Cruising with tweens -- those pre-adults who occupy the space between little kid and full-fledged teenagers -- can be tricky. Mostly in junior high or middle school, this age group is caught in the middle, too old for the structure, games and gadgets of the kids spaces -- which they (understandably) turn their nose up at -- and yet, too young for the teen talk and some activities found in teen clubs.
On lines that lack a dedicated space for 12- to 14-year-olds, they're often on their own to find peers. Sometimes they find friends on a basketball court, or a rock climbing wall, but it can also result in too much time (and money) spent in arcades, or hanging out with parents more than they, or their parents, might like.
A few cruise lines have met the challenge with activities tailored to tweens and amenities that range from dedicated clubs to spa treatments and private island adventures.
Here are four cruise lines that tweens (and the parents who love them) can enjoy. Better still: Each offers family-friendly staterooms that can accommodate growing kids who are almost the size of adults.
Ages: 11 - 14
Tween Highlights: Disney has been a leader in youth programming since they began sailing with almost a deck worth of spaces designed for babies on up through teens, plus theater and game shows that are fun for all ages. Tween hangout Edge is a high-tech club for movie watching, video games, singing karaoke and hanging out on beanbags and moveable modular furniture. Edge's location and layout differs between the pair of newer ships (Dream and Fantasy) and the original ones (Magic and Wonder). On Dream and Fantasy, Edge's location inside the front funnel has a porthole view of people zooming by on the AquaDuck water slide. Edge staff host ship-wide scavenger hunts, trivia contests and "That's Hilarious," an improv class inspired by the Disney Channel hit So Random!
Extra Perks: Outside of Edge, tweens can play a round of mini-golf, or -- on Dream and Fantasy -- cruise through the 765-foot-long Aqua Duck, a clear water slide that twists and turns, including a portion that extends over the side of the ship.
Beginning fall 2017, tweens can meet Marvel superheroes, including Captain America and Spiderman, on Marvel's Day at Sea, a daylong event of deck parties and meet-and-greets on seven Disney Magic sailings from New York. Similarly, in 2017, 15 Disney Fantasy sailings will host a Star Wars Day at Sea that includes a movie marathon of the films, Star Wars-themed trivia contests, opportunities to meet the characters and more.
Good to Know: On private island Castaway Cay, tweens have scheduled time to hang out together (supervised by youth counselors) at the In Da Shade Game Pavilion (table tennis, foosball and basketball) as well as at Pelican Plunge, the island's 2,400-square-foot floating platform with water slides.
Ages: 12 - 14
Tween Highlights: While Royal Caribbean's teen program includes guests 12–17, tweens aged 12–14 have rock climbing contests, barbecues and movie nights organized just for them. Learning to mix records at Scratch DJ Academy and unwinding at the youth-only YSpa for an Acne Attack facial or a Sole Mate pedicure are two popular options. Youth staff also host talent shows, open mic nights and Ping-Pong tournaments for their pre-teen crew.
Extra Perks: Outside the tween program, the video arcade has everything from old school Pac-Man to modern day Guitar Hero. Oasis-class ships have FlowRider surf simulators, rock climbing walls, ziplines and an ice skating rink. Aboard Quantum-class ships, you can ascend 300 feet above sea level in the North Star, a capsule somewhat akin to a ride on the London Eye, and drive bumper cars at Seaplex. Kids ages 12–14 can do any of those activities on their own as long as they meet height and weigh requirements for each.
Good to Know: The gargantuan size of Royal Caribbean's ships can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be difficult to keep track of kids who are running around to the many different areas, so having a method of communication such as pagers may be a good idea. CocoCay, the line's private island in the Bahamas, has a water park for kids of all ages.
Ages: 12 - 14
Tween Highlights: Carnival's Circle C -- which stands for chill, connect and cool -- is a custom-designed club space where tweens can meet other tweens. Each club has a dance floor with high-tech sound and lighting, a plasma-screen TV for movies and music videos and a jukebox. Gaming pods with the latest video games round out the tech offerings.****
Extra Perks: All of Carnival's ships have classic favorites: basketball, dodgeball, Ping-Pong and mini-golf. WaterWorks, Carnival's onboard water park (available on most ships) has twisting water slides, side-by-side racing slides and giant buckets of water that rain down on you from above. There's even more on new ship Vista, the first in its class: an IMAX theater at sea; the very cool SkyRide, an open-air suspended cycling ride above the ship's top deck; and their longest slide yet, a 455-foot-long tube slide called Kaleid-O-Slide.
Good to Know: Chat with your kids before you cruise about how much freedom to roam they'll have and how you'd like to communicate. Kids can sign themselves in and out of Carnival's youth programs at age 9 and use other family-friendly facilities by themselves.
Ages: 12 - 14
Tween Highlights: While tweens and teens share Costa's teen clubs, youth staff organize tween-specific activities for Teen Club Juniors in the teen club and about the ship that include Spin Master games like Meccano, plus dance, pool and even a Nutella-themed party. Xbox One consoles are available to tweens inside the Squok Club, the space for younger cruisers, which gives tweens a good way to have fun and hang out with younger siblings.
Extra Perks: Costa Fascinosa and Favolosa have a water park with a pirate ship that spans two decks. There are sports tournaments galore, from volleyball and basketball to the slower-paced bowling and shuffleboard.****
Good to Know: Teen Junior is only available during certain sailings. Be sure to ask about your particular sailing. In addition, tween and teen programs are not available on Costa's neo Collection of ships.