Planning to book a family cruise? When researching what different cruise lines have to offer, don't forget to think about cabins.
It used to be that the whole crew had to crowd into one tiny cabin and staterooms rarely slept more than four people. These days, cruise ships are onboard with the needs and preferences of modern families, and today's cruisers have more options. From separate sleeping areas for kids and parents to split bathroom designs and connecting rooms, the cruise lines have come up with creative configurations and amenities to accommodate all kinds of family groups. Let's face it -- as much you love your family and want to bond on vacation, everyone needs a little elbow room.
Generally, the newer the ship, the more likely you're going to find larger suites and more connecting rooms to accommodate whoever's coming along. The following tips should steer you in the right direction, ensuring smooth sailing for the entire family. (For more help, check out our favorite family-friendly cruise ship cabins.)
If you want to save money, go for the squeeze.If you're looking for a budget-friendly vacation, you can squeeze three to four people in a regular inside, outside or balcony cabin. Just make sure your brood's good with tight quarters and bunk beds. Some cruise lines, like Disney, offer a simple yet sweet amenity -- the room partition. When the kids need some rest, but Mom and Dad want to read or chat over a glass of wine, they can pull a curtain shut and -- voila! -- two distinct spaces. It makes tight quarters much more livable.Balconies are also a worthwhile luxury if several people are sharing a room, as they give parents a nice place to relax during naptime or after the kids go to bed. If you're concerned about safety, especially when traveling with little ones, ask about childproof locks on the door and whether railings have gaps.Four family members sharing a bathroom can get ugly, so look for lines with more accommodating bathroom designs. Disney introduced the cruise industry to the bath-and-a-half concept. One bathroom holds a sink and toilet, while the other holds a sink and shower/tub. That means Mom can put on her makeup in one bathroom, while a kid showers in the other. Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic is another ship offering a split bath -- toilet in one room, shower in another, sink in the main cabin -- though the design (translucent smoked-glass doors and sink too close to beds) is not beloved by all.
For a little more space, book two and connect.Maybe you're traveling with extended family, or can't fit your family of five into one standard cabin? Cruise lines are making it easier for families to travel together via a variety of connecting room configurations. You can book two cabins of the same type with an interior door connecting the two (and, in some cases, open the divider between the balconies) to create more space and easy access for a large family cruising together. Another good option is booking a cabin with a balcony for Mom and Dad, and putting the kids across the hall in a less expensive interior cabin. (Just check with your cruise line about any age or room location restrictions to booking kids in a separate cabin.)Some lines get more creative and offer suites connected to standard cabins or even to other suites to make enclaves with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and hangout spaces. For example, aboard Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, the Family Connected Junior Suites connects three cabins, a junior suite, a studio cabin (meant for one but that can sleep two) and a regular balcony stateroom.
If you want to fit everyone comfortably in one cabin, look for designated family accommodations.Cruise lines are responding to the family travel trend by offering more staterooms that fit large families of five or six -- occasionally with a second bathroom or a separate sleeping area for kids. For example, Holland America's Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam feature Family Ocean View Staterooms with two bathrooms (one with a bath, one with a shower), two twin beds that convert to a queen, a Pullman-style bed, and a double sofa bed.Aboard Carnival, the affordable Family Ocean View Staterooms have two twin beds, two upper bunk beds and a sofa bed to fit five. All of Royal Caribbean's Family Staterooms accommodate up to six people.
For the ultimate splurge, consider a family suite.If you're looking to relax and spend time in your cabin, rather than just sleep and change clothes there, take the plunge and invest in a family suite. These suites have more square footage than the average family stateroom, often with bedrooms, living areas, a balcony and multiple bathrooms with a bathtub. In addition, families can benefit from additional suite amenities, like butler service and priority check-in and tendering.For example, Norwegian Cruise Line's exclusive-access Haven area has several luxurious cabins that sleep large families of five, six and even eight and come with their own private concierge who'll do everything from book your nightly entertainment and dining reservations aboard the ship to schedule your offshore excursions. The Haven also has its own private pool area and dining room. Just keep in mind that Haven suites come at a premium price, costing far more than standard cabins.Royal Caribbean's Loft Suites are among the biggest in the cruise industry. The line's Oasis- and Quantum-class ships feature two-story loft suites, sleeping up to six. Bedrooms are upstairs, with a sitting area downstairs, allowing adults or teens to hang out in the first-level living spaces or on the balcony after younger kids go to bed. New on Symphony of the Seas, the two-story Ultimate Family Suite features its own 3D cinema, air hockey table, floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall, a slide from the kids-only bedroom to the living room and a huge balcony with a climbing wall and kid-friendly pool table.
For something different, book a cabin in a "family zone."Carnival has broken ground on a brand new cruise line concept -- the dedicated family zone. Aboard Carnival Vista and Horizon, the Family Harbor is a space exclusively for families, with a mix of cabin layouts (insides, outsides, balconies and suites) and a lounge just for passengers staying in the family cabins.Family Harbor cabins will sleep up to five. The suites and some outside cabins will have a family-friendly split bathroom setup, with a regular bathroom featuring a toilet, sink and shower, and a second bathroom with another sink and a shower/tub combo. The lounge is designed as the ultimate family hangout with large-screen TVs, games and complimentary breakfast and snacks. A special family concierge will assist family cabin passengers in planning excursions and making reservations both onboard and ashore.
Whatever you do, book early.Ships offer a limited number of larger family cabins. If you're looking for quads, quints, connecting or neighboring cabins, you should book early to ensure cabin comfort for your whole crew. That's especially true if you're traveling during high-season school holidays.