Family Cruising to Mexico

Teens, tweens and the whole floating enchilada….

Grandma and great-aunt Hazel may be thrilled with the casino and the knockout margaritas waiting for them at Mexico’s next port of call, but no family getaway will be successful if the kids are not happy. Multigenerational groups are no doubt an important slice of the approximately six million passengers Mexico welcomed last year, but let’s face it— that last generation’s satisfaction can make or break a trip. So what’s out there these days? Anything from whale watching to late-night lounging.

dodge ball & whales Holland America Line’s Oosterdam offers a 7-day Mexican Riviera voyage departing from and returning to San Diego (with dates in November and December starting at $399 pp dbl, and through April 2010, beginning again in October) that visits Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. It also has scenic cruising along Bahia Magdalena for a chance to spot whales (from late-December through March, hundreds of whales—eight species in all, but grey whales in particular) migrate from the Arctic to birth and rear their calves in Baja California Sur’s warmer waters. The same ship offers a longer version of this trip—11 days—that also stops in Acapulco and Huatulco and departs Jan. 16, starting at $899 pp dbl.

One of the perks of HAL’s programs are its extended shore excursions, which range from basic destination exploration to in-depth looks at a chosen port of call—what the company calls its Collections. In Mazatlan, for example, HAL passengers can sign up for a 3.5-mile bike ride or a Salsa & Salsa lesson that combines lessons to make the spicy sauces and classes to learn the spicy dance. These are part of HAL’s Encore Collection, designed so repeat guests can take a different, closer look at the places they’re visiting. Or, as part of the exclusive-activity Medallion Collection, they can spend six hours assisting a dolphin trainer, surrounded by dolphins, while in Puerto Vallarta.

Of course, there’s plenty to do on board as well. The well-known Club HAL now includes youngsters ages 3-12 and has a long roster of activities, including Kids’ Olympics, tie-dying t-shirts, and pajama parties. Those who are a bit older get the chance for more “sophisticated” fun, including Internet access, dodge ball and arcade games. There’s even a Culinary Arts Center program, which allows them to try their hands at preparing different meals—from ice cream sandwiches to saltwater taffy. Teens get their own activity program, plus a lounge called The Loft to enjoy movies, karaoke, Dance Dance Revolution, or just chilling out, teen-style. The Loft has a special passageway on many HAL ships that connects to a teens-only sun deck area called The Oasis, with a waterfall, wading pool and juice bar.

Indeed, even the closest of clans need some alone time, for which these Mexico cruise options mix the very best of the warm and fuzzy family moments with a chance to escape. All age segments have something to do together and separately on board. Additionally, HAL offers special Family Reunion Program pricing on all cruises, applicable for families booking at least eight staterooms, plus the Head-of-the-Family Reward so one of the staterooms receives an upgrade.

freestyle, south of the border Some clients may not be as used to the schedules of a cruise vacation, which is where the beauty of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Freestyle Cruising comes in, bringing, of course, flexibility. Families can spend as much time in port as they want and not fret about coming back to a set dinner seating, as they can choose from any number of dining options on board. Depending on the ship, there can be as many as 11 restaurants available, from pizza to a Teppanyaki place that delights the kids with the chefs’ “show.” NCL also has a Kid’s Cafe designed specifically for them, with children’s furniture and a buffet at the right height for them, plus kids’ menus at each restaurant.

Clients will also like the peace of mind of available interconnected accommodations and some of the most versatile of family-friendly staterooms around, with NCL’s 5,000-sq.-ft. Garden Villas (available on the Star and others). They include three separate bedrooms in addition to a living and dining room, as well as a private garden with a hot tub and availability of butler and concierge service. A Garden Villa fits six adults, plus there is room for two rollaways and a crib.