Once it was a struggle to find kid-friendly cruises. Now the challenge is wading through the bevy of activities, kids' clubs, family cabins and deals for "kids sail free" cruises to find the best cruises for kids. To make the decision even trickier, ships vary greatly, so the question becomes not simply what is the best cruise line for kids, but what are the best cruise ships for kids?
The ships -- and cruise lines -- that follow are our top picks for kid-friendly cruises. We tend to recommend cruise lines' newer ships, because the facilities were designed for families from the outset and have more space for fun activities such as water parks, ropes courses and rock-climbing walls. These are ideal cruises to take kids on. Every family's travel style is different, so these are certainly not the only ships to consider. Think of them as a starting point as you narrow your choices for fun, kid-friendly cruises.
These ships, the cruise line's largest, are the best Royal Caribbean ships for kids of all ages, and among the best cruises for kids as well as multigenerational family groups. Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships have an impressive selection of family-friendly activities and entertainment -- multiple pools, a 3D theater, rock-climbing walls, ice skating rink, two FlowRider surf simulators, a zipline and parades in the indoor promenade, as well as a beloved Royal Caribbean kids program.
Royal Caribbean's two newest Oasis-class ships -- Symphony of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas -- feature even more kid-friendly extras. That includes the Ultimate Abyss slide, a 10-story light-and-sound filled drop that ends at the Boardwalk (children must be at least 43 inches tall to slide). The entrance on Deck 16 is through the open jaws of a massive anglerfish -- probably the most terrifying part of the whole ordeal, as the ride is over in a matter of seconds.
Anthem of the Seas has a more sophisticated vibe, but many of its attractions are great for families. They include the SeaPlex (featuring bumper cars, roller skating, video games and more), the first skydiving simulator at sea and the North Star, a London Eye-esque ride that takes passengers in a glass capsule 300 feet above the ocean. There's also the stunning aft theater, Two70, with performances that showcase the ship's mind-blowing technology.
Adults-only solariums are perfect for parents and grandparents, and there are a plethora of dining and evening entertainment options. With nursery care and after-hours fun in the kids' clubs, grownup time is easy to book in the evenings while kids play or sleep. (Voyager- and Freedom-class ships are also great choices when it comes to kids and cruises.)
A sizable amount of real estate is dedicated to the Royal Caribbean kids clubs on all of these ships, with separate areas for toddlers, kids and tweens/teens. You'll also find a theater, arts and crafts workshop, science lab, video arcade and the Scratch DJ Academy (not on Anthem of the Seas). The Royal Tots and Royal Babies programs provide interactive classes and activities (when children are accompanied by a parent) for children from 6 months to 36 months old, as well as drop-off babysitting services, and toddler-friendly play spaces. The Adventure Ocean play spaces cater to Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5), Explorers (6 to 8) and Voyagers (9 to 11). Tweens and teens (12 to 17) have their Living Room coffeehouse-style hangout and Fuel disco. The counselors working within the Royal Caribbean kids' program are some of the friendliest and most engaging in the business.
Royal Caribbean offers affordable kid-friendly cruises, with a Royal Caribbean kids sail free program and other discounts on third and fourth passengers appearing occasionally throughout the year.
Onboard the ships, plenty of family staterooms and loft suites mean room for the family to spread out. There's even a Royal Family cabin that sleeps eight, and Symphony's Ultimate Family Suite with a slide, LEGO wall and games aplenty.
More than two-dozen dining options, including casual eateries like a hot dog joint and a New York-style pizza joint, as well as a variety of upscale specialty restaurants, mean no taste is overlooked. Johnny Rockets, the 1950s-style luncheonette, is always a kid magnet (and parents think it's pretty cool, too). Excellent Broadway-style shows in the evenings will keep the older crowd engaged, while parades and ice skating shows will wow the whole family. The spa offers special treatments for teens.
Known worldwide for its epic theme parks, Disney offers some of the best cruises for kids, particularly youngsters. Disney ships are ideal for families with kids ages 4 to 11, as Disney has the best facilities, food options and programs for this age group. Disney Cruise Line has done a lot more to accommodate tweens and teens -- but its ships offer the best cruise for small kids, hands down. We prefer the line's biggest ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, but the refurbished Disney Magic and Disney Wonder are great choices for Disney family cruises, as well.
Disney takes a unique separate-but-together approach to its kids programming, mainly to accommodate siblings and friends traveling together. Disney Cruises kids' clubs ages generally span from 3 to 12, with other options for teens. The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab allow children ages 3 to 12, with programming geared toward younger children in the Club and older children in the Lab.
The Oceaneer Club offers several themed play areas that are different on each ship, including Andy's Room (from "Toy Story"), Monsters Academy (inspired by "Monsters, Inc.") and Marvel's Avengers Academy, a S.H.I.E.L.D. command post where kids can interact with the Avengers through a virtual game. Disney Dream features a replica of the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars," where young ones can play pilot or learn lightsaber techniques from a Jedi Master. The Oceaneer Lab has an Animator's Studio and a mini sound studio.
Disney's ships also feature Edge, a tweens club for ages 11 to 14 that includes video games and karaoke. The teen club, Vibe (for cruisers ages 14 to 17), has a fun coffee shop feel. There is also a for-fee nursery available to care for the littlest cruisers, ages 6 months to 3 years.
From kid-friendly activities to family rooms, Disney cruises are packed with family-pleasing extras. That includes a kids' pool and family pool and the popular AquaDuck water slide Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, while you'll find the AquaDunk on Disney Magic. The AquaLab has sprayers and geysers perfect for the smallest passengers on all but Disney Dream. Other great facilities include the Walt Disney Theatre, which features live shows featuring Disney favorites (such as "Tangled, the Musical" and "Frozen, the Musical"); the Buena Vista Theatre, which screens first-run movies; and D Lounge, which presents interactive activities for kids and parents.
Disney Cruise family rooms offer room-dividing curtains, bunkbeds with twinkle-light constellations and plenty of storage. The bath-and-a-half in most staterooms allows folks to shower in one while someone else is using the toilet in the other. Disney's ships also hold a cool "Pirates of the Caribbean" deck party, complete with fireworks and Jack Sparrow rappelling off the ship's funnel. Other themed events on select sailings include Star Wars Day at Sea, Marvel Day at Sea and special Halloween and Christmas events throughout the fall. All ships feature the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where children are transformed into princesses, pirates, knights and sea captains.
Onboard restaurants successfully keep kids entertained while allowing parents to enjoy the meal, as well. For example, in Animator's Palate, animated dinner shows include "Finding Nemo" characters conversing with passengers and kids' drawings coming to life; at Rapunzel's Royal Table, "Tangled" characters perform songs between courses. Waitstaff will cut your kids' food and the Disney cruise kids menu offers an array of kid favorites, such as mac-n-cheese and mini-burgers. Two onboard restaurants are adults-only so mom and dad can take advantage of the kids club and have a date night.
The best Carnival Cruises for kids can be found among the line's Vista- and Dream-class ships. They offer an array of onboard fun and do a great job accommodating kids of all ages. That includes separate clubs for the 2 to 11 set, tweens and teens. Many loyalists consider it the best cruise line for kids, since it offers a terrific variety of family activities and spaces.
Families are drawn by the two outdoor pools and game-and-activity-packed SportSquare; a multistory IMAX theater (Vista Class only); and some of the largest at-sea water parks. We're also very excited for Carnival Mardi Gras, the line's newest and biggest ship (5,200 passengers) boasts the first roller coaster at sea: BOLT, all adding up to a fantastic Carnival cruise for kids.
The fleetwide Camp Ocean, the Carnival Cruise Kid's Club, is for cruisers aged 2 to 11. Those ages are further divided into three groups, with marine-themed activities and other games. And taking kids on a cruise isn’t an adventure just for big kids: Carnival is the only line to allow 2-year-olds into its free, drop-off programs, and counselors will change diapers. Camp Ocean occupies a large chunk of upper-deck real estate, while the tween and teen clubs are separate from the little ones on lower decks. Circle C and Club O2 are havens for pre-teens (12 to 14) and teens (15 to 17), respectively. Carnival also hosts regular dance and pool parties for kids, special teens-only shore excursions plus PlayStation and Xbox consoles onboard.
A huge draw of a Carnival family cruise is WaterWorks, an aqua park with a variety of waterslides, sprayers, soakers and a splash area for little (but potty-trained) kids. Children can play in the pool, as well as SportSquare, an outdoor activity area with a mini-golf course, basketball courts and foosball tables, and the thrilling new SkyRide cycling attraction on Vista-class ships. Carnival Mardi Gras takes the family cruise up a few notches with the Ultimate Playground -- this zone will encompass the ship's top three decks with the largest water park in the fleet, along with an expanded SportSquare and the Bolt at-sea coaster.
Families can also watch movies outside on the Dream-class ships at the Seaside Theatre, a 22-foot jumbo screen. Carnival Breeze is home to the Thrill Theater, a 3D-movie joint with "multidimensional effects" (think seats moving, wind blowing and even water splashing during films). Carnival Vista and Horizon include a Multiplex that screens flicks in both an IMAX Theater and the Thrill Theater. Families can cavort on a deceptively scary ropes course or take part in Carnival's "Hasbro, The Game" show, a friendly competition and stage show with games as prizes.
Carnival's ships offer plenty of family-friendly rooms. However, Vista-class ships feature Family Harbor, a collection of cabins and family suites that can accommodate up to five cruisers. Family Harbor also offers access to an exclusive Family Lounge, free meals for kids at select extra-fee restaurants, one free night of after-hours group babysitting in Camp Ocean and pint-size bathrobes. Teens are also welcome in Carnival's spas. In addition, all Carnival ships offer Build-A-Bear workshops where kids can create their own stuffed animal (for a fee).
Norwegian's casual atmosphere makes it one of the best kid-friendly cruise lines, particularly for families who don't want to be beholden to strict dining times, venues and dress codes. Norwegian cruise ships for kids include the line’s newest ships, which offer all the mega-ship bells and whistles families have come to expect (though we found NCL Encore and Bliss to have a more grownup vibe).
Norwegian's Splash Academy features separate activities for kids ages 3 to 5, 6 to 9 and 10 to 12. Children can do arts and crafts, sing karaoke and play video games. The kids' club on NCL Epic has a jungle gym, plenty of room to roam and a cool interactive light-up dance floor. The two-story Splash Academies on Norwegian Escape, Breakaway and Getaway are the line's largest kids clubs at sea, home to high-tech games, a circus school and a small cinema. Entourage is a space for teens 13 to 17, and it has air hockey, video games, plush couches and flat-screen TVs. Entourage turns into a teens-only nightclub at night.
Late-night group babysitting is available for a fee. While all ships have parent-child play areas and care for babies 6 months to 3 years, only NCL Escape offers drop-off, extra-fee childcare for very small children in the Guppies Nursery.
NCL shines when it comes to activities and features for kids (especially those who like to be active). Popular features include rock climbing and rappelling walls, batting cages, bowling lanes and impressive water park areas. Norwegian Epic has a 303-foot-long corkscrew tube and the Drainpipe, a 104-foot tube that empties into a giant funnel. Breakaway and Getaway feature five multistory waterslides, as well as The Plank, an eight-foot walk (part of the ropes course) that extends off the edge of the ship and out over the sea. Norwegian Escape offers one of the largest ropes courses at sea, as well as one of the largest water parks at sea. All four have two main pools, including a separate kids pool.
On NCL Epic, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical" is a great inclusive musical option for kids of all ages. Epic also has 46 two-bedroom family villas -- cruise ship rooms for six people -- while Breakaway and Getaway have 20 two-bedroom villas. On Norwegian Escape, the Haven includes two-bedroom family suites that sleep up to six passengers, and there are an additional 40 family mini-suites that feature bathtubs.
The NCL kids' menu includes lots of kid faves, including waffles, chicken fingers, pizza, freshly prepared pastas, soft-serve ice cream and more. Kids 12 years old and under dining with their parents at specialty restaurants eat for free.
Princess' ships include expansive programs, facilities and accommodations make them great cruises for kids and adults. From the splash park aboard Caribbean Princess to expanded kids' clubs, batting cages, and laser shooting ranges abord Royal and Regal Princess, there's a lot to lile. You'll also find big pool decks with a water and light shows and poolside cabanas that are a great way to bond by the pool. As part of Princess' work with Discovery, kid- and teen-friendly spaces on several of its ships feature lively, modern decor. Discovery-inspired programming, which includes fun and educational activities, has rolled out fleetwide.
Dubbed Camp Discovery, Princess Cruises kids' clubs include The Treehouse for children aged 3 to 7, The Lodge for ages 8 to 12 and The Beach House for ages 13 to 17. Activities might range from Caribbean-shark themed scavenger hunts to hands-on "Mythbusters"-style challenges and learning the science of magic. Other kid-approved activites include video game tournaments, art projects and storytime. The kids' clubs are outfitted with foosball, air hockey and even Skee-Ball. Teens can choose from sport tournaments, themed parties, dance classes and late-night movies.
On Grand-class ships (Ruby Princess, Crown Princess and Emerald Princess), there are two large pools that are suitable for families (Calypso Reef and Pool, and Neptune Reef and Pool), plus a splash pool. Royal and Regal Princess have outdoor play areas with a jungle gym for kids ages 3 to 7, and another for teens with a teens-only hot tub and space for outdoor parties. The best option might just be the Caribbean Princess, though, with its top-deck Reef Family Splash Zone.
Movies Under the Stars is the line's huge outdoor movie theater that plays poolside features on the top deck after the sun sets. The 300-square-foot screen broadcasts kid- and teen-friendly movies, as well as fun-for-the-whole-gang blockbusters, and live sporting events and awards shows. Another cool offering: Family members are welcome to attend the Jr. Chef@Sea Program, a hands-on chef-led cooking class that takes place in a shipboard kitchen, alongside their budding-chef kiddos.
The line's Discovery connection extends beyond the kids club to whole-family programming. Shark Week at Sea offers shark-themed games and activities for the whole family on select summer cruises. For a kid-friendly Alaska cruise, families on select Alaska sailings can embark on a search for Big Foot (like the TV show "Finding Bigfoot") or participate in a crab-sorting challenge (inspired by "Deadliest Catch"). Select Princess shore excursions are Discovery Family Tours, which are targeted at families with kids ages 3 to 12 and involve hands-on activities that connect kids to the destination. Animal Planet tours are ideal for parents and kids who want to see whales, sharks, sloths and other critters up close.
From family room to one of the longest at-sea waterslides aboard MSC Preziosa, MSC cruises has become one of the best cruise lines for families with children. You'll also find exclusive clubs (and child care) for children from infancy to age 12, plus teen spaces for those up to 17 years old aboard all MSC ships. So which ship is the current favorite for kids? MSC Seaside generally scores rave reviews from cruisers, with an interactive lab, Lego-themed kids spaces, VR and selfie tech in the teen's club, and plenty of family-friendly outdoor spaces. But almost every MSC ship offers plenty to do for kids of all ages.
No matter which MSC cruise ship you choose -- from MSC Armonia to MSC Seaside -- kids will have a full slate of things to keep your kids busy thanks to modern, fun spaces for all age groups. A separate baby care area is for the youngest up to toddlers, while Miniclub offers plenty of Lego action and safe-for-kids climbing options (ages 3 to 6). The Juniors Club, for ages 7 to 11, also features plenty of Lego-themed activities plus game shows, video game competitions, and arts and crafts. Ages 12 through 17 can head to the Young Club or the Teen Club, which MSC has stocked with things like foosball, sports tournaments, a Formula 1 simulator, bowling, selfie-sharing and music-streaming stations and more.
MSC Cruises shines when it comes to the kids' clubs across its fleet, but there are plenty of other extras that make the line a great choice for families with kids. Outdoors, you'll find pools, splash zones, and waterslides on ships like MSC Seaside, Meraviglia, Grandiosa, and Preziosa. If you're after fun on dry land (or at least when you're in port), MSC runs a Family Explorer Program, which melds education with fun shore excursions that are designed to be interactive for the whole family.
Back onboard, MSC Cruises has family rooms designed to accomodate families or three or more. These Family Cabins and Super Family Cabins can be economical, too, as they are charged per room and not per guest. Super Family Cabins consist of two triple cabins, while Executive Family Suites feature two queens along with extra storage space.
You'll find children's menus in the main dining rooms on all MSC ships and kid-friendly options on the bufets as well. The line offers the My Smart Card, which is a prepaid card that allows kids to purchase snacks, drinks and even arcade games.
Updated September 13, 2022