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.
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.
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.