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Compare The 6 Top Cruise Lines For Families


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Cruises are ideal for multi-generational and extended family vacations. They’re also an easy way to have time together as a family while giving everyone a little time to themselves, too. Here is what I learned at the Cruise Line Industry Asssociation’s Annual round-up of cruise lines about offerings at most of the top Cruise Ship companies for families. Hope it gives you some great cruise ideas for your family.

How the Top 6 Stack Up

Carnival Ships Have Something For Kids of All Ages

There are always a lot of activities on  Carnival Cruise Ships. Camp Ocean offers new or remodeled activity centers across the fleet with  a total of 200 activities for three different age groups between ages 2 and 11.

The Vista, which hit the water in 2016 offers a pedal-powered skyride, a clubhouse with family activities like mini-bowling, a “kaleid-O-slide” water slide with rafts and light effects and the first IMAX movie theater at sea.

Carnival's cruise sky ride

A water-play area for little kids has tot-sized slides, tipping buckets, and sprinklers. A Carnival spokesperson told me they made a point of adding more seating and shade nearby for parents who want to be able to relax while keeping their splashing kids in sight.

The family-centric cruise line has also expanded its Dr. Seuss-themed activities with Bookville play spaces for 1-to-3s, story time with the Cat in the Hat, character breakfasts and parades. The Horizon, which sails European ports, will add a Dr. Seuss WaterWorks water park to its decks in spring of 2018. If it’s popular I’d look for that to spread to other ships, too, over the next few years.

Costa Cruises Keeps its European Cool

simulated grand price racing on a Costa cruiseThis Italian cruise company is still off many Americans’ radar, but if you want your cruises to have a European accent, take a look. Try your mettle on a Formula-One racing simulator on the Favolosa, which has Caribbean and European itineraries, and the Luminosa, which seems to go just about everywhere. The Diadema, which circles the Mediterranean, has Laser tag. And all ships have added 4-D movie theaters.

Disney: Frozen at Sea

elsa, olaf and anna on the Disney Magic cruise shipDisney Cruise Lines’ cruise to Iceland and the Norwegian Fjords aboard the Magic is no doubt inspired by a certain Icy movie.

In fact, Disney has brought Anna, Elsa and company on board the Magic as well as the Wonder. A Frozen-themed day will feature character meetings and dining, a chocolate-themed scavenger hunt, snowman building, an evening deck party and more.

Look for special Star-Wars Days on specific salings of the Fantasy. In addition to character meet-and-greets and a deck party, guests can wear their own costumes, play Star Wars trivia and watch all six movies. Kids can participate in Jedi training and arts and crafts. Adults can spend the evening eying suspicious characters in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Wow! For fans of these movies, these add-ons sound fun.

MSC Offers Legos, Baby Gear

lego filled playroom on an MSC cruise shipThis European cruise company is trying hard to keep pace with its established US rivals. MSC’s new ships have dedicated kids’ play spaces for five separate age groups and splash pads in the pool area.

The company also has partnerships with Lego and Chicco, two European brands popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Look for Lego- and Duplo-themed kids clubs for preschoolers and school-age kids, and “experiences” like building workshops and contests. Full-on Lego themes have even been rolling out on new ships for the past two years (with abbreviated theming on existing ships). They look nice and kids love their Legos; I’m not sure how much room these spaces leave for non-Lego activities.

The Chicco partnership provides equipment for kids under 3, such as strollers (which are handy on a ship), bottle warmers and baby carriers for shore excursions. The under-3s play area has Chicco toys for parent-child play and a nap-space with playards where tots can nap under a sitter’s care, so parents can get a break and maybe some whirlpool time.

Norwegian Cruises Likes To Be Daring

After the major overhaul it rolled out with the NCL Breakaway, we’ve been seeing change in smaller increments. The NCL Escape offers a bigger aqua park than even the Breakaway has, with a family water slide and “Aqua Racer” tandem slide. A “guppies” nursery adds childcare for the under-2s. The top-deck offers a complex and heart-stopping rope course and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini-golf course—for those who want a little retro in their putt-putt, I suppose.

a colorful kids splash pad on an NCL Escape cruise

Fun dining additions include the District Brew House, with 24 beers on tap (apparently a lot for a cruise ship), kid-friendly pub food and evening sing-alongs that might amuse or mortify your kids. Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville has Cheeseburgers and (of course) margs. And kids will find noodles to slurp on Food Republic’s Asian fusion menu.

star gazing with a guide on a Princess cruisePrincess Cruises Is In Discovery Mode

Princess partners with the Discovery Channel to create some innovative activities across its fleet of ships. Animal Planet, and shows such as MythBusters, Velocity and Gold Rush inspire activities in the kids and teen centers. Animal Planet and Shark Week provide themes for shore excursions. This seems like good option when kids start outgrowing kids clubs but still want engagement.

If you aren’t a Discovery fan, try new star gazing with a guide from the top deck of ships leaving Fort Lauderdale or testing your nerve on a transparent sea walk over the water on the Regal when it comes out this fall.

 Ready to book? Look for cruise deals and packages on *Travelocity.

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Every cruise company has unique partnerships, activities and features. The right ship for you depends on your kids' ages and your family's interests.

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8 Comments

  1. March 29, 2015 at 1:37 pm — Reply

    It’s wonderful to see that the cruise ships are making it better and better for families to go cruising. We’ve cruised with all of these lines except for MSC. I remember when kids club amenities weren’t anything to brag about with some of them. We’re hoping to try out some of these sometime soon.

  2. Luke Mitchell
    March 22, 2015 at 7:19 pm — Reply

    I second the Disney Cruise option, it was so much fun we’ve done it 5 times and will probably do it more still. There’s a ton of things for the kids to stay occupied, enough so that the parents get some time off too to do adult things, both of which the cruise liner has plenty of. There’s just an air of fun and a spirit of youthfulness aboard a Disney cruise that you don’t get from anything else.

  3. March 15, 2015 at 7:09 pm — Reply

    Ok. that Star Wars themed one is perfect for adult kids (aka the husband!)

  4. March 15, 2015 at 9:00 am — Reply

    Eileen, I’ve never been on a cruise, but I do think they offer a lot for families. I like that the cruise ships are really starting to embrace their younger sailors. Good business.

    • March 15, 2015 at 10:20 am — Reply

      we never cruised before having a family, but depending on the itinerary and how long you get to spend on shore they can be a good way to see certain places. and to just relax and have some fun.

  5. March 15, 2015 at 12:57 am — Reply

    We love cruising, especially with extended family. I completely agree with you. As for the cruise lines, of the ones you mentioned, we have sailed with four of them (Carnival, Princess, MSC and NCL) and of those our favorite is Norwegian, but our girls are now teens.

    • March 15, 2015 at 10:22 am — Reply

      that’s great feedback Rhonda. We have only tried Norwegian. I’d like to try a Disney Cruise because i know it will be so well run. but princess is starting to appeal, too.

      • March 17, 2015 at 12:32 am — Reply

        We never cruised with Disney, but our girls like the teen lounge on Norwegian, and we like the open meal seating. Plus I have lived outside of the US so long, I prefer the more subtle decor of Norwegian, rather than bright lights of Carnival and Princess.

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