It’s not your imagination that children are everywhere on cruises: Nearly a third of cruisers bring their children along with them, according to data from Cruise Lines International Association — and that means thousands of kids take a cruise each month. Indeed, by some estimates, 1.6 million children under 18 take a cruise each year, and many lines actively promote their family friendliness with on-site babysitting, special kids activities (think SpongeBob roaming the decks), promotions where kids sail free, and more.
Of course, if kids are on your ship it doesn’t mean they’ll be noisy or bother you. And even family-friendly ships have areas of respite from children.
Still, many cruisers would prefer to avoid a ship in which there might be misbehaving minors (ahem MarketWatch commenters, we’re listening to you). Here’s how to do it.
Pick the right cruise line
Some cruise lines — like Royal Caribbean RCL -0.50% , Carnival CCL -0.49% and Norwegian NCLH -1.73% — are very family oriented, so they’re likely to have a lot of kids, says Rich Tucker, the marketing manager for CruiseDeals.com . Indeed, these cruise lines all recently ran kids-sail-free deals and offer up amenities like photo ops with Disney characters, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and more to attract families.
Cruise lines have been catering more and more to families, and the results have been paying off. But if the prospect of being trapped aboard a boat with screaming kids makes you recoil in horror, here are five ways to escape them and enjoy your vacation. (Photo: Getty Images)
On the flip side, the higher-end lines like Seabourn, Regent, Azamara, Oceania, Paul Gauguin, Crystal and Silversea are less likely to be filled with kids, in part because it can be pricey to take a whole family on ships like this and the ships tend not to have too many amenities that specifically attract young children, says Tucker.
The sweet spot for those looking for a deal on a ship with fewer children may be Princess and Celebrity cruises, he says. While these ships will have some families, they don’t tend to have as many kid-friendly amenities as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, which means they are far less popular with families.
And if you really want to avoid children (read: you never want to ever see one on your entire cruise — ever), look to one of these ships, which offer adults-only cruises: P&O’s Arcadia, Adonia and Oriana.
Hang out in the right spots
Even on child-friendly ships, you can find places to hang out where the kids don’t. For one, many of the ships have adult-friendly areas. Carnival offers the Serenity area on some of its ships that is available only to people 21 and up and has a bar and whirlpools; Royal Caribbean offers the Solarium pool area on 20 of its ships that’s available only for guests 16 or older; Norwegian offers a few adult-only areas on its ships including the Spice H20 area, for those 18 and older. However, Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of Cruisecritic.com , warns that consumers should look at a ship’s deck plan (this is usually posted online) as sometimes adults-only areas on ships are quite close to kids areas and thus can be less relaxing (read: you can hear the screaming children from your supposedly child-free lounge chair) than a more isolated adults-only area.
Even if the ship doesn’t have an adults-only area, there are places to hang out where a lot of the kids won’t be. Many ships have spas where you can get a treatment and then enjoy the accompanying pools and relaxation areas, and others have libraries, quiet areas and rooms with private balconies that provide a respite from other people’s children. Tucker adds that some ships also have a class of rooms with their own private relaxation space that tend to be quieter: Norwegian, for example, offers the Haven rooms, which have their own lounge and pool; just get prepared to pay more for this.
Time it right
It sounds obvious, but because it’s so crucial for the kid-avoidant cruiser, it bears repeating: Cruise at a time when kids will likely be in school, says McDaniel. That means you should likely say no to summer, spring break and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, she says.
Take a longer-length or repositioning cruise
Booking a cruise that’s longer than a week is also good way to avoid kids, says Stewart Chiron, founder of CruiseGuy.com . That’s because “short cruises are great for families,” says McDaniel. But “parents are less likely to take kids out of school for a week or longer.”
Repositioning cruises — these take place when a cruise line moves the ship to a new port to take advantage of the upcoming high season at that port — may also be a good bet, says Chiron, as they tend to attract fewer families in part because they are longer lengths and tend to be in shoulder seasons (added bonus: they also tend to be great deals).
Pick the right dining experience
Tucker says that if you opt for the specialty restaurants on your cruise, you’re likely to encounter fewer children. The downside: These tend to cost extra on many cruise lines. If you’re on a budget and still want to avoid kids, pick the later dinner hour (usually it’s around 8 or 8:30), says McDaniel, as families with young children tend to eat at the 6 p.m. seating.
Select a room in the right locale
McDaniel says that cruisers should check out the deck plan of a ship before selecting their room, as some rooms are much closer to areas where a lot of kids will likely be (the baby-sitting area, arcade, major pool, etc.), while others are near adults-only or other quiet areas. Tucker says that some cruise lines also have “spa” rooms that are near the spa and tend to be relatively quiet, and others have clusters of studio rooms (meant for single cruisers) that may be quieter because they aren’t near families.