How one cruise line will keep kids from running wild on its new, huge cruise ships

3 weeks ago 8

It's no small feat to keep the largest cruise ships in the world from being overrun with children.

Megaship sailings are ideal for families with kids of all ages. Do it right, and you're making memories that will last a lifetime. Do it wrong, and you've got moody teens hanging out in stairwells, rowdy kids taking over hot tubs and screaming babies in the dining room.

That's why MSC Cruises is playing it smart with its newest megaships, 6,762-passenger, 215,863-ton MSC World Europa and its Miami-based twin, MSC World America, the latter of which debuts in 2025. (For context, these new World Class ships are similar in passenger count and ship size to Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships.)

After all, the line has plenty of experience with children; it carries 600,000 kids and teens annually. In high season, its largest ships sometimes see 2,000 kids and teens per cruise.

MSC's goal is to give kids and families plenty of options for fun — both together and apart — to keep everyone busy, happy and out of trouble (my words, not theirs).

"We are working every week to surprise them and give them something new," Matteo Mancini, MSC Cruises' senior manager of kids and family entertainment, told me during a Zoom interview. In the highly competitive family cruise market, MSC Cruises is not trying to dominate; its goal is "to be simply different and unique."

MSC Cruises is a privately owned family company, whose top executives are grandparents and parents themselves. So the line's mission to create appealing choices for families and kids is personal.

Here's how the Mediterranean-based cruise line plans to win over the littlest cruisers on its biggest new ships — and, consequently, keep those kids from running wild on board.

More space for kids

F1 simulator on MSC World Europa. IVAN SARFATTI/MSC CRUISES

MSC Seascape, which debuted in late 2022 and currently sails weeklong Caribbean and Bahamas cruises, offers 700 square meters (more than 7,500 square feet) of Doremiland youth space between its Baby Club (for babies and toddlers younger than 3), Mini Club (ages 3 to 6), Junior Club (ages 7 to 11), Young Club (ages 12 to 14) and Teen Club (ages 15 to 17).

Daily Newsletter

Reward your inbox with the TPG Daily newsletter

Join over 700,000 readers for breaking news, in-depth guides and exclusive deals from TPG’s experts

By signing up, you will receive newsletters and promotional content and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.

When MSC World America debuts next year, it will house more than 1,000 square meters (nearly 10,800 square feet) of youth space, as well as more youth staff members to accommodate more kids.

Plus, its upper decks, at least on the back half of the ship, will be filled with kid-friendly attractions, including waterslides, an arcade with virtual reality attractions, an indoor sports court and the aforementioned kids clubs.

The buffet is also in this area, and Mancini says that the ship will feature a new section of the buffet especially for kids and teens, with different food options daily. The line is also taking a page out of other cruise lines' books and bringing free soft-serve ice cream — a kid favorite — to the buffet.

Related: The 6 types of MSC Cruises ships, explained

Kid- and teen-approved activities

Teen Club on MSC Seashore. IVAN SARFATTI/MSC CRUISES

But how does MSC Cruises know what kids will like? They go to the source and ask.

"Every three months, both on board our ships and in the headquarters in Geneva, we do a kids committee with kids and teenagers," Mancini revealed. "We talk to kids and teenagers, and we ask them, 'Guys, are you having fun with our Doremiland program?'"

MSC asks what the kids like, what they don't like and which programs and activities the line should cancel.

The line also presents ideas it's toying with bringing to the ships, and its focus group of kids and teens tells them whether the ideas are worth exploring or not.

This process allows the line to continuously adapt and improve its youth programming. Changes that Mancini has seen include shortening activities from an hour to half an hour to get in a wider variety of events and giving kids the choice of joining in the group activity or continuing to do free play in the youth space.

The line has also changed how its staff approaches participation in youth club activities. "Because of social media, Instagram, YouTube, now teenagers want to be the star of what we're offering," says Mancini. "Once upon a time, they were like, OK, let's watch this activity. Now they want to be on stage, they want to be part of something, and we give them the opportunity if they feel like it."

Plus, the line has different options for what it means to participate. "I give you an example — at some point, we were doing dance competitions, but not everyone is comfortable in dancing," explains Mancini. "So we tell them, do you want to be the [judge] of the dance competition, and there we see magic because they say, 'Oh, yes,' and then you give them the microphone, and you discover another talent that you didn't expect."

With a game show-style activity, teens can choose to be the contestant, the judge, the emcee or the audience. Everyone can play a role and have fun in a way that works for them.

Related: MSC Cruises vs. Royal Caribbean: Which big-ship line is right for you?

High-tech activities go beyond video games

Young Club on MSC Seashore. IVAN SARFATTI/MSC CRUISES

MSC Cruises knows that kids these days are immersed in technology, but its youth staff wants programming to be more than just video games. So it got creative.

Drone Academy is a new program that takes place in the Sportplex indoor sports court where teens learn how to pilot drones and race them around obstacles. Instead of typical arts and crafts with paper and crayons, kids can create images on computers and print them out on 3D printers. The activities blend innovation with technology, so kids are not just mindlessly playing Mario Kart all day long.

Don't worry, parents of video game-obsessed children — MSC cruise ships do also have PlayStations on board. But the youth staff tries to make the games social. "When you are on our cruise ships, you play together with other kids and teenagers," says Mancini. "You talk to them because you are playing in a group." The games serve as an entree into socializing and making friends, rather than a solitary activity.

Related: 5 best cruise lines for families

Kids clubs are inclusive

Mini Club on MSC World Europa. MSC CRUISES

MSC Cruises is an international brand, and its ships routinely sail with 35 different nationalities on board. While the international vibe might be appealing to adults, it can be intimidating for kids to interact with peers who don't speak the same language.

But MSC has already thought about that.

"Right now, in the U.S., the majority of kids and teenagers we are having in our kids club are from America," says Mancini. "There is no issue to make friends." However, MSC's youth staff members all speak several languages so they can translate for kids if necessary.

Plus, this international vibe is the main reason why MSC pursued a relationship with Lego, whose beloved bricks are now found in kids clubs fleetwide.

"We went to Lego years ago and we say, 'Listen, we are having 35 different nationalities of kids. They are from different cultures and speak different languages, and the only toy that needs no explanation is a Lego brick. So we need you. Can you guys help us?' And they said yes for this reason."

It's not only different language speakers who are welcomed into MSC's kids clubs. The line also welcomes children with disabilities.

"At the end of 2023, we asked all our youth staff fleetwide to follow specific training to work and spend time with children with autism," says Mancini. When an autistic child comes on board, every member of the youth staff knows how to work with them and provide a welcoming environment within the kids club.

No-cost programming

Doremiland on MSC World Europa. MSC CRUISES

When Mancini said MSC wants its program to be unique, he wasn't only referring to the specific activities. He was also referring to its cost — or lack thereof.

All of the Doremiland clubs are open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. free of charge. Other lines start charging for late-night babysitting after 10 p.m., but MSC Cruises gives kids an extra hour for free. In addition, babies and toddlers can be dropped off at the Baby Club for free — unlike on Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line, where parents must pay for drop-off baby care.

In addition, the line has a program where kids and teens can eat lunch and dinner with the youth staff so parents can enjoy a leisurely meal and date night together. Again, this service is provided at no extra cost to families.

It's not just the big ships

MSC Cruises' Doremiland youth program is the same fleetwide, whether you're on the smallest ship or the biggest. You'll find the same Lego partnership, the same range of age-appropriate clubs, arcades and some kind of kid-friendly water attraction. Family programming, such as "Master Chef at Sea Juniors" or the "Guinness World Records" family game show, takes place across different sizes of ships.

When MSC World America debuts in Miami next year, the line hopes it will win the hearts of cruising families with its wealth of attractions and activities aimed at keeping kids and teens busy, not bored. But when MSC's newest fans decide to branch out and sail the line's smaller ships in Europe or South America, they won't have to settle for less-than kids programming.

And the adults on board fleetwide can breathe easier, knowing that the kids will be lured away from the stairwells and into the kids clubs — hopefully leaving the hot tubs free for some adult R&R.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Read Entire Article