Planning a family reunion cruise is quite the juggling act. The cruise ship itself must satisfy a diverse group of people coming together -- and that's easier said than done. The whole point of planning your reunion on a cruise ship is to make sure everyone is entertained and fed with the least amount of hassle while having enough accommodation choices to please every budget.
The best cruise for a family reunion has the broadest range of activities, food, entertainment and cabin choices. While this almost always falls into the mainstream cruise line category, you may be surprised to learn that ships that hit all the price points needed for a family reunion -- from budget to lavish -- are not the newest mainstream ships. That’s because those shiny new mega ships have higher fares, even for the smallest cabins.
With that in mind, we went looking for ships that have enough fun to offer your group, without pushing too many budget limits. Here are the five of the best cruise ships for a family reunion cruise.
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, an 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.
Family groups can request large tables in the main dining rooms on Carnival Vista or opt for meeting up on the pool deck for plenty of free, casual options (buffet, pizza, Mexican and Guy Fieri burgers). For an extra fee, they can plan special-occasion meals at Asian, Italian and steak restaurants.
Carnival is not generally known for having a large variety of cabin types, but Vista offers everything from affordable inside cabins to spacious (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.
Norwegian Escape 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 and an active kids’ club.
Norwegian Escape 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.
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.
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. Look for itineraries that include Perfect Day at CocoCay for a fun family beach day.
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.
You might be overwhelmed by 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.
MSC Divina has plenty to offer for those planning a family reunion that includes a winter escape to the Caribbean or a summer get together in the Mediterranean.
The ship has an arcade, Formula One racing car simulator, 4D theater, a water slide, both 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.
MSC Divina has both flexible and traditional dining times, but just how flexible depends on what cabin “experience” you are cruising on. The more you spend, the more perks you get, including more main dining room flexibility. Divina has an extensive casual buffet, which often works best for family groups at breakfast and lunch.
For-fee options include the usual steakhouse, Italian and sushi restaurants found on most mainstream ships. The best advice on Divina is not to miss the Nutella cart.
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).
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.
Grand Princess' main dining room offers flexible 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 free -- for when you'd rather camp out in someone's room than dress for dinner.
Grand Princess doesn't 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 two standard cabins connected via a double-length living area plus an oversized balcony.