Do cruise ships offer activities for children?

Disney cruise

Yes! You will find the most kid-friendly options on family-oriented cruise lines such as Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian, and the least on luxury lines or small ships geared more toward adults. All mainstream lines, and some luxury ones, will have a kids club -- a kind of onboard camp for kids ages 3 to 17, where trained counselors organize age-appropriate activities throughout the day and into the night, in dedicated play areas. These are typically drop-off programs, and adults are often not allowed to join their kids in the clubs. Some also have nurseries or play spaces for babies and toddlers.

Are there activities aimed at families having fun together?

Yes, many ships offer family-friendly cruise activities. Programming might include parades, deck parties, fireworks displays, and breakfasts or meet-and-greets with favorite TV and movie characters. Some lines have video game systems and host tournaments, and most have arcades. Plus, you might find that your kids take an interest in typical cruise ship activities not specifically aimed at children, such as silly pool games, fancy afternoon tea, trivia contests, crafting sessions and art auctions. Many cruise lines also show movies on indoor or poolside screens and on in-cabin TVs. Onboard libraries or card rooms might carry board games and kids' books. Some ships even have out-there amenities like ice skating rinks, carousels and bumper cars.

Very few activities specifically prohibit children; these usually focus on drinking, gambling or spa treatments. Older children can access the spa and fitness center, but might require a parent's presence or permission.

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What outdoor activities are available for my kid?

AquaLab on Disney Magic

Cruise ships may have waterslides, pools and water play areas. In addition, mini-golf, rock climbing walls, sports courts, ping pong, foosball, giant chess and shuffleboard are typical onboard attractions. Royal Caribbean even has cruise ships with surf simulators and zip lines.

Can children of any age use the pools, hot tubs and waterslides?

Children who are not toilet trained may not use shipboard pools or hot tubs, with the exception of toddler-designated wading pools or splash zones. Swim diapers are not allowed in the main pools. In addition, certain pools and hot tubs may be labeled adults-only. Water slides and water rides tend to have height minimums (often between 42 and 48 inches tall) and younger children might need parental permission.

Can my kids do activities alone, or do they always need to be with a parent?

Parents are not allowed to join in kids club activities, with the exception of specific free play times or parent-kid events. Children old enough to sign themselves in and out of the kids club (usually 9 or 10 years old) are allowed to roam the ship on their own, though many lines set curfews on when kids cannot be in public areas without a parent present.

What can my child do at night?

Carnival's Club O2

At night, most kids clubs host drop-off parties, so kids can hang out with their friends while their parents enjoy leisurely dinners or hit the bars. The ship's main theater will offer family-friendly shows, such as song-and-dance revues, musical soloists or guest groups, magicians, comedians or local acts (think Polynesian dancers in Hawaii). Any adults-only comedy shows or interactive games tend to take place much later at night. Evening movies or deck parties might be family-friendly or adults-only.

Is there baby-sitting?

Some cruise lines offer in-cabin baby-sitting, for an extra fee, only if crewmembers are available to take on the extra work. The minimum age for in-cabin sitting is usually 12 months. Otherwise, most cruise lines offer group baby-sitting in their kids club; daytime activities are free, but late-night "parties" from about 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. often incur a per-hour, per-child, cost. When ships are in port, some kids clubs will entertain children while their parents are ashore; others require that at least one parent or guardian remain onboard.

How can I learn more about activities for kids?

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The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.