Well shiver my timbers, who knew that even chatting about kids behaving badly on cruises could be so incendiary?

A few online discussions on the subject brought up some furious reactions that could be pretty much divided into two camps: the parents of badly behaved children who claimed complainers should “put up and shut up”; and everyone else.

Oh and a third camp was bad old me, for even putting the question out there. So I’ll be wearing my flak jacket from now on.

Typical comments from camp one were, “They’re only children, for God’s sake – I’ve seen plenty of adults behaving badly” (haven’t we all) or, “It’s meant to be their holiday,” and even, “People who whinge about kids having fun are just grumpy old gits.”

Those who had encountered spoilt, rude and unruly brats uniformly believed that out-of-control kids and teens were the result of poor parenting and that “ships are not kindergartens”.

Over the course of 30-plus cruises I’ve experienced, I haven’t witnessed any of the activities that these cruisers reported – but
I am a parent who has taken boisterous sons on holiday and they weren’t always angels.

However, when you hear anecdotes about teens setting fire to deckchairs (must have been a while ago if the deckchairs were the wooden variety), eating ice-creams and pizza in whirlpools and leaving greasy bits behind, barging into adults-only pools, picking food out of the buffet with their hands, riding the lifts and blocking access to other passengers, running full-pelt along corridors and – the most common complaint – screaming and dive-bombing in pools, you have to wonder.

Are all those DayGlo water slides, chemically coloured soft drinks and sugar-filled junk food sending cruising kids into hyperactive frenzies? Aren’t kids’ clubs supposed to keep them busy and entertained? Are people who find rowdy behaviour intolerable merely intolerant?

Now that more than 1.5 million kids (18 and younger) are estimated to be cruising globally each year, we have to find a way to holiday in harmony. Banning under-18s from cruise ships is a little harsh, but it would help if parents laid down some basic courtesy rules (and we appreciate that most do).

We can’t expect the ships’ crews to police the cruise lines’ behavioural guidelines (and they do have them) and it shouldn’t be up to other passengers to admonish children for running around the main dining room (yes, another complaint).

If the only thing that works for you is a totally child-free cruise, there are a few ships that don’t allow under-18s aboard: Viking Ocean Cruises’ Viking Star and Viking Sea; P&O World Cruises’ Arcadia and Oriana; Saga Cruises’ Saga Pearl II and Saga Sapphire – exclusively for over-50s; and Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey, which is “unsuitable for children under the age of 12” and discourages under-16s.

Most small luxury ships aren’t suitable for children, either, and the fares aren’t conducive to family holidays, unless the family is exceptionally well-heeled.

If an adults-only or upmarket cruise isn’t viable, you may have to compromise. Avoid cruising during school holidays, in Australia and overseas. Skip megaships that are designed for families, or look for ships that have adults-only sun decks and pools, “ship within a ship” accommodation and facilities, and plenty of alternative dining venues.

Lastly, there’s a big difference between excited kids who are having fun and over-excited kids wreaking havoc. Enjoy the former and dob in the latter to their parents if it happens once too often.

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