Best Cruise Ships For Families

Children’s programs on ships used to be just a place for parents to park their kids while mom and dad went off to do some important adult relaxing. Today, the best family ships devote a huge amount of resources, acreage, and innovation to making sure kids are having as good a time as their parents — or even better. For families traveling with kids, here are some of our favorite ships.

Disney’s Disney Dream: Arguably the best ship at sea for families with young kids, Disney Dream offers the biggest and best children’s facilities, a nursery for kids 3 months to 3 years, separate teen and tween centers, a kids’ pool with waterslide, a toddler-friendly splash zone, and a 765-foot water flume called the AquaDuck (if you can’t view the video above click here) — and those are just the highlights. There are also the best standard family cabins at sea, fantastic family oriented shows and movies, and lots of high-tech magic to make kids go “Oooh!,” plus some secluded adults-only areas to make parents go “Aaah.” You can even pre-order diapers and other baby supplies that’ll be in your cabin when you arrive. A near-identical sister ship, Disney Fantasy, will launch in 2012.

On Disney Cruise Line, the fun is not limited to the ship. Disney owns its own private island, Castaway Cay.

Disney’s Disney Magic & Disney Wonder: Though not quite as amazing as the newer Dream, Disney’s two original ships aren’t far behind, offering an almost identical experience at an only slightly scaled down level. There’s no AquaDuck, but there is different scenery outside, with Magic scheduled to sail from New York and Galveston next year, and Wonder doing Alaska and Mexican Riviera voyages.

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas & Allure of the Seas: The biggest cruise ships in the world, these two sisters are also the only ones that give Disney’s ships a run for their money in the family category. Each offers a huge open-air family area styled like an old-time boardwalk (there’s even a carousel), 28,700 square feet of kids’ playrooms, a nursery for kids 6 months to 3 years, extensive teen centers with their own outdoor deck, a pool deck with three different pools and a fun water park, a sports deck with surfing simulators and rock-climbing walls, an ice-skating rink, 3-D movies, fun dining options, and more. Courtesy of a deal with DreamWorks Animation, there are also costumed characters like Shrek and the Madagascar penguins, who participate in a parade and other activities throughout each cruise. As with Disney, you can order diapers and other baby supplies and have them ready in your cabin when you arrive. To view the video “A Teen’s View of Allure of the Seas” click here.

Also see Family Cruise Advisor’s Top Ten Family Cruises

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic: NCL’s biggest ship, Epic is also its best for kids, with one of the cruise world’s best waterslides, a splash pool for younger kids, a rock-climbing wall, a trampoline, a 24-foot “spider web”–style climbing cage, a basketball court, a batting cage, a two-story video screen in the atrium that’s great for watching sports; and meet-and-greets by costumed characters from Nickelodeon. The kids’ center offers Wii and Playstation II games, a dance floor, a big-screen TV room full of beanbag chairs; a great play structure with a crawling maze and ball jump. Teens get their own club/hangout, located up a “secret” hideaway staircase. Bonus: Kids under 2 sail free when sharing a cabin with two paying guests.

Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas & Liberty of the Seas: Once the world’s biggest cruise ships but now also-rans after fleetmates Oasis and Allure, these sister ships offer tons for families, including a huge playroom and video arcade, a teen club, a nursery for kids 6 months to 3 years, puppet shows created by Emmy and Tony Award nominee John Tartaglia, a water park, a surfing simulator, an ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall, 3-D movies, a basketball court, and a miniature golf course. For fun enrichment, there are educational programs offered in collaboration with Fisher-Price and Crayola; for kiddie celebrity sightings, there are character parades and photo ops with DreamWorks movie characters; and for sugar highs there are Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream parlors and fresh-baked cupcake shops.

On Carnival Magic, kids and adults alike enjoy the SkyCourse, the first-ever ropes course at sea. Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival’s Carnival Dream & Carnival Magic: These two sister-ships — one already in service (Dream) and the other debuting next month — are Carnival’s best for families with kids, especially kids who love water slides, since they come armed with twin 80-foot racing slides; a 104-foot enclosed spiral slide; and a 303-foot-long, four-deck-high enclosed corkscrew waterslide. There are also kids’, teens’, and tweens’ centers, a basketball court, and a miniature golf course, and Carnival Magic will add a “ropes” course, in which kids (and adults) can strap into a safety harness and work their way along 230 feet of beams, rope bridges, and swinging steps suspended above the top deck.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Pearl & Norwegian Gem: These ships were the most recent generation from NCL before its new Epic, and are just all-around fun vessels. For kids, they offer huge, brightly colored play and crafts area; a big-screen TV room full of beanbag chairs; a huge play structure with a ball jump and crawling maze; a computer room; a video arcade; a teen center; and a small outdoor play area. The buffet restaurant includes an adorable “Kid’s Cafe” section with chairs, tables, and serving stations scaled down to pint size, and with kid-friendly food to match.

Princess’s Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess & Ruby Princess: Kid-wise, the best thing about these ships is the fact that their kids’ center includes a large, attached, fenced-in outdoor play area with a splash pool, lots of plastic trikes, a kids’ basketball setup, and kid-size tables and chairs. It’s a great place for energetic kids to work off steam while their parents relax nearby. Inside, the bright, cheerful kids’ centers have toys, games, computer stations, and organized activities. The teen centers have computers, video games, and a dance floor. The line’s “Movies Under the Stars” outdoor movie experience is great for families, with lounge chair seating and free popcorn.

MSC Cruises’ MSC Fantasia & MSC Splendida: Though the children’s programs at Italian line MSC aren’t in the same league as those offered by Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival, it still makes this list for one primary reason: because kids 11 and under sail fare-free when sharing a cabin with two paying guests (though government fees and taxes still apply). The line’s recent ships all have smallish children’s centers with games, arts and crafts supplies, PlayStations, and activities, plus an enclosed outdoor area with a wading pool, play structure, and tube slide. The new Fantasia and Splendida add a 4-D movie theater (with moving seats) and a Formula One racing car simulator.

Click the links below to read full ship reviews of the vessels featured in this article.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Dream Is Christened in Port Canaveral

 

What a show!

Disney Dream christening ceremony in Port Canaveral

 

A helicopter delivered a 16-foot oversized bottle of dreams to the bow to commemorate the christening of Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship in the fleet, Disney Dream.

Under sunny skies and with more than 3,000 people in attendance at the Port Canaveral home to Disney Cruise Line‘s cruise empire, Disney Dream was christened.

Port Canaveral gets in on the act, flys a banner over crowd proclaiming “Welcome Home Disney Dream!”

The event was expertly produced combining traditional elements of a ship christening with the magic of Disney. A live webcast on the Disney Cruise Line website allowed fans from all over the world to watch the event. Also, a very active stream on Twitter allowed people to keep up with the non-stop activities. Highlights of Disney Dream christening included:

  • Disney Dream godmother Jeniffer Hudson (who sang on the Disney Wonder as a cast member and Oscar winner for her role in Dreamgirls) sang and delivered the christening prayer, “I christen thee Disney Dream. May God bless Her and all who sail on Her.”
  • Disney Dream flag ceremony, with Navy band performance.
  • An entertainment spectacular featuring fireworks and fanfare.
  • Speeches from The Walt Disney World Company executives. Tom Staggs thanked the hundreds of cast members who were waving from the decks in celebration and Bob Iger informed the crowd why they chose the name: “We named our ship the Disney Dream because she was created to make dreams for our guests.”

Make sure to check out the Avid Cruiser Facebook fan page to follow Ralph as he explores Disney Dream.

Can’t get enough? Check out our other Disney Dream stories on Family Cruise Advisor:

From Port Canaveral, Florida, Disney Dream will cruise to the Bahamas on rotating 3, 4, and 5-night cruises. All cruises on Disney Dream will visit Disney Cruise Line’s private Bahamian island Castaway Cay.

 

 

Family Cruises: Not Just for Kids

Adults enjoying the spa . . . aboard Disney Magic. Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

When people think of “Family Cruises,” the word “kids” tends to come to mind. And frankly, that scares a lot of people.  But Family Cruising is no longer the exclusive domain of parents and their children. Instead, it can refer to multiple generations of one family – or several families – cruising together as part of a special occasion.

My first cruise was a family cruise. It was 1998, and I was aboard the Norwegian Wind with my parents and my sister.  We sailed out of Vancouver to Alaska, and my love of cruising was born. Unlike most of the teenagers my age, I was an anomaly: I was perfectly happy to wander the ship, taking photographs with my 35mm camera. My sister was the social one.  With no real formal children’s programs to speak of, my sister made friends and quickly lost herself in the ship – much to my father’s dismay as he trudged the decks looking for her at three in the morning.

Eleven years later, I sailed with my parents again – this time aboard Crown Princess to Norway, Iceland and Northern Ireland.  While some things hadn’t changed (I still ran around taking plenty of pictures), our tastes had matured.  We were looking for a different product than the one we experienced in 1998. And we found it on Princess Cruises.

Therein lies the brilliance of family cruising: In as much as there are plenty of lines catering to mom, dad and the kids, there are an equal number of lines who may not necessarily court the little ones but are a fantastic fit for grown-up families looking for a great cruise vacation.

Choosing the right ship for the perfect family getaway can be a daunting task.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but there are a few that shine bright amongst the pack.  In that spirit, we present you with six of our favorite ships: three for families with children, and three geared towards adult families.

FOR FAMILIES WITH KIDS (AND THE YOUNG AT HEART!) Disney DreamDisney Cruise Line

Disney Dream - Delivery Voyage

The brand-new Disney Dream. Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line.

It’s tough to beat Disney. They’re so successful at what they do that even couples without kids have been known to travel on the line.  While the price of admission may be higher than many mainstream lines, their onboard product makes up for it in spades, and ensures Mom & Dad have as much fun as the kids. After all, you’re paying for it – shouldn’t you enjoy yourself too?

Can I Be a Kid Again? Disney's Oceaneer Lab aboard Disney Dream offers kids the chance to explore the sea.

Disney Dream is just that – a dream for young and old alike. When she launches next month, she will be the largest ship in the Disney fleet, measuring 1,115 feet in length and carrying some 4,000 happy passengers. The list of amenities is remarkable: kids are kept busy in Disney’s Oceaneer Club, offering them a chance to explore the sea, learn animation, and even stage their own production shows a’la Peter Pan. An interactive mystery game based around the ship’s artwork is also offered, as well as  a new feature for the entire industry: a dedicated spa for teens only called Chill Spa.

While the kids are kept entertained, Mom & Dad are looked after in style. The 16,000-square foot Senses Spa & Salon offers just about every treatment imaginable, while the Pink Champagne Bar serves up bubbly in a unique room made to appear to feature walls of cascading “bubbles.”  The line’s adult-only Paolo Restaurant is also here, along with Remy, featuring French-inspired gourmet cuisine and the option of a private “chef’s table” experience.

We’ll also be the first to admit: it’s tough to not get choked up when the ship’s whistle belts out “When You Wish Upon A Star” at sail away.

Disney Dream sails to the Bahamas on three, four and five-night voyages beginning January 2011. We’re excited already!

Mariner of the Seas – Royal Caribbean International

 

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas

 

“Wait a minute!” I hear you say. “What about Oasis of the Seas?” Oasis and her sister Allure of the Seas are excellent ships for families, but they are so huge they can be overwhelming at times – the oceangoing equivalent of Disneyland. Mariner of the Seas (and her near-sisters Voyager, Explorer, Adventure and Navigator) still offer that “WOW!” factor of big-ship cruising, but on a more manageable scale.

One of Royal Caribbean's famous nightly parades along the Royal Promenade on Mariner of the Seas.

Ships feature a mini-golf course, rock-climbing wall, large pool area, and the famous “Royal Promenade” where nightly parades and entertainment are on offer. Royal Caribbean has entertainment down to a science.  Kids who have never cruised will be spell-bound that all of this is possible on a ship. At the same time, parents will rejoice in several venues just for them, like Chops Steakhouse and Vintages Wine Bar.

Mariner of the Seas and her sisters sail to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe, New England, and South America.

MSC Poesia – MSC Cruises

MSC Poesia. Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises

 

Kids 12 and Under Sail for Free: it’s tough to beat that kind of promotion. Based in Genoa, MSC Cruises boasts a fleet of eleven stunning new ships that are slowly but surely making inroads in the lucrative Caribbean market – and no doubt causing some cruise execs many sleepless nights. In fact, a seven-day Caribbean cruise can be downright affordable for a family of four.  And because the line caters to kids, chances are your little ones will leave you alone for a bit as they run off to play with new-found friends.

MSC Poesia and her sisters have a lot going for them. They’re big, they’re new, and they offer all the amenities you’ve come to expect of mainstream North American lines, like an expansive pool deck, multiple dining options, and even a Princess-style theater screen poolside.

MSC Poesia sails the Eastern and Western Caribbean, and Europe.

FOR FAMILIES WITH GROWN KIDS Crown PrincessPrincess Cruises

Crown Princess, shown here in Akureyri, Iceland.

 

Launched in 2006, Crown Princess ushered in a number of firsts for the line. She was the first to offer the line’s highly-successful Piazza Atrium concept, complete with live performances, music, a cafe and a dedicated wine and sushi bar called Vines. Crown Princess also became the second ship in the fleet to offer Movies Under the Stars: a large LED screen mounted poolside showcasing new releases and special events during the evening hours, complete with comfy deck chairs and popcorn.

Crown Princess Movies Under the Stars / Geirangerfjord

Play It Again, Sam: Movies Under the Stars aboard Crown Princess

For families looking for a more grown-up vacation, it’s tough to go wrong with Crown Princess and her sisters, Emerald and Ruby Princess. In addition to a wide array of stateroom choices, many with interior connecting doors, there’s certain to be something for everyone on these 952-foot long vessels. Dedicated spas, a swim-against-the-current pool, a mini-golf course, and a wide array of specialty restaurants (skip lunch if you’re going to Sabatini’s – it’s tremendous!) provide all the benefits of big-ship cruising, but with a more intimate atmosphere.

Crown Princess sails the Caribbean, Europe, and Canada & New England.

Zuiderdam – Holland America Line

Holland America's Zuiderdam

 

Together with her sisters, Oosterdam, Westerdam, Noordam, Eurodam and the recently-launched  Nieuw Amsterdam, these ships turned Holland America on its head, becoming the first ships in the fleet to truly cater to families of all ages.  While the decor on Zuiderdam is funky and colorful, Eurodam is elegant and tasteful. Each ship has its own distinct personality, but each offers the same features attractive to families looking for a laid-back cruise vacation.

The fantastic Hydrotherapy Pool is an excellent way to unwind after a long day ashore. Pictured here is the Hydro Pool aboard the ms Eurodam. Photo courtesy of Holland America Line.

To start, their spas are some of the best at sea and feature a generous hydrotherapy pool, thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, and a full-size gym. This generosity extends to her staterooms, many of which are substantially larger than those found on other mainstream lines. Plenty of staterooms connect via interior doors, and balcony partitions on adjoining staterooms can be swung open, allowing families to celebrate on their own extended veranda.

All of this comes with Holland America’s legendary service – some of the best in the mainstream category.

Zuiderdam sails to Alaska, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest, and the Panama Canal.

Silver Spirit – Silversea Cruises

Silver Spirit in Key West, Florida

Silversea's Flagship, Silver Spirit

 

If you’re looking for a family reunion, but aren’t willing to compromise on quality, look no further than Silversea’s Silver Spirit.  Included beverages and gratuities means less time worrying about onboard spending and more time enjoying yourselves. And isn’t that what a cruise is supposed to be about?

The ship is beautiful, the service is exacting, the cuisine is tremendous – and yet, there’s not even a hint of pretentiousness onboard. The ship is also incredibly spacious; it’s unlikely you will ever find yourself standing in a line for anything.  With all the amenities of a larger ship, but in a much more human size, Silver Spirit seems catered to families.  Even balcony partitions on most suites swing open to allow rooms to be booked side-by-side.

If you sailed other lines when the kids were little, the time has come to reward yourself.

Silver Spirit sails to Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Panama Canal.

No matter where you and your family plan to sail in the coming year, Family Cruise Advisor is here to help.