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
[% 13509 | | 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 [% 11986 | | 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.
[% 14460 | | 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.
Kids are divided into three age groups, with age-appropriate activities for each. The popular Jr. CHEF@Sea program lets kids get hands-on food preparation training in the ship’s galley, while a Science on the Seas program introduces young cruisers to science projects related to the ship’s destination. Princess also offers programming for all passengers that kids will enjoy, such as Movies under the Stars.
In Europe, specifically, families can choose from special family-oriented shore excursions, including a tour of Istanbul with a ride on a yacht, an exploration of the ruins of Ephesus followed by an afternoon at a beach club, or several family swimming excursions in the Greek islands. The Emerald Princess’ multiple itineraries let parents choose between a range of eastern and western Mediterranean ports for their entire family to enjoy.
Active families with energy to burn will love cruising the Caribbean on [% 15420 | | Royal Caribbean’s %] Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas. These sister ships share the title for largest cruise ships afloat, and sail alternating seven-night itineraries to the eastern and western Caribbean. Both offer family cabins and options for connecting staterooms to accommodate large family groups. The Presidential Family Suite sleeps 14 in a warren of rooms that includes a gigantic balcony with a hot tub and wet bar.
The ships have much to offer families, especially those with older children. Onboard surfing, rock climbing, miniature golf, basketball, and ice skating ensure that sea days are never boring. A kids’ mecca on Deck 12 consists of lounges for guests ages three to 17, a teen-only hangout, a video arcade, and a Johnny Rockets burger joint. Innovative programming for the younger set includes acting classes and lessons on how to DJ. Daily parades, late-night pizza, and a kids-only water park keep the little ones smiling from morning ’til night.
The seven-night itineraries are a perfect mix of three to four port days with two to three sea days. The Caribbean ports offer plenty of opportunities for snorkeling, kayaking, biking, shopping, and just lying on the beach. Shore days can be adventurous with a climb up a waterfall in Jamaica or parasailing in St. Thomas, or relaxing with a day at Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach or a sailboat ride in St. Maarten.
Regent Seven Seas
Luxury cruises typically aren’t as kid-friendly as more affordable sailings. If you’re looking for an upscale experience and want to treat the kids, one of the best options is an Alaska cruise on [% 9668 | | Regent’s %] Seven Seas Mariner. The luxury line doesn’t typically attract a large number of kids, so when there are youngsters onboard the cruise line and crew go out of their way to make them feel special.
Families can save big with Regent’s kids sail free in Alaska promotions. To cruise gratis, children must be the third or fourth passenger in a stateroom. If your kids aren’t small, you’ll need to book a bigger (and more expensive) suite to fit everyone. The number of kids onboard doubles (from an average of 36 kids per Alaska sailing to 68) on the sailings with this promotion.
Cruisers ages five to 17 can join the Club Mariner program for free and participate in age-appropriate onboard activities supervised by a youth staff of three counselors. Special kids-only dinners, scavenger hunts, crafts projects, teen hangout nights, and sports competitions keep the younger set busy while at sea. Or, for $110, they can participate in the new Ambassadors of the Environment Circle of Interest program, which combines onboard and onshore activities related to the environment and conservation. Young cruisers can look for whales and hike the forests of Alaska under the guidance of counselors from the Ocean Futures Society.