A cruise can be one of the best vacations of a lifetime, whether you’re going as a couple, alone, or as a family. But for those who bring children along, it’s essential to choose one that offers lots of activities for younger age groups as well as kid specific programs or childcare which allows the grownups to take part in more adult-oriented activities too, at least part of the time. A cruise that offers a more casual atmosphere is generally better suited for families – and, as that type of cruise tends to be less expensive, it makes it a little more financially feasible to bring everyone on board.
Any one of these fun family-friendly cruises may be the perfect fit for your crew.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas
The Oasis of the Seas is home of the largest kids’ area of any cruise ship with its award-winning Youth Zone spanning nearly 30,000 square feet. A wide variety of activities are available for everyone from ages 6 months to 17 years, including merry-go-rounds, an Aqua Theater with acrobats, ice skating rings, story-telling, movies, a Pool & Sports Zone with FlowRider surf simulators and zip line rides. Characters from “Shrek,” “Madagascar,” and “Kung Fu Panda” also make frequent appearances thanks to Royal Caribbean’s deal with DreamWorks. Even teens will be impressed – their section is in another location, away from the throngs of younger kids, and they can enjoy juice bars, Nintendo Wii stations, a music room, themed parties, DJ lessons and more.
The beautiful Star Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, offers outstanding Alaska cruises in which kids get to learn all about endangered wildlife, native animals, and glaciers in a Junior Ranger Program through an affiliation with the National Park Service. Kids and teens will also find plenty to do in the Youth Centers and Teen Lounges. Those ages 3 to 12 can join in on pajama parties, art projects and scavenger hunts in the Youth Center, while cruisers 13 to 17 can hang out in the Teen Lounge and make new friends while taking part in hip-hop dance classes, late night movies and mocktail competitions. Princess is also the only cruise line that offers burgeoning yogis the chance to practice their warrior and mountain poses in a yoga program just for kids and teens.
Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream
Of course you probably already know that Disney Cruise Line offers some of the most family-friendly adventures out onto the high seas. Just embarking on a cruise along with Mickey and Minnie, Donald, Goofy and others, is probably enough to excite any young passenger – as well as the kid-at-heart, but it offers a whole not more than age-appropriate programs and Disney characters. The newest Disney ships, Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, launched all kinds of stand-out features, including everything from artwork that springs to life with animation to extravagant high tech show productions. The AquaDuck, a colossal roller coaster that may be the highlight of both passenger ships, takes cruisers for a 765-foot ride in a translucent tube with lots of twists and turns along with breathtaking views of the ocean and ship below.
Carnival Breeze, Carnival Freedom, as well as the recently refurbished Carnival Sunshine, feature a wide array of fun for kids of all ages, with three separate clubs: one for the 2 to 11 set, tweens (12 to 14) and teens 15 to 17. Younger kids take part in sing-alongs as well as arts and crafts, while juniors play Disney trivia, games, and paint T-shirts. Older kids can join in on scavenger hunts or participate in talent shows. Pre-teens and teens have their own space with regular dance and pool parties as well as a special teens only PlayStation and Xbox consoles. The ships also have some of the largest at-sea water parks. Camp Ocean, found on Carnival Freedom, offers ocean-themed activities like Pirate Game Night, Marine Life Trivia, and the chance to create a giant ocean mural.
If you’re on a tight budget and want to take the whole family on a cruise, MSC Cruises may be your best bet as every child under the age of 18 sharing a cabin with parents is free of charge. Although MSC has traditionally drawn more retirees, you’ll still find plenty of family-friendly entertainment and amenities, including everything from water parks to 4-D screens and bowling alleys. The miniclub for ages 3-6, and the junior club for those who are 7 to 11, is staffed by professional entertainers who offer all types of activities including arts and crafts, group games, dances classes and performances, and games like PlayStation, Xbox and Wii.
Queen Mary 2
While the Queen Mary 2 isn’t specifically targeted to families with children, it offers many novelties that kids are sure to appreciate. A transatlantic cruise on this ship passes just a few miles from the Titanic site, and serves to bridge the grandeur of the past with the present. The site is marked on a navigation map with the passing announced over the loud speakers. Real British nannies can care for the youngest guests, while older kids enjoy great perks like PlayStation3. In the evening, everyone, including the littlest passengers can dress in ball gowns and tuxes to take part in a fancy ball with their parents. During the day, children can participate in a special dress-up with high tea. The ship is also a stand out for its distinctive planetarium, where kids can learn all about the planets and the stars.
National Geographic Endeavour
As little as 10 years ago, it was rare for children to be seen on small expedition ships, but in 2012, it was reported that 12 percent of passengers on Galapagos cruises aboard the National Geographic Endeavor were under the age of 18. Expedition leaders on the cruises are trained by National Geographic Kids, and are enthusiastic about answering kids’ questions on wildlife and the region in general. While there are no kid-specific facilities, there are plenty of creative offerings available, including learning to drive a Zodiac craft, wildlife photography lessons, and a bridge visit with the captain. Once in the Galapagos, kids and adults can go hiking, swimming, snorkeling, and take part in expeditions via skiff. Children are always delighted by the incredible creatures they’ll encounter like iguanas, seals, tortoises, rays, reef sharks and more.
The Norwegian Breakaway, operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, made its splashing debut in the spring of 2013 with young passengers heading straight for Deck 17 where a massive water park with five multistory waterslides are housed. A feet-first slide known as Free Fall is said to be the fastest water slide at sea, with riders reaching speeds of 2.8G. Younger kids get their own waterpark, complete with Nickelodeon characters like SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer. The cruise also features many kid-specific activities such as a pajama party with the costumed characters, shows, and games, including the opportunity to get “slimed.”
While Holland America doesn’t have big-name attractions like AquaDuck or Free Fall, it does offer many activities through Club Hal for passengers ages 3 through 17. Tinier tots enjoy pirate treasure hunts, hands-on pizza making, storytelling, crafts, ice cream sundae parties and more. “Tweens,” 8 – 12, take part in Xbox and Wii tournaments, relay races, karaoke, and the award-winning National Park Service Jr. Ranger Program on Alaska cruises. The Loft, accessible by a secret passageway, is an entire deck devoted to teens, featuring nightclub events, waterfall-lined swimming pools and juice bars.
Celebrity Cruises truly offers something for everyone, so if you’re traveling with cruisers of all different ages and interests, it might just be your best choice. Celebrity offers family-friendly and adult-specific amenities as well as dividing its kids’ programs into four unique groups, featuring age-appropriate activities for each. Kids ages 3 to 11, can head to the Fun Factory for games, themed parties, and more, while teenagers will appreciate the teens-only club which includes one of the largest Xbox experiences at sea with dedicated Xbox stations and mobile consoles. One of the newest features of this club is iTake, a video project in which they’ll brainstorm a storyboard for short videos and learn how to edit them to create amazing vacation videos – and, even win prizes. While the kids are having fun, their parents can take a cooking class or relax and rejuvenate at the AquaSpa.
Pride of America
Pride of America is also part of Norwegian Cruise Line, cruising throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The ship’s Splash Academy kids club features a climbing maze, computer stations, lots of space to play, and an adjacent kiddie pool. Activities include pirate treasure hunts, teddy bear adventures water games; even a Hollywood Night and Mad Scientist’s Lab. The Entourage Teen Club is a “parent-free” zone with comfy couches and beanbag chairs, a music library and computer stations. Activities include things like sports competitions, late-night pool parties and video games.
With P&O Cruises launch of Ventura back in 2008, it became more of a family-friendly cruise line. It offers an expansive area dedicated to kids as well as a Cirque circus school, the first of its kind at sea, where cruisers of all ages can try out a bungee trampoline or join a workshop to learn trapeze and tightrope-walking. The Ventura has the biggest kids’ club on any of the P&O ships with rooms for the younger kids filled with bright and colorful play areas as well as miniature computer desks for them to learn and play. Older children can participate in talent shows and even a teen rock school. The whole family can enjoy the ships four pools, plus a smaller pool for the tiny tots, and six hot tubs.
If your heart is set on a luxury cruise and you plan on bringing the kids along, there aren’t many choices as most premium ships like Oceania Cruises, Silversea and Windstar, have no facilities for little ones and generally prefer not having them on board. Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony and Serenity may be your best choice as the only true luxury cruise line offering extensive programs for youngsters on select sailings. A Junior Activities program for kids aged 3 to 17 is available on summer sailings as well as holiday voyages, and includes games, crafts, PlayStation and Xbox 360 kiosks, large-screen TVs, board games and computers. There is also a video arcade just for teens, and kids can also watch recently released films in The Hollywood Theatre.