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

With kid-friendly ships and family-favorite experiences, these are the best family cruises and cruise lines.
Disney Wish – Upper Decks
(Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

The launch of Disney Cruise Line in 1998 was a game changer for family cruises. Now in its third decade of operation, Disney Cruise Line consistently tops the list of best cruise lines for families. And its newest ship (for now), Disney Wish, is unquestionably one of the best cruise ships for kids and teens ever made. But Disney isn’t the only major player in the family cruising space. 

A host of other cruise lines, including Carnival Cruises, Princess, Norwegian, MSC, and Royal Caribbean, have helped usher in a new era of family vacations on cruise ships with amenities like kids clubs, water parks, stage shows, theatrical dining experiences, reduced fares for young children, and even kids sail free deals. And because the best cruise ships for kids are also great for grownups, you have plenty of options when it comes to the best family cruises.

Great Family Cruises and Cruise Lines for Families

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1. Disney Wish

Disney Cruise Line

Artist rendering of Arendelle: A Frozen Adventure on Disney Wish (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)
Disney Cruise Line takes dinner and a show to the next level with Arendelle: A Frozen Adventure (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

The sheer volume of onboard entertainment options for families on Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, Disney Wish, takes things to a whole new level. From an action-packed dinner-and-a-show experiences like Worlds of Marvel and Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure to the Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, and Incredibles-themed inflatable obstacle course, the ship offers a virtually endless supply of things to do. 

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Sailings on the Disney Wish also include a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, which is always a highlight of any family cruise. Castaway Cay’s family beach is a great place for swimming, and you can rent bikes, kayaks, and snorkeling gear to see colorful tropical fish and perhaps even a sea turtle munching on sea grass.

2. Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line

Artist's rendering of Lighthouse Point in the Bahamas (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)
Artist’s rendering of Lighthouse Point in the Bahamas (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

While every ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet has a claim to be among the best family cruises, the original DCL family cruise ship deserves a special mention: Disney Magic is the ship that launched Disney Cruise Line in 1998, and with DCL’s constant improvements and upkeep, the ship doesn’t feel outdated at all. Pirates, princesses, super heroes, and a thrilling water slide with a three-story drop are just a few of the fun features that make this a kid-favorite ship on one of the best cruise lines for families. In 2013, Disney added the AquaDunk high speed thrill slide and Marvel Avengers Academy kids club. In 2018, a Tangled dinner theater restaurant made its debut.

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As one of the smaller ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, Disney Magic can be a less overwhelming experience for younger kids and first-time cruisers, especially given the trend among family cruises to be bigger and louder with every new ship. (The fabulous Disney Wonder is similarly sized.) But there’s more than one reason to consider a Disney Magic voyage in 2024. This year, the ship will be the first to sail to Disney Cruise Line’s newest private island destination, Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point, in the Bahamas.

3. Disney Treasure

Disney Cruise Line

Artist rendering of the Sarabi entertainment venue on the Disney Treasure (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)
Artist rendering of the Sarabi entertainment venue on the Disney Treasure (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

Making its debut in December 2024, Disney Cruise Line’s sixth ship will be called Disney Treasure and it will be the ship for fans of the Disney theme parks. Venues inspired by classic attractions such as the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are among the highlights to look forward to when the ship sets sail. The sister ship of Disney Wish will also have a high-tech Worlds of Marvel dinner show and a theater-in-the-round dining experience, this time themed to Pixar’s Coco.

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Disney Treasure will also feature a brand-new original Broadway-style production called “Disney The Tale of Moana” in the Walt Disney Theatre. Other shows on performed on board will include “Beauty and the Beast” and “Disney Seas the Adventure.” Best of all, Disney Treasure will sail seven-night itineraries to both the Eastern Caribbean and Western Caribbean. That means you can enjoy two distinct dinner shows in the Worlds of Marvel and Plaza de Coco restaurants, and all of the Broadway-style shows on stage during one family cruise.

4. Icon of the Seas

Royal Caribbean

View of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas ship
The AquaDome is the largest glass and steel structure on any cruise ship (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

A brand-new class of ship made its way to North America in 2024, and it started with Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas in January. Among the many firsts for Icon of the Seas is the AquaDome, the largest glass and steel structure on any cruise ship, seven pools, six record-breaking waterslides, eight separate neighborhoods, 40-plus ways to drink and dine, four stages, and a three-level ultimate family townhouse. The innovative AquaDome is a peaceful oasis during the day and a vibrant hotspot at night with a 55-foot-tall water curtain and AquaTheater that hosts performances with divers, skateboarders, and robots.

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Thrill-seekers will love Category 6, the largest waterpark at sea with six waterslides. There’s also the Crown’s Edge, which is part skywalk, part ropes course, and 100 percent thrill ride where you can dangle 154 feet above the ocean. And of course you’ll also find the Royal Caribbean staple FlowRider surf simulator and the Lost Dunes mini golf course. Those looking to take it easy should head to Chill Island that features four pools spread over three decks with sweeping ocean views.

Fans of Royal Caribbean will enjoy the Royal Promenade with 15 restaurants, bars, and lounges; Central Park open air neighborhood filled with live plants and trees; and Surfside, the first neighborhood designed specifically for young families. The ship’s seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean family cruises all stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay, the line’s award-winning private island. Families will find an array of activities on Perfect Day at CocoCay, such as its beaches and freshwater pool (included) and an expansive water park and zip line (available for an extra charge). There’s also an adults-only beach area called The Hideaway.

5. Wonder of the Seas

Royal Caribbean

Wonder Dunes - Deck 16 Aft Starboard Wonder of the Seas - Royal Caribbean International
Wonder of the Seas debuted in 2022 as Royal Caribbean’s biggest Oasis-class ship … and quite possibly the world’s most kid-friendly cruise ship (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships debuted in early 2022 and instantly ignited buzz that they might be the most kid-friendly cruise ships in the entire world. At 1,188-feet long and 18 decks tall, there’s plenty of room for families to spread out and find entertainment onboard the Wonder of the Seas. Two dedicated private teen spaces onboard make vacationing with teenagers a little easier. In fact, teens aged 16 and up can even enjoy a massive teens-only hot tub that literally protrudes over the edge of the ship on Wonder of the Seas‘ deck 15. 

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Grade school kids and even the littlest ones have it pretty great, too. For big kids there’s an enormous multiple-deck play area called Wonder Playscape. For the youngest passengers, there’s the Adventure Ocean play area full of soft toys and games for toddlers. And a playground with climbing equipment gives them a space to work off their energy. Wonder of the Seas also has the most amazing family suites around. They come complete with two levels of space, an in-suite slide, table tennis, and plenty of room for the whole family.

6. Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean

The Caribbean pool deck on Oasis of the Seas makes it one of the best cruise ships for kids (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
The Caribbean pool deck on Oasis of the Seas qualifies it as one of the best cruise ships for kids (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

When it launched in 2009, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas was the largest ship in the world, accommodating more than 5,500 passengers per voyage and cementing the line’s place among the best cruise lines for families. After a reimagining 10 years later, Oasis of the Seas is still a popular option for family cruises with its Caribbean-inspired pool deck, rock climbing walls, and Perfect Storm trio of multistory waterslides. 

Among the many reasons that make Royal Caribbean one of the best cruise lines for families is that its Symphony of the Seas builds upon the strengths of the line’s other Oasis Class ships, all of which also boast the incredible twin dry slides called the Ultimate Abyss, which spiral down 10 decks from the top of the ship.

7. Norwegian Viva

Norwegian Cruise Line

The Norwegian Viva arrived in North America in December 2023 (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
The Norwegian Viva arrived in North America in December 2023 (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

What makes Norwegian one of the best cruise lines for families? For one thing, you’ll never hear “I’m bored” from kids. And with its three-story race track, two escape rooms, The Rush and The Drop dry slides, The Wave waterslide, immersive virtual reality games, Topgolf simulator, mini golf, waterpark, splash ground, and kids’ clubs, your family’s biggest problem on the Norwegian Viva might just be deciding how to balance all the activities with quiet relaxation. 

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The Norwegian Viva arrived in North America in December 2023 and offers Caribbean cruises from San Juan, Puerto Rico, in early 2024 before heading to Europe through November. The ship’s Observation Lounge has panoramic 180-degree views to soak in the scenery, or take Insta-worthy photos on Oceanwalk’s glass walkway. After playing the day away in port or on the ship, your family can enjoy dinner followed by a live performance of Beetlejuice: The Musical, based on the cult-classic Tim Burton film.

8. Carnival Panorama

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Panorama in Puerto Vallarta (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)
Carnival Panorama has kid-friendly offerings including kids programs for three different age groups (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

One of Carnival Cruise Line’s newer ships, the Carnival Panorama‘s many kid-friendly features have already made it one of the best cruises for families. The Panorama has supervised kids programs in three different age categories, a massive aqua park, the popular SkyRide aerial attraction, SkyCourse ropes course, and the first SkyZone trampoline park at sea. 

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In addition, Carnival’s exclusive partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises provides “Seuss at Sea” experiences on family cruise vacations, such as Dr. Seuss Bookville, Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast, and the Seuss-a-palooza Parade. Based in Los Angeles, Carnival Panorama sails week-long round-trip cruises to the Mexican Riviera in 2024.

9. Caribbean Princess

Princess Cruises

Reef Family Splash Zone on Caribbean Princess (Photo: Princess Cruise Line)
Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess got a family-fun-focused update in 2017 (Photo: Princess Cruise Line)

Made famous by the classic ’80s TV series The Love Boat, Princess Cruises now hosts more than two million passengers each year. Kid-friendly Caribbean Princess underwent an extensive renovation in 2017 that boosted its family offerings to include Camp Discovery Youth and Teen Center, HD Movies Under the Stars, and the Reef Family Splash Zone (the line’s first splash zone at sea). 

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Caribbean Princess will be 20 years old in 2024, but another extensive drydock refurbishment in 2022 has kept the ship from feeling dated. Other features that earn the Caribbean Princess a spot on my list of best family cruises include its partnership with Discovery Inc. for “Discovery at SEA” activities, which feature Animal Planet and Discovery Channel programming, the Stanley the Bear experience, and JrChef@Sea cooking classes. In summer 2024, Caribbean Princess heads to Southampton for a series of European cruises before heading back to Florida.

10. MSC Meraviglia

MSC Cruises

MSC Meraviglia, Polar Aquapark
Attention parents with babies and toddlers: Kids under two always sail free on MSC Cruises (Photo: MSC Cruises)

Unless you’re a hardcore cruise family, MSC Cruises might be the largest cruise line you’ve never heard of. One of the leading cruise lines in Europe, South America, and other parts of the world, MSC is working hard to get a foothold in North America by offering great deals on family cruises. These include kids ages 18 and under sailing free on select departures, and young children ages two and under always sailing free. 

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Family-friendly MSC Meraviglia launched in 2017 and it features seven different kids’ clubs for children from babies to age 17. Teens have their own space with a cinema, game room, and live stage. And Meraviglia’s Polar Aquapark has three different waterslides, including a high-speed “champagne flute,” that easily make it one of the best cruises for families. Families can play together in the vast entertainment area that includes an MSC Formula One Racing Simulator, a full-sized bowling alley with two lanes, an interactive XD cinema, a flight simulator, and a video games arcade. There’s also a Sportsplex facility for basketball, tennis, squash, volleyball, pickleball, mini golf and five-a-side soccer.

11. MSC Seascape

MSC Cruises

Robotron is a robotic arm ride that sends you 173 feet above the sea (Photo: MSC Cruises)
Robotron is a robotic arm ride that sends you 173 feet above the sea (Photo: MSC Cruises)

The U.S. flagship of the MSC Cruises brand, MSC Seascape was designed with families in mind and offers plenty of options for onboard entertainment. The cruise line’s partnership with LEGO includes a DUPLO room for children ages three to six and a second LEGO room for kids ages seven to 11 with the opportunity to earn a LEGO Master Builder certificate. Teens have three different themed areas to engage with their peers.

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You have to check out Robotron on these family cruises. Robotron is a robotic arm ride that sends you 173 feet above the sea, giving you a unique 360-degree view as you’re moved in different directions and flipped upside down. At night, Robotron offers a personalized DJ experience where you can curate your musical journey with colors and music preferences. 

MSC Seascape sails from Miami on Bahamas and Caribbean family cruises, including a visit to MSC Cruises’ private Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. Ocean Cay features two miles of white sand beaches and a variety of family-friendly activities such as snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming. Some family cruises dock overnight at Ocean Cay, allowing you to watch the spectacular Lighthouse light show.

12. Celebrity Equinox

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity is one of the best cruise lines for families (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)
Celebrity offers an upscale cruise experience that’s a good fit for families (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)

An upscale cruise line with prices to match, Celebrity Cruises appeals to families with older children or multigenerational groups looking for luxurious family cruises. Celebrity Equinox is not the newest ship in the line (its inaugural sailing was in 2009), but this kid-friendly cruise ship received an extensive overhaul as part of the “Celebrity Revolution” in 2019 and continues to impress with its family cruises in 2024. 

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Celebrity’s Camp at Sea kids’ program offers a diverse and constantly changing series of activities so that it’s “never the same camp twice.” And Celebrity Equinox partners with Miami’s Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science to offer STEM programming on topics such as the importance of plankton to the Earth’s oceans. Other kid-friendly activities on Celebrity’s family cruises include hot glass blowing classes and demonstrations, as well as lawn games such as croquet and bocce on the real grass of the Lawn Club.

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Dave Parfitt
Dave Parfitt is a freelance travel writer interested in illuminating transformative family travel, multi-generational travel, inclusive and accessible travel, under-the-radar destinations, and immersive, authentic experiences. Dave's work has appeared in Lonely Planet, AAA, Fox News Travel, US News & World Report, FamilyVacationist, TravelAge West, USA Today, and Family Circle, to name a few. An academic with a PhD in neuroscience, Dave also works as an educational developer at a four-year college in Western New York when not in a theme park, national park, or on a cruise or road trip with his family.