The good news? Your family has agreed to a reunion at sea. The bad news? You're now sailing with three, maybe four, generations and relatives with diverse interests. For a family reunion vacation, how do you find a cruise ship that satisfies everyone?
Key assets that you must have are a large variety of accommodation styles and price ranges, with the possibility of interconnecting or family cabins; excellent kids' programming and plenty of adult-focused entertainment. You'll also want activities and shows that families can attend together; and lots of restaurant choices, with the ability to seat large groups.
That means you're looking at the newer (or newly refurbished) ships in a cruise line's fleet. Here are six cruise ships we've identified as being perfect for family reunions.
Family Highlights: Carnival Vista offers so many onboard activities that families might not make it to every attraction on their list. There's a water park, ropes course, mini-golf, SkyRide, 4D and IMAX theaters, three pools, arcade and more. The kids club has three separate areas for kids (even 2 year olds in diapers), tweens and teens, as well as a Dr. Seuss-themed kids' library and Seuss-themed family events.
Dining: Family groups can request large tables in the main dining rooms or opt for meeting up on the pool deck for plenty of free, casual options (buffet, pizza, Mexican, Guy Fieri burgers). For an extra fee, they can plan special-occasion meals at Asian, Italian and steak restaurants.
Cabins: Carnival is not generally known for having a large variety of cabin types, but Vista offers everything from affordable inside cabins to roomy (but not opulent) suites, as well as some specialty cabins that will delight families. Family Harbor cabins are most special for their access to the Family Harbor Lounge -- featuring 24/7 snacks and ice cream, TVs and games -- and perks like a free night of babysitting and free kids meals in extra-fee restaurants. Havana cabins and suites feature patios with swing chairs and loungers and exclusive daytime access to the Havana pool.
Itineraries: Four- to eight-night Caribbean cruises out of Miami and Galveston.
Family Highlights: This casual cruise line offers lots of choices of things to do and eat, and no one has to bother with suits, high heels or other fancy dress. During the day, families can enjoy mini-golf, a ropes course, several pools (including a kiddie splash pool) and a water park with a kids' section -- plus, family circus activities. A Broadway musical and an '80s-themed show, plus a glow party, keep the family fun going at night. In addition to a large kids club and teen lounge, Norwegian Escape has a nursery where under-3s can be dropped off for a fee or play with a family member for free.
Dining: Norwegian has a huge range of included and upcharge restaurants, and while there is no official main restaurant, large groups can make reservations to dine at any of the sit-down venues. Teppanyaki and Moderno Churrascaria are especially fun, while La Cucina and Cagney's Steakhouse make for great celebratory dinners.
Cabins: Families looking for a more private enclave with exclusive restaurant and sun deck areas can book into The Haven for VIP treatment. Among The Haven suites are 25 Two-Bedroom Family Villas that sleep six. Inside family cabins are located near the kids club, and outside family cabins can sleep up to five in one room.
Itineraries: Six- to 14-night Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Canada/New England cruises.
Family Highlights: Big family groups will have a blast on one of the biggest cruise ships afloat. Allure of the Seas has a carousel, zipline, surfing simulator, multiple pools including a kids water park and adults-only Solarium, ice skating and 3D DreamWorks movies. Entertainment options abound with diving and acrobatic shows in the AquaTheater, Royal Caribbean's version of the Ice Capades in Studio B, parades down the Royal Promenade and Broadway's Mamma Mia in the main theater. The huge Adventure Ocean kids club has age-appropriate spaces for babies, kids and teens, plus a science lab, theater and craft room.
Dining: Families can keep it simple and stick to the included main dining room, buffet and grab-and-go pizza, hot dogs and sandwiches. If the vacation budget allows, it's more fun to try out the numerous specialty restaurants, ranging from burgers and fries in Johnny Rockets to carnivorous feasts in Chops Grille and Samba Grill, family-friendly Italian fare at Giovanni's Table and six-course tasting menus at 150 Central Park.
Cabins: You might be overwhelmed with the number of cabin types on Allure. Among the more unusual are cabins overlooking the Promenade, Boardwalk and Central Park areas; two-deck Loft Suites; standard family cabins that sleep up to six, some with separate bunk bed areas; and huge Royal Family Suites that can sleep eight in two bedrooms. Suite residents get exclusive access to a special lounge and the Coastal Kitchen restaurant.
Itineraries: Six- to seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises out of Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Family Highlights: MSC Cruises might not be as familiar to many families as lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival, but it's one to consider -- if nothing else because kids under 11 always sail free when sharing a cabin with two paying passengers. The ship has a more international vibe, though it sails from Florida, and you'll find lots of international families onboard. The ship has an arcade, Formula One racing simulator and 4D theater, a water slide and kid and adult pools, and movies under the stars. You'll find kids and parents together at the evening entertainment, from the excellent shows to the disco. The kids club has partnerships with the Smurfs and Lego.
Dining: Dinner is set seating in the dining room, so families will have to agree on either early or late dining times. Stick to European rather than American dishes, especially anything related to the line's partnership with Eataly -- namely the Eataly pizzas, Eataly steakhouse and Ristorante Italia. There's even a Nutella cart!
Cabins: Families will want to check out the MSC Yacht Club, Divina's suite enclave with an exclusive lounge, pool deck and restaurant. Family Suites sleep four and have full Yacht Club access but are located a few decks down. Super Family Staterooms sleep six in two connecting triple balcony cabins (which means two bathrooms, as well).
Itineraries: Currently based year-round in Florida, Divina will spend summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Caribbean as of 2018.
Family Highlights: While not the newest ship in the fleet, Grand Princess appeals to all ages and a series of refurbs have kept it up to date with the latest amenities. Plus, the ship is ideal for West Coast families who don't want to fly to Florida for their vacation. Favorite family activities include Movies Under the Stars on the pool deck and singing competition "The Voice of the Ocean," based on the TV show "The Voice." The ship has five pools, including a wading pool for little kids, as well as an adults-only sun deck, sports court and shuffleboard. The Camp Discovery kids club got a remodel in 2016, inspired by the line's partnership with Discovery TV.
Dining: The ship's main dining rooms offer a choice of set or open seating, and families have plenty of casual options for lunch, including pizza, sandwiches in the International Cafe and a sea-day pub lunch. Italian Sabatini's and Crown Grill steakhouse are your extra-fee, special-occasion venues; look for chocolate desserts created by Norman Love. Most room service items are fee-free -- for when you'd rather camp out in someone's room than dress for dinner.
Cabins: Grand Princess does not have a huge variety of accommodations, but offers enough to suit all needs and price points. Families might want to consider the eight-person family suites, which are essentially two standard cabins connected via a double-length living area plus an oversized balcony.
Itineraries: Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii and Pacific Coast.
Updated August 21, 2018