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Take your kids on a floating vacation


Whoever said youth is wasted on the young never took a cruise with their kids. If they had, they would know that an amazing variety of on-board activities for kids makes it impossible to waste even a minute. While you're lapping up the leisure of your lifetime, you can bet your kids are also having the time of theirs. Besides all the scavenger hunts, swimming relays, kite flying, arts and crafts, treasure hunts and video games, there are separate pools, circuses at sea, beach parties and shore excursions -- even ukulele lessons and Koosh games.

That's just before lunch! Then, as you enjoy quail en croute, your kids will order from children's menus, choosing foods with appellations guaranteed to stimulate adolescent appetites, like Jaws Dawgs and King Kong burgers. Later come the ice cream and pizza parties, masquerade and pajama parties, star-search talent shows, cartoons and movies. For teens, there are separate discos, sports tournaments, dating games, pool games, computer classes, language classes, parties and snorkeling, even a daily newspaper.

Carefully chosen teen-age and youth counselors are aboard many ships, especially during summer and holidays.

The number of parents bringing kids along on cruises has risen over the past five years to about 28 percent, according to a recent cruise-line study. If you've shied away from booking because of the expense, it costs less than you think, and may turn out to be lower than your land-based family vacation. The Cruise Line Industry Association recently compared the cost of a seven-day trip to the Bahamas (with airfare) to that of a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas: the land-based vacation cost $1,839; the cruise was $1,715. Moreover, discounted packages are easy to come by, ranging from 15 percent to 35 percent off. Even though summers and holidays are peak seasons (and usually command the highest prices), there are lots of ships to fill, most of them wisely welcoming the burgeoning family market.

Premier among them is Premier Cruise Line's Big Red Boat, the only ship exclusively for families and the only ship with Mickey Mouse et al. on board. Sailing from Port Canaveral, and combining cruises with Disney World stays, its prices vary widely depending on cabin size and hotel you choose. They range from $949 to $1,369, with third- , fourth- and even fifth-passenger rates available from $639 to $699.

On American Hawaii, kids under 16 can cruise for $129 during summer (through Sept. 12) when traveling with two full-fare adults in cabins priced from $1,425 for seven days (from Honolulu). Special rates are available for single parents, parents with teens or kids traveling independently.

Carnival was named the best family cruise choice for the second year in a row by readers of Family Circle magazine. About 70,000 youngsters a year join their parents on its nine Fun Ships, each offering Camp Carnival activities divided into three age groups.

NCL's Kids Crew program is for kids 3 to 17. Special shore excursions are offered for children 6 to 12 and teens only. NCL's contract with Universal Studios ensures a Woody Woodpecker or Frankenstein somewhere on board.

Other lines offering children's programs and activities are Chandris, Commodore, Costa, Crown, Crystal, Cunard, Dolphin, Holland-America, Majesty, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Sun Line.

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