Princess Cruises is a smaller cruise line that, as of a 2003 merger, is part of the Carnival Corporation with Carnival Cruises. The line offers a variety of experiences, varying by ship size and onboard activities. Smaller ships are available and even large ships strive for a small-ship, unhurried ambience. Kid's activities, like big-screen, poolside movies, often draw families to this cruise line. Due to the wide variety in services and style, it's best to research each ship before booking. Some cruises are not as family-friendly as others. Princess is also a destination leader in the cruise world, offering customary cruises to the Caribbean and alluring journeys to the Far East.

Princess was the first line to bring back an old tradition where travelers' friends and families can visit onboard before departure. By registering for the "Bon Voyage Experience," travelers and guests join in touring and lunchtime dining for four hours prior to setting sail. The cost is $39 per guest, which will be put toward a future cruise, should they decide to book one on the way out. Return customers also qualify for the "Princess Captain's Circle." This program offers recognition and rewards to cruisers who return to the line again and again.

Ship Specifics
Princess Cruises began in 1965 with a small, 6,000-ton converted ferry that made trips to and from Los Angeles and the Mexican Riviera. Today, Princess runs 17 ships in varying sizes. The largest ships carry over 3,000 passengers. Unlike other cruise lines, Princess offers a few of smaller ships that hold 670 to 710 passengers. These present a more classic, less hurried experience. Two new ships are forecast for spring 2013 and spring 2014 -- a debut that will close the near five-year gap in new ship introduction. These will weigh about 139,000 tons and carry over 3,400 passengers.

Ports and Destinations
Princess Cruises has a wide span of itineraries that visit family-favorite Caribbean spots to exotic destinations like Africa and the Far East. Princess is also a leader in Alaska and Canada voyages, as it boasts one of the highest concentrations of ships and best land tours and excursions in these areas. In fact, the cruise line owns five lodges along Alaska's Inside Passage and in the state's national parks. Princess also leads the cruise industry in itineraries to the Mexican Riviera, and the European Baltic and Mediterranean regions. With 35 in total, embarkation ports in the U.S. and Canada include Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Vancouver. Hundreds of ports of call are scattered all across the globe. The cruise line travels to all seven continents.

Cruises range from 7 to 107 days, traveling to over 350 ports. Princess's ships span the globe on about 115 itineraries. Smaller ships -- Pacific, Royal and Tahitian Princess -- offer longer trips to more exotic ports of calls. These also offer fewer family amenities, so you may want to avoid them when bringing young children.

Princess Cruises Staterooms
Princess offers amenities similar to a landbound luxury hotel. Guests can request hand-delivered fresh fruit or bathrobes and will often find chocolates on the pillows. Complimentary shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are in every stateroom. Staterooms also feature a private safe and refrigerator. Mini-suites provide welcome champagne, two televisions and a sitting area. Full suite passengers enjoy complimentary Internet access at the Internet Cafe, DVD players and free access to a DVD library. In the early morning, afternoon and evening, television channels broadcast kid-friendly cartoons and movies. Family Suites are constructed from two interconnecting rooms. They offer accommodations for up to eight people with spacious living rooms and oversized balconies. Bathtubs are in the rooms, but unfortunately cribs are not provided. Family Suites are not available on the three smallest ships.

For a more budget-friendly experience, Interior Staterooms offer a great value with two beds that can fit up to four people. Oceanview Obstructed rooms feature all the amenities of an Interior room with a sneak-peek view of the outside. These are also available for lower rates. Knowing how much it means to have breakfast complimented by sunshine and ocean breezes, Princess boasts some of the best rates for balcony rooms in the industry, so you may be able to splurge on this one.

Princess Cruises Dining
Princess's "Anytime Dining" program allows guests to eat whenever with whomever between the hours of 5:30 and 10 p.m. This eating schedule is much longer than other cruises with flexible dining programs, like Royal Caribbean. Traditional dining with set seating times is typically available in a separate dining room. Select ships, like Diamond Princess, have multiple dining rooms for flexible dining, traditional dining and a combination of both. This flexible dining option is offered on all ships, except the smallest vessels -- Royal, Tahitian and Pacific Princess.

"Chef's Table" is another program that allows guests to munch on hors d'oeuvres and sip champagne prior to a multi-course tasting meal at the chef's VIP table in the dining room. Passengers can book this option after they board the ship only.

A number of specialty restaurants are on onboard. Coral and Island Princess introduced the industry's first New Orleans-themed bistro -- Bayou Cafe & Steakhouse. Crown and Emerald Princess first hosted Crown Grill, a restaurant with an open, theater-style kitchen that serves seafood, steak and pork chops. Sabatini's Restaurant offers a classy, yet casual atmosphere with Tuscan-inspired, Italian delicacies. For a more casual experience, families can pick up light fare like grilled paninis or salads from The Piazza -- a multi-deck atrium. Ships usually also have an Internet Cafe where guests can keep in touch with the real world for a fee.

Princess Cruises Activities
Many pools are onboard Princess ships. A retractable glass dome keeps rain away during afternoon showers in some pools. Others are outside on the terrace where guests can admire the ship's wake. For active types, another pool creates currents that you can swim against for a fun workout. Guests can play and stay dry while playing ping-pong, shuffleboard, basketball or volleyball.

Movies under the Stars debuted on Caribbean Princess. Guests view films on a huge LED screen above the main pool on the top deck. Complimentary popcorn, cozy blankets and warm milk and cookies are provided in the evening. The first to bring aboard Nintendo's Wii Fit video game system, Princess holds Wii tournaments on the big screen, as well. Due to its popularity, this activity option is on a healthy handful of ships, including Golden, Dawn, Coral, Sun, Island, Diamond and Sapphire Princess.

Kids' Clubs
Kids ages 3 to 17 can participate in youth programs on most Princess cruises. Make sure to double check with the cruise ship you decide upon, as age ranges may vary by ship. All cruises, expect Ocean and Pacific Princess, have fully equipped youth and teen centers that open early in the morning and close late at night. The children's centers are also open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the ship is in port. This allows parents to go on private excursions if they wish. Kids' programs will only be provided on Ocean and Pacific if there are at least 20 children aboard. In the program, trained counselors plan activities for your child and watch them throughout the day. Kids under age 3 are allowed to visit the youth centers, but must be supervised by a parent at all times.

Kids are split into three age groups: Princess Pelicans (3 to 7), Shockwaves (8 to 12) and Remix (13 to 17). Unlike other cruise lines that offer more age divisions (Carnival & Royal Caribbean), kids may feel a bit young or old for their group. After all, a 3-year-old has different needs than a 7-year-old. All groups offer a range of age-specific activities, host pajama and dance parties and run food-themed events. Kids can meet new friends over afternoon ice cream. Teens can sign karaoke, engage in sport competitions or attend DJ workshops. Kids are also given complimentary lunch while in port.

Junior cruisers are also provided with two special dinner evenings during their trip. These evenings allow them to eat with a group of new friends at one of the onboard eateries. Teens are offered one big dining event in one of the main dining rooms. This evening features group photography and a night "on the town" to enjoy the cruise activities together. No parents allowed.

For Mom and Dad
Group babysitting is available for children ages 3 to 12 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. The fee is $5 per hour per child. Unlike Royal Caribbean, private in-cabin babysitting is not provided. Services are not offered on the smaller ships. If you have children under age 3, try Carnival Cruises or Disney Cruise Lines.

More on Family Cruising
Family Cruise Ideas

Written by Whitney Rife


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