For many families, it isn’t a question of whether to take a cruise with kids — it’s a question of which one. The family-friendly cruise market has exploded in recent years, with small vessels, luxury lines and traditional mega-ships all actively courting parents. The good news is that means it’s easier than ever to find a cruise line that suits your family’s style. Some are all about the live shows and water slides; others emphasize wilderness and adventure; and still others offer opportunities to volunteer in developing countries. Here are the top 8 cruise lines to consider for your next family trip.
Best Kid-Friendly Cruise Lines
This all-inclusive luxury cruise line proves that it takes excellent service to win over families, not just rock climbing walls and water slides. Both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity are configured with dozens of connecting rooms; each includes supervised Junior Activities programming for ages 3 to 17 on holiday and most summertime voyages; and a children’s menu and babysitting services are offered as well. Fantasia and Waves, the onboard kids’ and teen clubs, offer activities that range from arts and crafts to deck sports like paddle tennis to magic shows and scavenger hunts. Kids 11 and younger pay 50 percent of the minimum fare when accompanied by two full-fare paying adults, and the brand occasionally runs a popular “kids sail free” promo, which allows children to share their parents’ cabin at no cost. Note: Babies under 6 months are not permitted.
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With a finely tuned mix of adult and children’s programming, Celebrity strikes a great balance for families. Parents will love the wine tasting (Celebrity employs 200 certified sommeliers) and the partnership with Canyon Ranch in the spa area; meanwhile, children will be engaged with STEM-oriented activities and immersive art at the brand’s first summer camp at sea, offered on 7- or 8-night Caribbean sailings aboard Celebrity Equinox from June through August. Toddlers are welcomed into a designated play area, and teens can participate in sports like pool volleyball or work on video projects. The brand has also received certification as an autism-friendly cruise line through staff training, sensory-friendly films and toys, additional dietary options and efforts to create a more inclusive environment for families living with autism.
Billing itself as a more culturally immersive, socially impactful cruise line than most, Fathom (from the Carnival family) is a great option to consider with older kids and teens. The line specializes in trips to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. In the DR, families can plant trees as part of reforestation efforts, visit children at a local school or learn how cacao is made into chocolate, an industry that provides many locals their livelihood. In Cuba, kids can soak up the inimitable art, architecture and music first-hand. Seven-day trips set sail from Miami aboard the 704-passenger Adonia. Kids must be 8 or older to join a Fathom cruise.
Of course, no list of family-friendly cruises would be complete without Disney. With endless activities, a dining setup tailored for little ones, staterooms configured for families, character experiences and live musicals like Aladdin, the beloved brand’s cruises are a favorite with kids, especially those between 4 and 11. Built in 2011, the Disney Dream, with its 765-foot water coaster, continues to get rave reviews. The ship sails to the Bahamas as well as Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay, from Port Canaveral in Florida. Disney has also recently partnered with AmaWaterways, a top river cruise line, to offer family trips along the Danube and Rhine rivers in Europe.
Visit tide pools, snorkel with sea lions, paint with glacial mud or reenact the Oregon Trail in costume. These are among the fantastic family offerings aboard this adventure- and wilderness-focused small ship cruise line, also known for its extremely attentive and knowledgeable staff. While you won’t find kids’ clubs or babysitters on these vessels, the Family Discoveries program will delight the younger set with special activities, games and more. Operating out of Seattle, the brand specializes in itineraries to Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Costa Rica and the Galapagos, but visits destinations such as Mexico as well. The company also offers private charters. The minimum age for UnCruise Adventures is 8.
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While the entire Norwegian fleet features sports and recreation complexes, classes like pizza-making, and other all-ages fun, the Caribbean-bound Escape is the line’s newest and most family-oriented ship by far. Explore a three-story ropes course, splash around in the largest water park at sea or learn to juggle at circus school. In addition to the kids’ clubs, the ship also recently introduced a Guppies program, offering childcare for wee ones from ages 6 months to 2 years. Two-bedroom Family Villa staterooms sleep up to 6. With 25 dining venues, including familiar names such as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, even picky eaters will find something that appeals.
What doesn’t Royal Caribbean offer? From a roller skating rink to partnerships with Dreamworks, this mega-cruise line knows how to keep the kiddos entertained. Room configurations such as family staterooms and connected junior suites with balconies are very convenient for families and multigenerational groups, making it easy for everyone to be together but enjoy a little personal space. As its name suggests, the brand has always specialized in trips to the Caribbean but has gone on to add itineraries across the globe, from Europe to Australia. The Alaska’s Inside Passage voyage is especially popular with families.
With naturalists onboard Lindblad’s intimate ships — small enough to reach global nooks and crannies that their larger cousins cannot — the focus is squarely on wildlife and wilderness. Expect to hike, kayak, swim, snorkel and more on these bespoke cruises, developed in partnership with National Geographic. From the Galapagos Islands to Antarctica, these exploratory voyages are authentic and in-depth. For 2017, the brand has introduced a shorter and more active Alaska expedition that’s ideal for families: six days aboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Bird, with excursions that including bicycling around a glacial lake, half-day mountain hikes or just floating down the Chilkat River, an area known to have the largest number of bald eagles in the world. Each ship is uniquely designed and outfitted, but family-friendly accommodations across the fleet include suites, connecting cabins and more.