A cruise can be a perfect vacation for those traveling with children and provide impressive value for families: lodging, food, activities and transportation to faraway places for one set price. Kids are kept happy with a never-ending lineup of activities, and parents have the option to relax if they so choose. Cruise lines are actively pursuing the family crowd adding elaborate water parks, upgrading camp-like activities, and making shows more kid-friendly.
The world’s largest ships can also brag about an award-winning kids’ program and attractions that include ice-skating rinks, zip lines, and merry-go-round. Characters from Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda make frequent appearances on these ships. Complimentary Barbie activities, including movies and storytelling, will tickle some little girls pink. Eastern or western Caribbean, year-round from Fort Lauderdale, FL, Allure or Oasis.
On Princess’s Alaska cruises, kids learn about glaciers, endangered wildlife, and native animals in a Junior Ranger Program run in conjunction with the National Park Service. The cruise line also teamed up with the California Science Center for a Science at Sea program—complete with experiments in marine biology. Junior chefs can take cooking classes and Princess is also the only cruise line that gives kids and teens the chance to practice their downward dog poses in a youth-focused yoga program.
The newest Disney ships launched with all kinds of whiz-bang features, from artwork that springs to life with animation to lavish high-tech show productions that are the best in the industry—and feature familiar Disney songs that will leave you humming. But the biggest star on these 4,000-passenger ships is the AquaDuck, a real water coaster at sea. Take the 765-foot ride in a translucent tube and get ready to twist and shout, especially when, for a few seconds, you are whipped over the edge of the ship. Eastern or western Caribbean year-round from Port Canaveral, FL.
Luxury line Crystal Cruises has been making a big play for multigenerational family groups, with its dedicated play areas and kids’ programming—especially during holidays and the summer school break. Activities on the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity include kiddie cooking classes in the galley and a tour backstage in the theater. Perhaps most attractive to parents are special promotions where kids under age 18 cruise free on select sailings. Northern Europe, Copenhagen to Stockholm is an example of a great family experience.
A transatlantic cruise on this traditional 2,630-passenger ship, which passes only miles from the Titanic site, has novelties that even kids can appreciate. Cunard employs real British nannies for the youngest guests. At night, youngsters in mini ball gowns and tuxes can be spotted dancing with their parents at fancy balls; by day, a dress-up children’s high tea provides a dose of glamour. Beyond this British pedigree, the Queen Mary 2 is also distinctive for its planetarium, where kids can learn about the stars and planets. New York to Southampton in the lap of luxury.
Carnival’s newest ship serves up a family-focused experience that includes a water park with slides and a giant dump bucket which elicits squeals of delight as it soaks those underneath. A SkyCourse ropes course lets kids dangle 150 feet above sea level. The 3,690-passenger ship has introduced a lively game show in conjunction with Hasbro where families compete at larger-than-life versions of Sorry! and Yahtzee. An all-cruise pass grants access to the 24-seat Thrill Theater whose 3-D movies include special effects like blowing air and squirting water.
In June 2013, Princess Cruises launched its newest and largest ship, the 3,600-passenger Royal Princess, with expanded space dedicated to kids—even outdoors. In addition to using age-appropriate centers, younger kids can frolic in an open-air playground complete with spinners and a slide, plus space to ride a fleet of tricycles. Kids ages 8 to 12 get a dedicated outdoor space with living room-style furnishings and games. Teens, meanwhile, can linger in their own hip outdoor area complete with cool club lighting, loungers and even a wading pool.
On this 2,700-passenger ship a whole deck is dedicated to kids’ facilities. In Venice, passengers can attend a reception at the famous Doge’s Palace along with costumed Disney royalty and in Turkey, families can spend quality time while decoding clues in a team competition at the ancient archaeological site of Ephesus. But for some kids, there will be nothing quite like the ooh-and-ahh moment when Disney princesses like Belle and Snow White descend the ship’s grand staircase.
Smurfs can be spotted on this Italian-style ship, sailing year-round from Miami. The 3,500-passenger ship hosts Smurf-themed family disco parties featuring songs from “The Smurfs 2” soundtrack, a Smurfs parade and Smurf-themed cooking classes, among other activities. The blue characters are even part of the Mini and Junior club décor. The ship also has a kids’ waterslide and 4-D theater older kids will enjoy. Parents will like the kids (11 and under) sail free promotions.
And for something different! Kids were rare on small expedition ships a decade ago, but Lindblad, reports that over 12 percent of passengers on its Galápagos cruises were under age 18. For parents, a tie-in with National Geographic Kids is a big draw—expedition leaders get training from the organization and are more than willing to bend down and answer kids’ questions about wildlife. What the ship lacks in kid-specific facilities it makes up for with creative offerings such as learning to drive a Zodiac craft, wildlife photography lessons, and bridge visits with the captain.