Friday, 18 September 2009

TOO Good for Kids?

Royal Caribbean have gone to a lot of trouble and effort (not to mention money) in putting some of the most elaborate kids facilities ever seen into their forthcoming Oasis of the Seas.
Carnival have made a signature feature of their water-slides and Camp Carnival programmes. P&O seemingly have kids' clubs coming out of their ears, and NCL's new Norwegian Epic will also boast some of the most extensive children's facilities at sea.

With the exception of the truly deluxe, six-star operators, virtually everyone figures that the family market is key, and that therefore they have to have the biggest, brightest and downright fanciest gadgets and gizmos to keep the youngest cruisers happy.

It is an old adage in holiday circles that happy children equals happy parents, and that is certainly true in cruise terms.

But are the cruise lines doing TOO MUCH for kids?

Part of the attraction of cruising is in the places you visit, the different experiences on offer and the variety of cultures you can appreciate along the way. There is not much of that to be found in the kids clubs, where the junior landlubbers remain locked into their Wiis, Playstations and Nintendos.

While ships get smarters and more high-tech, the level of sophistication devoted to children is practically off the charts. Gone are the days when a couple of counsellors and a good game of football on the sports deck was about as organised as it got.

At the risk of sounding like the crustiest of curmudgeons, back in my day, we had just as much fun playing shuffleboard and doing scavenger hunts as all the clever, themed environments provide for today's kiddie cruisers.

And we also took an active interest in our ports of call, marvelling at each new harbour and the downright 'foreign' nature of the immediate vista. I can vividly remember my first visit to Gran Canaria and Madeira (back in 1969!), when the islands loomed out of the sea like some lunar landscape, full of mysterious possibilities and unimaginable delights.

Nowadays, if the average 9-year-old gives a new port even a passing glance, it is probably only because they are wondering if their Gameboy will work if they have to go ashore.

There seems to be no sense of awe and wonder, perhaps because children are fortunate to travel more often, but most likely because they don't have to use their imagination when it comes to cruising. The kids club provides that all for them.

So, perhaps the next big, mass-market cruise line that is considering the next generation of children's facilities might like to stop and ponder that, rather than build in another amazing, all-singing, all-dancing high-tech wonderland, they should perhaps realise that less can be more, simple can be good, and challenging can be rewarding.

And then some children might at least disembark at the end of the cruise knowing that Lisbon was the place that launched a generation of explorers and adventurers, and not just "some place in Portugal."