The 8 best cruise ships for kids
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Kids can make or break your family cruise. If they’re bored and hate the food options, they will loudly and repeatedly express their displeasure. Pick the wrong cruise ship and parents will feel as trapped as if they were stranded on a deserted island…with biting crabs underfoot.
The best cruises for kids take advantage of ships with endless fun for the under-18 crowd, plentiful dining that appeals to both young palates and bottomless teen tummies, accommodations and ship services that keep families in mind, and opportunities to meet and hang out with peers. No matter your family size or price range, you can find some incredible vacations at sea that will have kids exclaiming, “Best cruise ever!” by the end of the week.
Find the top ship for your next trip with our list of the eight best cruises for kids (and their parents).
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A Disney Dream cruise will wow kids and grownups alike, but it’s perfect for families with younger children. Little kids are more likely to be obsessed with the onboard princesses and Beauty and the Beast stage show, as well as plentiful dress-up opportunities and character meet-and-greets. Their families will appreciate the little touches on Disney Dream – split bathrooms in most cabins, a drop-off nursery, a kiddie slide and splash area for toddlers, and restaurant staff who will offer high chairs and puree baby food.
Disney Dream sails short cruises to the Bahamas, ideal for a quick getaway with young kids. It always visits Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, with its family beach, supervised childcare, splash pad, and strollers to borrow.
Symphony of the Seas
Kids on the go will never be bored on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. They can fill several sea days onboard scaling a rock wall, zip-lining across the ship, wiping out in the surf simulator, screaming down the Ultimate Abyss Slide, or racing their siblings on side-by-side waterslides. Laser tag is set up when the ice skating rink isn’t in use, and an escape room will make sure vacation brains don’t get too lazy.
Families who like a good show can sing along to the musical “Hairspray” and gasp as ice skaters land jumps on a rocking ship. Symphony of the Seas’ AquaTheater combines diving and acrobatics, but sit in the back if you don’t want to get splashed.
Kids can also ditch their parents for fun, yet supervised, time with peers in the huge Adventure Ocean kids club. In addition to play spaces, a nursery, and cool clubs for tweens and teens, it’s got a science lab, art studio, and theater.
Norwegian Encore has a more grownup vibe than many of the family-focused ships on our list, but its onboard attractions make it a huge hit with teens. Its top decks lure older kids with the biggest go-kart track in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet and an open-air laser tag arena ideal for shooting matches under the stars. A huge virtual reality playground features rides and games that blow every cruise ship arcade out of the water.
Note to parents: Cruise passes to the go-kart race track, virtual reality games, and laser tag do not come cheap. Be prepared to pull out your wallet to keep the teens happy.
At night, teens can feed their growing bodies with tacos, hibachi, and barbecue, plus 24/7 burgers and comfort food at The Local. Afterwards, they’ll agree to be seen in public with their parents at cool shows like Kinky Boots and Choir of Man. It’s an easy concession, as they know they can always escape to the teen club, Entourage, to hang out with the cool kids onboard late at night.
Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras
Passengers and crew on Carnival ships come ready to meet new friends or share a laugh, a story, and a drink with their shipmates. Social kids will fit right in – and will love the line’s huge, new ship Mardi Gras. They can make friends at the Family Harbor Lounge, Camp Ocean and the Dr. Seuss Bookville, or the teen and tween clubs conveniently located near Guy Fieri’s burger stand and the video arcade.
Mardi Gras is the only cruise ship boasting a top-deck rollercoaster called Bolt. A ride here is Instagram gold and the ultimate bragging rights for kids on vacation. The coaster dominates the Ultimate Playground area of the ship, where young cruisers can challenge their new friends to mini-golf, waterslide races, basketball, and ropes course domination.
Kids who love a good food court can meet up with friends or family at a number of no-fee, casual eateries, including Shaq’s Big Chicken restaurant and a trio of Street Eats, featuring dumplings, meat on a stick, and loaded French fries. All-hours pizza and ice cream will keep the whole family fueled up for the interactive Family Feud Live show and Hasbro The Game Show .
Princess Cruises upgraded Caribbean Princess to make it attractive to families with kids, and it works. If you’ve got a multigenerational family group with a mix of interests and vacation styles, Caribbean Princess could be the right pick for you.
Kids love Caribbean Princess’ The Reef water play area. They can get wet in so many ways – a splash area, toddler wading pool, plunge pool, and lower-temp hot tub. Chaperoning family members have a bar at their service (with a menu of fun mocktails), as well as an inviting lounge area with patio furniture and games.
The line’s high-tech OceanMedallion additions let kids create sea creature avatars that display on LED screens in public areas and explore the ship on digital scavenger hunts. Parents and grandparents can use the same LED screens to locate their RFID-wearing offspring when it’s time to round them up for breakfast with Princess’ bear mascot or a holiday- or destination-themed event in the Piazza.
MSC Meraviglia is a floating megaresort, with something for everything. Large family groups will love its Super Family Cabins that combine two balcony cabins and an inside room to accommodate groups of up to 10, with multiple sleeping areas and bathrooms.
Outside the cabin, families might have trouble keeping all the kids together. Some will make a break for the Polar Aqua Park, with slides and a splash zone, and the nearby Himalayan Bridge ropes course. Other kids might spend their parents’ money on more virtual fun, indulging in F1 race car and flight simulators, a 4D movie theater, and video arcade. Family groups can split into teams for sports court or bowling challenges.
Kids of all ages can enjoy Meraviglia’s theatrical performances, especially its exclusive Cirque du Soleil shows. The ship’s Lego-themed Doremi Land kids club has dedicated spaces for babies, three groups of kids, and teens, as well as a theater with a movie screen and dance floor, and a lab with a 3D printer and virtual reality games.
“Don’t take your kids on a luxury cruise ship!” scream cruise message board members everywhere. But if you want a high-end vacation with options for children, Crystal Serenity is one of the best luxury cruise ships for kids. Even better, kids typically sail free or half price when sharing a room with two paying adults.
Unlike many luxury ships, Crystal Serenity has actual kids clubs: Fantasia for kids, Waves for teens. While parents take a dance class or taste wine, the kids can play video games, make crafts, and enjoy supervised activities (during summer and holiday sailings). In-room babysitting is available for a fee when parents need a night out enjoying dinner by Nobu, a Broadway-style show, and a nightcap at the Avenue Saloon.
Plus, kids might surprise you by going all in for afternoon tea, team trivia, and art classes. And, there’s always the pool, daily burgers and dogs at the Trident Grill, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at Scoops.
The typical river cruise draws a lot of retirees – except when Adventures by Disney partners with AmaWaterways. The two travel companies have created a river cruise vacation that is fun for grownups and kids.
AmaLea is one of the ships AmaWaterways custom-built for these family cruises. Certain twin balcony cabins sleep three and suites sleep four to accommodate kids, with connecting cabin options for families who need more space. Unlike many river ships, AmaLea has a pool, as well as surprise kid hit, giant outdoor chess.
Adventures by Disney makes the most of your time on the Danube with shore excursions planned to entertain kids and adults, with options for supervised kid activities while parents head out on more grownup tours. Onboard, kids menus are available, and the occasional pajama party whisks kids away for pizza and a movie while adults linger over dinner.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- What to pack for your first cruise
Featured photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.
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