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CRUISING WITH A CHILD; Or, beware the low-flying broccoli

By Diana LoercherSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / July 7, 1981

Aboard the TSS Fairwind

Families who are still at sea about their summer vacations plans might possibly belong there. Though it is the "Love Boat" image that has given the reviving cruise industry one of its biggest boosts, family cruising is beginning to make waves as well. Carol Walsh of Thomas Cook & Sons explained "Some of the larger cruise lines are encouraging children to come along and providing facilities to keep the kids active. As a result children are traveling more, and more types of people are starting to take kids, such as grandparents."

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Sitmar Cruises, for example, consciously caters to the needs of parents and children as well as those of the traditional passanger. Not only does it offer extensive services and facilities for children on its 7-, 10-, 11-, and 14- day cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada/Alaska, but it has extended its bargain rates for children aged two through 11 to include ages 11 through 17 for the 1981-1982 seasons. Children within that age group travel in a third or fourth berth for 35 percent of the minimum fare -- about $40 a day on a seven-day cruise, for example. This means that a family of three could take a Caribbean cruise for about $2,500 during the summer "value season."

While this may sound like a lot of money, it is important to remember that it encompasses almost everything -- accommodations, meals, entertainment, and in the case of the longer cruises, air fare to and from the port of embarkation -- Fort Lauderdale for the TSS Fairwind and Los Angeles for the TSS Fairsea. Extras are shore excursions, tips, toiletries, etc.

If one can affort it there are a number of reasons why a cruise is a suitable and even a desirable family vacation. (With very young children, though, it can be difficult: My husband and I learned this the hard way when we recently took out two-year-old son, Luke, on a 14-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Fairwind, but more of that later). A ship is a self- contained environment, a floating city, that eliminates the rigors of traveling and touring. The shorter cruise, which is most popular with families, provides enough variety and stimulation to keep children from becoming bored. It also gives parents and children a fluid option of togetherness and separateness. A young English mother whose two daughters aged 6 1/2 and 9 splashed happily in the children's pool while she and her husband lolled on deck chairs close by, summed up the advantages: "This is our second cruise, and I have to say that we love taking the kids. You get on the ship and unpack and that's it until you get off. You don't have the problem of packing and unpacking and carting the kids around from place to place.On a ship they become familiar with their surroundings and have stability. For us a cruise is better than any other kind of holiday. Obviously if they're happy and doing things on their level, it's more of a holiday for the parents, too."

During the summer and holiday seasons when the greatest number of children are on board, Sitmar's ships have a full complement of eight trained children's counselors plus a youth activities coordinator who conduct programs in the children's playroom and teen center from 9 a.m. to midnight daily, even while the ship is in port. They also supervise the children's pool at regularly scheduled times. There are two sets of activities, one geared to juniors up to age 12 and the other to those 13 through 17. The activities include shuffleboard, bingo, arts and crafts, masquerades, pizza parties, story hours, special movies, discos, exercises, etc.

On our cruise there were approximately 150 children, according to youth activities coordinator Patty Tsilidas, split just about evenly between juniors and teens. Commented Miss Tsilidas, "We are seeing more and more children and all age groups. People are even bringing babies. Lately we have had one or two infants on each cruise."

Luke was in fact only the second youngest on board, utclassed by a ten-week-old baby girl. (Children under two travel free by the way.) The baby's parents, Rodney and Margery Petersen of southern California, made their cruise reservations for themselves and their 19-year-old daughter. After learning of Mrs. Petersen's pregnancy they decided to go through with the cruise anyway so they wouldn't lose their deposit. Mr. Petersen, who describes himself as the family worrier, admitted that he was dubious up until the last moment. "I was afraid we'd be sitting in the cabin all day with the baby," he confessed.