The newly redone Carnival Sunrise has a lot of really nice offerings. The new steakhouse, for example, or the RedFrog Pub, or the relatively sleek, modern design overall, or the expanded spa with its gorgeous fitness room over the bridge. But all of this didn't necessarily impress one of its passengers.
"Mom? Mom? Mom? When can we go to the kids' club?"
Here's what my almost-9-year-old liked about the Sunrise: The Camp Ocean kids programming; the ropes course; the waterslides; the Seuss breakfast; the foosball table in the corner of the RedFrog Pub, where she reigned.
Here's what my 2-year-old liked about the Sunrise: The glass-enclosed elevators in the Atrium lobby; dancing with the waiters in the Radiance Restaurant; and saying "looka the water!" whenever she saw the ocean.
Here's what they both liked: Pizzeria del Capitano and running down the Deck 6 corridor until my husband whisper-shouted "NO RUNNING!"
My guess is that many kids will gravitate to some of the same pleasures that mine did. All of the contemporary cruise lines and most of the premium-level ones (and even a few luxury lines) have embraced the family-friendly aspect of cruise travel with gusto, with partnerships, activities, food and accommodations to satisfy small and big fry.
As ships become more and more family-friendly, cruise lines have answered the need for dedicated areas that are no-go zones for kids.
For families, one of the best parts of cruising is that for the most part the kid programming is included in the fare. So if clients' children head over to the dedicated kid zones, parents get the chance to catch a few rays by the pool or enjoy a daytime cocktail in one of the adults-only sections of the ship (see related report).
Many ships' kids camps run into the evening, which means parents can indulge in alternative dining or a grown-up cocktail. Another bonus to family cruising, especially when you're in a foreign country: There's always something kid-friendly to eat. And that whole unpack-once thing is a blessing.
Seuss on the loose
The Carnival Sunrise, the former Triumph, is a nicely sized ship that offers a good deal of activities for the younger set.
Carnival Cruise Line's partnership with Seuss is one of the biggest differentiators, and although the Sunrise doesn't have a dedicated Seuss space the way its newest, largest ships do, it still brings the Seussian flavor when it can.
The three big events were the Seuss-a-palooza Parade, storytime and the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast (because with a book like "Green Eggs and Ham," you gotta have breakfast).
Characters on the ship included the Cat in the Hat, Sam (you know, Sam I Am) and Things 1 and 2.
The parade began in the Sunrise's Piano Bar; the children, parents and characters marched to the Liquid Lounge theater chanting "Dr. Seuss is on the loose!" while ringing cowbells and basically making as much noise, noise, noise as the Grinch's Whoville neighbors.
At the Liquid Lounge, the cruise director read "Horton Hears a Who," and members of the cruise staff acted out parts from the book. It was entertainment aimed as much at the parents as at the kids.
The Seuss breakfast, which carries an extra charge, is fun. On the Sunrise, the midship main restaurant is transformed with tablecloths and arrangements of reds and blues; a giant ice carving of the Cat in the Hat greeted diners at the door.
There's about a dozen menu choices, such as Truffula tree pancakes and Fox and Socks steak and eggs, each one with its own modified, Seussian quote. There are photo ops with the Cat and his friends. The most surprising event of the entire brunch, however, was that my 2-year-old devoured most of my husband's green eggs.
Carnival also has a partnership with Build-A-Bear, and kids can create their own teddy during a workshop in the Sunrise's Limelight Lounge for a fee.
The Sunrise's refurb as seen through a child's eyes is most exciting on the open decks. There were three areas in particular that were of interest to my older daughter. The first was the SportsSquare on Deck 11 aft, behind the funnel. This is where the ropes course is, suspended over two billiards tables and a foosball table that could comfortably accommodate six players.
We tackled the ropes course while the ship was docked in Bermuda. There are two "tracks" on the circular course, one relatively easier than the other. Right away we figured out where the course is the most difficult, and my daughter got stuck on the third platform.
After my encouragement went from "You can do it!" to more parent-like territory (variations of "you have to do it"), she struck out onto the section. Once she mastered it, her face split into a big grin, and she went around and around the course — once you're up there, you can take unlimited laps. She only came down because the course closed for a wind hold.
Midship, meanwhile, are the dueling waterslides and splash park that make up Carnival Waterworks. The new, fast waterslides are a kid's dream, and there were more than a couple of adults lined up for turns, as well. Two smaller slides are available for preschool-age cruisers. I considered taking my younger child to wade in the splash park until I read the rules: Kids must be potty trained.
Benefits of camping
Both kids went enthusiastically to Camp Ocean. The older went to the Sting Rays program for ages 6 through 8 and the younger to the Penguins for ages 2 through 5. Both rooms were bright and airy, with big windows. Activities included arts and crafts, a magic show, dancing and group games.
The counselors gave me a ship cellphone for the younger child so they could call me if anything went amiss (it didn't).
The Circle C program for tweens and Club O2 for teens were adjacent to Camp Ocean, and when I was checking my kids out I heard what sounded like a rousing karaoke rendition of a Bruno Mars song.
Camp Ocean served dinner at 6, for parents who want to eat out on their own. If our children were a bit older, I might have considered Camp Ocean's after-hours program, which runs from 10 p.m. till 1 a.m., which enables parents to sample some later shipboard entertainment.
But the kids bedded down pretty willingly at their usual bedtime. Our cabin on Deck 6 had a pull-down berth, which greatly pleased the older one. That left the couch for the baby, but by tucking the cabin's coffee table under the built-in desk that runs along the wall, there was plenty of room for a travel crib.
If the weather had been a little warmer, my husband and I might have indulged in one of our cruising-with-kids rewards: a glass of wine on the balcony while the kids sleep soundly inside.