50 Best Cruise Ship Water Parks and Private Islands for Kids

Lots of cruise ships have pools and water slides, but these are especially great for kids.
Royal Caribbean's Category 6 is the world's largest cruise ship water park (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
Royal Caribbean's Category 6 is the world's largest cruise ship water park (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Anyone who’s ever cruised in the Caribbean or Mexico knows how hot a day at sea can get. With temperatures routinely hitting 80 degrees and above, being able to cool off onboard your ship is a must. And for families with young kids and tweens, nothing beats a cruise ship water park with water slides when it comes to keeping everyone happy and refreshed on days at sea.

The Best Cruise Ship Water Parks for Kids of All Ages

Plenty of cruise ships have pools and water slides, but not all of them are a good fit for families with tweens or kids under 10 years old. Pools can get crowded, life guards may not be available, and water slides may be too scary or have height limits.

That’s not a problem with the following cruise ship water parks that have just what’s needed for all ages from toddlers to tweens to teens. From smaller water slides, wading pools, and tipping buckets to water cannons, surprise water spouts, and dancing fountains, here are the cruise ships with the best onboard water parks for every age group.

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Important note: With the exception of Disney Cruise Line, kids on all other ships must be potty-trained to play in these cruise ship water parks; swim diapers are not permitted on most ships.

Splashaway Bay Aqua Park and Category 6 Water Park on Royal Caribbean

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)

Splashaway Bay aqua park from Royal Caribbean is an ideal cruise ship water park for tweens or kids under 10 who love to zip down water slides, splash through fountains, or get soaking wet beneath a massive tipping bucket. There’s also a Splashaway Bay area for little kids at Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, Perfect Day at CocoCay.

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The main attraction at the Splashaway Bay water parks on Royal Caribbean ships are the colorful water slides, the number of which vary by cruise ship. Generally, you’ll find one or two larger slides for kids ages six and older (minimum height is 42 inches) and one small slide for the toddlers. For the big slide, the maximum weight is 300 pounds. There’s also a splash zone with ankle-high pools of water and an array of other water features (think water cannons, whirlpools, and a drench bucket) to get kids wet and laughing. 

For bigger thrills, look to the Category 6 water park on Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas. At 17,000 square feet, this is the biggest cruise ship water park in the world, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Spread across two decks, Category 6 boasts a number of firsts at sea: the first open freefall slide, the first dueling mat race slides, the first family raft rides on a cruise ship, and last but not least, the tallest drop slide at sea. It’s a truly epic water park that’s most suited to daredevil tweens and teens.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships with a Splashaway Bay Water Park:

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships with a Splashaway Bay Water Park

Carnival WaterWorks on Carnival Cruise Line

Kids of all ages will be dazzled by the brightly colored Carnival WaterWorks water parks found on most Carnival Cruise Line ships. Though the space and design varies by ship, all of the Carnival ship water parks feature one or two water slides, a giant tipping bucket, and kiddie spray zones with fountains and water cannons that are perfect for younger kids.

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Most ships have either straight or curling slides, but Carnival Vista offers up the Kaleid-O-Slide. This water slide, geared toward the seven-and-up crowd, takes riders on mats down a 455-foot-long series of twists and turns while zooming through flashing kaleidoscopic lights and visual effects. Even younger kids will appreciate the Dr. Seuss-themed WaterWorks and spray zone on Carnival Horizon, which includes a massive water-tipping top-hat and two water slides. Some of Carnival’s ships also have racing slides that offer side by side thrills for older kids and adults.

Carnival Cruise Ships with a WaterWorks Water Park:

Forest Aquaventure Park, AquaPlay, Polar Park, Aurora Borealis Aquapark, and Ocean Cay Aquapark on MSC Cruises

MSC Meraviglia, Polar Aquapark
Polar Aquapark on MSC Meraviglia (Photo: MSC Cruises)

One of the largest water parks for young kids at sea, the Forest Aquaventure Park and AquaPlay area on MSC Cruises offer a full range of amusements for kids, tweens, teens, and water slide-loving adults. There are four slides, including two racing slides with clear sections that extend out over the side of the ship; an easy, open air spiral slide; and a funky slideboard option with neon lighting. 

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For the smaller kids under 10, there’s a large shallow pool with fountains to play under, mini slides to give the kiddos a thrill, spray nozzles for getting mom and dad wet, and a giant tipping bucket. Above it all is an enclosed suspension bridge that might look scary and like a challenge to some of the younger kids, but is as safe as can be. 

MSC’s Polar AquaPark, found on MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima, isn’t nearly as toddler-friendly as Forest Aquaventure, which is a good thing for families with older kids and tweens. The water slides here are decidedly teen- and adult-sized, as is the rope bridge. There’s a smallish water slide in the splash zone, and kids under 10 will get a kick out of trying to figure out which is the next tipping bucket to go over (there are lots of them). There are also a few sprayers and a fountain wall for kids to run through. 

And the MSC World Europa has an impressive VR-enhanced water park called the Aurora Borealis AquaPark, which is geared more toward teens and adults than little kids. While it does have a toddler-only pool, the overall experience is best suited to bigger kids. The reef-themed Ocean Cay AquaPark can be found on MSC Euribia.

MSC Cruise Line Ships with a Forest Aquaventure and AquaPlay Water Park:

MSC Cruise Line Ships with a Polar AquaPark:

MSC Cruise Line Ships with an Aurora Borealis AquaPark:

MSC Cruise Line Ships with an Ocean Cay AquaPark:

Reef Splash Zone on Princess Cruises

Reef Family Splash Zone on Caribbean Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)
The Caribbean Princess has an onboard water park that’s geared to younger kids (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Thanks to its stellar Reef Splash Zone, the top cruise ship for families on Princess Cruises is Caribbean Princess. One of the best cruise ship water parks for the entire family, Reef Splash Zone features a kid-friendly pool and hot tub, a lounge area with plush seating, and a bar serving up delicious mocktails for the kids. The water park fun centers around Winnie the Whale, with water spraying from her spout and raining from her fluke. Inside her mouth is a pint-sized slide for children under 10. Assorted water sprays are located around Winnie the Whale.

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Pro tip: Take it from me: Never turn your back on a tween with their hand on a spray gun.

When everyone’s had enough of the water, you’ll also find oversized backyard games including cornhole scattered around this cruise ship water park. 

Princess Cruise Line Ships with a Reef Family Splash Zone Water Park:

Nemo’s Reef, Toy Story Splash Zone, AquaLab, and AquaDuck and AquaMouse Water Coasters on Disney Cruise Line

Limited to the eight and under set, the 1,500-square-foot Nemo’s Reef on Disney Cruise Line ships is filled with Finding Nemo characters, countless fountains, pop jets, and spray nozzles. There’s also a toddler-sized water slide with a slip-n-slide feel that will have young kids going back again and again. And, unlike on most other cruise ships, toddlers in swim diapers are welcome to play here. 

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For the tweens and kids eight years old and up, the AquaDuck water coaster stretches more than 750 feet, and a parent can ride together with their child on a two-person raft that goes up and down and out over the side of the ship. 

In fact, each of Disney’s cruise ships has at least one water play area for younger kids. You’ll find a sprawling water playground called AquaLab themed around Donald Duck’s mischievous nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie on the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, and Disney Fantasy. On the Disney Wish, a very basic splash area called The Toy Story Splash Zone is geared toward toddlers age three and under, while the AquaMouse water slide—for kids (and adults) seven and older—is Disney’s first theme park-like attraction at sea.

Disney Cruise Line Ships with a Nemo’s Reef Water Park and AquaDuck Water Coaster:

Disney Cruise Line Ships with a AquaLab for Little Kids:

Disney Cruise Line Ships with a Toy Story Splash Zone for Toddlers:

Kids Aqua Park on Norwegian Cruise Line

All of Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Breakaway, Breakaway-Plus, and Prima class ships have a Kids’ Aqua Park play area.

The water parks for kids on Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy, and Norwegian Encore have the most to offer, including a large tipping bucket, mesh climbing structures, water cannons you can aim from above, and an exciting kid-sized slide. The water parks for young kids on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway are less impressive, with just a wading pool, two very tiny slides, and a handful of splash elements. The same can be said for the kids water play area on the Norwegian Prima.

Norwegian Cruise Line Ships with Water Parks for Little Kids:

Which Cruise Lines Have Private Island Water Parks?

Aerial view of Perfect Day at CocoCay (Photo: Adam Hendel)
Royal Caribbean’s private island experience is Perfect Day at CocoCay (Photo: Adam Hendel)

Several of the most family-friendly cruise lines have their own private islands where you’ll find water parks and splash areas of varying complexity.

Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay is a massive water-themed playground of an island sure to dazzle both adults and kids. Among the offerings: Thrill Waterpark with its two towers and 13 slides, plus the Caribbean’s largest wave pool and an obstacle course pool. Perfect Day at CocoCay is also home to the Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool, Oasis Lagoon, which has coves, a swim-up bar, private cabanas, swim-up islands with in-water loungers, and a kid-friendly beach entry.

Disney’s Castaway Cay has plenty of water fun to offer as well. You can snorkel, swim with stingrays, zip down water slides in the water park area, and even run a 5K.

Both Carnival and Holland America visit the 2,400-acre Half Moon Cay in The Bahamas. As with Perfect Day at CocoCay and Castaway Cay, there’s a kid’s water park area here as well. Families can also go horseback riding on the beach and swing with stingrays. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Great Stirrup Cay private island does not have a water park.

Note that not all sailings from these lines stop at their private islands, so if this experience is of interest, be sure to check the itinerary before booking.

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Dori Saltzman
Dori Saltzman is an award-winning travel writer who most recently served as Senior Editor for Cruise Critic from 2012 to 2020. Prior to her time with Cruise Critic, she spent seven years covering the travel trade industry for a number of publications. She has been on more than 50 cruises and has covered everything from sailing on the largest cruise ship in the world to how to market your small home-based travel agency to a wider market. Dori began her writing career in 2006, freelancing for outlets like Travel Weekly and Stars and Stripes. Prior to working as a travel journalist, she was a librarian for the New York Public Library system.