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Cruising with children?

When parents take a get-away-from-it-all ocean cruise, they usually leave their children ashore. Now, a new trend in cruising may cause them to consider bringing the youngsters along.

This summer, a number of cruise lines are working to combine the romance and leisure of an adult cruise with extensive supervised facilities for children from toddlers to teen-agers. Several lines expect children to comprise 10 to 15 percent of their summer passenger lists. Programs vary from extended baby-sitting to specially equipped youth and teen centers. Recently, a Sunset editor and his family took an 11-day voyage along Mexico's Pacific coast. His children (ages five and eight) voted it the best family trip ever, and most of the 62 children on board didn't want to go home. Even teen-agers seemed satisfied, except those who had to stop dancing in the disco at their 10 P.M. curfew.

Lower fares for youngsters

Along with advance-purchase and flycruise discounts for couples, many lines offer bargain rates for children who share staterooms with adults. While it can be crowded for a family of four in a standard cabin, nimble youngsters enjoy the adventure of sleeping in a pull-down bunk.

The biggest appeal of cruising with children is that it allows families to spend as much time together as they want, with the freedom to enjoy themselves individually as well. Supervised activities allow even small fry the thrill of independence in quickly familiar surroundings, while adults can savor blissful time alone.

Infants are another story: only a few ships are equipped with nurseries.

Children three to nine fare best when there's a specially designed youth center. Some ships have a playroom--an area converted to children's use; depending on the programs, it can be adequate. On most ships, activities such as arts and crafts, games, deck parties, sports tournaments, movies, and treasure hunts are designed for the younger set.

For adolescents, some ships offer break-dancing lessons, video games, deck sports tournaments, and parties. An area set aside for teens--a disco or soda fountain--can make a big difference.

In ports of call, most families go ashore together on guided tours or to explore on their own.

Meal and nighttime strategy

Most lines encourage families to eat together. Snack stands and deck buffets offer options to elaborate dining room meals. At dinner, the first sitting (about 6 P.M.) is generally the best choice for children up to age 12; at the second sitting (around 8) youngsters tend to fall asleep by dessert.

Find out about room service. On some ships, you can arrange for your steward to bring courses to your room; on others, room service may be limited to simple sandwiches or snacks.

Most cruise directors discourage smaller children from attending shows or discos, but some youth centers are open late. Baby-sitting can usually be arranged for an extra charge. We put the children to bed, then had the room steward check on them while we enjoyed nighttime activities. (It's appropriate to offer a small tip when asking a steward to do this.)

Choosing a ship and its programs

Travel agents are your best source for initial cruise information. The nine lines we list have West Coast sailings this summer that offer a range of children's programs with at least one counselor on board. Children's fares are based on sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults. Four of the lines let children under two travel free; others charge anywhere from $2 a day up to their usual child fare.

Except for Cunard Line cruises, air fares are not included in prices.

American Hawaii Cruises, 550 Kearny St., San Francisco 94108. Summer and holiday programs. Constitution has playroom for ages two to six. Independence has a youth recreation center open 9 A.M. to 10 P.M. Cribs available on request when booking. Both ships depart Honolulu on seven-day interisland cruises every Saturday year-round. Third or fourth berth: $495.

Carnival Cruise Lines, 5225 N.W. 87th Ave., Miami 33166. Summer and holiday program aboard Tropicale for ages 3 to 17; daily hours during cruise are 10 A.M. to 10:30 P.M. Playroom and children's pool; baby-sitting available. Third or fourth berth: ages 1l and under $195, 17 and over $395. Sails every Sunday year-round from Los Angeles on seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise.

Costa Cruises, One Biscayne Tower, Miami 33131. Summer program only aboard Daphne; hours vary. Children's game room; baby-sitting available. Third or fourth berth, ages 12 and under: $435 to $475. Sails every Friday, May through September, from Vancouver, B.C., on seven-day Alaska cruise.

Cunard Line, 555 Fifth Ave., New York 10017. Cunard Princess offers summer and Christmas programs 9 A.M. to 5 A.M. No separate youth facility; baby-sitting available. Third or fourth berth: $735 to $795, including air fare.

Seven-day Alaska cruise, May through september departs from Vancouver, B.C., northbound, Whittier southbound.

Princess Cruises, 2029 Century Park E., Los Angeles 90067. Summer and holiday program for ages 5 through 17; 9:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M. No separate youth facility. Children under 12 in second berth pay half-fare according to room category; anyone in a third or fourth berth pays half the minimum fare.

Island Princess and Sun Princess sail from Vancouver on seven-day Alaska cruises June through September. Royal Princess sails from San Francisco on 10-day Alaska cruises May through September.

Royal Viking Line, One Embarcadero Center, San Francisco 94111. Summer and holiday programs for ages 5 to 15. No separate youth faility; baby-sitting by arrangement. Cribs, highchairs, diapers, and baby food available on request at least four weeks in advance. Ages 12 and under in double room with one adult travel at half room fare; with two adults, half minimum fare. Star sails from San Francisco, June through August, on 11-day Canada-Alaska cruises.

Sitmar Cruises, 10100 santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90067. Year-round program with four to eight counselors; in summer, additional teen counselor and two theatrical directors. Youth and teen centers on all ships open 9 A.M. to midnight. Kids' pool. Ages 2 through 17 travel at 25 percent of minimum adult fare.

Fairsea sails from Los Angeles on 10- and 11-day Mexico cruises June through September. Fairsky offers 12- and 14-day Alaska cruises departing San Francisco June through September.

Sundance Cruises, 520 Pike St., Suite 2200, Seattle 98101. Year-round program. Children's playroom, teen center, kids' pool. Cribs and highchairs available; no baby-sitting. Third or fourth berth: $385. Stardancer sails every Friday from Vancouver on seven-day Alaska cruises June through September.

World Exploreer Cruises, 550 Kearny St., San Francisco 94108. Summer program aboard Universe; 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. in separate game room; limited shore programs. Baby-sitting by arrangement. Third or fourth berth: $495. Sails from Vancouver on 14-day Alaska cruise, June through august.
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Date:May 1, 1985
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