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 not-yet-potty-trained and activities only tailored to children older than 3.
Times have changed. Disney altered the teething field by catering to cruising's youngest passengers with a nursery, larger standard cabin -- 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 cabin options, plus baby and toddler playgroups, and diaper-wearing tots have expansive play areas on Carnival Cruise Line.
While the most recent entrant to the family game in terms of a U.S. presence, MSC Cruises, has raised the bar even higher, with one of the best kids clubs at sea -- Doremi Land -- as well as cabins designed specifically for families onboard its newest and biggest and ships.
The following list features five best cruise lines for babies and toddlers (and their parents). You'll get information on baby-sitting options, playgroups, baby gear you can skip packing and tips on the family-friendliest staterooms for the under-threes.
Here is our pick of the best cruise lines for babies and toddlers.
The minimum age to sail is six months old on most cruises. On trans-ocean crossings and remote itineraries, where there are more than two consecutive sea days, the minimum age to sail is 12 months.
Camp Ocean, Carnival's kids club, welcomes children as young as two in its free drop-off Penguin group, which is dedicated to two- to five-year olds. Kids don't need to be potty trained (the industry standard is three years and toilet trained), but parents do need to supply diapers and wipes. Youth staff will change diapers.
The Penguin group offers scheduled programing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by Night Owls. In the clubs, tots can make Play-Doh sculptures, get their faces painted and listen to stories, among other activities.
There is a babysitting service for parents to leave under twos in the care of youth staff (on port days and sea days) at a charge of $6.75 per hour, plus 18 percent gratuity. On port days, care is not provided during meal times for under twos and parents must return from port at feeding times. As with older infants that are not yet potty trained, parents are asked to provide diapers and wipes.
During the cruise, parents of children three-years-old and younger receive pagers/cell phones in case they need to be contacted by a member of staff.
No in-cabin babysitting is available.
The late-night option for parents of infants (from six months) and young children up to 11 years is Night Owls group babysitting from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. at the club, where babies and toddlers will be among older children watching movies and snoozing. Carnival describes it as a 'slumber party' atmosphere. It's worth bearing this in mind if your baby or toddler struggles to settle and sleep with background noise. 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 18 percent gratuity.
Outside of group babysitting, when accompanied by a parent, children younger than two-years-old can play with the toys during designated family times on sea days. This is usually scheduled between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., though times may vary.
Pools and water-play areas, including splash areas and spray parks, are reserved for toilet-trained kids; no diapers or swim diapers are 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).
Cribs and crib sheets are provided gratis for in-stateroom use. Passengers should indicate that a crib will be required at the time of booking. Cribs measure 38 x 24 inches.
Carnival's standard cabins are relatively large, measuring 185 square feet for an interior stateroom and 220 square feet for an ocean-view cabin.
Dream-, Fantasy-, Vista- and Mardi Gras-class ships offer 230-square-feet quint cabins, accommodating up to five people. These cabins feature 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 185-square-feet balcony cabins that offer a 35-square-foot balcony. This leaves less interior space but provides a place to sit, talk and have a light on when babies and toddlers are asleep.
Carnival's newer vessels -- including Vista-class and new ship Mardi Gras -- offer an exciting option for families in the dedicated Family Harbor cabins. These rooms are available in a mix of categories (inside, ocean view and balcony), some with two bathrooms, plus room-dividing privacy curtains, ranging from 230 to 275 square feet. 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.
Single strollers are available for rent ($10 per day or $40 per cruise with a $75 deposit required to cover lost or broken equipment), though supplies are limited and vary by ship. Shipboard shops do not carry 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.
A kids menu and whole milk are available in the dining room. Bring baby food; Carnival ships do not mash or puree food, 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 to add to formula onboard or it can be brought onboard in carry-on luggage.
Passengers are permitted to take a cooler up to 12" x 12” x 12” to store breast milk (request ice from the cabin steward). Carnival also allows passengers to store breast milk in the Guest Services' refrigerator.
Babies must be six months old to cruise. For Atlantic and Pacific crossings, world cruise segments and many of the exotic itineraries, children must be at least one year old. Children younger than two who sail as the third or fourth passenger in a cabin generally cruise for free. Cunard might charge fees for other travel, such as flights booked through the line.
All three ships have night nurseries where nannies take care of babies from six to 23 months, available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. 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 (it's 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 staff 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 aged two-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.
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. Ships allow under-twos to play in the Play Zone, where games, soft toys and building blocks are available, at select times with parent supervision.
The Play Zone offers kids' books for all ages that can be checked out of the Play Zone for in-cabin reading. The ships' shops also sell children's literature.
There's a splash pool, Minnows, on Queen Mary 2, though babies and toddlers are required to be potty-trained to use it.
Cribs are available on all ships free of charge and can fit in all cabins.
Standard Britannia cabins range in size from 152 to 269 square feet and include small refrigerators suitable for storing milk and baby food. All ships have cabins with third and fourth berths in multiple categories; only Queen Mary 2 has interconnecting staterooms that are suited to larger families. 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.
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 to loan, upon request.**
Onboard restaurants carry baby food (Hipp & Hipp Organic Stages 1 and 2) in a variety of flavors and the galleys will 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.
The minimum age to sail is six months old. Babies must be at least 12 months old on transatlantic, Panama Canal and Hawaii itineraries.
It's a Small World nursery on all Disney ships caters to children 6 to 36 months old (from 12 to 36 months on Transatlantic, Panama Canal and Hawaii itineraries). Open roughly 9 a.m. to midnight (hours might vary while in port), the nurseries feature play areas and quiet time/nap areas.
Nursery spaces fill quickly. Before you cruise, you can pre-book nursery time 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 childcare hours allotted to each family. Childcare at the nursery is charged at $4.50 per half hour for the first child and $4 per half hour for any additional children and the minimum nursery reservation time is one hour.
Counselors will feed and change babies and toddlers, though parents/guardians should supply necessary supplies, such as baby food, formula, milk, diapers/pull-ups, wipes, plus any extra clothing, a baby blanket and pacifier.
Playrooms are packed with fun baby toys and equipment, such as 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. There's also a large flat-screen TV showing Disney movies.
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 one to three).
There is no in-cabin babysitting.
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.
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 cabins tend to be larger than the industry average and are regarded as some of the best cabins for families. 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 304-square-feet Deluxe Family Verandah cabins include outdoor space and 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.
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, shampoo and powder.
Strollers are available from guest services. Bottle warmers, sterilizers, cribs and playpens are available from the cabin host/steward. The cruise line even offers wagons and strollers on its private island, Castaway Cay, for complimentary use.
The complimentary baby and toddler amenities are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
High chairs are available in all onboard restaurants.
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.
Unopened, prepackaged (not homemade) baby food can be brought onboard, and pureed fruits and vegetables can be requested in the main dining room or via room service.
There is no minimum age to travel, though babies under 12 months require a "fit to travel" certificate from a doctor. Under twos also go free on MSC Cruises.
MSC Cruises' Baby Club is reserved for babies and toddlers from 0 to 36 months.
As part of the Baby Club, the MSC Babycare service allows parents to book out free babysitting, subject to availability, at set times (1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on sea days). Babies are required to be at least 12 months old (up to 36 months) for this service.
In addition, the line offers a for-fee group sitting service called ‘Kids Around the Clock', which can be booked by parents of babies and toddlers in the evening. This service is more commonly used by older children, who will happily play or watch movies in the kids' area, though upon request, ships accept babies, too.
Kids Around the Clock is available from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. for a fee of 6 euros/hour or 10 euros/night.
Diapers and wipes are provided in the Baby Club and Baby Care staff may change diapers, but are not able to feed babies or toddlers.
In-cabin babysitting is not available.
The Baby Club is open for Baby Time sessions where parents/guardians stay and play between the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. when in port and 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on sea days. Baby Time is open for babies of any age.
There is no fee for the service, which is available on Lirica-, Meraviglia- and Seaside-class ships on port and sea days and on sea days only on the rest of the fleet.
MSC's Baby Club is packed with soft toys, bouncers, play mats and other items supplied by the Italian brand Chicco, including free baby stuff -- diapers, wipes, formula, bottles -- even a selection of cots and strollers, which parents can borrow (you can't pre-book). Activities might include music time, Mini Olympic Games and a ‘Meet the Mascot' Doremi baby event.
There is a fun Duplo play area for the under fives, while older toddlers will enjoy the line's partnership with Lego, with a large selection of bricks and equipment in the Mini and Juniors Clubs, suitable for three- to 11-year-olds.
There are dedicated Lego play areas on MSC Armonia, Sinfonia, Opera, Lirica, Bellissima, Meraviglia, Seaside, Seaview and Grandiosa, and once per cruise there's a special Lego Experience event, with an entire day dedicated to Lego activities.
As part of the Lego partnership, there's a fun "Meet the Sailor Mascot" event and passengers can buy branded products onboard.
In addition to Lego, the Mini Club also has foosball, a cinema, books, age-appropriate toys and plenty of crayons and pens for coloring. Programming includes arts and crafts, sports, a treasure hunt, organized games, musical chairs and dressing up. They even get a chance to try their hand at cooking in the TV Studio on Deck 7. Kids must be potty trained to use the club.
Parents should look out for the fun Baby Chef activity for two- to three-year-olds, with toddlers getting to prepare dishes such as a pizza under the supervision of a chef.
MSC also offers Family Tours; shore excursions that are geared towards families specifically with young children.
Children must be three and potty trained to use the pools. Passengers are permitted to take an inflatable pool, which might be suitable for babies to splash in on a private balcony.
Cribs are available free of charge and will automatically be added to a reservation at the time of booking (when specifying an infant's place). Cot sheets are pure cotton and are changed several times during the cruise.
Family-friendly cabins are available in ocean view, balcony and suite categories, with some featuring bunk beds and more storage space. A large majority of cabins offer sofa bed or pullout beds that are well suited to older toddlers and children.
Family Cabins -- up to three interconnecting cabins joined to accommodate up to 10 passengers -- are a great option for larger families, featuring bunk beds, two or more bathrooms and two balconies. These cabins are available in five categories, ranging from 365 to 602 square feet, when booking the Fantastica Experience on Grandiosa, Meraviglia, Bellissima, Seaview, Seaside, Preziosa, Divina and Opera.
A small fridge is provided in all cabins where milk, formula and food can be stored.**
All restaurants have highchairs available.
MSC Cruises can loan bottle warmers, strollers, caddy backpacks and bouncing chairs free of charge, based on availability.
A number of baby carriers are also available, suitable for babies from six months upwards, weighing up to 15 kg.
MSC has introduced a Baby Laundry service, which involves baby and toddler clothes washed separately from other laundry, using a specialized machine and baby-friendly detergents at lower temperatures, for an added fee.
Baby formula is not available on board. Parents are permitted to carry baby formula and baby food on board, providing it is unopened and prepackaged at the time of embarkation.
Milk (cow's milk and other options) is available onboard. Warm milk can be delivered to cabins via room service.
There are also children's menus available on board for older toddlers and children.
The minimum age to sail is six months on most itineraries. Children must be at least 12 months old on all transatlantic, transpacific, Hawaii and select South America cruises, as well as other voyages and cruisetours with three consecutive sea days or more.
Royal Caribbean offers Royal Babies and Royal Tots nurseries on most ships*, with daytime and evening daycare options for an additional fee ($6/hour during the day and $8/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. Parents should supply diapers, wipes and bottles. Nursery staff can give bottles, feed children and change diapers.
*Nursery drop-off is not available on Jewel, Adventure, Explorer or Voyager of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean does not offer an in-cabin babysitting service.
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 (six 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 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.
Babies and toddlers wearing swim diapers can however enjoy all pools on the line's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas.
Passengers are advised to let the cruise line know ahead of sailing if a crib or other supplies are required. Complimentary Pack 'n Plays are available for in-cabin use.
Royal Caribbean's Oasis- and Freedom-class ships offer the most family-targeted cabins, including the six-person Inside Family cabin (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 cabins 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.
Symphony of the Seas has a total of 811 cabins that sleep three or more people, with 488 interconnecting cabins, making it a perfect choice for families. It's also home to the line's only Ultimate Family Suite. The 1,346-square-foot suite is split over two levels complete with a multi-colored in-cabin slide, air hockey table and a hot tub and table tennis on the balcony.
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.
High chairs are available on request; strollers are not provided. Ship stores do not sell diapers and other necessities. It's advisable to pack your own baby kit with diapers, wipes, bottles and other essentials, 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 use. Toys can be accessed through the Nursery or Adventure Ocean facilities.
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.
Milk can be requested onboard. Infant formula is not available onboard, so bring your own. Baby food is only available via the Babies 2 Go program. Otherwise, you may bring your own pre-bought, unopened baby food and snacks.