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7 Best Cruise Lines for Families (and Their 12 Most Kid-Friendly Ships)

Traveling to new places is always a thrill, but it can come with some challenges. For example, which side of the road are you supposed to drive on?

Cruises simplify the bulk of your vacation planning and transportation, as everything you need is in one convenient package.

A family cruise line will keep your children entertained day and night. I’ve rounded up seven of my favorites, which I’ll share in the first part of this guide.

Then I’ll recommend the most kid-friendly cruise ships for booking your next vacation.

The 7 Best Family-Friendly Cruise Lines

1. Disney Cruise Line

Discover how enchanting life at sea can be on a Disney Cruise Line.

Entertainment of all kinds awaits you. If you want to splash and play on your family vacation, you can ride the AquaDunk or AquaDuck water coasters, romp in Donald’s Pool or Goofy’s Pool, or enjoy the sparkling pool at Mickey’s AquaLab.

Pools are also divided for guests of varying ages, such as the Quiet Cove Pool for guests 18 and older, splash pads for kids three and under, and Satellite Falls for adults.

Live performances and musicals give each night a magical feel, while karaoke, trivia, and Disney character meet and greets ensure every minute aboard is exciting.

There are even kids’ clubs to give parents a break to enjoy nightclubs, fitness facilities, or the adults-only pool.

Your cruise will stop at Castaway Cay if visiting a Caribbean or Bahamian island. This island is exclusively for cruise line guests. Your day at Castaway Cay will include food and refreshments, beach access, pools and water slides, trails, and yoga classes.

Oh, and there’s all-you-can-eat ice cream, which will delight children of all ages.

The family-centric staterooms offer television with in-room movies, a fridge, plenty of storage, and split bathrooms so the family can maintain its privacy.

Disney Cruise Lines can take you across the Transatlantic, South Pacific, Panama Canal, Pacific Coast, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Hawaii, Europe, the Caribbean, Canada, Bermuda, Alaska, and the Bahamas.

» MORE: How Long Is Summer Break in Canada?

2. Norwegian Cruise Line

Take the family vacation of a lifetime on the Norwegian Cruise Line.

Its Freestyle Cruising allows you to plan your vacation just the way you like it. Enjoy long-running, Tony Award-nominated musicals or top-notch concerts.

Family fun awaits at every turn, such as arcades, pinball, water slides and pools, rock-climbing walls, mini golf, and plenty of other organized sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, and bowling.

The ThrillPlex offers activities that will make your kids smile from ear to ear. How does a rousing game of family laser tag sound? Or maybe you want to climb a ropes course or race on a track to see who’s the fastest? The ThrillPlex has all that and more.

Eat well no matter the cuisine you and the family crave, from simple burgers to Brazilian steakhouses, Japanese food, seafood, or global cuisine. Some establishments offer buffet-style dining, and others are open 24 hours so you can always fill your belly.

The sizable suites and staterooms are family-friendly and accommodate larger groups of up to eight. Your room includes concierge and butler service, large rooms for privacy, and a balcony you’ll love to look out from.

Norwegian Cruise Lines visit Asia, New England, Florida, Alaska, the Bahamas, Canada, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Europe, and Hawaii. You can also take special cruise tours or music-themed cruises.

3. Royal Caribbean International

Experience the world’s wonders on a Royal Caribbean International cruise line.

You won’t want for much, as the various ships under the Royal Caribbean umbrella promise fun and excitement from the moment you step onto the ship until you disembark.

You can take dance classes, check out a virtual concert, strategize to get out of an escape room, and eat to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content.

The youth programs feature an Imagination Studio for kids to explore and express their creative sides. Older kids can become junior scientists at the Adventure Science Lab, while the Teen Lounge keeps similarly-aged kids entertained.

Activities like story time, theater, art, and science will enchant the young’uns, who you will definitely want to bring, as kids sail free.

Cruise the world on a Royal Caribbean ship, including the Bahamas, Alaska, New England, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Asia, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, the Panama Canal, Hawaii, the Transpacific, Transatlantic, South Pacific, or Pacific Northwest.

» MORE: How Long Is Summer Break in Australia?

4. Carnival Cruise Line

It’s time to get away on a Carnival Cruise Line.

This vacation experience can be anything you want, from relaxing and rejuvenating (with adult-only retreats and spas) to exciting with breathtakingly tall water slides, Family Feud Live, and the SkyRide overlooking the ocean.

The kids can hop around and burn off energy at the bungee Sky Zone, make a new friend at the Build-A-Bear Workshop at Sea, play mini golf, spend the day at the arcade, or compete in a friendly game of basketball.

Camp Ocean keeps kids between 2 and 11 years old busy, and Circle “C” is for older kids between 12 and 14.

Of course, with a ropes course, IMAX theaters, and a space program for kids 2 to 11, there’s always something for families to do together.

A stateroom or suite can accommodate your entire brood, whether there are only a few of you or a larger group. The rooms have an extra bathroom, a TV, and climate control.

Some rooms even connect so your kids can feel independent while you keep a watchful eye over them.

A Carnival Cruise Line vacation can take you across Greenland, the Panama Canal, Asia, the South Pacific, the Transatlantic, New Guinea, the South Pacific, New Zealand, the Panama Canal, Hawaii, New England, the Bahamas, Canada, Alaska, Europe, the Transpacific, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.

5. Princess Cruises

Perhaps a vacation on a Princess Cruise Line is what your family needs.

Onboard activities for all tastes are available. Princess and Discovery have an immersive, unique Discovery at SEA Enrichment Program that lets you see this planet and its inhabitants in engaging ways.

The Festivals of the World Program will introduce your family (especially the kiddos) to new cultures as they celebrate Mexican fiestas, Carnaval de Panama, Celtic Festival, and more.

Take a dip in a pool, chill out in a hot tub, play every sport imaginable (from shuffleboard to mini golf), and catch a tan at the Reef Family Splash Zone, a mini water park with games, pools, and water features.

So where would you and the family like to go?

You can take a short excursion that lasts between three and six days or visit such parts of the world as the South Pacific, Panama Canal, Europe, Tahiti, Asia, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, New England, Antarctica, Japan, South America, Canada, New Zealand, the Pacific Coast, Australia, and California.

World cruises are also available. 

» MORE: How Long Is Summer Break in Japan?

6. MSC Cruises

Immerse yourself in coastal wonder on an MSC Cruise.

You and your family will find it exceptionally easy to plan your itinerary both day and night. How does a family disco sound after dark, or a family game show that includes selfie, music, and dance challenges?

That’s only scratching the surface! The 4D cinema experience makes you feel like you’re racing on a freeway or experiencing other immersive scenes without leaving your seat. The Robotron is a thrilling amusement ride, and the Flight Simulator lets you take to the skies while still safely on the ship.

The kids can also play at the arcade, practice driving in the F1 simulator, or play some sports. Live entertainment abounds, with options for just the adults or the entire family.

The family-friendly staterooms include buffet access and a discounted drink package so you can feed the family for less.

An MSC Cruise will take you across New England, Asia, South Africa, South America, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

7. Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises are catered to families, with excursions, programs, and activities for kids and adults. They even offer autism-friendly activities, which are highly inclusive.

Imagine the look on your children’s faces when swimming with dolphins, exploring inactive volcanoes on foot, or seeing an exotic country from thousands of feet up in a plane! Celebrity Cruises makes it possible.

The kids and teen programs include Camp at Sea for kids between 3 and 12. Participants have themed parties, play sports, do arts and crafts, and engage in treasure hunts.

The Teen Club offers culinary classes, parties, and video game competitions.

The Retreat is the most family-friendly lodging option, as it includes more than 2,500 square feet of lounge space, an ample veranda, and a private sundeck.

Celebrity Cruises stop at more than 300 cruise ports, including Africa, New Zealand, Alaska, New England, Galapagos, the Caribbean, Europe, Bermuda, Asia, the Mediterranean, the Panama Canal, the Transatlantic, Mexico, the Pacific Coastal, South America, and the Transpacific.

The 12 Most Kid-Friendly Ships

You have some great ideas for where to book your next family cruise, but now the question is which ship specifically is right for your group?

I’m here to help you make this all-important choice by reviewing 12 of the best cruise ships for kids.

1. Disney Dream

Disney magic comes to life on the Disney Dream, an enchanting cruise experience.

The warm, opulent common areas add extravagance to your vacation, while kid-friendly activities and amenities will keep the young ones entertained.

Treat them to Vanellope’s Sweets, a candy shop with walls of candy as far as the eye can see. Disney entertainment comes to the big stages as only this brand can, with costumed characters singing, dancing, and entertaining guests all day or evening.

The staterooms have portholes that allow the kids to glance out at the ocean whenever they wish, and with family-centric amenities at every turn, you might not want to disembark!

2. Wonder of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas embarks from Cape Canaveral and island hops the entire cruise, including a stop at Perfect Day at Coco Cay, the Royal Caribbean’s own private island only for cruise guests.

Kids will fall in love with the Wonder Playscape, which offers puzzles, games, climbing walls, and slides. Pool decks throughout will let you take a much-needed load off.

Perhaps you and the family are brave enough to try the 10-story Ultimate Abyss water slide!

Some staterooms overlook the majesty of the sea, and others have a virtual balcony. All rooms include Wi-Fi, spa features, and room service.

3. Disney Magic

You have so many ways to experience the wonder of a Disney Cruise Line vacation, including the Disney Magic.

This inviting ship is the home of D Lounge, the family-friendly hangout zone with dance parties, games, and hours upon hours of fun.

The kids can manage the Avengers during the Avenger’s Academy ride, visit the Mickey Mouse Club, receive a makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (knights for boys and princesses for girls), or ride dizzying, spiraling water slides.

The nautical-themed staterooms are cozy and spacious for families, and split bathrooms, portholes, and private verandas also set the mood.

4. Symphony of the Seas

Calling itself “The Sound of Wonder,” the Symphony of the Seas through the Royal Caribbean is new and improved for families.

Hit up Sugar Beach and buy some candy, ride three water slides in one on The Perfect Storm, or learn to hang ten on the FlowRider. You’ll spend the days in the most fun ways possible.

Wonderland has whimsical food the kids will go gaga over. There are cocktails for the parents that are just as inspired.

Snuggle up to the Ultimate Family Suite, which boasts a private game room, a hot tub, table tennis facilities, and karaoke.

5. Mardi Gras

Carnival’s Mardi Gras is one of its latest and greatest creations, so you should expect the ultimate in entertainment.

Take a ride on the Bolt sea coaster for some exciting thrills. You can also spend a sunny day at the WaterWorks water park with a dumping bucket and countless water slides, then close out the day by seeing a show. It’s all waiting for you.

The Family Harbor Staterooms in the Family Harbor Lounge is where you need to be. Kids eat free at most restaurants in the lounge, and you can take advantage of entertainment like board games and movies. Babysitting is also available. 

6. MSC Meraviglia

Departing from Florida, the Bahamas, and Bermuda, set sail for a world of adventure aboard the MSG Meraviglia. This ship sails to New England and Canada and delights the entire voyage.  

Stroll through the 315-foot Galleria Meraviglia promenade, shopping, grabbing a bite to eat, or simply enjoying the beauty of it all.

Dive into the Horizon pool, which is open day and night (although there are dances and parties at night, so maybe visit sans kids).

Your kids will adore the F1 simulators, full-sized bowling alley, sportsplex, and Polar Aquapark with its sloping, looping enclosed slides.

Mini and Juniors Clubs give the kids a safe and fun place to play if you need to drop them off, as the rooms are bright, colorful, and full of toys.

7. Disney Wish

The Disney Cruise Line collection has recently expanded, adding Disney Wish to the ever-growing fleet. This ship has some claims to fame you’ll only find here, such as theatrical Frozen or Avengers-themed dining experiences.

Be one of the first to experience the Disney Unchartered Adventure, an immersive water experience with more than 700 feet of tubes and music, animations, special effects, and lighting. The experience ends by riding down a lazy river, so dress to get wet!

The Hero Zone is another standout the kids should love. They can compete with one another gameshow-style, play on the game floor or playground, and see who’s victorious on the sports court.

8. Carnival Panorama

Set sail to the Transpacific and Mexico on the Carnival Panorama through a Carnival Cruise Line. The 1,055-foot ship that weighs over 133,000 tons will put the whole family in a festive mood.

Laugh until you cry at The Punchliner Comedy Club, which also offers entertainment for adults.

The Carnival Panorama has plenty of Dr. Suess-themed entertainment the young ones will love, such as Dr. Suess Bookville, the Suess-a-palooza Parade, the Suess-a-palooza Story Time, and the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast.

Zumbini is a Zumba class for kids two to five that will have their little bodies moving and grooving. There’s also a Night Owls overnight stay for the children, which is like one big sleepover!

9. Allure of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International invites families to sail away on the Allure of the Seas, an award-winning ship for family entertainment.

Included with your stay are kids and teen programs and access to the H2O Zone Water Park. The park boasts waterfalls, water cannons, pools, and sculptures the kids can climb. Geysers send water high into the sky, splashing down and refreshing your children all afternoon.

Dry off and play table tennis, ride a zipline, partake in an interactive game show, or watch an outdoor movie under the stars in the pool. The projector screen is 220 feet so there isn’t a bad seat in the house!

10. Norwegian Joy

The Norwegian Joy starts in the Mexican Riviera and wraps up its journey at the Panama Canal but alternately travels from Miami to the Caribbean. The ship is nearly 1,100 feet long and weighs more than 160,000 tons, so she’s quite heavy.

Fostering family togetherness on a ship like the Norwegian Joy is simple. You can take the twists and turns behind the wheel of the Joy Speedway, play a heart-thumping game of laser tag, or tee off at mini golf.

There’s so much more here. The Galaxy Pavilion offers a thrilling race-themed dark ride. Get your kicks at the Aqua Park, a water park for tweens and teens. The Norwegian Joy even has a Kids’ Aqua Park for the little ones.

11. Celebrity Equinox

Make your next family vacation something truly special on the Celebrity Equinox through the Celebrity Cruise Line. Deck 15 has all the amenities a family needs.

For instance, you and the kids can learn how to blow glass at the Hot Glass Studio, which is not something you see on every cruise ship.

How about some croquet or bocce on the Lawn Club? The kids’ club will watch your children between three and 12, offering lunch, dinner, and overnight stays if needed, and the ship even offers babysitting services in your cabin.

12. Norwegian Encore

Traverse the world on the Norwegian Encore, traveling from Alaska to Seattle or from the Caribbean to Miami. Adventure calls on the Encore, including many of the fun activities for families featured on other Norwegian cruise ships.