These 4 Cruise Lines Have the Best New Onboard Rides and Attractions for Families

The largest water park at sea in the world will make its debut in 2024.
The Category 6 Waterpark on Icon of the Seas is the world's largest at sea (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
The Category 6 Waterpark on Icon of the Seas is the world's largest at sea (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Whether you’re a frequent cruiser or entirely new to cruise vacations, there’s really nothing else in the world quite like a vacation at sea. For some families, the days at sea are a time to relax and soak up the sun. For others, sea days are a time to experience the biggest and best onboard attractions that their cruise ship has to offer. 

And in recent years, those onboard attractions have advanced leaps and bounds beyond simple cruise ship water parks and splash zones (though most cruise lines still offer those as well). The onboard entertainment trend these days is toward over-the-top rides and attractions, especially on family-friendly cruise lines looking to entice kids and parents to set sail. 

The kid-friendly cruise lines offering the most thrilling new attractions are Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney Cruise Line and Carnival. If onboard entertainment and attractions are a major factor when deciding between cruises for your family vacation, here’s what you need to know about the latest offerings from each cruise line.

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1. Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas has eight distinct entertainment neighborhoods (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas’ attractions include a zip line, a dry slide, and twin water sllides (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

A cruise line with some of the largest cruise ships in the world, Royal Caribbean dazzles passengers with the sheer variety of onboard activities available—many of which are baked into the price of your cruise without any additional fees. On Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, those complimentary activities include zip lining across the middle of the ship, plummeting through a darkened tunnel on a 10-story dry slide known as Ultimate Abyss, engaging in an epic laser tag battle, and racing friends down the twin water slides Typhoon and Cyclone

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If you’re planning on taking a cruise on Royal’s newest ship, Icon of the Seas, which debuts in January 2024, you’re in for a lot of excitement—like experiencing the largest water park at sea, called Category 6 Waterpark, which has six water slides that are bigger, taller, and faster than others at sea. Additionally, you can hang over the side of the ship on Crown’s Edge, but be warned, this isn’t for the faint of heart because the floor underneath you drops out and you’ll be left dangling over the open ocean.

I can’t wait to get on Icon of the Seas, not only for the exciting activities but also for the more relaxing things, including the first suspended infinity pool at sea.

2. Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Viva (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Norwegian’s newest ships have onboard activities and add-ons like arcade games and a speedway (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

The go-kart track on Norwegian Cruise Line‘s newest ships (Norwegian Viva, Norwegian Prima, Norwegian Joy, and Norwegian Encore) is a highlight for most families, especially those with competitive kids (or parents) always up for a race to see who can come in first.

Also available on Norwegian’s newest kid-friendly cruise ships is a virtual reality arcade area called The Galaxy Pavilion, where teens can enjoy spending time with new friends while dancing, racing, or flying in augmented reality. From my experience, the Galaxy Pavilion does get busy later in the afternoons and on sea days, so if this is something your family will want to do, it’s best to go early in the day.

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What makes Norwegian a little less budget-friendly than other family cruise lines, however, is that most of the enticing onboard activities come at an additional cost beyond the cruise’s base price. For example, on Norwegian Prima, the speedway is $15 per person per session (or you can buy an unlimited ride package for $199 per person). Similarly, The Galaxy Pavilion has an unlimited play package for $199 per person, while a single-day unlimited play package costs $49 per person.

3. Disney Cruise Line

AquaMouse on Disney Treasure (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)
The AquaMouse water coaster on the Disney Wish is Disney’s first attraction at sea, and has lighting and water effects (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

The 2022 debut of Disney Cruise Line‘s fifth ship, Disney Wish, heralded the arrival of the Walt Disney Company’s first “attraction at sea,” a water coaster called AquaMouse. What makes this water slide experience stand out compared to the water slides on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy? AquaMouse kicks off with an animated Mickey Mouse short cartoon that includes show lighting and water effects in the lift tunnel before you zip around the top deck of the Disney Wish on a water coaster. The AquaMouse will return on Disney’s newest ship, the Disney Treasure, which will set sail in December 2024. The Disney Treasure‘s water coaster will feature a new short called Curse of the Golden Egg, which will be exclusive to the ship.

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The up-front cost of a Disney cruise tends to be more expensive compared to other cruise lines, but on Disney Cruises many costs are included in the base price. That’s true of the AquaMouse and another new onboard experience called Disney Uncharted Adventure, which is an augmented reality game you can enjoy in different areas around the Disney Wish. I really enjoy playing Disney Uncharted Adventure because it’s something you don’t have to complete all at once so you can play throughout your cruise versus during a set aside chunk of time.

4. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival's BOLT coaster can speeds of up to 40 miles per hour over an 800-foot track (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival’s BOLT coaster can speeds of up to 40 miles per hour over an 800-foot track that hovers high above the ship’s deck (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line

All three of Carnival Cruise Line‘s newest ships, Carnival Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and Carnival Jubilee, have an actual honest-to-goodness roller coaster onboard. Called BOLT, this “ultimate sea coaster” can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour over an 800-foot track. After seeing BOLT for myself, I can say that it’s truly a exhilarating ride and worth trying to get on during your Carnival Cruise vacation.

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That’s not all you’ll find onboard Carnival’s newest ships, either. There are water slides and a ropes course with panoramic ocean views too. The ropes course has multiple obstacles, but don’t worry if you slip off—you’re strapped into a harness the whole time. While the ropes course is included in the cost of sailing on Carnival, BOLT is only available for an additional fee. Each ride on the new coaster costs $15 per person, which can add up quickly if you’re cruising with kids who may want to ride again and again. 

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Megan duBois
Megan duBois is the Senior Theme Park Editor for FamilyVacationist. She's also a freelance journalist who covers theme parks, cruising, family travel, and wine tourism for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Business Insider, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, and National Geographic. You can reach her via email at megand513 [at] gmail [dot] com.