Considering a cruise for your next family vacation? You might be surprised to see how many cruise ship options there actually are! To help you make your decision, we’ve chosen the most innovative and entertaining cruise ships for kids. In 2020, sail away on one of these cruise ships for kids, and you’ll be on cruise control in no time!
1. Best Carnival Cruise Ship for Kids: Carnival Panorama
Launched in December, 2019, the Carnival Panorama provides a good bang for your vacation buck, and is the first Carnival ship to depart from Long Beach, California, in 20 years. Stops on its Mexican Riviera itineraries include Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan.
There’s fun for all onboard, including a water park with a tube slide, spiral slide, tipping bucket and splash park. Pedal your way around SkyRide, a new suspended cycling experience with panoramic views of the ocean. Bowling, mini-golf, basketball and Ping-Pong make for an amusing family time. You can catch a concert, movie or sporting event on the big screen at Carnival’s Seaside Theater or try your hand at Hasbro, The Game Show, a live stage show in which participants can play adaptations of Hasbro’s popular games, such as Connect Four Shots basketball game, for prizes.
Carnival’s Camp Ocean is like summer camp on a ship, with crafts, dancing and games all supervised by enthusiastic counselors. There are Dr. Seuss-themed activities, a reading area, and parade onboard. Teenagers can meet new friends and chill out in exclusive teen zones. Lip Synch Battle: Carnival, one of the best shows at sea, is your crew’s chance to go on stage to showcase your singing chops and dance moves. Rockin’ new live shows and a comedy club that includes family-friendly performances ensure no one will be bored.
Fast, flavorful and fun dining options are available for families aboard the Carnival Panorama. Kids will love the burgers and fries served at Guy’s Burger Joint, as well as the Shake Spot and pizzeria. A New England-inspired Seafood Shack and Asian kitchen, as well as Mexican and Italian eateries, provide a diverse variety of cuisines.
2. Best Princess Cruise Ship for Kids: Caribbean Princess
Princess Cruises are a great choice for multi-generational family travel as they feature amenities and activities to please the smallest to the tallest members of your group. Discovery at SEA is super cool programming that Princess Cruises developed in partnership with Discovery Inc. to offer guests immersive adventures, such as Discovery and Animal Planet shore excursions, and onboard activities that bring the shows you love to life in unforgettable experiences. Camp Discovery Youth & Teen Centers also feature Animal Planet and Discovery programming, as well as separate themed areas for kids of different age groupings in The Treehouse, The Lodge and The Beach House.
Recently renovated, Caribbean Princess was the first Princess Cruises ship to deliver the MedallionClass experience. A quarter-sized, complimentary wearable device makes vacation even more relaxing by speeding up the boarding process and enabling you to order refreshments that find you. This ship typically departs Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the Caribbean, but also offers Canada and New England sailings.
Caribbean Princess also debuted The Reef Family Splash zone in the summer of 2019. One of the best water parks at sea, this water play pad, pool, Jacuzzi, lounge and bar area is the perfect place for families to enjoy sunshine or shade with kid-friendly mocktails in hand. Winnie the Whale water feature sprays from her spout as children splash in delight. The Game Zone includes oversized backyard games such as cornhole. Movies, music and live entertainment can be found around the ship.
Stanley the Bear, Princess’ cuddly mascot, appears for storytime and a special breakfast that includes pancakes stacked in the shape of a bear. Jr. CHEF@Sea is a hands-on cooking workshop for kids ages 8 to 12. Junior chefs get to don aprons and hats and decorate a cake with a member of the ship’s pastry team in the main galley.
This cruise ship for kids includes dining experiences that are at a higher level than your average “cruise food.” There is the decadent Chocolate Journeys to satisfy the biggest sweet tooth and a few add-on dining experiences are available as well. Caribbean Princess offers 87 connecting staterooms, as well as two-bedroom family suites, featuring the line’s exclusive Princess Luxury Bed, developed in partnership with a sleep expert.
3. Best Disney Cruise Ship for Kids: Disney Fantasy
Disney Cruise Line is a favorite for families, and has the awards to prove it. While all of the Disney ships were built with creating magical memories in mind, Disney Fantasy currently takes the cake as the best cruise ship for kids because of its seven-night sailings from Florida to the Caribbean and Mexico.
All Disney ships feature themed parties, such as a Pirates in the Caribbean dance party, where pirate costumes are encouraged and the only fireworks at sea blast off overhead. You’re sure to encounter Disney characters and movies throughout the ships. Holiday times are unforgettable with Halloween on the High Seas and Very Merrytime winter wonderland festivities. The Bibbiddi Bobbidi Boutique transforms children into princesses, pirates, sea captains and knights.
On select Fantasy sailings, guest can partake in Star Wars Day at Sea, which includes character sightings, Star Wars movies playing by the pool, themed activities and even special Star Wars food and drinks on the menus. If you’d like to don your Hans Solo garb or Storm Trooper costume, an atrium costume party is the perfect place to bring on the fun in full force.
Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Ocean Lab are connected areas that kids ages 3 to 12 can explore, supervised by experienced counselors. Imaginations come alive in Andy’s Room from Toy Story, where toy soldiers might march in at any minute and conduct boot camp. Star Wars: Command Post, MARVEL Super Hero Academy and Pixie Hollow themed areas encourage kids to have incredible adventures. There’s even a nursery for the littlest of vacationers, a coffee shop for teens, and a space for tweens to sing karaoke, play video games and make new friends.
Children will love testing their sleuthing skills in the Midship Detective Agency, which sends them on an interactive ship-wide caper to crack a case of whodunit. Disney imagineers put a ton of magic into the ships, thinking through every modern and whimsical detail, including enchanted artwork that transforms in front of your eyes.
Every sailing on the Disney Fantasy includes a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in The Bahamas, where turquoise waters meet soft, white sand. Splash on the Pelican’s Plunge waterslides, snorkel to uncover undersea treasures, run the Castaway Cay 5k or just float your cares away by the sand bar with a Frozen-themed drink in hand. Supervised children’s activities like digging for artificial whale bones, an adults-only beach and a teens-only excursion ensure every member of the family has a memorable day at Castaway Cay.
Disney ships feature the splashtastic AquaDuck water coaster, Mickey-shaped pools, water play areas, Goofy’s Sports Deck, the Walt Disney Theater with Broadway-caliber shows, and the D Lounge with family game shows and karaoke. Even dinner includes a show with immersive storytelling at the Animator’s Palate, where Crush from Finding Nemo encourages all dudes dining to sing and interact with him. Your own drawings can come to life in Animation Magic.
Parents should make reservations for Palo or Remy, adults-only fine dining restaurants well worth their added fees. Remy’s French menu is planned by two different, high-caliber chefs while Palo features Northern Italian cuisine. The chocolate soufflé at Palo is simply to die for and the perfect ending to your unlimited meal. Disney Fantasy also features several pubs and cocktail lounges for parents to enjoy adult time together while the kids are at play.
Even the staterooms have family conveniences in mind, such as separate toilet and shower rooms.
4. Best Celebrity Cruise Ship for Kids: Celebrity Equinox
Celebrity Cruises is an award-winning, premium cruise line known for their personal service, upscale design and luxurious cuisine. All Celebrity ships are welcoming to families, but Celebrity Equinox offers especially engaging programs for children and other curious cruisers. (Parents and grandparents can participate, too.) Most Equinox itineraries include sailings to the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, but there are also sailings that include Mexico and New Orleans.
Camp at Sea is Celebrity’s customizable kids’ programming that’s full of enriching activities that inspire children to learn more about the world around them. Developed in partnership with Lonely Planet, Fat Brain Toys and Xbox, aspiring artists, scientists, and chefs can partake in special activities catered to their interests. Youth Counselors ensure all children are entertained and engaged. STEM at Sea with Frost Science Museum launched on Equinox and includes Power of Plankton and Mission Microplastics that not only educate, but also inspire positive choices for the planet.
Celebrity Cruises recently added more than 70 new excursions to their offerings, with amily-focused activities such as snorkeling and wildlife viewing. Aboard the ship, families favor the sports courts, pools and Lawn Club, where you can lounge with the “grass” beneath your feet, play bocce, croquet or listen to a concert. Silent disco parties, hot glass classes, archery, movies under the stars and cupcake decorating are some of the other activities kids and parents can enjoy together.
Morning, lunch, dinner and sleepover parties allow parents to secure some alone time while children play with peers and counselors for an additional per hour, per child fee. Autism-friendly ship environments include sensory-friendly films, toy lending, special dietary accommodations, and counselors whom are trained in autism awareness.
Family celebrations get even easier aboard Celebrity Cruises, too. The Celebrity staff will take care of all the details for your birthday, graduation or family reunion. Ten dining options, from sophisticated to casual, ensure every member of the family finds something that pleases their palate. In-room dining and main dining menus include kids’ favorites, such as grilled cheese and spaghetti, as well as fun additions, like PB&J sundaes. Canyon Ranch spa even offers special teen services, including hair straightening lessons, sensitive skin facials and personal training sessions.
5. Best Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship for Kids: Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas
Royal Caribbean features some of the biggest ships in the world with some of the most thrilling activities for families. Oasis of the Seas recently underwent a $165-million transformation to include even more adventures and modern amenities that will keep your crew smiling from port to port. Splash the day away on the Caribbean-inspired pool deck, aqua park and three waterslides. You can climb two rock walls, zipline across deck nine, try your best to stand tall on twin FlowRider surf simulators, and squeal your way down The Ultimate Abyss 10-story slide.
Oasis of the Seas sailings depart Miami for the Caribbean through May 2020; after that, Oasis of the Seas will head to New York City and become one of the largest ships to sail from the Big Apple. Seven-night cruises to The Bahamas include a Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island that features a huge water park with the tallest slide in North America and Chill Island, where you can bliss out by the warm, turquoise waters.
Seven neighborhoods aboard this ship transport you to places like Central Park for open-air walks amongst greenery and around lively restaurants, and Boardwalk, which is reminiscent of Coney Island, featuring a carousel, games and a dessert shop. Shows at the AquaTheater enthrall cruisers with high-diving, acrobatics, aerial tricks and other exuberating antics. Families love the glow-in-the-dark laser tag, escape room (for older children), mini-golf and ice skating.
More than 20 dining options are offered onboard, including BBQ, Mexican, and a sports bar with an arcade. Karaoke, live music and a bar with two robot bartenders slinging drinks keep the good times rolling on this cruise ship for kids.
Reimagined children’s areas are interactive and organized by activity type and age groups, including a nursery for the littlest of cruisers and teen areas that can be accessed through a “hidden” entrance. Teenagers will enjoy gaming, movies, music and a new outdoor deck just for them.
6. Best MSC Cruise Ship for Kids: MSC Seaside
MSC Cruises is a family-owned cruise line that’s focused on making it easy for families to explore the world. Learn new languages, cultures and cooking skills in immersive onboard programming and interact with people from all over the globe. MSC Seaside is one of the best cruise ships for kids because it sails year-round to the Caribbean from Miami.
MSC Seaside features modular connected staterooms (connect up to three to accommodate up to 10 people), an interactive aqua park with four waterslides, a splash zone and adventure trail ropes course. High-tech fun includes a Formula 1 simulator and XD Cinema, which catapults you inside the film you’re watching. Two of the longest ziplines at sea whisk guests away at 344 feet, or you can strike it big at the two full-size bowling lanes.
There are six distinct kids areas on board MSC Seaside. Developed in partnership with Chicco and featuring the latest Chicco baby equipment, supplies and toys, MSC Baby Time features a space where babies up to age 3 can play with their parents in a separate baby care drop-off area. LEGO bricks are a big part of the fun in the Mini Club for kids ages 3 to 6 and the Junior Club, for 7 to 11-year-olds, which also offers video games. Tweens and teens also have their own spaces.
DOREMI Studio is a lounge for families to dance disco and show off their talents together. There are also other DOREMI family activities, interactive games and sports. LEGO Experience Day is your crew’s opportunity to meet Sailor Walkabout, the LEGO mascot, and earn an official LEGO Junior Master Builder Diploma. Cutting-edge equipment like 3D printers and VR Gaming are also fun for kids. Happy Dinners, where children are escorted to the kids’ club after they finish their meals, enable parents to enjoy their food without feeling rushed by antsy little ones.
New MSC private island destination, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, debuted in November 2019. With the goal of being a sustainable destination where guests can connect with surrounding nature, it offers eight gorgeous beaches with sparkling blue waters and shore excursions like snorkel safaris, kayak tours and paddleboarding. Kids and their families can learn about and appreciate nature in activities that investigate marine life, coral reefs and more.
Tip: Check out the Kelly & Kloe MSC Cruises web series, which is about two tween sisters and their ship captain father.
Cortney Fries (pronounced “freeze”) is an award-winning Chicago-based writer and mom to two spunky elementary school-age kids. She loves nothing more than traveling with family, having adventures with friends and exploring the outdoors. Cortney believes that you should definitely do things that scare you just a little bit. Follow her on Instagram, @cortneyfries.