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With complimentary summer-camp-like kids’ programs led by youth counselors, alongside a host of attractions, it's no surprise the best family cruises deliver an environment where every family member can have fun on vacation. In addition to family time, kids get to hang out with other kids while parents and grandparents are free to be adults.
Youngsters are a major part of cruise ship design, from play rooms and teen clubs to crew members who know how to keep young people happy. Choose your ship wisely, because newer and recently renovated ships tend to have the most exciting attractions (check out our list of best cruise ships in the world if you want to know more). Accommodations at sea can be tight, so splurge on the largest cabin or suite you can afford; there is such a thing as too much togetherness on any trip. Beyond that, read our picks for the best cruise lines for families—and get going with booking. (Fares shown are per adult, with reduced fares for kids sharing a cabin.)
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For families, a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s massive ships—some can carry more than 6,000 passengers—is as exciting as going to an amusement park. Collectively, the ships offer ice skating rinks, simulated surfing machines, zip-lines, bumper cars, laser tag, carousels, and thrill slides. The Adventure Ocean program (for ages 3-12) includes fun science experiments, while teens get to party in their own disco. The new largest ship in the world, the 6,998-passenger Wonder of the Seas, boasts a fantastical undersea-themed Wonder Playscape, an outdoor playground with climbing walls, slides, games, and interactive features — such as a mural featuring sea creatures that come to life at the slightest touch. The ship sails from Barcelona and Rome (the port of Civitavecchia) this summer and fall. Seven-night sailings from $952.
Disney Cruise Line
The hot ticket for Disney Cruise Line fans is the 4,000-passenger Disney Wish, which debuts on July 14 as the line’s fifth ship and first new ship in a decade. All-new features include an animated AquaMouse attraction (a wet ride on a 760-foot track), a Star Wars bar, and an Avengers-themed dining experience. On all of Disney’s ships, princesses and other characters pose for photos and star in full-scale musical productions highlighting Disney hits, like Frozen, eliciting squeals of delight. The family-centric vibe includes waitstaff who are experts in dealing with fussy eaters, and cabins with one-and-a-half bathrooms. The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab (for ages 3-12) are themed with such attractions as a Marvel Super Hero Academy. Teens also have dedicated spaces onboard: Vibe for teens ages 14-17 and Edge for those between the ages of 11-14. Three-night Bahamas sailings from Port Canaveral from $1,751 in winter 2023.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival got a lot of attention last year when it introduced the 5,200-passenger Mardi Gras, with the “wow” feature of the first rollercoaster at sea. Sister ship Carnival Celebration, also with a rollercoaster, debuts in November 2022. The line caters to families in a big way with waterparks and twisting slides, outdoor ropes courses, and video arcades. A “Seuss at Sea” program encourages kids to read Dr. Seuss classics, with The Cat in the Hat appearing at a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (complete with themed food). Family Harbor cabins and suites come with access to a private family lounge for breakfast, snacks, and video-game play. Camp Ocean entertains kids ages 2-11 with everything from crafts to dancing to video gaming, with separate clubs for tweens (ages 12-14) and teens (15-17). Seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailings from Port Canaveral on Mardi Gras this summer from $549.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Three of Norwegian’s latest ships are topped with two-deck racetracks where older kids and adults can drive go-karts high above the ocean (younger kids can ride as passengers). The line’s newest ship, the 3,099-passenger Norwegian Prima, debuting in Europe in August, has the world’s first three-level shipboard racetrack—plus two thrilling 10-story free-fall slides at Aqua Parks. Video arcades and interactive games also appeal to the family crowd. Norwegian’s Splash Academy (for ages 5-12) youth program entertains kids with creative play and games, while teens can also enjoy the ship’s virtual gaming complex, the Galaxy Pavilion. Norwegian Prima will be cruising from Port Canaveral (near Orlando), beginning in December. Seven-night western Caribbean sailings in winter 2023 from $849.
Princess Cruises’ affiliation with Discovery TV makes it an excellent choice for multigenerational families—especially in Alaska. Kids in Camp Discovery (ages 3-12) may participate in science challenges tied to programs such as MythBusters and Shark Week. Wearable OceanMedallion technology lets you locate the whereabouts of teens when they are not in their own beach club, and you can all gather for a virtual scavenger hunt or watch the latest movies on a big screen under the stars. Seven-night Discovery Princess sailings to Alaska this summer from $399.
For multigenerational families who prefer a nature-focused, soft-adventure experience, Lindblad partners with National Geographic for a program that has kids collecting plankton, driving inflatable Zodiacs, and otherwise earning points to become a National Geographic Global Explorer. The program is available on cruises in the Galapagos, Alaska, Baja, Mexico, and Antarctica—all places you can spot wild creatures and the kids are encouraged to record sightings in a field book. Nine-night summer sailings in the Galapagos from $7,710.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection
On the luxury side, Ritz-Carlton’s first yacht, the all-suite Evrima, launches in late August with year-round signature Ritz Kids programming. Kids ages 4-12 get a dedicated space staffed by a full-time youth counselor. The creative program features an environmental element—kids may participate an upcycle art challenge or a water-sampling science experiment. Unlike the complimentary programs on mainstream lines, this one comes with an additional charge: $45 each for three-hour morning and afternoon sessions, and $65 for early-evening programming. Seven-night Caribbean sailings from San Juan from $4,900.