For a vacation that allows you to experience adventure, relaxation and quality together time, a kid-friendly cruise is the trip to take. No matter the itinerary, kids and families are the focus on these cruise lines for families.
1. Disney Cruise Line
Best Kid Features: When it comes to the best cruise lines for families, nothing beats Disney. Disney’s cruise ships feature an abundance of activities for kids, including The Oceaneer Club, designed for kids ages 3 to 12. Here, kids enjoy character meet-and-greets and performances, storytelling, giant playgrounds, dress-up play, games, and arts and crafts. The specific themes and play spaces vary slightly by ship, with highlights including a real-life version of Andy’s Room from Toy Story, Tinker Bell‘s Pixie Hollow, Monster Academy (the Monsters, Inc. Monstropolis) and the Star Wars Millennium Falcon (where you can actually step inside the cockpit of the starship). The AquaDuck, a water coaster at sea, is available on the Disney Dream and Fantasy, and is especially fun at night.
After a day of play, it’s off to any one of the many live shows featured, or a Pirates of the Caribbean deck party with fireworks.
Minimum Age to Sail: 6 months
Best Parent Features: Disney Cruise Line caters to adults just as much as it does kids, with an adults-only pool and glass-bottom hot tubs, as well as The District, an adults-only area filled with lounges, bars and nightclubs. Disney also offers a program called Dine and Play, allowing kids to enjoy their meal early and then be escorted to the kids’ club while parents enjoy some adult time.
The fun for adults even continues on land. Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, features white-sand beaches, nature trails, an activity beach, snorkeling lagoon and Scuttle’s Cove, a supervised kids’ club where kids can play in the water while parents head to the adults-only beach.
Family Cabins: Deluxe rooms offer more living space, plus bathrooms with dual sinks, while suites provide two bathrooms. Connecting verandah cabins are also available for multi-generational groups traveling together.
2. Royal Caribbean International
Best Kid Features: Kids and adults of all ages love Royal Caribbean, which is why it’s considered one of the best cruise lines for families. Water parks, rock climbing walls, surfing simulators, ziplining, ice skating rinks, and mini-golf are just some of the highlights—and that doesn’t even include the kids’ clubs.
Within in the Quantum of the Seas class of ships, cruisers will find even more unique activities at sea, with RipCord By iFly (a sky-diving simulator), North Star (a capsule that ascends 300 feet above the sea), the SeaPlex (an indoor space with roller skating, circus school and bumper cars) and the Ultimate Abyss, touted as the tallest slide at sea.
Minimum Age to Sail: 6 months old; 12 months old on all transatlantic, transpacific, Hawaii and South Pacific cruises
Best Parent Features: “My Family Time Dining” is offered on Royal Caribbean, along with “Sitters at Sea,” both allowing for family flexibility. Royal Caribbean is ideal for teen cruisers, too, with movie nights, BBQs, and a teens-only nightclub.
Family Cabins: The staterooms vary by ship, but Royal Caribbean offers deluxe cabins and suites with private balconies. Perhaps the most innovative family cabin at sea, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas offers the Ultimate Family Suite, a bi-level room with its own slide, LEGO construction wall, whirlpool on the balcony and more.
Related: What’s the Minimum Age for a Cruise?
3. Norwegian Cruise Line
Best Kid Features: The complimentary youth programs for ages 3 to 17 onboard Norwegian include activities like circus school, sports, movies, video games, parties and a nighttime dance club for teens. Kids will also love the waterslides, sports complex, ropes course, rock climbing wall, bowling and the Plank, where kids can actually walk a plank 8 feet out over the water.
Minimum Age to Sail: 6 months old; 12 months old if the voyage includes more than three consecutive days at sea
Best Parent Features: Dining is flexible onboard Norwegian ships, where kids’ menus are available and kids under 3 eat free. Group babysitting in the evenings when a ship is in port is also available for an additional charge. Parents will also love the variety of live shows, from Broadway-caliber musicals and comedy to live jazz music and aerialist shows.
Family Cabins: The Mini-Suites, Family Balcony and Balcony staterooms are all great for families of four, offering a sitting area, convertible or drop-down beds and space for storage. The two-bedroom family suites are also located near the kids’ areas on the ship.
4. Carnival Cruise Line
Best Kid Features: On Carnival Cruise Line, kids and teens are accommodated with waterslides; an arcade; mini-golf; a sports complex; teens-only parties, hangouts and a spa; an IMAX Theater and more. Kids will love to splash around at the WaterWorks pools and slides before taking to the skies with the SkyRide or ropes courses. Dr. Seuss story time and parades and a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with the Cat in the Hat are especially fun for young kids.
Minimum Age to Sail: 6 months old; 12 months old on transatlantic, Hawaii and South America cruises
Best Parent Features: Kids’ clubs (included in rates) and an evening of babysitting services are available for parents to get a little break, too. Parents can hit the adults-only Serenity Retreat area, where they’ll find lounge chairs, hammocks, a bar and total relaxation.
Family Cabins: The family-friendly staterooms can accommodate up to five people and include an extra bathroom. Connecting rooms are also available.
Related: 6 Best Cruise Ships for Kids 2020
5. MSC Cruises
Best Kid Features: The MSC Cruises Kids Club for young kids and teens offers daily activities, sports, dance contests, video games and a teen spa, making it a great cruise line for families. The Aqua Park, waterslides and LEGO-themed playrooms (on select vessels) give kids plenty of opportunities to get creative. Kids will also love mini-bowling and the race car simulator.
Minimum Age to Sail: 12 months old
Best Parent Features: Kids sail free on select sailings, as long as two full-paying guests stay in the same stateroom. Parents can also feel secure in knowing their child has a security bracelet in case anyone gets lost, and a pager or phone can be rented so families can stay in touch while exploring the ship. Flexible meal times make life easier for parents and kids, too. Baby care for ages 1 to 3 and a baby laundry service bring great convenience to families with young children on this family-friendly cruise line.
Family Cabins: The Super Family Suite can accommodate up to six people and includes two connecting triple cabins, two bathrooms and two balconies. This cabin also comes with a fixed per-cabin cost, not a per-person cost.
6. Princess Cruises
Best Kid Features: Princess Cruises offers unique, immersive experiences for kids, both on and off of its ships. They include Discovery™, Discovery Family™ & Animal Planet™ Shore Excursions, indoor planetariums, meet-and-greets with local animals (re: Puppies in the Piazza), entertainment including The Voice of the Ocean (like the TV show, but at sea!), and story time, photos, games and crafts with the cruise line’s beloved mascot, Stanley, a giant teddy bear. That’s in addition to swimming pools, the Reef Family Splash Zone on Caribbean Princess, and three age-specific kids’ clubs with educational programming sponsored by Discovery™.
Minimum Age to Sail: 12 months
Best Parent Features: Some of the most innovative technology at sea, the Princess Ocean Medallion is a wearable device that allows parents to see where their kids are on the ship at any given moment. It also allows guests to communicate with each other via free texting. And especially convenient for adults is the ability to order food service on the device. Scored the perfect pool chair and don’t want to leave? Use your Ocean Medallion to order that Paradise Punch! Of course, the ships offer plenty of bars and lounges for adults to enjoy, with beverage packages available.
Family Cabins: Families can stay in Mini-Suites, Suites or Family Suites, the latter of which are two interconnecting staterooms. Available on select ships, Family Suites can sleep up to eight people.