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Inside 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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