Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Cruising has long been a popular way for people to travel, especially for those that are retired. There’s something about getting to enjoy an endless amount of food, drinks, and onboard activities while the ship takes you from one destination to another. It’s surely a tempting way to see the world.
As cruise lines including Carnival and Royal Caribbean continue to introduce show-stopping attractions that kids love, such as roller coasters and laser tag, families are getting more and more into cruising, too.
However, as with any vacation parents and families consider taking with kids, we have to ask: what are the best cruise lines for families?
The answer is, it depends.
Just like when you choose a hotel, families look for certain amenities for a cruise vacation.
Entertaining kids on any vacation is usually top of mind when planning a trip. A kid-friendly cruise line will have entertainment for its youngest sailors. Kids’ and teens’ clubs, pools, and water slides are just a few of the kid-specific amenities that you’ll find on a lot of the cruises on this list.
Higher-end cruise lines like expedition cruises offer robust educational programs for kids as well as adults. A family-friendly cruise might also have a place for the adults to relax such as a spa or adults-only area.
The cabin size matters, too, just as it would at a traditional hotel or resort.
Larger families may prefer a suite over an inside cabin. But either way, the square footage matters — even more so if you’ll spend quite a bit of your time onboard the ship.
And lastly, food might be a factor in deciding what cruise line would be best for your family. Luxury cruise lines such as Regent Seven Seas and The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will no doubt have a superb menu, but they may not be expert kid-pleasers like Disney Cruise Line when it comes to food.
There are 3 types of cruises to choose from — ocean, river, and expedition cruises.
Ocean cruises are what most people have in mind when they think of taking a cruise. Most cruise lines have at least a few ocean cruise ships in their portfolio and they most popularly frequent the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, and Hawaii.
River cruises have traditionally been more popular with older cruisers but are now appealing to the younger crowds as well. River cruises can be found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Most cruise lines don’t have kid or family programs and some outright don’t allow kids under 18, though Adventures by Disney and AmaWaterways have partnered to offer river cruising for families (more on that later).
And finally, expedition cruises take adventure-seekers to curious and far-flung destinations like the Arctic, Antarctica, the Galapagos, and the Amazon. Expedition boats are much smaller than ocean liners, and the offerings on board are usually more tailored to history and education on expedition cruises.
With all of that in mind, here are the best cruise lines for families and kids.
Hot Tip: Consider our guides to the best websites to book cruises at the cheapest prices, and make sure to use one of our recommended credit cards for booking cruises.
Number of Ships: 5
Disney Cruise Line is at the top of this list because it does a really fantastic job of catering to every member of the family. It has managed to bring the magic of Disney theme parks to the middle of the ocean — even the fireworks shows.
There are only 5 ships in Disney Cruise Lines’ portfolio, but Disney has plenty of cruise itineraries to choose from. It sails to popular destinations as well as unique places that families might not have considered, such as the Norwegian Fjords.
Sailings feature character experiences just like at the Disney theme parks. You’ll also find live shows, a spa, nightclubs, and lounges. Each ship also has various kids’ clubs for passengers as young as 3 years old (a fee-based nursery is available for kids under 3), as well as pools with waterslides and aqua play areas. Older kids can enjoy a little independence in spaces designed just for them where they can play video games, watch TV, and meet other kids their age.
Dining options aboard Disney cruises include main and casual dining as well as adult-exclusive dining options. There are almost a dozen restaurants, cafes, and snack shops on each ship. Some nod to beloved Disney movie characters, like Lumiere’s on Disney Magic and Tiana’s Place on Disney Wonder.
Within each ship, there are 4 categories of staterooms: Inside, Oceanview, Oceanview with Verandah, and Concierge. Within most categories are family rooms with bunk beds as well as accessible rooms.
Shore excursions include private tours, culinary adventures, and accessible excursions in more than 25 countries. Guests especially love Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, when cruising select Caribbean itineraries.
Number of Ships: 27
Royal Caribbean has a whopping 27 cruise ships in its portfolio with another, Utopia of The Seas, scheduled for delivery in 2024.
The cruise line features the world’s largest ships and the tallest water slide at sea. From arcades to roller coasters, there is never any shortage of thrill-seeking activities to find on board any Royal Caribbean cruise.
If you and your family want to make the most of a Royal Caribbean cruise, you’ll want to check out Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class and Amplified ships. These classes of ships feature even more exciting attractions including glow-in-the-dark laser tag and several on-deck pools.
Alternatively, there are places on every Royal Caribbean ship where you can get away from the excitement and relax. In the Solarium, where kids under 16 aren’t allowed, soothing music helps you to decompress while lounging on a daybed or hanging out in a hot tub.
Royal Caribbean also has a private island exclusively for its guests. Coco Cay is located in the Bahamas and features a 13-slide water park as well as the region’s largest wave pools and freshwater pools.
Kids always sail free on Royal Caribbean cruises.
Number of Ships: 24
Carnival Cruise Line has a reputation for being a party cruise line. However, the prices can rarely be beaten, which a lot of family travelers can appreciate.
Similar to Royal Caribbean, Carnival likes to wow its guests with nonstop fun. The onboard attraction Bolt Ultimate Sea Coaster — the first rollercoaster at sea — can be found on 2 of its ships: Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration.
There are 4 standard cabin types on Carnival cruise ships: Interior, Ocean View, Balcony, and Suite. There are also specialty rooms on select ships.
Family Harbor staterooms and suites are located near Family Harbor Lounges and come with a free evening of Night Owls babysitting, among other perks. Cloud 9 Spa staterooms and suites offer Elemis toiletries, spa-branded bathrobes and slippers, and priority spa reservations. And lastly, Havana staterooms and suites are located close to the Havana Bar and Pool. Some suites come with hammock chairs in the outdoor area.
New Orleans native and Food Network star Emeril Lagasse is the newest Chief Culinary Officer for all 24 ships with 3 original restaurants. There are plenty of dining options to choose from across the fleet with cuisines including Italian, Creole, burgers, and teppanyaki.
Onboard activities include Family Feud Live, waterslides, karaoke, and The Punchliner Comedy Club. Most but not all activities are included in the cruise fare. The IMAX theater and a few other attractions incur an additional cost.
Family-friendly excursions and tours include a wildlife safari and beach bonfire on an Alaskan cruise, panoramas and painting in Grand Turk, and a stingray adventure in the Bahamas.
Carnival has a private island that it shares exclusively with Holland America called Half Moon Cay.
Number of Ships: 19
Norwegian Cruise Line is best known for being the most innovative cruise line. Notably, it has done away with traditional cruise concepts such as inflexible dining schedules and even dress codes.
Among the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet there are 8 different classes of ships of varying capacities and offerings. The class of ship that tends to be most popular with families is the Breakaway Class. The 2 ships in this class, Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Breakaway, each have a capacity of about 4,000 passengers. Between the 2 of them, they sail all over the world.
What makes this class of ships on Norweigan Cruise Lines so appealing to families is that it feels like a floating resort. These are the second-largest ships in Norwegian’s fleet. Activities on either ship include multiple pools, a waterpark, and even a full-size ropes course.
The stateroom categories aboard both the Norwegian Getaway and the Norwegian Breakaway include Studio, Inside, Oceanview, Balcony, Spa, Club Balcony Suite, and The Haven. Within those categories are another 30 stateroom types to choose from, including a 2-bedroom family villa. The Haven is an exclusive set of staterooms at the top level of the ship that features a 24-hour butler, concierge service, and sundeck.
In addition to room service, guests aboard Breakaway Class Norwegian Cruise Line ships can enjoy almost 2 dozen restaurants and bars. Not every restaurant is included in your cruise fare. Specialty dining options include seafood restaurant Ocean Blue, Brazilian steakhouse Moderno Churrascaria, and French restaurant Le Bistro.
In addition to excursions that you can book for an additional fee, Norwegian Cruise Line has a private island, Great Stirrup Cay, in the Bahamas.
Number of ships: 19
MSC Cruises is a European-based cruise company with a growing footprint in North America and the Caribbean. It’s known for offering an affordable cruise option without a lot of the fluff of other cruise lines.
Even without a rollercoaster that jets out over the sea, MSC Cruises is still a popular option for family travelers.
For family cruisers in particular, MSC offers family excursions with special pricing for kids, and tours designed to be interactive as well as educational. There are also kids’ clubs aboard their ships in addition to the LEGO Experience on Board, which is a day dedicated to LEGO activities for the whole family.
Select ships feature a fully-immersive virtual reality experience, a movie theater, and an arcade room.
Passengers can expect the typical array of dining options aboard MSC Cruises as well as a special kids’ corner available at the buffet. There’s also a dessert corner and a wellness corner.
There are simply 4 stateroom categories aboard most MSC ships: Interior, Oceanview, Balcony, and MSC Yacht Club. Within the highest category of staterooms, MSC Yacht Club, guests can expect 24-hour butler service, complimentary access to the Thermal Suite in the MSC Aurea Spa, relaxation amenities, and more.
For some families, a megaresort — or in the case here, a mega ship — just isn’t the way you’d like to spend your time on vacation.
There are more upscale and low-key cruise lines that cater to more discerning travel habits while also considering the needs of your youngest family members. In the luxury cruise category, you’ll find expedition and river cruises.
Luxury cruise lines come with a higher financial investment than the cruise lines listed above, but in return, you’ll find more inclusions, often better food, and far fewer onboard guests.
They also admittedly don’t offer as many action-packed attractions on board and some do not cater to especially young children. However, the cruise lines on this list each have unique kids and teens programs that you should be aware of.
Here are the best luxury cruise lines for families.
Number of Ships: 16
Celebrity Cruises features large ships but aims to provide a more high-end experience than you’ll find on cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises. It also does a great job of catering to multi-generational cruisers.
Camp at Sea is Celebrity Cruises’ kids’ club for kids 3 to 17 years old. Camp is open every day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is broken into 4 age groups. Activities range from arts and crafts for the youngest age group to video game tournaments, scavenger hunts, and movie nights for older kids.
Family-friendly excursions include cultural tours, water sports, volcano and glacier hikes, and swimming with dolphins.
There are 4 classes of cruise ships offered by Celebrity Cruises: Edge Class (its newest and most innovative), Solstice Class, Millenium Class, and Galapagos Vessels.
Hot Tip: Cruisers say that Celebrity Equinox is the most family-friendly Celebrity ship thanks to 2 kids’ programs only available on this ship as well as over 100 adjoining cabins.
An array of staterooms exist to choose from on Celebrity Cruise ships, including family verandahs that sleep 5. Celebrity Cruise ships also feature staterooms that cater to solo travelers as well, so when traveling with a group, no one has to feel obligated to share a room.
There are a dozen dining options across each ship such as the French restaurant Normandie or the Mediterranean eatery Cyprus Restaurant. Specialty dining options include Le Voyage by Daniel Boulud, Raw on 5 Restaurant serving fresh seafood, and Fine Cut Steakhouse.
Number of Ships: 1
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection struggled to set sail when its first yacht was delivered during the height of the pandemic. But Ritz-Carlton hotel loyalists, eager to experience the 5-star hospitality at sea, waited patiently for the first yacht to embark. That finally happened late last year.
Its solo yacht Evrima, which is the Greek word for “discovery,” will be joined by Ilma in 2024.
Guests aboard a Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection vessel can expect the same service they would on land, including the Ritz Kids program. At Ritz Kids, children ages 4 to 12 years old have the opportunity to participate in unique activities based on where they’re traveling. Programming mainly focuses on sustainability, marine life, sailing, and arts and culture.
There’s not an expectation for the yachts to frequently be teeming with children, but the cruise line expects to host more young passengers during summer and holiday school breaks.
The all-suite Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection features ocean views from every room, as well as 6 restaurants and in-suite dining. Guests can enjoy Southeast Asian cuisine from contemporary restaurant Talaat Nam or check out Mediterranean restaurant Mistral.
Ritz-Carlton is a Marriott Bonvoy brand and as such, you can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points when sailing the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. You’ll earn 5 points per $1 spent on the price of your cruise and hotel package and 1 Elite Night Credit per night of your sailing. Redemptions start at 180,000 Bonvoy points to save $1,000, followed by 90,000-point increments to save $500. Redeeming points this way is a tough sell, but the earning isn’t too bad, especially paired with a Marriott Bonvoy credit card..
Number of Ships: 16
Lindblad Expeditions aims to be the premier expedition cruise line. Its National Geographic Global Explorers program offers exclusive and family-friendly programming for kids and teens.
Expedition cruises are all about exploring remote destinations like Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon. Expedition passengers can expect expert-led educational tours and excursions, and smaller ships that cater to less than 100 people.
With the National Geographic Global Explorers program, kids and teens get hands-on experience collecting and analyzing samples, learn how to take field notes, and even learn how to take slow-motion and timelapse videos to document their findings. The National Geographic Global Explorers program can be found on cruises to Antarctica, Alaska, Baja California, and Galápagos.
Lindblad Expeditions ships carry as few as 28 guests and at most 148. As such, cabins and suites vary across the company’s fleet of ships. It’s a little difficult to find out on your own which suites would accommodate more than 2 people or if you can get connecting cabins, though they do exist, as well as standard double-occupancy suites. As a tip, the best way to book a Lindblad Expedition cruise with your family may be to work with a travel advisor to ensure that you’re making the right investment.
Expedition cruisers seem to be less concerned about the dining options, however, Lindblad does boast that the dining is delicious and sustainably sourced.
Hot Tip: Learn how to earn and redeem World of Hyatt points on Lindblad Expeditions in our detailed guide.
Number of Ships: 1
Paul Gauguin Cruises specializes in luxury cruises in Tahiti, Fiji, and the South Pacific. With just 1 cruise ship in its fleet, Paul Gauguin takes cruisers to ports that larger cruise ships can’t access.
The Gauguin has a limited capacity of 330 guests. Featuring a spa, 3 dining venues, and an onboard watersports marina, the ship is mostly informal luxury.
The Moana Explorer Program, in partnership with marine education and conservation foundation “Te mana o te moana,” teaches kids ages 7 to 15 about the wonders of the South Pacific.
Only available on summer and holiday sailings, the free program includes activities such as naturalist-led island and beach excursions, crafts, and science. Other fun ways that kids can spend their time aboard The Gauguin are with treasure hunts, stargazing, and designing their own Polynesian tattoos.
All 3 of the dining venues aboard The Gauguin offer a well-thought-out menu with both formal and informal dining options. La Veranda offers alfresco dining inspired by the destinations the ship sails to, Le Grill serves a buffet breakfast, grilled lunch favorites, salads, and tropical fruits, and L’Etoile is the main dining option and serves a fine dining menu with complimentary wine pairings.
Number of Ships: 5
The cruise line claims to pay the same amount of attention to the children and teenagers onboard as the adults. Cap’n Knof, Hapag-Lloyd’s mascot, welcomes each family on board every sailing and participates in games with guests.
Childcare offers vary across the 5 ships. However, sailors can expect a kids’ club for children as young as 4 years old on Europa and Europa 2, the cruise line’s 2 ocean liners. Activities include language classes, unique children’s excursions designed around the interests of the kids onboard, and even spa treatments for kids as young as 8 years old.
Unfortunately, there is no kids program on the cruise lines’ 3 expedition ships: Hanseatic Nature, Hanseatic Inspiration, and Hanseatic Spirit.
Children 11 years old and younger sail free on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and receive reduced pricing on arrival and departure packages.
Number of Ships: 4
In partnership with AmaWaterways, Adventures by Disney River Cruises offer families an opportunity to experience river cruising that caters to them.
AmaWaterways is a leader in luxury river cruising, with destinations that include the Nile River in Egypt and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, in addition to its European river cruises.
Adventures by Disney River Cruises feature local experts that tell the story of each location. What makes river cruises most attractive to some travelers is that you can travel slowly through a destination and spend more time learning about where you are. Disney’s river cruises are no exception with cultural immersion part of every day of the itinerary.
Hints of Disney can be found throughout the ship just as on Disney Cruise Line ocean ships. Mouse-shaped treats and Disney-themed karaoke are just a few of the features you’ll find on board.
Stateroom configurations range from inside to suites and can accommodate between 2 and 4 guests. Dining on board varies depending on the ship that’s sailing. This information can be found on the highlights page of each sailing’s itinerary.
Hot Tip: Adults who love Disney but prefer to travel without kids can sail on Adventures by Disney adult-exclusive sailings.
If a family cruise vacation is on your list, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from. Whether you prefer nonstop energy and lots of things to do or a more laid-back and low-key vibe with luxury amenities and excursions, there is a cruise line for you and your family.
Thrill seekers and budget-conscious travelers will find a great balance on cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and MSC Cruises. And luxury travelers interested in expeditions and educational cruising with their families will be delighted to cruise with Lindblad Expeditions, Celebrity Cruises, and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Those interested in river cruising can also bring the kids along on Adventures by Disney River Cruises in Europe.
Though Royal Caribbean and Carnival cater to families, they differ in several ways. Carnival is more affordable and offers more family-friendly amenities. Royal Caribbean offers a slightly higher-end experience and thrilling, adventure-filled activities and attractions onboard.
The best cruise lines in the world are ranked each year and categorized by type of ship, not exactly the highest quality. This would depend on the type of cruise you’d like to take. In 2022, Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards ranked Royal Caribbean as the best mega ship and Norwegian Cruise Line as the best large ship. Viking Ocean Cruises and Viking River Cruises won for best medium ship and best ocean ship, respectively. And, lastly, Ponant won for best Expedition cruise.
Whether a cruise is family-friendly depends on the type of cruise you’re taking and with which cruise line. The cruise lines listed above all have special programming for kids and guests of all ages.
According to Cruise Critic, the general age range of cruisers is 30 to 80 years old. You’re not likely to find a cruise line or ship that exclusively caters to 1 age group.
This depends on what you like to do as a family. The right cruise will offer activities for adults as well as kids to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable trip.
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