Holland America Line attracts about 25,000 kids and their families aboard its 15 ships every year with a range of activities for children, teens and adults. There were 112 kids and teens on the 1,258-passenger Maasdam for my 7-day Canada-New England Discovery cruise this summer. Because the ship embarked in Montreal, many families flew in early and stayed at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Kids were entertained by the frolicking penguins and other cute critters at the BioDome; Montreal is filled with fascinating museums for all ages.
Kids love Club HAL
Summer, Christmas and New Year cruises attract many multi-generation groups. A cruise allows adults to go dancing, see a show, visit the casino, have a spa treatment or sample the ship’s fine dining while kids participate in Club HAL or teen activities.
The Club HAL program groups kids by ages: 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and teens for morning, afternoon or evening sessions. Younger kids enjoy creative activities, kid Olympics, tie-dying T-shirts, candy bar bingo, arts and crafts, evening theme parties and storytelling.
Ages 8 to 12 play arcade games, air hockey, foosball, and karaoke. They have family-safe Internet access (minimal charge similar to Explorations Café) and use Sony Playstations. This age group also likes golf putting activities, deck sports including dodge ball, as well as swim parties and video games.
Teens 13 to 17 use The Loft, a teens-only lounge resembling a New York artist’s loft. Teens like having their own space for music, games, movies or simply hanging out. Many HAL ships also feature The Oasis, a teens-only sun deck area.
When not on shore excursions with his mom and older sister, Matt, a 13-year-old-technology whiz from Colorado, liked the more challenging interactive games in Club HAL and hanging out at the pool. Craig from Maine said Clara, his precocious 6-year-old, liked to structure her day around Club HAL activities.
In addition to pools, other popular on-board family activities are table tennis, chess, watching movies and live stage shows.
Babysitting services are available from 10 p.m. until 12 midnight for children three and up for $5 per hour per child. Crew members have an aptitude for working with children, who appreciate surprises like towel animals on their beds and chocolates on the nightstand.
Cruises are an excellent way to introduce young people to fine dining. I saw countless well-behaved children and teens dining with their families in the main dining room. Tween girls loved dressing up on formal nights. HAL ships also offer special kids menus in the Main Dining Room, the Lido restaurant and the Terrace Grill near the pool.
Cruisers of all ages enjoy the ice cream and dessert bar in the Lido restaurant. For early evening casual dining, some parents with younger children eat in the Lido restaurant. Tasty main courses are served tableside while salads and desserts are served buffet style.
Canada shore excursions
On most shore excursions, children accompanied their parents. Each port had interesting attractions with fascinating learning experiences in Canada’s rich mix of Native American, French and English history and culture.
In the French-speaking city of Québec, the ship docked in Lower Town, the heart of Old Québec. Kids liked riding the funicular up the steep cliff to Upper Town where they could play in a grassy park, climb on cannons and watch the horse-drawn carriages. The ship offered a bevy of shore excursions such as rafting on the Jacques Cartier River, city tours and visiting nearby Montmorency Falls, a pretty provincial park with deck dining.
Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island, offered lobster fishing, several Anne of Green Gables options, as well as hop-on/hop-off tours. Everyone liked the fascinating telephone exhibits in Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, an excursion from Sydney, N.S. At this port, kids also could experience seeing French history come alive at the Fortress of Louisbourg, circa 1774.
I loved the lobster lunches on Charlottetown and Bar Harbor, Maine overview tours. Halifax offered excursions to pretty Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg, plus tall ship sailing. With the ship docked on the waterfront, it was an easy walk to the boardwalk and many attractions. Too soon it was time to disembark in Boston.
Whichever HAL ship or itinerary parents or grandparents choose, lucky children will have a treasure trove of memories and stories to share when they return to school.
CruisinGal Pat Woods thanks Holland America Line for hosting her cruise to New England & Canada. ColoradoGal is a huge fan of HAL for multi-generational trips; three generations of her family thoroughly enjoyed their cruise to Alaska!