Never before has cruising been of better value or of greater appeal for a family holiday than it is now, and if you’ve never seen one before, the kids clubs and youth programs on these cruise ships have benefited significantly in recent years with major investment in the space these clubs occupy, not to mention the variety of activities to keep these young minds busy.

It’s little surprise then that these kids club facilities onboard are some of the busiest spaces on the ship. Whether you’re engaging in Marvel and Star Wars character battles, such as on Disney Cruise Line, to Dr Seuss characters on Carnival, stars from the world of Dreamworks on Royal Caribbean or simply playing video games, kids clubs offer a near-endless selection to keep young cruisers entertained and out of your hair throughout their voyage.

There are some considerations that need to be taken into account before offloading your offspring into more energetic and enthusiastic hands while you head for the massage table.

Your child generally has to be toilet trained

If your little one meets the minimum age but is still using nappies, you might find this to be a hurdle when it comes to enrolling your child in the kids club. Most cruise lines require all children to be fully toilet trained when entering the program, however Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line are exceptions to this rule, with Carnival’s Camp Ocean program happy to change nappies.

Norwegian does let children who aren’t toilet trained participate in its program, however requires parents to carry a pager and to be on-call to change their children as needed.

If you suspect your child might misbehave, ask for a pager

Kids Clubs are comprehensively overseen by specially trained staff well qualified and experienced in dealing with little ones, however there are some situations where recalcitrant children are best handled by their parents.

Nobody knows their kids better than parents and if you have a feeling your child may react negatively or is likely to misbehave, ask the crew for a pager. These handy little devices can fit in your pocket and allow the kids club staff to quickly contact you, should your child have any issues or become difficult to manage.

If your child is unsure about participating, these pagers can also given them peace of mind in knowing they can ask to contact you at any time.

You should register for the program as soon as you board the ship

A common mistake made by many parents is that they can rock up to the Kids Club at any time during their cruise in the hope their kids will be graciously welcomed with warm open arms. This is not always the case.

For safety reasons, maritime regulations limit the number of children who can sail on any one voyage, however on a narrower scale, the Kids Club is also limited in how many they can accommodate during a single itinerary. And if you’re not among those early to be registered, you could be turned away, even if the room appears empty at the time.

It is therefore imperative that if you are looking forward to some child-free time, registering yours as soon as you embark will virtually ensure they secure one of the places on offer. Some lines will even allow you to register your kids as part of the online check-in process, which will speed everything up for your children and see them having fun in no time.

Special needs can generally be accommodated but don’t count on it

As examples, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises have not only trained their staff to be able to handle children with special needs such as autism, but is internationally certified and recognised by Autism on the Seas as a Silver Level travel operator qualified to meet the special needs of children with autism, down syndrome and other related difficulties.

Services available for use under this fleet-wide certification include priority embarkation and disembarkation, dietary services, flexible grouping with other kids, exception to the toilet training policy and pagers to keep parents in contact.

Many cruise lines won’t be able to guarantee a staff member will be able to oversee your child for the entire time they are participating. If your child has any particular needs and would like to participate in the kids program, it’s best to schedule a meeting early on in your cruise with the kids club manager (they are often available on the first day for this exact purpose) who will ensure any special requests are catered.

It also doesn’t hurt to ask when you board your cruise if the kids club offers toys for children diagnosed with autism which can be taken back to your stateroom for short periods of time.

You should prebook any kids club activities your child wishes to do

Kids Club activities have long since moved beyond the confines of the youth centre itself, with many kids, usually the slightly older ones, presented with opportunities to take on more challenging tasks such as scavenger hunts, orienteering, acting and music classes and more.

With so much at the disposal of all age groups in addition to the complimentary program, it is highly advisable to pre-book these extras on your child’s first day in kids club, which as previously stated should be early in the voyage.

Events such as Carnival’s Build a Bear workshop and Royal Caribbean’s Dreamworks Meet & Greet experiences are extremely popular despite the additional cost and can on some voyages only be offered once or twice per sailing. Getting in early and securing your spot ensures that you and your child won’t be disappointed when the time comes around.

Ensure you get a copy of the activities schedule for your child

If you’re successful in getting your children into the kids and youth programs, make sure you collect a copy of the activities schedule for your cruise.

Armed with this information, you can then plan your voyage knowing exactly when your children can and can not be in kids club. The centres usually close for short periods in the middle of the day to allow staff to have a break and to encourage kids to rejoin their families for lunch. It is also handy if you’re trying to book specialty restaurants or shore excursions, particularly ones where you may not wish to take your kids with you.