Cruising with young children is one situation where that catchy phrase “less is more” does not apply. As most new parents learn, traveling with kids does require more … much more. More luggage. More paraphernalia (think strollers, toys, and Pack ‘N Plays). And a definite need for more spacious accommodations.
While many cruise lines have already created innovative programs, facilities, and even shore activities, less attention has been paid to staterooms. Standard cabins, which are typically smaller than their hotel room counterparts, can sleep four to a room with the aid of a convertible sofa bed or bunk beds that fold out from the wall. Still, that scenario can leave some families feeling cramped, with little room to store all those extras—especially if beds are left set up during the day for afternoon naps.
The existing option of booking two connecting cabins has long been the best fallback, and is still a good choice, particularly if you want more privacy from the kids. But even that solution falls flat when child-less cruisers, who can now select their own cabins on the Internet, inadvertently book one-half of a pair of connecting cabins, leaving the other half useless for families who really want them. Sure, a nice presidential suite would solve everything, but what about folks who need family-friendly accommodations at a decent price?
Disney pioneered the concept of family-friendly accommodations when it launched “deluxe family staterooms” aboard Disney Magic and Disney Wonder in the late 1990’s. The layout remains superb to this day because of something as simple as a curtain that sections off the main bedroom area from the living room area (and which comes with a twin sofa bed and fold out bed above it). This allows parents to change or read in bed without bothering the young ‘uns. The bath-and-a-half system—also unique at the time (and still pretty rare today)—offers one bathroom with a sink and small tub, and another with a sink and toilet.
It may have taken years for other cruise lines to follow but follow they finally did. Others have now begun to create distinct family-oriented spaces with features like privacy partitions, walk-in-closet-sized kid bedrooms, clever bed layouts that don’t take up much needed floor space, and, in general, offering more overall space to relax and comfortably spend down time in your cabin. And the best part is you don’t have to be a CEO to afford them.
Beyond that, when booking a cabin for your own brood, consider these tips:
- Balconies are a terrific option, especially for those with nap-takers, as they create a quiet (and pleasant) place in which parents or supervisors can relax without waking up the kids.
- At the same time, folks with toddlers and beyond should make sure that balconies are kid-safe and don’t have spaces wide enough for the little tykes to slip through. Also ask about locks on the balcony door—they should be too high for a young child to reach.
- One area in which most cruise lines fail to satisfy—particularly for families with younger children—is bathrooms; few have tubs, for instance.
- Since most lines offer connecting cabins, it’s prudent to compare the price of purchasing two connecting cabins versus the price of a family stateroom/suite for the line you are interested in. Be sure to factor in the price of your third, fourth, and fifth passengers, etc. While you’ll most likely have to pay the higher first- and second-passenger rates on each of the connecting cabins, it is possible that you could save money (and have a better bed configuration for your family) when you’re comparing connecting staterooms to a family suite option that has high third- and fourth-passenger rates.
- In most cases (with the exception of Disney and some of Royal Caribbean’s middle-aged vessels) the best family accommodations can be found on the newest ships in cruise lines’ fleets.
I took a look at lines that really do make an effort to offer comfortable accommodations for families and their accompanying paraphernalia. Here are my best picks.
Editor’s note: Whichever family-friendly cabins you decide are best, make sure you book them as far in advance as possible, particularly if you are traveling during school vacations. Family-friendly cabins are limited on all ships, and sell out early on popular cruises.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Why? I love the 230-square-foot family staterooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that are found on its Conquest-class (Carnival Conquest, Carnival Glory, Carnival Valor, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Freedom) and Carnival Splendor (from the new Splendor class). You get the square footage that would typically be allocated to a balcony right in your stateroom.
Other Positives: Carnival boasts some of the largest standard cabins in the industry with interior staterooms as big as 185 square feet and oceanviews up to 190. These staterooms can accommodate up to five people with two lower beds that convert to a king (on most other lines the smaller-than-normal twins only double to queen size), two upper beds that fold out from the wall, and a rollaway.
If you have very young children, you might want to consider the outside stateroom with verandah instead of the family stateroom, which basically allocates 40 of the 230 square feet to a balcony, leaving less interior space. This way you can have a place to sit, talk, and have a light on when children are asleep.
Nice Touches: Carnival’s nightly turndown service—which includes towel animals and chocolate chip cookies on select nights—and the Cartoon Channel, which is available on in-room TVs. All cabins on Spirit- and Conquest-class ships feature refrigerators; and all oceanview cabins come with bathrobes.
Caveat Emptor: When requesting fold-out beds, be sure to inquire where they will be located as some are placed directly above the lower beds instead of at the other end of the cabin (which would give you more privacy and distance from potential snorers).
Details: Visit Carnival’s website for floor plans and photos.
Why? The line’s 271-square-foot family oceanview staterooms (available on Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Summit, and Celebrity Infinity) feature a whopping 242-square-foot verandah that gives you your own little back yard at sea (your inside and outside areas are practically the same size). There are 12 to 15 of these staterooms per ship, and each includes two lower beds that convert to a queen, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, a sitting area with two sofa beds that convert to full-size beds, and a privacy partition between the two sleeping areas. The same cabins on the new Celebrity Solstice are configured differently, but offer tons of space with a 575-square-foot cabin area with balconies ranging from 53 to 105 square feet. The stateroom is effectively a suite with a master bedroom, single bedroom, and a sofa convertible to a trundle bed.
Other Positives: The Sky Suite category (which ranges in size from 244 to 300 square feet, with verandahs that range from 57 to 179 square feet) varies considerably by ship, but is your next best bet for spacious accommodations. The suites feature two lower beds that convert to a queen, an entertainment center with TV/VCR, a sitting area with sofa bed that can sleep two, and a lounge chair. In addition, these suites come with butler service that includes a few perks for parents such as priority luggage delivery after boarding, a pillow menu, a private portrait sitting, and a daily fruit selection.
Nice Touches: Celebrity caters to its youngest passengers by offering cribs, in-suite refrigerators, children’s menus, and even freshly mashed baby food.
Caveat Emptor: Celebrity’s pre-Millennium-class ships also offer family oceanview staterooms with the much appreciated partition; however, sizes vary, and some do not come with a verandah. Also note: There are no privacy partitions in Celebrity’s Sky Suites.
Details: Visit Celebrity Cruises’ website for floor plans and photos.
Disney Cruise Line
Why? As already noted, Disney Magic and Wonder each have 304-square-foot deluxe family staterooms with verandahs that sleep four to five people with two twin beds that convert to a queen, a single convertible sofa, and one to two pull-down beds. A privacy curtain separates the main sleeping area from the sitting room/sleeping area so you can switch on a light without waking your children. Disney’s cabins include a split bathroom design—one side with a toilet and sink, the other with a sink and shower/tub combination. While space is a bit tight in each, the tub is a big plus for bathing little ones.
Other Positives: Disney also has three different types of one- or two-bedroom suites that can sleep five to eight people, and the 268-square-foot deluxe oceanview staterooms withverandah are ideal for families of three to four people. A privacy curtain in these staterooms also separates the converted king bed from sleeping children on the other side. Also, unlike many cruise line sofas that take up precious floor space when they convert to a full-size bed, Disney’s converts to a twin with a pull-down bed above, making a bunk-bed set up that can comfortably be left set up all day. This makes it easier for children to take a mid-day rest, yet still have ample floor space to move around.
Nice Touches: Staterooms include dressers that are designed to look like trunks from classic ocean liners and clocks with a nautical motif, plus the Disney Channel is available on stateroom TVs. Suites include children’s robes in pink or blue, and turndown service includes towel creations that incorporate things left inside the stateroom like children’s sunglasses or slippers.
In addition, Disney provides portable cribs, Diaper Genies, bottle warmers, and bumper rails for the bunk beds; plus room service menus that include several children’s specialties from macaroni and cheese to fresh cut fruits and veggies, and Mickey-shaped ice cream bars. Families traveling with babies are given priority cabin service so that little ones can nap undisturbed in the afternoon.
Disney also boasts an online service that allows passengers to pre-order baby supplies and have them delivered to their stateroom (provided by Babies Travel Lite). There are over 1,000 brand-name baby products to choose from, including diapers, baby food, infant formula, and specialty travel items.
Caveat Emptor: The TV is typically located on the bunk bed side of the privacy curtain, so viewing after the kids go to bed can be quite tricky.
Details: Visit Disney Cruises’ website for floor plans and photos.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Why? On Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Pearl, and Pride of America, ship designers have created 30 to 33 stateroom categories—including several suites and junior suites that can interconnect with other staterooms to create two-, three-, four-, or five-bedroom configurations suitable for families small and large. In particular, I love the 335-square-foot family suites (only found on Pride of America). Here you get a spacious private balcony, living room with double sofa bed and entertainment center, separate (and cozy) den with a single sofa bed, and a private bedroom with two twin beds that convert to a queen. There are also two televisions—which is a nice plus.
Other Positives: Four additional 360-square-foot family suites feature two interconnecting cabins that sleep up to eight people and include two separate bathrooms. The larger cabin has two single beds that convert to a queen and a sitting room with a full-size sofa bed. The connected cabin features two lower single beds and two pull-out upper single beds. Up for a splurge? The 572-square-foot Courtyard Villas feature a bedroom with queen-size bed, separate children’s bedroom, and one bedroom with a luxury bath plus whirlpool tub and separate shower.
Nice Touches: Family-friendly amenities include cribs, in-room refrigerators, and towel animals at turndown; the Cartoon Channel is available on stateroom TVs.
Caveat Emptor: NCL’s cabin categories can be much harder to decipher given the various combinations and connecting cabins. Be sure to ask for floor plans for each type of cabin that you are booking so that you can determine the best configuration for your family.
Details: Visit Norwegian Cruises Line’s website for photos and some floor plans.
Why? Ocean Village is a line that oozes “family-friendly.” With its laid-back attitude and dress-down vibe, it’s great for families that are new to cruising. Cabinwise, there are a number of options available on both Ocean Village and Ocean Village Two—best value are the staterooms (ranging from 148 square feet for an inside cabin to 228 square feet for an outside cabin) that offer the option of third and fourth beds. If you have a bit more cash to splash, try a suite (maximum size 375 square feet)—these will of course be more spacious, and you can turn the sofa bed into the extra sleeping area.
Other Positives: Ocean Village typically has discounted rates for families, especially during school holidays.
Nice Touches: The entertainment program for children on Ocean Village and Ocean Village Two is so varied that youngsters will be kept occupied all day. Onboard characters Paddington Bear, Bagpuss, and Basil Brush host live shows and tea parties, and kids ages 9 to 17 can sign up for Great Escapes shore excursions for shore time, with no parents allowed.
Caveat Emptor: Ocean Village doesn’t have interconnecting cabins.
Details: For more information visit Ocean Village’s website.
Why? P&O’s family-friendly Ventura has plenty of cabins that can accommodate you and your brood. In the majority of standard staterooms (sizes vary from approximately 160 square feet to 230 square feet) beds fold down from the ceiling or out of the wall. In mini suites (around 325 square feet) and suites (around 535 square feet), the extra beds are sofa beds. The British line offers “family saver” rates for kids sharing a cabin with two adults, and on some itineraries free child places are available, so just check this when booking. Other ships in the fleet that accommodate families are Aurora, Oceana, and Oriana.
Other Positives: The recently launched Ventura not only has top-rated kids’ facilities, it also has two 700-square-foot family suites with a twin/double bedroom area and an adjoining inside cabin with an additional four beds. These suites are perfect for a larger family (or if the grandparents are tagging along!) as they sleep six people in total.
Nice Touches: On all P&O ships children are welcomed with specially designed duvet covers, balloons, and sweets.
Caveat Emptor: P&O offers nearly all cabins with the additional third and fourth bed—so if you go for a lower category cabin, be sure to check the sizes as it could become a little bit too cozy! Also, just to clarify, Arcadia and Artemis are the fleet’s adult-orientated ships.
Details: Visit P&O’s website for more details.
Why? Princess’ larger ships (Grand Princess, Golden Princess, Star Princess, Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess carry over 2,000 passengers) offer 500- to 600-square-foot family suites that can accommodate six to eight passengers in a dream layout.
Other Positives: Each suite is actually two self-contained staterooms interconnecting through a large living room that leads to an oversized private balcony. Typically, at least one of the bathrooms includes a bathtub.
Nice Touches: Princess provides cribs upon request, in-stateroom refrigerators and chocolates as part of the turndown service. In addition, Boomerang and Cartoon Network are available in staterooms, although availability varies by ship.
Caveat Emptor: Staterooms that can accommodate four passengers are scattered throughout Princess’ various inside and oceanview categories and are limited in number. For example, roughly only 14 percent of Diamond Princess’ cabins can accommodate quads.
Also, there is very limited availability of family suites—just two per ship. Also, Princess is unusual in that the vast majority of its 323- to 354-square-foot mini suites with balconies accommodate a maximum of three people.
Details: Visit Princess Cruises’ website for floor plans and photos.
Why? Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Independence of the Seas are offering the most innovative family staterooms I’ve seen in a long time. First of all, they’re available in six different categories from a 600-square-foot royal family suite to a 330-square-foot inside family stateroom. With the exception of the suite, all family staterooms feature a curtained-off sleeping alcove and a sleeper sofa. I also love that families of six can choose from four 335-square-foot promenade family staterooms, featuring a curtained-off sleeping alcove with bunk beds, a sleeper sofa, a bathtub, and window seats overlooking the Royal Promenade; eight 495-square-foot family oceanview staterooms; or two inside family staterooms with sleeper sofa and walk-in closet.
Other Positives: If you’re in the mood to splurge, each of the four 600-square-foot royal family suites has two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with tub), a living area with a sectional sofa, an entertainment center with a 30-inch flat-panel TV, and a large balcony with an al fresco dining table for eight. And while the Freedom-class ships trump all other ships in the fleet for family-related accommodations, Royal Caribbean’s Voyager- and Radiance-class ships (as well as Vision of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, and Enchantment of the Seas) offer 265- to 328-square-foot family oceanview staterooms. These can accommodate up to six guests and typically include two twin beds, which can convert into a queen-size bed, bunk beds in a separate enclosed area, sitting area with sofa bed, and mini bar. Grand and junior suites also offer significantly more room and can sleep three to four guests (but without a privacy curtain, there is less personal space).
Nice Touches: Borrow one of several children’s books available in the library to take back for bedtime reading in your cabin. Other family features include in-stateroom refrigerators, cribs, and child-friendly fare from room service including freshly mashed baby food. The Cartoon Network is available on stateroom TVs.
Caveat Emptor: Family staterooms and suites on Royal Caribbean’s non-Freedom ships vary in size and layout so be sure to check online and with your travel agent for detailed information on bed configurations.
Details: Visit Royal Caribbean’s website for wonderfully detailed floor plans and photos by ship and category.