Best Cruises for Babies

Years ago, parents cruising with small children had to contend with cabin layouts rarely fit for a crib, pools and play areas off limits to the unpotty-trained and activities only tailored to children older than 3.

Times for tots have changed. Disney changed the teething field by catering to cruising's youngest passengers with a nursery, larger standard staterooms -- with tubs, room-dividing curtains and enough room for baby paraphernalia -- and onboard stores stocked with necessities like diapers and baby sunblock.

Other lines also have their own tot-friendly amenities. For example, many of Royal Caribbean's ships now offer a variety of larger family stateroom options, plus baby and toddler playgroups, and diaper-wearing tots have expansive play areas on Carnival Cruise Line.

The following are five best cruises for babies and toddlers (and their parents). You'll get information on babysitting options, playgroups, baby gear you can skip packing and tips on the family-friendliest staterooms for the under-3s.

Here are our picks for the best cruises for babies and toddlers:

  1. Carnival Cruise Line
  2. Cunard Line
  3. Disney Cruise Line
  4. P&O Cruises
  5. Royal Caribbean
Camp Ocean on Carnival Vista

1. Carnival Cruise Line

Minimum Age to Sail

The minimum age to sail is 6 months old on most cruises. On transatlantic, transpacific, Hawaii and South America cruises, the minimum age to cruise is 12 months.

Babysitting

Camp Carnival and Camp Ocean, Carnival's kids clubs, take children as young as 2 in their free drop-off programs, and kids don't need to be potty trained. (The industry standard is 3 years and toilet trained.) Parents do need to supply diapers and wipes, but the youth staff will change diapers. During the cruise, parents of children 3 and younger receive pagers in case they need to be contacted. In the clubs, tots can make Play-Doh sculptures, get their faces painted and listen to stories, among other activities. Activities run from the morning until 10 p.m.

Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on sea days and on port days from 15 minutes before the first tour departure until noon, or 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. when ships arrive in port after noon, babysitting services for children younger than 2 are available in the kids club. Rates are $6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15 percent gratuity.

No in-cabin babysitting is available. The only late-night option for parents of infants (from 6 months) and young children is group babysitting from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. at the club, but they will be among older children watching movies and snoozing. (Pack 'n Plays are available for sleeping babies, if they don't come already asleep in their own strollers.) The cost is $6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15 percent gratuity.

Family Fun

When accompanied by a parent, children younger than 2 can take turns with the toys during designated family play times on sea days. This is usually scheduled between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Pools and water-play areas, including splash areas and spray parks, are reserved for toilet-trained kids; no diapers or swim diapers allowed.

Carnival has a partnership with Dr. Seuss, and offers various Seuss-themed events onboard, including a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (with a fee) and Seuss-a-Palooza parade and story time (with no fee).

Cabins and Cribs

Cribs are provided gratis for in-stateroom use. Note that you need a crib when reserving your cruise.

Carnival's standard cabins are relatively large, measuring 185 square feet for an interior stateroom and 220 square feet for an ocean-view cabin. On Fantasy-class vessels, these staterooms can accommodate up to five people with two lower beds that convert into a king, two upper beds that fold out from the wall and a rollaway. Standard cabins on other vessels can only accommodate a max of four people per cabin.

Dream-class ships offer 230-square-foot "quint" outside cabins that have two twin beds (that can combine to a queen), two bunks that hang from the wall and a sofa bed. (Note: If sleeping five, the twins will be left separated, with a ladder up to one of the bunks inserted in the space between the beds.) The cabins also feature two bathrooms -- one with a sink, toilet and shower, the other with a tub-shower combo and sink.

Also consider the Outside Stateroom with Verandah, which allocates 35 of the 220 square feet to a balcony. This leaves less interior space but provides a place to sit, talk and have a light on when children are asleep.

Carnival Vista's Family Harbor area features family-friendly inside, outside, balcony and suite rooms, some with two bathrooms and room-dividing privacy curtains. All Family Harbor residents have access to a private lounge that serves breakfast and snacks and provides entertainment offerings (computer terminals, board games, video games and family movies) and concierge access. Other perks include a free evening of group babysitting at the kids club.

The Cartoon Network and a free family movie network are available on in-room televisions.

Baby Gear

Single or double strollers are available for rent ($8 per day or $40 per cruise for sailings six nights or longer), though supplies are limited and vary by ship. Shipboard shops do not sell diapers, wipes or other baby necessities.

Activity sheets and crayons are available in dining rooms. High chairs and booster seats are available in the dining rooms and buffet restaurants.

Baby Food

A kids' menu and whole milk (on request) are available in the dining room. Bring baby food; mashing is not an option on Carnival ships, and baby food and formula are not available onboard. All baby food must be unopened, prepackaged (i.e., not homemade) and require no prep from onboard galley staff. You can purchase distilled water onboard.


Baby Zone on Queen Mary 2

2. Cunard Line

Minimum Age to Sail

Babies must be 6 months old to cruise. For Atlantic and Pacific crossings, world cruise segments and many of the exotic itineraries, children must be at least 1 year old. Note that children younger than 2 who sail as the third or fourth passenger in a cabin generally cruise for free; Cunard might charge fees for other travel booked through the line.

Babysitting

All three ships have night nurseries where nannies take care of children up to age 2, free of charge and first come, first served. The nurseries are open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Cots are laid out for older tots (cribs are available for babies) and the lights turned down low. Parents must bring in kids who are already asleep or are ready to go to sleep on arrival (OK to bring some milk to settle but not food). Parents receive pagers in case a child wakes up. The nursery service includes diaper changes or can page parents to come to change diapers themselves if they prefer. There is no additional babysitting beyond 11 p.m., nor is there any in-cabin babysitting.

Children ages 2-plus can be dropped off at supervised daytime activities in the Play Zone. Hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on sea days (with closures for lunch and dinner); times vary on port days. Age-appropriate activities include arts and crafts, outdoor play, songs and stories, and themed days, such as Wild West Day, Under the Sea Day and Sports Day.

Family Fun

While Cunard has an excellent program for young children, this is not a line where you'll find a ship's deck worth of activities and facilities for kids. Some ships allow under-2s to play in the Play Zone at select times with parent supervision.

The Play Zone offers kids' books for all ages. Books can be checked out of the Play Zone for in-cabin reading. The ships' shops also sell children's literature.

Cabins and Cribs

Cribs are available on all ships free of charge and can fit in all cabins.

Standard Britannia-level staterooms range in size from 152 to 269 square feet and include small refrigerators. All ships have cabins with third and fourth berths in multiple categories; only Queen Mary 2 has interconnecting staterooms. Extra berths can either be convertible sofa beds or beds that pull down from the ceiling, so be sure to inquire about the specific configuration when booking your cabin. Book a suite for the most space.

In-cabin TVs don't have dedicated children's channels.

Baby Gear

High chairs are available in all dining venues, but booster seats are not. The ships' stores occasionally carry a limited supply of diapers, but as stock is not guaranteed, it's best to bring your own.

Baby baths, bottle warmers and sterilizers are available upon request.

Baby Food

Onboard restaurants carry baby food (Hipp & Hipp Organic Stages 1 and 2) in a variety of flavors and will also blend food for babies on request -- all free of charge. The main dining rooms offer kids menus as well.

Be sure to escort your little one to the Children's Tea -- a light supper, not fancy afternoon tea -- served in the Lido buffet restaurant (Queen Elizabeth and Victoria) or Chef's Galley (Queen Mary 2). Hours vary by ship but range from 4:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. The tea is served as a buffet of kids' favorites, including baked beans, vegetables, salad and pizza, with baby food and milk also available.


It's a Small World Nursery on the Disney Dream

3. Disney Cruise Line

Minimum Age to Sail

The minimum age to sail is 6 months old. Babies must be at least 1 year old on transatlantic and Panama Canal itineraries.

Babysitting

The It's a Small World Nursery on all Disney ships caters to children 6 to 36 months old. Open roughly 9 a.m. to midnight (hours might vary while in port), the nurseries feature play areas and quiet time/nap areas.

Playrooms offer infant swings, toddler-sized chairs and tables, assorted toys, board books, arts and crafts for toddlers, and even a one-way viewing window for parents on most ships. Toys that were mouthed by children get thrown in the "yuck bin" to be cleaned and sterilized before they are available to the next child. The ratio of counselors to children is one to four for infants and one to six for toddlers (ages 1 to 3).

Nursery spaces fill quickly. Before you cruise, you can pre-book nursery time (anywhere from 10 to 35 hours, depending on the length of the cruise) through Disney's website; register for additional hours (if available) once onboard. There is no maximum number of child care hours allotted to each family. Babysitting is not free and costs $9 per hour for the first child and $8 per hour for each additional child.

There is no in-cabin babysitting.

Family Fun

Princess and Disney character meet-n-greets, deck parties and family-friendly musical shows and movies all keep little ones and their parents entertained onboard. If you've got a crawler, consider participating in Jack Jack's Incredible Diaper Dash, a crawling race down a 20-foot padded mat, done to the soundtrack of "The Incredibles." Plus, open house hours in the Oceaneer Club and Lab let parents bring little ones into the older kids' clubs to explore and play.

Diapers are not allowed in cruise ship pools, but children in swim diapers can enjoy designated water play areas: Nemo's Reef on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, Nephews' Splash Zone on Disney Magic and Mickey's Splash Zone on Disney Wonder.

Cabins and Cribs

Pack 'n Play travel cribs (or similar) and Playtex Diaper Genies are available for use, gratis, and can be reserved ahead of time.

Disney's staterooms tend to be larger than the industry average. Deluxe inside and outside staterooms are 204 to 214 square feet and include a privacy curtain that separates the two sleeping areas, allowing you to switch on a light without waking the children. The roughly 300-square-foot Deluxe Family Staterooms with Verandahs sleep up to five.

Unlike most sofa beds that take up precious floor space when converted to a full-size bed, Disney's sofas convert to a twin bed. The pulldown bed above the sofa makes a bunk-bed setup that won't be in the way throughout the day, making midday naptimes a cinch. Unlike almost all other cruise lines, most Disney cabins include tubs -- a big plus for bathing babies and toddlers -- and split-bath designs with the tub/shower and sink in one room, and toilet and sink in a separate space. And, of course, the Disney Channel is included on stateroom televisions.

Baby Gear

You can find the following in gift shops: disposable and swim diapers, pull-ups, diaper cream, baby food and infant formula, bottles, pacifiers, baby lotion and shampoo.

A limited number of strollers, bottle warmers and bottle sterilizers are available for use through guest services. The cruise line even offers wagons and strollers on its private island, Castaway Cay, for complimentary use.

High chairs are available in all onboard restaurants.

Baby Food

Each night, dining room servers give children a kids' menu, Disney-themed activity sheet and crayons, and waiters have been known to help cut up kids' food or pour Mickey-shaped pools of ketchup. Prepackaged (but not homemade) baby food can be brought onboard, and the kitchen can prepare pureed fruits and vegetables upon request, either for consumption in a restaurant or in your cabin.


The Sea Bed on Azura

4. P&O Cruises

Minimum Age to Sail

The minimum age to sail is 6 months on most itineraries; 12 months on all transatlantic voyages and exotic fly-cruises. Note that this applies only to Aurora, Azura, Britannia, Oceana and Ventura -- P&O's family-friendly ships. Arcadia, Adonia and Oriana are for adults only.

Babysitting

P&O's kids club, The Reef, offers the Splashers age group for kids ages 2 to 4 years. Youth staff look after the little ones in this drop-off program and keep them entertained with drawing and Play-Doh, dress up, treasure hunts, puppets and story time. Staff will change diapers or give parents a pager to come and do the job themselves. The Reef is generally open from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m., though times can vary due to the particular itinerary. On port days, at least one parent or guardian must be onboard at all times when a child is dropped off at the kids' club.

The five ships also have night nurseries. The nursery is a free evening group babysitting option between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. (last sign in by 11 p.m.) for kids ages 6 months through 4 years. Space is first come, first served. Parents will receive pagers in case they need to be contacted.

There is no in-cabin babysitting.

Family Fun

While under-2s can't be dropped off in the Splashers' space, on Azura, Britannia and Ventura, there are dedicated areas for parents to play with their babies and toddlers during the day. These spaces include a soft play area and age-appropriate toys. On Aurora and Oceana, parents and little ones can use the Splashers facilities if they're not too crowded.

The ships also host family events, such as magic shows and family discos.

Cabins and Cribs

Families will appreciate four-berth cabins (with sofa beds and beds that pull down from the ceiling), especially those toward the aft of the ships, close to the kids club. Inside and outside cabins on Azura, Britannia and Ventura measure 161 to 170 square feet, and balcony cabins are 236 to 248 square feet (including the balcony); cabins on the older ships are a bit smaller. For more space inside and out, try a mini-suite (with curtains dividing the sleeping and living areas) or a suite with a separate bedroom. Azura and Ventura offer multiroom family suites that sleep between four and six people.

Cribs must be pre-booked before the cruise. Not all standard rooms can accommodate a crib when upper berths are in use.

All family-friendly ships offer TV programs and feature films geared toward children on in-cabin TVs.

Baby Gear

High chairs are available in onboard dining venues. P&O's family-friendly ships can provide bottle warmers and sterilizers, bed rails and baby bathtubs. Parents are advised to put in requests prior to sailing. Onboard shops do sell baby necessities like diapers, wipes and baby lotion.

Baby Food

Main dining rooms offer a children's menu. P&O also offers a Children's Tea each evening (typically around 5 p.m.) in its buffet restaurants. It's targeted at younger cruisers, but kids up to 17 years of age can go. Parents must supervise their children at the tea, as the youth staff don't attend. Kid-friendly foods -- fish sticks, sausages, pizza -- and healthy options are served, and baby food and milk are produced on request.

Restaurant staff can puree fruits and vegetables and provide baby food (SMA progress powder milk, Hipp & Hipp Organic baby food jars and Hipp Organic ready to drink juices), but it's best to alert the cruise ship to your needs before sailing. You can also bring your own prepackaged food with you. Baby food is not sold onboard.


Royal Babies and Tots on Harmony of the Seas

5. Royal Caribbean

Minimum Age to Sail

The minimum age to sail is 6 months on most itineraries. Children must be at least 12 months old on all transatlantic, transpacific, Hawaii and South American cruises, as well as other voyages and cruisetours with three consecutive sea days or more.

Babysitting

Royal Caribbean offers fully staffed Royal Babies and Royal Tots nurseries on most ships, with daytime and evening day care options for an additional fee ($6 per hour during the day and $8 per hour at night). The rooms are outfitted with age-appropriate toys, books, music and videos, as well as cribs for napping. Advance reservations are highly recommended as spots are first come, first served.

Royal Caribbean offers in-cabin babysitting for children within the same family ($19 per hour for up to three children) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. This service is based on availability, and you must book it at least 24 hours in advance at the purser's desk. Payment is via your onboard SeaPass card.

Family Fun

On all ships, Royal Caribbean offers playgroups for parents to attend with their children. Youth counselors host 45-minute sessions for two age groups in onboard lounges or nurseries. Royal Babies (6 to 18 months) play with musical instruments, engage in baby gymnastics, learn about shapes and colors and even play with food-related toys. Royal Tots (18 to 36 months) can pretend to be pirates and princesses, sing songs, do art projects and play with dolls and toys.

Children who are not potty trained are not allowed to swim in the ship's pools, soak in whirlpools or play in the H2O Zone, with or without swim diapers. However, on Freedom- and Oasis-class ships, kids who are not toilet trained can play in the specially designated Baby Splash Zone.

On select ships, little cruisers will also enjoy shows, movies, parades and meet-n-greets starring DreamWorks characters, such as Shrek and Po from the "Kung Fu Panda."

Cabins and Cribs

Royal Caribbean's Oasis- and Freedom-class ships offer the most family-targeted cabins, including the six-person Inside Family Stateroom (260 to 324 square feet) that includes a curtained-off sleeping alcove and sleeper sofa. The Presidential Family Suite (1,142 to 1,209 square feet) can accommodate up to 14 family members with four sleeping areas, four bathrooms, a spacious living area and a 476- to 805-square-foot balcony.

These and numerous other Royal Caribbean ships offer 237- to 481-square-foot Family Oceanview Staterooms that can accommodate up to six people. The staterooms include two twin beds (which can convert into a queen-size bed), bunk beds in a separate enclosed area (pulldown beds) and a sitting area with sofa bed and mini-bar. Royal Family Suites accommodate eight passengers with two bedrooms, two pulldown beds, a double sofa bed, two bathrooms and a refrigerator.

Complimentary Pack 'n Plays are available for in-cabin use.

Stateroom televisions offer the Cartoon Network, Boomerang and/or an Adventure Ocean channel, which includes kid-friendly new-release and classic films and TV shows. Availability varies by region. Ships with the DreamWorks Experience onboard also broadcast the DreamWorks movie channel on in-cabin TVs.

Baby Gear

High chairs are available on request; strollers are not provided. Ship stores do not sell diapers and other necessities. However, parents can preorder Huggies diapers, wipes and cream, and Gerber baby food through the Babies 2 Go program. (Be warned: This service is priced higher than at your local grocery or baby store.) The baby essentials will be delivered to your cabin on embarkation day.

A complimentary toy-lending program fleetwide lets under-3s borrow toys for in-cabin play. Toys can be accessed through the Nursery or Adventure Ocean facilities.

Baby Food

Royal Caribbean ships offer kids' menus in its main and most specialty dining rooms. Kids ages 5 and under eat free in alternative restaurants with surcharges. Little ones might also enjoy the DreamWorks Character Breakfast.

Baby food is only available via the Babies 2 Go program. Otherwise, you may bring your own packaged baby food. Infant formula is not available onboard, so bring your own.