Do cruise ships offer activities for teens?

Teen Club on Norwegian Dawn

Yes! You will find the most teen-specific options on family-oriented cruise lines like Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian. Luxury lines or small ships geared more toward adults assume that teens will simply participate in the regular adult activities. All mainstream lines, and some luxury ones, will have kids clubs -- onboard camps for kids up to age 17, where trained counselors organize age-appropriate activities throughout the day and into the night. On most mainstream cruise ships, teens will have dedicated hangouts. Sometimes tweens (ages 12 to 14) will have separate lounges from teens (ages 15 to 17). Teen and tween lounges often have comfy couches and seating for hanging out, "mocktail" bars for getting soda and nonalcoholic fruity drinks, Internet/video game areas and dance floors. Some cruise ships will have outdoor sun decks for teens only. You can read all about cruise ship kids clubs in our "What to Expect" story on that topic.

Are there activities aimed at families having fun together?

Yes, many ships offer family-friendly cruise activities. Programming might include deck parties, fireworks displays, video game tournaments and arcade play. Plus, you might find that your teens take an interest in typical cruise ship activities not specifically aimed at families, such as silly pool games, fancy afternoon tea, trivia contests, crafting sessions and art auctions. Many cruise lines also show movies on indoor or poolside screens and on in-cabin TVs. Some ships even have out-there amenities like ice skating rinks and bumper cars.

What outdoor activities are available?

Cruise ships may have waterslides, pools and water play areas. In addition, mini-golf, rock climbing walls, sports courts, ping pong, foosball, giant chess and shuffleboard are typical onboard attractions. Royal Caribbean even has cruise ships with surf simulators and zip lines.

Can teens do activities alone, or do they always need to be with a parent?

Teens are allowed to roam the ship on their own and participate in onboard activities without a parent or guardian. Some cruise lines do set curfews on when kids can be in public areas without a parent present. For example, on Norwegian, children under age 17 cannot be in public areas of the ship after 1 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

What can teens do at night?

Teen Club on Independence of the Seas

At night, supervised teen programming may include interactive games, video game or arcade play, and late-night dance parties. The teen lounges will likely be open for general socializing, as well.

The ship's main theater will offer family-friendly shows, such as Broadway musicals, song-and-dance revues, musical soloists or guest groups, magicians, comedians or local acts (think Polynesian dancers in Hawaii). Any adults-only comedy shows or interactive games tend to take place much later at night. Evening movies or deck parties might be family-friendly or adults-only.

Can teens enter the casino, bars or nightclubs onboard?

Many cruise ship bars and casinos are open spaces flowing out of main public areas or throughways, and onboard bars and nightclubs typically do not have bouncers checking IDs at the door. In addition, many of these spaces are used during the day and early evening for all-ages activities. In general, passengers must be 18 to gamble or enter the dance clubs late at night, and 18 or 21 to drink, depending on the cruise line and sailing region. No one will stop a mature-looking teen from hanging out in a bar or nightclub, but teens cannot buy alcohol or win money at the casino, as their cruise ship ID cards (used for all purchases onboard) will be flagged with their legal ages.

Can teens use the spa?

Yes, with caveats. Teens can book salon services -- such as manicures, pedicures and hairstyling -- but often cannot book body treatments (massages, body wraps, etc.). Some lines limit thermal suite, sauna and steam room use to adults older than 18. Several cruise lines now have teen spas or teen spa menus with specific teen treatments, such as facials, massages, manicures and pedicures, and mother-daughter or father-son treatments. Parents or adult guardians may need to be present to book spa treatments and during the treatments themselves.

How can I keep my teen safe onboard?

Arcade on MSC Lirica

Parents are responsible for the behavior and safety of teens onboard. Cruise ship staff are trained to look out for underage drinking or fighting, but they're not responsible for the whereabouts of your teen. As they see fit, parents should give teens rules about where they can go alone on the ship, checking in with their family, who they can fraternize with and whether they can go into other cabins.

Cruise lines do have rules about behavior. Teens who misbehave (fighting, bullying, etc.) will be warned and then suspended from the teen lounge for a day or for the remainder of the cruise if they continue to act inappropriately. Unacceptable behavior outside of the kids club (such as underage drinking) is subject to discipline, including forced disembarkation from the ship at the next port of call. Some lines also have curfews, after which time underage children cannot be in public areas without an adult.

As with any place you may live or travel, there will always be some teens who find ways to obtain drugs or alcohol during a cruise vacation, and there could be instances of sexual misconduct. Take whatever precautions you normally would when on vacation or at home regarding what your teens can and can't do on their own.

Are there special teen shore excursions?

Some cruise lines, such as Disney and Carnival, offer teens-only shore excursions in ports of call. The ship's youth staff will escort the teens on these tours. Parents might need to sign authorization forms or waivers in order for teens to participate.

Many regular shore excursions are appropriate for teens, but they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

How can I learn more about activities for teens?

You might like the following articles:

The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.