Choosing a family vacation that satisfies everyone can be a nightmare. Mom is looking for a little R&R and pampering, while Dad wants to play sports and stay active. Younger Son can't live without a pool or video arcade while Teenage Daughter wants to meet cool kids her age and just hang out.
What's a family to do? Consider booking a cruise. A vacation at sea with a family-oriented cruise line lets everyone spend time together as well as pursue individual interests. Onboard youth programs offer supervised age-appropriate activities for kids, so parents can enjoy a quiet drink or spa treatment alone. Shore excursions and port days offer sightseeing and adventure options geared toward travelers of all ages. The whole family can choose to stay together or split up and report back at dinner.
While there are many wonderful family cruises available, I've picked five that represent exceptional itineraries and youth programming across all cruise categories.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line has always been at the forefront of family cruising. Its ships are designed with family cruising in mind: Staterooms are built to fit multiple people in one cabin with pull-out couches and split bathrooms. Nearly an entire deck is devoted to children's activities with separate playrooms for kids under three, ages three to seven, and ages eight to 12. Teens get their own lounges. Disney characters make appearances throughout the ship and in the Disney-themed Broadway-style shows. Even Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, has separate adult, teen, and family beaches, as well as a separate area for kids' activities.
For first-time cruisers, a three- or four-night Bahamas cruise on the Disney Wonder is ideal. The itineraries feature two family-friendly ports—Nassau and Castaway Cay—and are just long enough to give guests a taste of cruising. Shore excursions keep kids' interests in mind, and may include swimming with dolphins, visiting the aquariums at the Atlantis Resort, feeding stingrays, biking, or snorkeling.
With Disney Cruise Line's seven-night Land & Sea Vacations, families can combine a three- or four-night cruise with a visit to Walt Disney World. Parents will enjoy the no-hassles planning—the package takes care of accommodations on land and sea, theme-park tickets, and transportation between the park and ship—and kids will love a week spent in a completely Disney environment.
The12-night Grand Mediterranean cruise on the Carnival Freedom is an easy way to introduce the kids to Europe. The itinerary is a highlights tour of Italy (Rome, Venice, Tuscany, Sicily, and Naples/Pompeii) and includes stops in Barcelona, the French Riviera, and Croatia—perfect for first-time visitors to the Continent. Three sea days will let everyone in the family rest up after intense days of sightseeing.
The Carnival Freedom is one of Carnival's newest ships and offers extensive family programming. A 4,200-square-foot play area features a movie room, arts-and-crafts center, a soft play area for toddlers, a video game room, and a children's library. In addition, kids ages 15 to 17 have exclusive access to Club O2, a teen lounge with a dance floor, lounge, "mocktail" bar, video room, and teen library. The ship also offers special spa treatments for kids 12 to 14, a waterslide into the main pool, and a huge LED screen showing movies and concerts on the pool deck.
Princess' new ship, the Emerald Princess, is a great setting for a slightly more upscale Europe family cruise. The ship offers one of the largest youth centers in the fleet, with a youth lounge, teen lounge, video arcade, and splash pool taking over the aft end of the Sports Deck.