How to Choose the Best Cruise for Your Family Vacation

There are many ways to see the world, but for traveling families, cruising is by far one of the easiest. Unpack once, and wake up every morning in a new location. Meals and most onboard activities are typically included, making sticking to a vacation budget a bit easier. And housekeeping twice a day means no one has to make their bed.

Tracy Arm Fjord

South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

Tips for Planning a Family Cruise Vacation

How to Narrow Down Your Family Cruising Options List

Before you can take advantage of the perks of cruising, you need decide which cruise is best for your family. Sorting through the ever growing, long list of cruise lines and destination options can be overwhelming, but answer some simple questions about what your family wants from a cruise vacation and you can narrow down the list to a handful of good options.

Royal Caribbean Private Island Labadee, Haiti

Labadee, Haiti

Warm vs. Cold Destinations

Sailing to the Caribbean is very different than sailing to Alaska. Obviously, traveling light is easier when you are packing swimsuits than it is when you are packing coats and scarves. But the social environment on the ship can change as well. Chilly temperatures may mean your family doesn’t spend as much time near the pool or on deck doing things like playing miniature golf.

My family typically spends sea days on cruise ships busy and wet, but that wasn’t the case on a recent cruise to Alaska aboard Carnival Legend. The weather was sunny and beautiful by Alaska standards, but our go to spot wound up being a great whale spotting perch, sheltered from the wind, that had a table perfect for playing cards. Instead of spraying sunscreen, we were scanning for humpbacks and aces. It’s a different but equally fun way to spend some family vacation time together. This type of situation can also come into play when sailing to a typically warm destination off season.

Read all about family cruise vacations

Reviews of the best family-friendly cruise lines >

Royal Caribbean, Rock Wall on Freedom of the Seas

Rock Wall on Freedom of the Seas

Adventure vs. Lounging Poolside

Just about all the major cruise lines have a pool or two (or more) on all of their ships. Relaxing in the sun and enjoying doing nothing equals the perfect vacation for many families. But if your family is the active type, you might need more to keep the gang happily busy.

On Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas there’s an activity getting underway just about every hour. Digital touch screens scattered around the ship also mean no organization or pre-planning is necessary. Wondering what to do next? Stroll over, touch the screen and countless options appear.

Freedom of the Seas scores high when it comes to onboard adventure. While young ones will love the H2O Zone water park, the older set will head straight for a FlowRider®. (There are two, which helps keep lines and waits short.) Surf, boogie board or wipe out. It’s all fun and comes with an amazing ocean view.

There’s also a 43-foot tall rock climbing wall, an ice-skating rink, a full size basketball court and a mini golf course. Parents don’t be shy. All these adventuresome options are for you too.

Meet the DreamWorks Characters on Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean Character Parade

Hollywood Afloat

You never know who you’ll see on a cruise these days. Disney may be the name that first comes to mind, but a multitude of popular characters have taken up residence at sea and if your kids have a favorite, it can be a consideration. Carnival’s Seuss at Sea program gives kids the chance to meet some of their favorite story time characters like the Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two and yes, even eat green eggs and ham.

Royal Caribbean’s DreamWorks Experience means kids can rub elbows with the likes of Shrek and Fiona, Alex and the Penguins from Madagascar and Po from Kung Fu Panda.

Cruising for Critters

Wildlife sightings and interactions can turn a good cruise vacation into an amazing one in a matter of seconds. Carnival Legend has a naturalist on board its sailing to Alaska to teach cruisers of all ages about the animals they might see along the way and just as important, alert everyone when something is spotted ahead.

Snorkel with Sea Turtles with Un-Cruise Adventures

Well, Hello There

If getting up close and personal with Mother Nature is the goal of your family getaway, it’s tough to beat small ship cruising with Un-Cruise Adventures. Small boats mean less on-board amenities, but who needs a pool when you can jump into the ocean off the coast of Maui and come face to face with a sea turtle during a daily snorkel session?

River Cruising in Europe

River cruising in Europe is a newly discovered option for many traveling families, but once you step aboard AmaWaterways newest ship AmaSerena, it’s easy to understand why it’s quickly growing in popularity. An amazing crew, combined with quality local guides, create active, immersive itineraries that along with expected walking tours include options like hiking and biking.

AmaSerena river cruise boat

AmaSerena Cruising the Danube

River cruises typically offer more time in port, arriving early in the morning and departing late in the evening. The combination of more time to roam, combined with the pampering that takes on board, creates a travel scenario tweens and teens especially, thrive in. Most school aged kids appreciate the adventure as well.

On a recent Melodies of the Danube sailing with AmaWaterways, a 10 year old boy delivered an impressive history lesson when he explained why visiting Vienna was his favorite part of the cruise. Our conversation took place while he was happily making a frothy cup of hot chocolate in AmaSerena’s Main Lounge. (AmaWaterways recommends kids be 8 years old for their European sailings.)

Talk to Your Kids

They certainly don’t get to call all of the vacation shots, but don’t forget to talk to your kids. Letting them be involved in the planning process builds excitement and ups the odds for success, whatever cruise you choose.

Getting Ready to Go

Once you’ve decided the when and where some tips can help ensure a smooth sailing.

Pack light. You can do laundry anywhere in the world, including aboard cruise ships. All Carnival ships offer self-service laundry facilities; you just swipe your room key to get the washers and dryers spinning.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival also offer laundry service if you want to stay in full vacation mode. Either way it’s simple and less expensive than the checked bag fees you’ll pay at the airport.

Cruise Luggage Check In

Lots of Luggage

Carry-on bags also make life easier when getting on and off cruise ships. If you’re traveling with a big piece of luggage it could take hours for it to be delivered to your room, so you’ll need a separate carry-on packed with things your family will want immediately, like swimsuits for the pool. You don’t want to be stuck waiting in your stateroom the first day of vacation.

If you need help with large bags when getting off a cruise ship, you have to put them outside your cabin the evening before the morning you disembark. That means, packing yet another carry-on with everything you’ll need for the last 12 hours or so of your trip. It’s simply less work to pack light.

Charging Power

For good or for bad, kids of all ages seem to travel with electronics of some sort these days. Outlets are typically not plentiful in cruise cabins, so come prepared to squash charging backlogs. Power strips are compact and relatively inexpensive. Along with adding electrical outlets, many also come with ports to plug in USB cables.

Decorate Your Door

Long hallways lined with identical cabin doors make picking out your room quickly tough, especially during the first few days of your family’s sailing. Making your door stand out a bit is a perfect way to get younger kids involved and excited before your cruise. Let them pick a theme or even draw something to tape to your cabin door.

Traveling with tweens or teens? Something as simple as a bright colored post-it note stuck to the door, makes the room easy to spot from down the hall.

Bring Tape

Along with using tape to distinguish your door, it can help keep paperwork from getting lost or taking up limited counter space. Things like kids’ club activity schedules, shore excursions or even fitness classes are easy to reference when taped to a closet door.

Teens and tweens often enjoy more freedom on a cruise. Having expected family activities and times posted and easy to see can also help lessen the possibility of no-shows and the excuses that can come with them.

Want Help Planning a Family Cruise Vacation?

CB! Vacation Consulting connects families with the best family-friendly cruise lines. Request assistance >

Want Help Planning a Family Cruise Vacation?

Need more comprehensive guidance? CB! Vacation Consultants specialize in helping families book travel to top destinations around the world. For more information and to request assistance, go to the CB! Vacation Consultants page.

Relevant Links:

Browse our tips and advice on Cruising with Kids

To Cruise or not to Cruise with kids

Fun family times aboard Carnival Freedom

Holland America Cruise Line review for families

Cruising the New Carnival Sunshine with kids

Tips for traveling with Lindblad Expeditions to the Galapagos Islands

Eight days of discovery in Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures

Is a Disney Cruise the right choice for your family?

Photos by Dana Rebmann

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