If a scene from The Love Boat is what pops into your head when you think of cruise vacations, it’s time to say bon voyage to that outdated notion. Over the past five years, cruises have evolved from a getaway option primarily geared to couples, into a booming vacation destination for families with young kids.
Since 2000, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines alone welcomed 50% more kids ages zero to three aboard, and in 2003, a full 265,000 children under 12 took a cruise with the Miami, Florida-based line.
RCCL had already gone halfway to adapting its on-board services to meet the needs of families with its Adventure Ocean program. Since 1987, this daily ‘edutainment’ itinerary has been keeping kid cruisers over the age of three occupied with activities centered around learning, sports, art, performance and games.
But to win over parents with toddlers, RCCL started casting about in 2003 for a partner that could help develop a program based around child development principles. Enter Fisher-Price. The toyco’s senior manager of marketing and brand development, Brenda Andolina, approached the cruise line in late ’03 with a plan to co-create a 45-minute activity session designed to teach parents and small children how to learn more while playing together with various Fisher-Price toys.
Facilitated by the same educators that run RCCL’s Adventure Ocean program, the daily preschool events – Aqua Babies for kids up to 18 months, and Aqua Tots for up to three-year-olds – teach parents about developmental milestones and impart take-away play tips while the wee ones get busy with themed toys like Laugh and Learn Home and Learn Thru Music.
After successfully testing the program on a single ship in late 2004, RCCL is planning to roll Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots out onto its full fleet of 19 boats by the end of March. In the meantime, the cruise line is brainstorming with Fisher-Price’s brand development team to expand the partnership to cover older age groups in the Adventure Ocean program and to spice up the cruise line’s babysitting service.
Fisher-Price toys aren’t currently for sale on-board, but the company will benefit from what Andolina calls a non-commercial brand-building approach. All of the parents with preschoolers on RCCL’s manifests will receive newsletters with play-date suggestions they can use at home. The info packs highlight some of the toys Fisher-Price plans to use in the programs each day, and parents are encouraged to check out additional play ideas on the FP website.
Dan Hanrahan, RCCL’s senior VP of marketing and sales, is also wide open to exploring opportunities for partnering with Fisher-Price and other toycos to help fill the ships’ gift shop shelves.