Are Kids’ Clubs Safe? How to Spot Trouble on a Cruise Ship or Resort

Kids playing on Los Cabo beach
(Photo: Claire Ward via Unsplash)

I distinctly remember the first few times I dropped my daughter off at a kids club while on vacation. One of those times was during a cruise on the Disney Dream, when my husband and I sent her to the kids club so we could enjoy dinner at Palo, the ship’s fancy restaurant for adults. I placed the ship’s Wave Phone on the table next to me, so I could be ready to spring into action if she was unhappy at the club. But no cry for help ever came, and when we went to pick her up, we found a smiling six-year-old with a sparkly, face-painted outline of a pirate patch around her eye.

As parents, that’s the kind of experience we want our kids to have with resort and cruise ship clubs for kids and teens—one where they’re happy and kept safe by the adults in charge. But when stories hit the news about inappropriate or illegal behavior by staff members, it might give us pause.

Those stories tend to be the exception to the rule, but even so, there are some things parents can do to keep their kids as safe as possible when taking advantage of a resort or cruise kids club. Follow these tips, and your kids and teens should enjoy fun adventures with their peers while you get some time for a workout, spa treatment, grown-up meal, or even a nap.

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1. Do Your Research

Before booking a resort or cruise, go online to explore what’s offered when it comes to kid-focused amenities and what others have to say about the kids’ and teen clubs. If a resort or particular cruise seems like a good option, reach out to staff with some questions ahead of time to confirm your decision.

“Parents can ask the cruise line or resort about their background check and screening procedures for staff who work with children,” says Susan Kennedy, director of community engagement for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). “What is their process for screening employees at time of hire, and how often are these checks repeated for existing employees?”

Another area for parents to inquire about? “Ask about their child safety and child sexual abuse prevention procedures, including how staff are trained on them, how they monitor and enforce these policies, and what are their policies related to reporting suspected child abuse,” says Kennedy.

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2. Take a Tour 

Disney Cruise Line guests can tour the kids club and teen spaces on Embarkation Day. If your resort or cruise line doesn’t offer an opportunity like this, ask for a tour. “It really puts your mind at ease to see the club for yourself, walk around it with your kids, and understand what kinds of things they’ll be doing, along with meeting the staff,” says Evan Porter, author of the blog Dad Fixes Everything and the upcoming novel Dad Camp, who recently took a Disney Cruise with his two daughters. 

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Be on the lookout to make sure the space is secure (so your kiddo can’t escape) and ask about the policies for drop-off and pickup. “Disney uses MagicBands to keep track of kids’ locations, has only one entry/exit, and uses a secret-word system to ensure the right people are picking up,” says Porter. “I would be really wary, especially with my three-year-old, if a club had many places where she could wander off—because she absolutely will if she can!”

If your cruise or resort doesn’t have technology like Disney Cruise Line, or your child doesn’t have a cell phone yet, ask the staff how your kid can get in touch with you if needed while at the kids club. And take note of how the resort or cruise ship separates kids of different ages. “Keep in mind that sometimes children are sexually abused by older children, so ask the staff about how they make sure groups of children are monitored closely, especially in multi-age settings,” Kennedy advises.

3. Trust Your Instincts

If you check out the kids club and something just doesn’t feel right to you, it’s probably a good idea to skip it for this trip. “Ultimately, our decision to leave our child in the club depends on how comfortable they feel in the environment,” says Echo Wang, CEO and founder of the blog Cool Travel Vibes. “If there’s any hesitation or apprehension, we explore other activities together.”

4. Set Some Ground Rules

When Eileen Wolejsza, owner and travel advisor at Eileen’s Escapes and a member of the American Society of Travel Advisors, travels with her two teenage boys, they can enjoy some freedom if they stick together. “When we go on family cruises, I always review with them beforehand how imperative it is that they stay together when they’re not with my husband or myself,” she says. “If only one wants to go to the teen club and the other wants to hang at the arcade, then they must compromise. Together they spend some time at the club, and then together they play at the arcade.”

A little independence is great, but it’s important for kids to not get too friendly with adults they might encounter on vacation. “I make sure my kids know that even though they have freedom walking around the ship, they must still remember that the people they meet are strangers,” says Wolejsza. “They know to never divulge private information about where they live (like their street address) or their phone number or name of their school, especially if an adult was talking to them and asking them things.”

Going to someone else’s room or cabin should also be off limits for teens and older kids. “Of course I want them to feel comfortable meeting other kids, but I have a discussion about not going into anybody else’s cabin or bringing anyone back to our cabin,” she says. “I remind them that at home you wouldn’t go inside a stranger’s house, so this is the same thing.”

NCMEC offers a variety of resources to help parents talk with young children about safety and personal boundaries before the vacation begins. They’re helpful tools for parents to have discussions with young children about safe interactions with others, and things to look out for as they interact with adults while on vacation.

“For teens, it is a good idea to review any family rules and expectations about checking in with you during your time apart, and to let them know that they also can contact you at any time for help and support if anyone makes them uncomfortable or if they do not feel safe in the teen club,” advises Kennedy.

5. Tap into Technology

Attaching an Apple AirTag onto your child’s shoe, strapping a GPS tracking watch around their wrist, or using a cell phone app like Life360 can help you stay aware of your kid’s location while also enjoying a little alone time.

“To ease my own anxiety when I’m not with my son, especially in crowded areas, I find peace of mind in using a tracking device,” says Wang. “It’s just another layer of precaution to ensure our child’s safety while allowing them to enjoy their vacation experiences.”

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Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at or find her on Instagram at @bethlubereckiwrites and @findingfloridafun.