Best Cruise Lines for Families
Finding a family vacation that meets the needs of every member in your brood can be tough. While you may be in search of some peace and quiet, the kiddos are eager to score points in a flashy arcade and teens are desperate to find a trendy night scene. Fortunately, these cruise lines offer options to satisfy travelers of all ages. But with cruises that offer extravagant amenities, kid-friendly services and family discounts, it's hard to know which lines stand out among the pack. For this reason, U.S. News' Best Cruises team has ranked the best family cruise lines.
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From its signature Sail-Away Celebration — a kid-friendly dance party — to its pirate-themed dinners and nighttime fireworks, Disney earns a nod of approval from cruising clans for its emphasis on kids programs and entertainment. Life-size Disney characters can be found mingling with kiddos poolside or wandering the ships' sports and activity areas. But it's not only the youth-oriented amenities that help Disney stand out from competitors: Adults-only dining areas, excursions, nightclubs and quieter pools are perfect distractions for adults while the little ones spend time in supervised kids clubs.
As one of the largest cruise lines on this list, Royal Caribbean offers versatile amenities that cater to cruisers of all ages. Some of the line's 22 ships keep kids entertained with rock climbing walls and ice rinks, while others feature zip lines and bumper cars. Because Royal Caribbean has a partnership with Dreamworks, kids can hang out with characters from popular animated flicks or tune into poolside movie screenings. And entertainment isn't lost on older travelers who can catch Broadway-style performances and participate in Mystery Dinner Theaters.
Like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity offers plenty of amenities to satisfy families with young children all year round. Clans can take advantage of educational programs in video editing, nutrition and physical fitness. And youth programs are split into four age groups so the little ones can partake in crafts while teens spend time at late-night dances. Celebrity also features a versatile lineup of shore excursions suitable for youngsters and adults alike, including 4X4 safari adventures, snorkeling trips and Segway tours. Plus, Family Veranda Staterooms have just enough bed space to sleep a family of five.
Carnival's frequent sales and budget-friendly fares mean you and your crew can save some money on a getaway that's filled with a bevy of family-friendly amenities. This line's sizable fleet offers several ships featuring onboard facilities like water parks, basketball courts and ropes courses. Those looking for a sophisticated scene can head to the ships' casinos, piano bars or the Serenity Adult Retreat area designated for guests 21 and older. And with kids clubs for every age group, teens can be as active as toddlers. Carnival's shore excursions, separated by activity type and level, offer another perk for cruising clans.
You won't find quite as many families on Norwegian Cruise Line's non-U.S. and Caribbean itineraries, but leave from a stateside departure port and you'll be welcomed aboard a journey fit with amenities for the whole brood. Norwegian's ships exude a laid-back atmosphere and up the relaxation for adults with indulgences like spa treatments, comedy shows and casinos. As for the younger crowd, entertainment options abound and include everything from juggling classes to Dora the Explorer dance parties. And because cruise fare on Norwegian includes 24-hour dining you won't have to worry about prepping a meal suitable for tots' picky tastes.
Princess Cruises' ships vary in size, allowing families to find the right boat for their at-sea needs. Facilities designated for youngsters can be found on nearly all Princess ships. And aboard 15 ships within the fleet, you'll find age-appropriate youth programming like poolside movie screenings and scavenger hunts, along with adult-focused facilities like the Lotus Spa. Plus, shore excursions cover a variety of adventure levels and vary by port, allowing you to take the kids for a swim with dolphins or on a sail aboard a pirate ship.
Compared to more kid-centric cruise lines like Disney and Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line offers fewer amenities designed especially for youngsters. But Holland America has recently increased its efforts to accommodate families with young children: Club HAL offers supervised programs for kids ages 3 to 12, while teen-focused programming like dance nights are hosted at The Loft. When the kids are busy mingling with fellow cruisers, parents can take cooking classes, peruse onboard art galleries or sip drinks at a sophisticated bar or lounge. If you're in search of a family cruise that avoids over-the-top kitsch, then Holland America is an ideal choice.
Costa Cruises' ships offer families access to a wide range of amenities like arcades, waterslides and 4-D cinemas. Though families are most likely to be found on Costa Cruises during the summer months, children are welcome year-round in the Costa Kids Program. These clubs, tailored to different age groups, host activities like ice cream socials and pool parties. Meanwhile, parents looking to visit the ships' nightclubs, casinos and bars can take advantage of complimentary babysitting services. Costa also offers children's discounts on shore excursions, and kids younger than 3 can tag along for free.
MSC Cruises offers a compelling draw for family travel: Children ages 11 and younger can sail for free. But keep in mind that MSC cruises scheduled for dates outside of school breaks and summer months are generally geared toward retirees. Despite this, MSC has no shortage of kid-oriented amenities, such as water parks, 4-D cinemas and bowling alleys. While kids clubs and teen clubs keep youngsters entertained, adults can retreat to the spa, study a new language or listen to live music in lounges.
Disclaimers about ship ratings: A ship's Health Rating is based on vessel inspection scores published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If a ship did not receive a CDC score within 24 months prior to the calculation of its Overall Rating, its Health Rating appears as N/A; in such a case, the ship's Overall Rating is calculated using the average Health Rating of all CDC-rated ships within the cruise line. All ship Traveler Ratings are based on ratings provided under license by Cruiseline.com.