How to Book the Best Family Cruise

family cruise kids teens best caribbean
Cruising with kids has plenty of advantages over typical resort vacations, but make sure you do your research beforehand. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Family cruising is an easy way to vacation with your children, since it affords quality time together, as well as coveted time apart. A bonus is that family cruising provides your youngsters with hands-on learning as you explore worldwide ports together. Here, what to look for when planning a cruise with kids:


1. Choose your week carefully.

family pool cruise splash norwegian getaway
Pools will be less crowded if you avoid vacation weeks. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

If you have young children who aren’t yet in school, your best bet is an off-season cruise, when families who don’t want to pull their kids out of school can’t travel. During these quieter sailings, rates are lower and the kid-friendly areas are less crowded.

However, if your children are social, it may be worth the extra fare to sail during peak times, since more kids their ages are likely to be onboard to connect with at the pool and in the youth center.


2. Look for family deals.

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Water slides on MSC Preziosa - Photo by MSC Cruises

Some cruise lines offer special “kids sail free” promotions. Luxury line Crystal Cruises and budget-friendly MSC Cruises have both offered these specials in the past. Subscribe to individual lines’ promotional email newsletters to make sure you don’t miss out on a sale fare.


Related: Should you use a travel agent to book your cruise?


3. Research the programs.

Royal Caribbean has DreamWorks-themed programming, including parades and performances. - Photo by Royal Caribbean

Unlike at most resorts, the children, tween, and teen activities are complimentary. Since not all ships’ programs are created equal, you’ll want to compare kids programs before plunking down your non-refundable deposit.

Tip: If you're traveling with little ones and want some adult-only time, check out our list of cruise childcare services to make sure it's available on your ship.

4. Pay attention to the cabin configurations.

carnival family harbor stateroom
Carnival's Family Harbor Stateroom - Photo by Carnival

Booking an inside cabin is a great way to save money on a cruise if you’re the type of person who only uses your stateroom to sleep and shower in. However, if your little ones still need naps, you’ll want to upgrade to a balcony cabin. There’s nothing more depressing than being holed up in a windowless room during naptime when you know the sun is shining gloriously outside.

An important consideration: While balconies are safe for kids (there are continuous railings and plexiglass on most ships), you’ll want to make sure small children aren’t left alone in your balcony cabin, even when you’re showering.


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5. Make dinner reservations.

ncl dinner family cruise
Don't limit yourself to the main dining rooms. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

On cruise lines that offer the traditional early and late seatings for dinner, most families with young children want the early option — so reserve a table for your crew when you book if you want one. You’ll also want to reserve early dining times for your family at any specialty restaurants onboard, before they fill up.


6. Know that diapers may dictate your experience.

ncl dinner family cruise
Children with diapers can still play in Nemo's Reef on Disney Ships. - Photo by Disney

Children in diapers are not allowed in cruise ship pools. If you have a child still in diapers, check with the cruise line you’re considering to see if it has kiddy pools and, if so, whether swim diapers are allowed there.

Children who are not yet potty trained are also not welcome in many of the kids’ programs on ships, since the majority of lines don’t allow their child care workers to change diapers. (Check out our handy chart for which lines are the most baby-friendly.)



7. Communicate with older kids before you sail.

vibe teens family kids cruise caribbean
The Vibe is a teens-only club on Disney. - Photo by Disney

Prior to your cruise, inform any teens or tweens of your expectations. Many parents, for example, allow older kids to use the teen programs on sea days but expect them to have dinner and explore ports with the family.


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Join the discussion

What are your best tips for parents who are first-time cruisers?

1 Comment

Posted by EatSleepCruise

Great post! I think some of these tips apply to all times of cruises, especially timing. In fact, we just put together our 7 simple tips to plan the perfect couple's cruise Lets be honesty, sometimes you need a little break from the little ones! Keep on cruising!

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