Top 7 Family-Friendly Cruise Lines: Insights from a Frequent Cruiser

For a long time, I thought cruises were for the older crowd. The only thing I knew about cruising was from my 58-year old aunt, who was constantly traveling all over the Caribbean via ship. From her, I thought cruises were basically laying by the pool all day, checking out the views and eating at speciality restaurants. (I mean, it is, but there’s so much more.) But in 2018, I finally set “sail” on a vacation at sea of my own, and my mind was completely changed. Now, I’m kinda obsessed with them. From the fun trivia to the adventure-filled excursions, cruises are for everyone! Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway (with a killer kids’ club), unique activities for your thrill-seeking teen or play areas to keep your toddler entertained, here’s a list of the seven best cruise lines for families.

As mentioned, I’ve been going on cruises since 2018 and will be heading on my sixth cruise this year. I’ve been on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, so I have first-hand experience on how each cruise line’s amenities, activities, entertainment, food and more. I also spent hours researching everything you need to know about each cruise line, from the ships themselves to the offerings available for each. To make sure all types of families and their needs are covered, I chatted with our parent editors, who vouched for a few of these cruise lines on the list. Keep reading to find one that’s right for you.

If you’re searching for one of the best cruise lines for families, look no further than Disney Cruise Line. It takes all the magic we know and love from the parks with an at-sea flair. Character meet and greets replete with Mickey and friend, princesses and superheroes are a frequent occurrence. The ships also have themed days (like Pirate Night and Marvel Day at Sea), award-winning performances, specialty activities (Iike Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirates League) and dance parties filled with spectacular fireworks—it is Disney after all.

Parents have the option to leave their young children at the Oceaneer Club, where they can mingle with their favorite characters and enjoy games and themed play areas. Older kids have their own unique daily activities at The Hideaway, The Edge, or Vibe club, with attractions such as karaoke, a dance floor, and gaming systems. However, the fun doesn’t end with the children. Adults are also catered for with nightclubs and lounges for those aged 18 and above. So, don’t forget to pack your dancing shoes!

Disney Cruise Line offers more than just main and casual dining, including interactive dining experiences like the Animator’s Palate and Royal Court Royal Tea that the entire family can enjoy. There’s also an adult-only dining option for parents who wish to have a romantic dinner away from their kids. You can also explore Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, known as Castaway Cay. For the adventurous ones, snorkelling might reveal some hidden statues of your favorite characters beneath the sunny waters.

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With over 28 ships in six different classes, Royal Caribbean offers endless opportunities for fun and adventure. Among these classes, the Oasis class and the new Icon class, marketed as the ultimate family vacations, stand out. The Icon of the Seas is well-equipped with everything you’d expect from a Royal ship, like rock climbing and FlowRider, a fun surf simulator. The ship also includes a ‘neighborhood’ entirely dedicated to kids, as explained by our Executive Managing Editor Catrina Yohay after a trip on the world’s largest ship.

The cruise line provides a Babies and Tots program where you can leave your baby (aged 6 to 36 months) in a safe and engaging environment. However, it’s important to note that currently, the Jewel, Adventure and Explorer of the Seas do not offer this service onboard. For older kids, there are three clubs such as Aquanauts (3 to 5 years), Explorers (6 to 8 years), and Voyagers (9 to 11 years), offering varietal activities, including arts, crafts, science experiments, and gaming competitions. Tweens and teens are allowed to enjoy more freedom in choosing their activities or hanging out at the lounge.

Royal Caribbean’s private island, Coco Cay, is jam-packed with family-oriented activities. It boasts one of the tallest water slides in North America, a huge wave pool, vast beaches, and much more. Concerning food, the cruise line boasts various dining options, including buffet-style meals at the Windjammer, specialty restaurants, and complimentary food outlets such as Loco Fresh, Sorrento’s Pizza, and Park Cafe. At the primary dining hall, there is also a kids’ menu featuring favorites like pizza, spaghetti, and chicken tenders.

For more in-depth information, visit Royal Caribbean’s official website here.

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Carnival is recognised for its lively and festive atmosphere. Approximately 26 of their ships embody this spirit, making each cruise an exciting experience. I can personally vouch for this, as my first cruise was with Carnival, along with my sprightly 80-year-old grandmother, and we had a fantastic time. Carnival takes pride in its broad range of activities and amenities catering to all generations, from dance parties and trivia games to impressive live performances.

Onboard each ship is a program called Camp Ocean divided into three age groups – Penguins (2 to 5), Stingrays (6 to 8), and Sharks (9 to 11). Each group has access to a variety of activities specifically designed for their age group. The imaginative world of Dr Seuss is also brought to life on some ships with character breakfasts, story times, and enjoyable parades. For older children, there is the Sky Zone indoor trampoline park, IMAX theatre, ropes course, and exclusive clubs like Club O2 and Circle “C”. Other captivating attractions include the Build-A-Bear Workshop, NASA-themed activities, Thrill Theater, and the first ever roller coaster at sea. Moreover, Carnival offers a Night Owls program where parents can leave their children under 11 until as late as 1 a.m, allowing them to unwind and enjoy the nightlife on the ship.

Multiple dining options are available on Carnival ships, each offering kids’ menus with everything from chicken nuggets to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Not to mention, the ships also provide unlimited free pizza and soft serve available long into the night.

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If you have older kids, Norwegian may be the best cruise line for your family. They have a ton of amenities for all ages. Zoom around the largest race track at sea, immerse yourself at the high-tech Galaxy Pavilion or take a plunge on the water slides. I had the chance to check out their latest ship, Norwegian Prima, which has two drop slides, a duo waterslide and a huge sports area (with mini golf, pickleball court, ping pong and more).

They also have programs for each age group, including the Splash Academy (3 to 12) and Entourage (13 to 17). As for the Guppies Program (6 months to 4), parents are required to stay with their child and enjoy the amenities together. However, Norwegian does offer group babysitting during the evenings for parents to enjoy a child-free dinner.

While I love all the amenities, the food options were superb. They have both specialty (where kids under 12 can eat for free) and a complimentary buffet where even the pickiest eater of the fam will find something to enjoy. Aside from the buffet and 24-hour spots, newer ships offer the Indulge Food Hall. They are set up like a food market, where you can order from any station and have it all brought right to your seat. It was a great experience trying out new dishes and having a family-style meal.

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From Norway, Greece or Rome, MSC is the best cruise line for families that want to take their young explorers out to the open sea—and this one has a ton of amenities to keep them busy in the meantime. Whether you want to try your hand at zip lining or prefer staying on the ground and playing bowling, grab yourself a MSC Fun Pass to try out these activities throughout your trip. All the ships also show Broadway-level shows, live music and immersive performances that will even have your teen engaged in the theatrics.

You’ll also find five different clubs on the ship, Baby Club (0-3), Mini Club (3-6), Junior Club (7-11), Young Club (11-14) and the Teen Club (15-17). They vary depending on the age group, but some highlights include sports competitions, dance parties, karaoke and more. There are also additional services for your babies, including MSC Baby Time, MSC Baby Care Service and the MSC and Chicco. FYI: MSC has their own baby laundry service, so you don’t have to worry about cleaning out those stains once you get home.

At MSC, dining is elevated to give kids just as amazing (and sometimes luxe) food options as the adults. Assessed by nutritionists, the menu features fun dishes for all ages, including babies from 6 to 12 months. The buffets each have a Kids’ Corner and all the specialty restaurants have a menu, so your kiddo can find a meal that they’ll like.

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PureWow Editor-in-Chief Jillian Quint shares, “Celebrity is great for families with older kids. It’s very sophisticated and sleek (no giant plastic water slides here), but there’s still a ton for big kids and teens to do: shows to see, one million pools to lounge at, and destinations like Bahamas, Aruba and St. Maarten. There are also various ‘Camp at Sea’ options to keep kids entertained all day long. But the best part is knowing you can let your kids go off by themselves, but they can never get too far.”

Speaking of Camp at Sea, this entertainment center is home to over 500 activities for kids, including arts and crafts, culinary, sport competitions and STEM-based activities. It’s broken down by Shipmates (3-5), Cadets (6-9) and Captains (10 -12). On the flip side, the Teen Club offers different classes, competitions and parties throughout the day. Luckily for them, they have the freedom to leave whenever they want—although the dedicated space for them is worth checking out.

Kids can try out the buffet or main dining room to get everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to a mini margarita pizza. MSC also offers in-room dining menus in case your kiddo gets a little restless at the dinner table. Plus, the cruise line is especially loved for being sensory- and autism-friendly, offering a wide range of services like priority checking, Camp at Sea flexible grouping and more.

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Princess Cruises is known for being the best cruise line for the whole family, from baby to grandma. Request everything from highchairs to cribs to pureed food. And let the grandparents join in on the fun through educational excursions partnered with Discovery and Animal Planet, as well as splash zones, backyard games and yes, a kid-friendly bar with sweet mocktails. The cruise line also has their very own mascot, Stanley, who spends his time all over the ship to play games, take photos and interact with guests.

Get the kids set up with one of the on-ship Camp Discovery programs including The Treehouse (3-7), The Lodge (8-12) and The Beach House (13-17). In partnership with Discovery, your kids will have immersive hands-on activities, sports competitions, dance classes, movie nights and science programs. Did we mention they even have a secret club for young adults, 18-20, too? They’ll need to know a special handshake and code in order to get in. Talk about an exclusive party.

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My First-Ever Cruise Was on the Largest Ship in the World—Here’s My Honest Review of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas

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