These days, many cruise lines welcome families and offer activity programming for children, yet only a select few truly go above and beyond to meet the needs of cruising families.
To choose a cruise line that’s right for your family, realize that cruise lines have distinctive personalities, just like families—some are boisterous and loud, some active and sporty, others more elegant and reserved. Some cruise lines offer G-rated entertainment, while other lines offer shows that are aimed at an adult audience.
Moreover, the ideal cruise for a family with young children might not be the best pick for a multi-generational family reunion. With all that in mind, these cruise lines offer the most for families and kids:
Voted by both Travel + Leisure and U.S. News & World Report as the best cruise line for families, Disney Cruise Line stands alone in its singular focus on the family market. Disney’s four ships are elegant throwbacks to 1920s ocean liners, yet they offer truly creative kids’ clubs, exceptional family entertainment, cutting-edge interactive experiences, loads of top-deck water fun (like cruising's first water coaster), and also plenty of grown-up spaces for adults to love.
Royal Caribbean’s carpe-diem personality makes this cruise line a great pick for families with ‘tweens and teens who love high-octane fun. The ships offer amazing top-deck water parks and surfing simulators, zip lines, ice rinks, straight-from-Broadway shows, and a wide variety of dining options.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The world’s largest cruise line lives up to its “fun ship” reputation with cruises that exude a high-energy, party-loving, flashy vibe. All about delivering big experiences at a low price, Carnival is a good-value brand that attracts a wide cross-section of cruisers, from singles and couples to families and seniors.
For families with younger kids, Carnival has launched "Seuss at Sea" programming that integrates favorite Dr. Seuss stories and characters into the onboard fun.
Known for its innovative freestyle dining and high-quality onboard entertainment, Norwegian also offers an abundance of unique recreational options for families. The newest ships offer fabulous water parks and fun sports options, from bungee trampoline, climbing frames, and ropes courses.
Those kids-sail-free offers sure are tempting for budget-minded families. The MSC Divina offers year-round sailings from Miami to the Caribbean. Kids ages 3 to 11 sail at no cost, while teens ages 12 to 17 sail at a reduced fare. The kids’ club is complimentary.
This understated, stately line can be a great choice for multi-generational family trips, though kids may miss the raft of exciting options found on other cruise lines. For kids ages 3 to 7 and 8 to 12, there’s Club HAL and pizza-making, arts and crafts, sundae parties, scavenger hunts, and more. Meawhile, the Loft and The Oasis clubhouses offer activities for teens ages 13 to 17. There is no babysitting service available for children under age 3.
This mid-price line offers elegant ships and a quality cruise experience. Families will older kids will love the poolside movies and array of learning opportunities, including the “Science of the Seas” program and yoga classes for kids. Be aware, however, that there is a lack of childcare options and programming for kids under 3.
Delivering a sense of flair without a luxury price tag, Celebrity is a good choice for families that love sampling a variety of educational activities (computer workshops to wine tastings to yoga classes) and fun outings (picnicking on the real-grass lawn, water volleyball matches). In-cabin babysitting is a plus for families with young children, but entertainment options pale in comparison to what other cruise lines offer.
Like MSC, Costa is an Italian cruise line that lets children sail free.
There are Caribbean sailings out of Miami, but otherwise this Italian cruise line attracts an international mix of passengers. Highlights include authentic Italian fare, games rooms, and supervised kids clubs for ages 3 to 17.