Give the Gift of Cruise: Best Ships for Quality Family Adventures
You may wonder what gift you can get for your family that everyone will like. Spoiler alert, we think you should do a family cruise! With great food, tons of activities and entertainment, robust kids’ programs, and more, a cruise is the perfect choice to satisfy even the pickiest family member’s wish list. Plus, you will create countless memories that will last a lifetime. Here are our picks for 12 of the best cruise ships for a family looking for some adventure and quality time.
Character Partnership: All Disney!
Kids Programs: Ages 6 months - 17 years
The Dream Class ships from Disney Cruise Line are, well, simply magical! While Disney’s fleet is smaller than other major cruise lines, their Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships provide more options for fun and adventure. Plus, everyone in the family will enjoy the attention to detail that Disney fans expect from the brand.
Both the Dream and Fantasy offer kid and adult pools, four expansive children’s clubs, plus the “it’s a small world” nursery for babies and toddlers ages 6 months to 3 years old, so no family member is left out of the mix. On the Fantasy there is even an adult-only deck called Satellite Falls.
One of the most exciting upgrades on the Dream class ships is the popular AquaDuck water park, which features a waterside with the same g-force you would expect from a rollercoaster. The 765-foot water slide, which even swirls you a dozen feet over the ocean and eventually lands you in the pool, is sure to give everyone (over 42 inches, of course) a thrill. At night, this area sets the stage for the popular Pirate Night live-action show and firework display.
After a fun day of activities, you can take the family to enjoy a meal at the Animator’s Palate dinner show, where guests draw their own characters to present to Mickey the Sorcerer Mouse. Whether you get a babysitter or take advantage of the kid’s clubs evening programs, don’t forget to let loose with the other adults at the Europa nightlight district with its European-theme bars and clubs like Tube, Ooh La La, and O’Gill’s Pub.
Character Partnership: Nickelodeon
Kids Programs: Ages 6 months - 17 years
Time to ‘breakaway’ from what you think cruising looks like and consider sailing on one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway Plus Class ships. There are boundless options on Norwegian’s Encore, Bliss, Joy, or Escape, with the newest ships offering the most amount of options perfect for families.
You can enjoy a large water park, pool, hot tub, or mini-golf course on all these ships, and most offer families the chance to race it out at sea with outdoor electric go-karts and laser tag arenas. Families can also take advantage of the indoor virtual reality arcade, ropes course, and duckpin bowling lanes on some of these ships.
When it’s time to refuel, you can choose from one of the 20 plus dining venues, which include some of the lines most popular specialty resultants like Cagney’s Steakhouse, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at Sea, Teppanyaki, District Brew House, Sugarcane Mojito Bar, Cellars Wine Bar and more.
With five children’s groups that range in age from 6 months to 17 years, the Encore, Bliss, Joy, or Escape all offer a variety of activities for young adventurers from circus school to treasure hunts to video game challenges. There are entertainment options for everyone in the family though since all the Breakaway Plus-class ships offer Broadway entertainment, like Footloose and Jersey Boys, as well as a comedy club and alcohol-inclusive cabaret-style shows for the adults. No need to worry about the kiddos either, they have the Late-Night Fun Zone, which is open until 1:30 am.
When it is time to lay your head on your pillow, the good news is that these ships offer the most amount of Haven suites, the most luxurious and spacious accommodations onboard. On most of these ships, The Haven spans two decks and the 80 suites also give families access to a bonus restaurant, covered pool deck, outdoor sun deck and a large observation lounge with stunning panoramic views. Is grandpa being a stickler, but grandma wants to come? The bonus of these ships is that they also offer rarely seen studio cabins priced specifically for single travelers.
Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon
Character Partnership: Dr. Seuss
Kids Programs: Ages 2 years - 17 years
The Vista Class ships by Carnival Cruise Line really aim to please every generation by providing plenty of indoor and outdoor options for kids and parents. Whether you are zooming around on the twin-track suspended bike course for fun or racing a family member, the SkyRide® will get that adrenaline pumping. Get ready for some splashing good times in the WaterWorks area, which features the Kaleid-O-Slide with its groovy lights. Take a break from the adventure and grab a burger at the popular pool-side spot, Guy’s Burger Joint. If you’re looking for something a bit healthier, drop the kids off at Camp Ocean and take a stroll to the adult-only Serenity area with its complimentary chopped salad station.
Divided into five groups ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old, kids can dive into Camp Ocean for a world full of fun with its more than 400 ocean inspired activities. Besides all the other Seussical events onboard like the character parade, interactive story time, character breakfast, arts and craft activities, the Vista and Horizon also offers children the all new Dr. Seuss Bookville. This whimsical library and reading space provide a refuge for children looking for calm seas. Carnival also offers the Night Owl babysitting program from 6 months to 11 years at an additional cost.
Children are not the only ones who get to flex their imaginations onboard! Parents can transport themselves back to the days of slap bracelets and shoulder pads as they get decked out for the all new 80s party. If theme parties aren’t your thing, get some down time at other venues unique to the class ships like the Beer Station, SkyBox Sports Bar, Havana Bar, Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse on the Horizon or RedFrog Pub & Brewery - the first brewery at sea on the Vista. (Insider tip: you can also get a brewery tour!)
When you’ve had your fill of thrills, head back to your Family Harbor cabin, which is designed specifically for those traveling with children. Everything from the color scheme to the curtain wall, to added perks like the Family Harbor Lounge which features snacks, games, books, and complimentary 1-night babysitting service, there is no reason this isn’t the perfect place to bring the fam.
Royal Caribbean: Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, and Symphony of the Seas
Character Partnership: DreamWorks
Kids Programs: Ages 6 months - 17 years
What could be better than some of the biggest cruise ships at sea to keep both parents and kids entertained? While the Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, and Symphony of the Seas offer relaxation opportunities, these adventure-packed, Oasis Class vessels from Royal Caribbean are sure to impress every member of the family. With Perfect Day at Coco Cay as a popular port of call Divided into seven themed neighborhoods like Central Park, Youth Zone, Boardwalk, and others, these ships are designed to reduce crowds and keep everyone busy from the time you wake-up until your head hits the pillow.
Whether you are catching some waves on the FlowRider surf simulators, zip-lining across Central Park, splashing around the H2O water park, bundling up for a turn around the ice rink, taking on the rock wall, solving mysteries in the escape room, ducking enemy fire in the laser tag arena or taking a spin on the carousel, there is an activity for everyone. Just listening to those activities made us tired, so take some time to simply enjoy the top-notch entertainment like the AquaTheater stunt diving show, 3D movies, or Broadway-style musicals like Hairspray.
While all Oasis-class ships feature kids’ clubs and the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery for kids ages 6 to 36 months, the three Oasis-class ships also offer the DreamWorks Experience which brings beloved characters like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda to the ship. While the youngest in the family enjoy the kid programs, parents can head over to the funky Bionic Bar where a robot will mix you up one of your favorite cocktails.
For families who want more room to stretch out, check out the Royal Suite Class experience. Perks like free internet and complimentary soda packages are especially enticing for families with teens. While the complimentary drink packages and free access to the spa’s thermal room will satisfy any parent who wants to enjoy some adult time. With priority boarding and dining options, plus exclusive seats for entertainment venues, you’re also sure to avoid any meltdowns and ensure family harmony.
Now that we’ve shared which lines have the best ships for families, you are fully prepped to have a serious discussion with your Travel Advisor about booking one of these family-friendly ships.
Join the discussion
Have you had an adventure at sea that checks all the boxes for your family?