Wading through the bevy of activities, kids' clubs, family cabins and "kids sail free cruises" to find the best family cruise is a mammoth task. To make the decision even trickier, ships vary greatly, so the question becomes not simply what is the best family line, but what are the best cruise ships for kids?
The cruise lines and recommended ships that follow are our top picks for family cruises. We tend to recommend cruise lines' newer ships, because the facilities have been designed for families with kids from the outset and have more space for fun activities such as water parks, ropes courses and rock-climbing walls.
Every family's travel style is different, however, 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.
Whether you’re traveling with a toddler or a teenager, Royal Caribbean is one of the top family cruise lines around. The cruise line's largest ships are the best Royal Caribbean vessels for kids of all ages, as well as for multigenerational family groups.
You’ll be hard-pressed to ever feel bored during a Royal Caribbean family cruise. The line’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.
The cruise line’s newest Oasis-class ships -- Wonder of the Seas, 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 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.)
Royal Caribbean family cruise packages include free daytime and early evening access to its popular kids’ clubs. A sizable amount of real estate is dedicated to them, 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. Drop-off babysitting services and toddler-friendly play spaces are also available.
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.
You can rest assured knowing that your children are in good hands because the Royal Caribbean kids' program counselors are some of the friendliest and most engaging in the business.
Royal Caribbean offers affordable family 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 cabins and loft suites mean room for the family to spread out. There's even a Royal Family cabin that sleeps eight, and Symphony of the Seas, Spectrum of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas’ Ultimate Family Suite with a two-deck 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, meaning 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 family cruises. They are particularly outstanding for those traveling with youngsters.
Disney ships, including the newest, Disney Wish, which debuted in 2022, 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 Wish, 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 Marvel Super Hero Academy, Star Wars: Cargo Bay and Fairytale Hall on Disney Wish.
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 nursery (which costs extra) available to care for the youngest cruisers, ages 6 months to 3 years.
In short, Disney family cruises are excellent choices for families and leave little room for boredom for everyone.
From kid-friendly activities to family rooms and family cruise packages, Disney cruises are packed with family-pleasing extras. That includes a kids' pool and family pool along with the popular AquaDuck water slide on Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, while you'll find the AquaDunk on Disney Magic and AquaMouse on Disney Wish.
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 family rooms offer room-dividing curtains, bunk beds with twinkle-light constellations and plenty of storage. The spacious bathrooms in most cabins 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 mini-burgers and macaroni and cheese. Two onboard restaurants are adults-only so parents/guardians can take advantage of the kids’ club and enjoy their own evening together.
While P&O Cruises cannot be included in the “cheap family cruises” category, this time-honored British cruise line has long been popular for its packed program for young sailors and families.
Its handful of family-oriented ships feature well-equipped and age-appropriate kids’ clubs, a range of family cabins and family-friendly dining options. There are sports activities like archery, football, basketball and dedicated splash pools.
The line’s newest Excel Class ships, Iona and Arvia, feature a wide variety of family dining options and a four-screen cinema called Ocean Studios, showing family-friendly films. Many shows at the main theater, Headliners, are also suitable for younger family members.
The line’s first high-ropes experience, Altitude Skywalk, launched alongside Altitude Minigolf on Arvia.
This cruise line is also hot on its kid-friendly shore excursions, such as kayaking, bike rides, trips to beaches, boat tours and to the summit of volcanoes or snow-covered mountains.
Parents adore the kids’ club on P&O Cruises. The Reef, the main kids' club, is divided into rooms for each age group with brightly adorned spaces filled with fun activities and age-appropriate toys.
The P&O family cruise package includes complimentary access to the kids' clubs. With designated spaces and staff overseeing age-appropriate activities, the clubs are broken down into four age-groups: Splashers (2 to 4 years), Surfers (5 to 8 years), Scubas (9 to 12 years) and H2O (13 to 17 years).
For the under twos, there’s a nursery with its own area and organized activities. Keep in mind that children in this age group need to be accompanied by their parents/guardians at all times.
We love that kids can experience finger sandwiches and cakes at the children’s afternoon tea -- and there’s no shortage of pizza and complimentary ice cream onboard.
One of P&O Cruises’ standout offerings for many parents has been the free-of-charge, supervised Night Nursery for children under four years of age.
Norwegian's casual atmosphere makes it one of the best options for a family cruise -- particularly for families who don't want to be beholden to strict dining times, venues and dress codes. Its affordable rates make it a great pick for those looking for cheap family cruises, too.
Norwegian cruise ships for kids include the line’s newest vessels, 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 adult 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 also 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.
On NCL Epic, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical" is a great inclusive musical option for kids of all ages. Epic, Breakaway and Getaway also have two-bedroom family villas, which are cruise ship rooms for six people.
On Norwegian Escape, The Haven includes two-bedroom family suites that sleep up to six passengers, and there are family mini-suites that feature bathtubs.
The NCL kids' menu includes lots of kid favorites, including waffles, chicken fingers, pizza, freshly prepared pasta, soft-serve ice cream and more. Kids 12 years old and under dining with their parents at specialty restaurants eat for free (but only from the complimentary kids’ menu).
Although Princess Cruises might not be the most well-known for its family-friendly offerings, its ships include expansive programs, facilities and accommodations making them great cruises for kids and adults.
You'll also find big pool decks with 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 activities include video game tournaments, art projects and storytime.
The kids' clubs are outfitted with foosball, air hockey and even Skee-Ball. Teen cruisers can choose from sports 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 sunset. 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 peers.
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 Bigfoot (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.
MSC Cruises has become one of the best family cruise lines. You'll find exclusive clubs (and childcare) for children from infancy to age 12, plus teen spaces for those up to 17 years old aboard all MSC ships.
MSC Seaside in particular 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.
From time to time, MSC will offer family cruise packages, including fly&cruise deals, which may be interesting for 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 Virtuosa, 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 accommodate families of 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 at the buffets 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 on their own.