Post by Liz Anderson
Our family has had some great experiences with the Disney Cruise Line kids’ clubs – the Oceaneer Club and the Oceaneer Lab – so, as we sailed on the Oasis of the Seas for DIS Cruise 1.0, we were eager to try out Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean kids’ activities center. Adventure Ocean, located on Deck 14 Forward, was nearly our first stop once we boarded so that we could register the kids for the club. Unfortunately, by the end of the cruise, we had found key differences between the two clubs that made Adventure Ocean a distant second to the Disney Cruise Line kids’ clubs for our children, as well as ourselves. These differences lie in three primary areas – programming, food, and logistical flexibility.
Our family arrived at Adventure Ocean upon boarding the ship and found that the club, while boasting several rooms and activity centers, is strictly broken down by age. Kids are separated into age groups spanning three years each. Children with birthdays close to the edge of a group can choose which group to join. We headed straight for the room for children ages 6-8, as our daughters are 6½ and 8 (almost 9!) years old. We were greeted by an energetic and friendly counselor; she gave us the forms to register each child. We were told that our older daughter could opt for the room for 9-11 year-olds if she felt too old for the 6-8 year-old room.
The counselor showed us a sample schedule for the room, which included activities throughout the day. Age-appropriate games would be conducted in the age group’s room, while art and science activities would involve the whole room group moving to the art room or science room at the prescribed time for that activity. Children are not free to opt in or out of activities while in the club in favor of doing something else – once in the club, they are on their age group’s schedule. This stands in stark contrast to the open floor and activity plan of the Disney Cruise Line clubs, which allow kids to move from one activity to another at their leisure; they might choose to participate in a large social group activity, or they might prefer a quieter, smaller-group or individual activity. My sense is that children with sensory sensitivities would find Adventure Ocean more overwhelming as a total experience.
My husband and I brought the girls to Adventure Ocean after dinner on our first night so they could try out the club – and so we could explore the ship’s more adult-oriented venues! With the lack of a tap-bracelet check-in system (see logistical flexibility below) and no on-board mobile phone system, we were curious how the counselors would locate us in the event of an emergency – or just a kid wanting to leave the club. We were told that minor issues would be communicated via a voice mail on our stateroom phone (unlikely to be picked up until after we picked up the children!) and that Guest Services would be enlisted to track us down in the event of a major emergency. We left both girls in the care of the two counselors staffing the room of 6-8 year-olds and headed out for our evening.
A short while later, my husband realized we’d forgotten to leave something with one of our daughters, and he returned to Adventure Ocean to drop it off. Upon arriving, he discovered our older daughter engaged in activities but our younger daughter crying in a corner. He checked in with her and learned she was crying because other children in the room had called her a “cheater” during a game she joined without fully understanding the rules. Given that one of the posted rules of the club is “no name calling,” my husband brought this to the attention of one of the counselors, who brought our daughter back into the fold and spoke with the other children about name calling.
We came back a few hours later to pick up the girls. They saw us coming and ran to get their shoes so they could sign out and leave. (Leaving the Disney clubs generally entails 5 minutes of finding the kids and 20 minutes of cajoling them to leave.) The counselor signing them out noted that our younger daughter had achieved Strike 1 during her visit (you guessed it – three strikes and you’re done at the club for the duration of the cruise). The report was that she’d had a potty accident (in anticipation of this chance, we’d sent a change of underwear, which she used) and that she had been crying a lot. Our sense was that they were simply too busy running the room’s activities to tend to crying children…and yet, my gut feeling was (and is) that a crying child in the room should be more the counselor’s problem than the child’s problem. The counselor suggested that she might drop down to the 3-5 year-old room on her next visit. Our older daughter reported that the 6-8 year-old room was incredibly loud and that she thought she’d prefer the 9-11 year-old room the next time they visited.
We inquired about meals in Adventure Ocean and learned that while children can opt into dinner each night, lunch is only available on port days, to allow parents to attend shore excursions while their kids remain on board the ship. Children do not take their meals in Adventure Ocean; instead, they are escorted by counselors to Windjammer Cafe (Deck 16 Aft – the opposite end of this very large ship!), where their food options are strictly limited to chicken nuggets, pizza (cheese or pepperoni), or mac & cheese. Fruit and vegetables are not available. This is also a big departure from the Disney Cruise Line experience, which feeds its young charges in a room joining the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club. Our children recalled finger sandwiches with cold cuts, veggies, and fruit as well as more traditional kids’ fare in the Disney clubs.
Royal Caribbean does not offer pre-registration for the kids’ clubs. Prior to getting on board the ship, kids under twelve years of age receive bracelets identifying their muster stations. These are to be used to bring children to their parents at muster stations in the event of an emergency, but there is no equivalent to the tap-bracelets children on Disney Cruise Line wear to enter and depart the kids’ clubs there.
We visited Adventure Ocean for drop-off care a second time, hoping our first-day experience was an outlier. The 6-8 year-old room schedule indicated they would be engaged in sports activities requiring closed-toe shoes. As we were traveling with flip-flops and sandals, we had to move our younger daughter to the 3-5 year-old room regardless of any concerns about her prior visit behavior. The counselor went through a number of computer screens to re-register her for the younger room, and our older daughter headed to the 9-11 year-old room after a similar re-registration procedure. We had a late dinner that night and when we arrived back to pick up the kids, our younger daughter was the only child left in the 3-5 year-old room and was on her second movie. All the other kids in that room had apparently been picked up earlier, but no move was made to bring her in to be with other kids.
We made one more trip to Adventure Ocean for the kids’ club. We went back to the 6-8 year-old room and were told that our younger daughter was now registered in the 3-5 year-old room and had to go there. We explained that the registration had been changed because of an activity limitation – and the counselor went back through the numerous computer screens to move our daughter back to her initial room.
One Family’s Conclusions
After our third visit to Adventure Ocean, we checked in with the girls about the club and what they thought of it. A direct quote from the nearly-9-year-old: “It’s….okay….I guess.” We had one more dinner reservation that would have required us to use the club, but our younger daughter was so distraught over the prospect of going back that we changed our plans and had a much better time together in the main dining room. We asked the kids to compare the two clubs, and they wasted no time listing the many ways they preferred the Disney Cruise Line offerings.
Overall, we came away with a strong preference for the Disney Cruise Line kids’ clubs. We had some issues with the logistics and staffing of Adventure Ocean. I never saw more than two counselors in an age-group room. This may not reflect the actual staffing ratio, but the number of counselors never seemed quite up to handling the large number of kids often in the room, especially as one counselor would need to leave an activity to attend to sign-in/sign-out whenever a child entered or left the club. I also felt that the dining options were extremely limited and cumbersome, requiring kids in the club to be escorted clear across the ship to the often overcrowded Windjammer for meals that were subpar with regard to nutrition and choice. We certainly understood the need to protect children with allergies, but this seemed like a “path of least resistance” solution to that need – and one that required a lot of kid-moving, to boot.
While this recap may sound like a litany of complaints about Royal Caribbean, I don’t want to disparage the cruise line. The counselors were kind and energetic, if overstretched by the sheer number of children in their care. The ship offers other activities that our children enjoyed quite a bit – characters they can’t see at Disney, a big parade through the main thoroughfare of the ship, a carousel, and a Build-a-Bear-style shop, among other things. But many other activities are clearly geared toward older (read: taller) kids – the zip line, rock wall, and the Flow Rider, to name three. In the final analysis, with Adventure Ocean meant to be the heart of younger children’s activities on board, it does seem that Royal Caribbean is focusing its attention and investments on families with older children. The little ones seem to be an oversight, and Adventure Ocean pales in comparison to the much stronger, better-staffed, and more flexible Oceaneer Club and Lab on Disney Cruise Line.
Category: Disney Cruise Line