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Inside Royal Caribbean’s Newest Ship, Quantum of the Seas

Eileen Ogintz gets an exclusive first look at Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas.

How many “wow” moments can you guarantee the kids on vacation?

I mean the thanks-mom-and-dad-can’t-believe-we’re-here moments. I usually figure I’m lucky if we have one or two, along with the inevitable missteps and meltdowns along the way.

Now, Royal Caribbean says, that’s all going to change—at least if you opt for their new 4,000-plus-passenger ship Quantum of the Seas, which has just begun to sail to the Caribbean with great fanfare from Cape Liberty in New Jersey. They even have a Twitter account where cruisers are invited to share their onboard “wow” moments using the hashtag #royalwow. And with cruises starting at less than $1,200 this winter, you won’t have to bust your budget.

So what would wow your gang? Maybe ramming each other in bumper cars or roller-skating the night away? Maybe treating the junior foodies to a meal where they can order anything they like? Maybe going to circus school and learning how to fly on a trapeze? Maybe having a skydiving experience? (OK, it’s a simulated skydiving experience with RipCord by iFLY in a controlled environment, but even preschoolers can do it, and it’s a definite wow.)

As for the bumper cars and roller-skating, that’s in SeaPlex, the largest indoor active space at sea. It has a full-size basketball court that can also be used for team sports like soccer, volleyball, and badminton. Let’s not forget the floating DJ booth. There’s even a food truck here—the SeaPlex Dog House—and SeaPod Activity Rooms with Xbox, table tennis, air hockey, and more, all overlooking the ocean.

Did I mention these activities don’t require an upcharge? There’s also a climbing wall and the FlowRider surf simulator, plus an expansive indoor family pool area, which means families can start their vacation as soon as they board, no matter what the weather—a definite plus for those cruising from New Jersey this winter. “We’ve never had that for families,” says Alison Frazier, the director of entertainment and guest activities for the entire cruise line. She believes the entire SeaPlex area will naturally encourage those “wow” moments.

There are DreamWorks characters (get ready for a photo op with Shrek), the chance to rise 300 feet above sea level and over the side of the ship in a glass capsule called North Star, entertainment that includes a Broadway-quality production of Mamma Mia that had the audience on their feet clapping and dancing, and “Starwater,” a special-effects show.

Those whose kids are on the autism spectrum can check out special toys and be confident that the youth staff—which is prepared to handle as many as 1,800 kids—will be as inclusive as possible to children with special needs, says Erin Coon, who manages the 20-member Adventure Ocean staff.

Those with babies (as young as six months) and toddlers will be glad they can get a break and create their own “wow” moments—perhaps at the Bionic Bar, the first robotic bar in the world—thanks to the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, though there is a charge for the service. Or you can bring your babies to play group at no charge in the well-equipped space. And, of course, for kids three to 17, there are organized morning-til-night supervised programs.

Tell the teens that kids their age, in focus groups, contributed their ideas to create the Living Room teen lounge space. They’ll also be happy to know that Quantum is a smart ship with unprecedented levels of technology to keep everyone connected (there will even be special “selfie parties” for teens). “We are offering something no one else is close to, and we are charging less for it,” boasts Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Thanks to new technology, everything from check-in to booking shore excursions will be easier, without long lines. (Royal Caribbean promises that if you generate the boarding documents online, you can go from sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes.) New apps enable you to book activities, shows, and dinners; keep in touch with one another via text; and see what’s going on around the ship. There will be fewer lost keys with the RFID WOWband wristbands (which reminded me of Disney World’s MagicBands) that serve as a room key and charge card (if you want the kids to have that privilege).

Everyone will like the extra storage and larger cabins. I think the new family-connected staterooms, big enough for a multigenerational groups without crowding, are a great addition, as are the Virtual Balcony staterooms—375 of them—that offer real-time views of the ocean in an inside cabin. They really are fun.

Of course, it seems like the cruise industry is upping the ante every time a new ship is unveiled—16 this year and another 20 coming between 2015 and 2018. That includes Quantum‘s sister ship Anthem, which will launch in spring of next year in Southampton, England, and move to Cape Liberty for the winter. Quantum will reposition in China next summer for the growing Asian market.

The one disappointment for me was the quality of the food. But, to be fair, I was only onboard for two days, and the restaurants were all brand-new. Certainly there is plenty to choose from: The new “Dynamic Dining” gives you a choice of 18 restaurants (including five complimentary restaurants, each with its own cuisine, theme, and kids’ menu, though of course the kids may choose what they like at no extra charge). No more racing to get to the big dining room on time. Here, you can choose a Pan-Asian menu one night or dress up for a fancy dinner at The Grande another night. (A tip: Most cruisers are now making dinner reservations in advance of their trip, said Brian Abel, Royal Caribbean’s VP of food and beverages.) There’s still the huge Windjammer buffet, pizza, free room service, and a new effort to encourage families to try the signature restaurants.

The real wow for me: A place that’s designed for parents, kids, and grandparents to have fun together at the same time. Way to go, Royal Caribbean.

(c) 2014 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

(Photos: Royal Caribbean International)

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By Eileen Ogintz

Appearing in more than 50 major newspapers, Eileen Ogintz's "Taking the Kids" column is a past winner of the national Clarion Award from Women in Communications.

The meeting of a three-year-old, a cat and a goldfish pond started "Taking the Kids." The three-year-old, Eileen Ogintz' son Matt, pushed the hapless kitty into the pond at a Wisconsin cottage her family had rented for the weekend. "I thought the kitty wanted to go swimming," Matt explained. The furious owner insisted they pack up and leave immediately. The embarrassed parents drove home three hours to Chicago in a downpour.

Eileen Ogintz was a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune then, covering news stories around the country. The travel editor, hearing her tale of woe about the cat and the goldfish pond, encouraged her to write a story about the trials of traveling with children. That story led to others. "We realized there were a lot of people like me, parents who wanted help planning trips now that they had kids." The award-winning syndicated column Taking the Kids grew out of those stories. Ogintz left the Tribune, after 14 years as a reporter, national correspondent and feature writer, to spend more time with her three young children and to launch the column nationally. The Taking the Kids series of travel guides for children, published by HarperCollins West, has followed.

"More people than ever are taking their kids places, whether they're going to Grandma's or a museum, to Disney World or on a business trip," Ogintz said. "Their time and budgets are tight. I give them the help they need to make the most of their family time." "Planning with the kids' interests in mind can make the difference between a great trip and one that's a disaster," she added.

Taking the Kids now appears in more than 50 major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News and Portland Oregonian. The column won a 1994 national Clarion Award from Women in Communications, Inc. and appears on AOL's Family Travel Network and elsewhere on the Web.

Ogintz has traveled with her husband and kids across the country and abroad -- from London to Disney World to Disneyland -- skiing in Colorado to fishing in Minnesota, soaking up history in Washington, D.C. to sightseeing in Las Vegas, New York and Yellowstone National Park.

The fifth book of the Taking the Kids series, A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains, was just published, as well as a book for parents, Are We There Yet?? on taking the kids and surviving. She was the recipient of a 1995 and 1996 Parents' Choice honor for the series, which also highlights the Southwest, Southern California, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Ogintz, who holds a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri, is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper business, reporting for The Anniston Star, The Record in Hackensack, N.J., and Des Moines Register as well as the Chicago Tribune, where she created the paper's family-issues beat. Today, she is regular contributor to numerous national publications, and has appeared on such television programs as "48 Hours," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "Oprah." She created a course on the changing American family at Northwestern University and consults on work/family issues.

From their home in Connecticut, Ogintz travels with her husband, an executive in financial services, and their three children, Matt, Reggie and Melanie, who serve -- not always graciously -- as Taking the Kids' special team of experts.

Write to Eileen Ogintz in care of Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.
Or e-mail Eileen at eileen@takingthekids.com

© 2007 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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