the art of sushi-making from Nobu-trained chefs, while teens on Cunard Line’s flagship Queen Mary 2 have access to a sophisticated planetarium at sea where they can take a virtual tour into outer space, view the stars and journey to the moon and learn about celestial navigation.  During the summer and on select holiday sailings, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ signature Club Mariner program provides teen cruisers the opportunity to whale watch in Alaska and even take art classes while sailing the tropics.
  • TRENDY SETTINGS — often broken out into separate clubs for younger and older teens — are enhancing their chic appeal with designs that integrate technology and sleek, posh comfort. For example, Crystal Symphony recently revamped its dedicated teen space, Waves, to provide a trendy, urban loft-style feel where teens can kick back in a comfy movie screening area and enjoy video games. The Norwegian Breakaway, which enters service in May, introduces the line’s largest youth and teen facilities to date– the Entourage lounge, complete with a large screen TV, video jukebox and an arcade center next door, while Carnival Cruise Lines fleetwide Club 02, developed with the Coca-Cola Company, offers a fun setting for older teens to enjoy “coke-tails” and hanging out. Royal Caribbean International offers special teen-only activities and areas on each of its ships to keep teenagers engaged, social and entertained.  The cruise line offers tweens 12 to 14 and older teens, 15 to 17 unique spaces and activities just for them.  From theme nights to dodge ball and unplugged jam sessions, teens are given the freedom to meet, mingle and be creative. 
  • PRIVATE SUN DECKS—just for teens—are another fun feature.  Princess Cruises now offers an outdoor teen lounge area on new Royal Princess, featuring cool club lighting, a great wading pool and music-perfect parties under the stars.  And most Holland America Line ships offer a secluded teens-only sun deck area that connects via a special passageway to the line’s signature The Loft, a New York loft-style lounge.
  • SPA TREATMENTS – designed for teens and tweens are popular with the 13 and up set.  On MSC Cruises, teens enjoy the independence of using prepaid cards to arrange treatments including temporary tattoos and make-up sessions.  And on Celebrity Cruises, parents with spa-loving teens might want to look for ships that feature the line’s teen-only ZSPA, where treatments include an oxygen anti-acne facial, invigorating scrubs and boot camp classes.

For expert advice, families can turn to CLIA travel professionals, who stay current on the latest offerings and can help plan a cruise that will delight every member of the family, including the most finicky teens.  To find a CLIA travel professional in your area, visit and click on Vacations.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is the world's largest cruise industry trade association with representation in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. CLIA represents the interests of cruise lines, travel agents, port authorities and destinations, and various industry business partners before regulatory and legislative policy makers. CLIA is also engaged in travel agent training, research and marketing communications to promote the value and desirability of cruise holiday vacations with thousands of travel agency and travel agent members. CLIA's Associate Member and Executive Partner program includes the industry's leading providers of supplies and services that help cruise lines provide a safe, environmentally-friendly and enjoyable holiday vacation experience for millions of passengers every year. For more information on CLIA, the cruise industry, and CLIA-member cruise lines and travel agencies, visit