Family vacations are often the highlight of the year for kids. Once school is out, you can find families worldwide packing their suitcases and loading up for this year’s epic adventure.
Families need a vacation that will entertain all family members, from toddlers to grandparents. They also need an affordable vacation that is fun and safe and allows a bit of adventure and some relaxation, too. They need a family cruise!
How To Find the Best Cruises for Kids
The Family Travel Association (FTA), along with NYU School of Professional Studies, Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, and Edinburgh Napier University, conducted a large-scale study of over 3900 families regarding their travel plans and revealed that 81% of parents plan to travel with their children in the next year.
Results from the study also noted that 84% of parents acknowledged that family travel helps make their children more adaptable and open to new experiences, 62% recognize that travel gives kids a more positive outlook on life, and 61% say it helps kids with their social skills.
Cruises are wonderful family vacation options that are mostly all-inclusive, allow families to explore new places, and create memories to last a lifetime, all while being relatively affordable. Not all cruises are created equally, so we will walk you through the important things to look for in a cruise for kids, things to avoid when choosing a family cruise, and some of our family’s favorite cruise lines and destinations.
What To Look For in Cruises for Kids
When looking for a cruise the whole family will enjoy, you have a few things to consider. You’ll want to look at kids club options on board for each cruise line. Most cruise lines have kids’ clubs that are divided into different age groups. The clubs offer supervised activities that are age-appropriate, including dance classes, arts and crafts, video games, and scavenger hunts. Kids clubs are great places for kids to make new friends and have fun on sea days, but they also offer parents time to relax kid-free while knowing they are taken care of and safely looked after by staff members.
Look at each ship you are considering and see if they have dedicated “kid areas” like splash zones, pools, basketball courts, mini-golf courses, and play areas. Some of the newer and larger cruise ships, like Royal Caribbeans’ Wonder of the Seas, include activities like zip lines, water slides, a rock climbing wall, and surf simulators. Depending on the age of your children, you’ll want to be sure the ship has the types of activities your child will enjoy.
Safety and Other Considerations
Safety and security are important factors to look at when selecting a cruise for kids. Do they have lifeguards? What are the checkout procedures for kids’ clubs? What are the safety procedures if there is an emergency and you are away from the kids? Ensure you are aware of and comfortable with the policies of the cruise line you are considering.
Dining options are also important to consider when choosing a cruise for your family vacation. Consider cruise lines that offer kid-friendly menus, flexible dining times, and special dietary accommodations to cater to your children’s preferences and needs. Depending on your family’s style you may look into dining requirements such as dress code as well.
Family accommodations are offered on some cruise ships and can make your vacation more pleasant by offering additional bedding, space, and sometimes extra bathroom space, which can be a real blessing when trying to get 5 or 6 people ready and out the door in the morning. Some cruise ships offer family areas of the ship that offer a separate lobby area where families can meet with other families, play games, and have snacks.
What To Avoid When Booking Cruises for Kids
When looking for things to avoid on a family cruise, these are just guidelines, as every family will have different needs and interests. Traditionally, three or 4-day-long cruises are considered party ships or “booze cruises.” This is especially true for ships sailing from Los Angeles to Mexico and from Miami to the Bahamas over weekends. If you don’t like your family around this kind of atmosphere, choosing a longer cruise is a good idea.
Choosing an older or smaller ship often leaves you with fewer onboard activities for families. While small ships can create an intimate and cozy environment, this is often more appropriate for adults sailing without children.
Itineraries Matter When Selecting a Family Cruise
Consider your children’s ages and interest levels, and keep your budget in mind, too. An Alaskan cruise is wonderful with jaw-dropping scenery and bucket list-type excursions, however, they come with a steep price tag and often less kid-friendly activities. Mediterranean cruises are not only packed full of idyllic ports of call but historical sites too.
If your children aren’t old enough to appreciate or aren’t interested in touring ruins and historical locations, this itinerary might not be your best choice. The Caribbean and the Bahamas offer plenty of sun, sand, and family fun activities at every turn especially if you find an itinerary that stops on one of the cruise line-owned private islands.
Best Cruise Lines for Kids
While there are no wrong choices here, some cruise lines cater more to families with children than others. Luxury lines such as Celebrity, Princess Cruises, Cunard, and Viking may not appeal to the younger crowd, whereas family-friendly lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and Disney cater to families and kids of all ages.
Best Budget-Friendly Cruiseline for Kids- Carnival
Carnival Cruise Line is an affordable, family-friendly option with over 25 ships in their fleet and varied itineraries to meet every family’s wishes. Try booking one of the new and larger ships, such as the Panorama, Celebration, or Jubilee. These ships have waterslides, BOLT rollercoaster at sea, a Sports Square with basketball, ping pong, a ropes course, and mini golf. Multiple dining options are available, as well as youth programs for both younger children and teens.
Book a room in the Family Harbor area to be surrounded by other families, spacious staterooms, and other exclusive amenities specific to the Family Harbor Suites.
Best Moderate Cruiseline for Kids – Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean is a wonderful option for families looking for the biggest and newest ships on the high seas. The newest ship is the Icon of the Seas, and it is huge! This ship has the largest waterpark at sea, featuring six record-breaking slides. You can spend sea days playing at Surfside, the family-only play area featuring pools, food, and games.
Book a room with a balcony for views at sea, or save a few dollars and book an interior room with a virtual balcony. Royal Caribbean has numerous dining options and plenty of room to spread out and keep the entire family entertained. Cruises on Royal Caribbean tend to be slightly more pricey than Carnival but are still affordable for a family cruise.
Best Luxury Cruiseline for Kids- Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line is the gold standard for cruising with kids. The ships are elegantly appointed, the food is incredible, customer service is second to none, and, of course, there are sprinkles of Disney Magic throughout. Don’t worry though; it’s subtle Disney, not loud in-your-face Disney. Kids of all ages will be entertained by special character meetings and themed restaurants. The kids’ clubs are wonderful; you may find your little ones begging to stay and play. This works out well for adults since Disney has adults-only areas of the ship where you can enjoy a little peace (and a mojito) near the adult-only pools or the Rainforest Room, one of my favorite splurges.
Watch for special itineraries such as Pixar, Star Wars, or Marvel Day at Sea. These special itineraries have a full day devoted to the theme with additional characters, themed meals, movies, and the opportunity to dress up as your favorite character if you want. Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries also include Pirate Night, where the ship will be taken over by pirates, and in the evening, you can watch the only fireworks at sea.
Best Cruise Itineraries for Kids
When searching for an itinerary for your family vacation, I recommend finding a sailing that has a mix of interesting ports of call and a few sea days as well. This allows your family to explore new places and downtime to relax and enjoy the amenities of the ship.
Carnival Cruise Line
Our favorite cruise itinerary on Carnival was a 7-day Western Caribbean. The ship left from Miami and had two sea days and ports of call in Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize, Roatan, Honduras; and Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We loved this itinerary as it had a little something for everyone. We had a relaxing beach day in Cozumel, explored Mayan ruins in Belize, held sloths, went ziplining in Roatan, and visited Stingray City in Grand Cayman. Even though it was eight years ago, the kids still talk about this trip all the time.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
On Royal Caribbean, I recommend an itinerary that includes a stop at the private island Perfect Day at Coco Cay. Perfect Day at Coco Cay is a private island where you can enjoy a water park, snorkeling, sunbathing, or even rent a private bungalow with a butler for the day. The 7-day Eastern Caribbean + Perfect Day departs from Miami and has stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Phillipsburg St Maarten, and Perfect Day at Coco Cay with two sea days.
San Juan is such a fun city to explore, and you can spend the day wandering cobblestone streets past colorful buildings, exploring military forts, or head to the beach and lounge on perfect sand against crystal clear water. St Martin/St Maarten is unique because two countries claim this small island. One half of the island is Dutch, and the other is French. You can spend time on both during a cruise stop. Be sure and stop at Maho Beach on the Dutch side to watch planes fly overhead (very low) to land at the airport across the street, then head to the French side for incredible food and shopping options.
Disney Cruise Line
Our favorite Disney itineraries are also in the Caribbean, as we can experience pirate night and a stop at Castaway Cay, which is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Our favorite itinerary was an Eastern Caribbean route that started in Port Canaveral and visited Tortola, St Thomas, and Castaway Cay. Castaway is the perfect beach day where you can snorkel, play, or relax all while enjoying free food on the island.
In Tortola, you can experience the history of pirates and enjoy the beautiful water; we opted to head to Virgin Gorda to visit the Baths at Devils Bay National Park. St Thomas is a ton of fun. We’ve enjoyed horseback riding and swimming at Megans Bay, and we’ve taken the ferry over to St John to visit Virgin Islands National Park.
You can’t go wrong with a family cruise. When you factor in the cost of food, lodging, and transportation to different locations, the cruise fare is quite reasonable. On board the ship, there are activities (and relaxation) for everyone, with family time as you enjoy dinner together. In port, you can explore, adventure, and create memories together. Oh, and one more bonus: your kids’ phones won’t have Wifi, so they may even talk to you occasionally!