When Disney Cruise Line launched in 1998, it 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 with a new ship launching in 2022, parents and kids alike are already buzzing with anticipation for what will undoubtably be one of the best cruise ships for kids in years.
Of course, the best family cruises aren’t limited to just Disney. Carnival Cruises, Princess, Norwegian, MSC, and a host of other cruise lines have helped usher in a new era of family vacations on cruise ships with amenities like kids clubs, waterslides, age-appropriate stage shows, dining experiences, reduced fares for young children, and—perhaps best of all—kids sail free deals.
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In short, the best cruise ships for kids are also great for adults, which means you have plenty of great options when it comes to finding the best family cruises. Here are the top cruise ships and cruise lines for families.
It’s no exaggeration to say that every ship in the Disney fleet has a claim to be among the best family cruises, but 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ship that launched Disney Cruise Line in 1998, and with DCL’s constant improvements and upkeep, the ship doesn’t feel outdated at all.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 Disney Magic 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. And, as one of the smaller ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, it can be a less overwhelming experience for younger kids and first-time cruisers. (Disney Wonder is similarly sized.)
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Disney Magic also offers European itineraries such as voyages in the Mediterranean, British Isles, and Norwegian Fjords that appeal to multigenerational cruisers.
Launched in 2011, Disney Dream is newer and quite a bit larger than Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, but even with its size this ship still includes the kinds of kid-friendly touches you find on all the best family cruises.
The daily routine of dinner and a theatrical show are very popular aboard all of the family cruises offered by Disney. On Disney Dream, the Broadway-caliber productions are headlined by a high-tech stage show of Beauty and the Beast.
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Also worth noting is that the Bahamas and Caribbean sailings on Disney Dream include stops at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, which is often a highlight of any Disney cruise. Castaway Cay’s family beach is a great place for swimming, and you can also rent bikes, kayaks, and snorkeling gear for kids and parents to see colorful tropical fish and perhaps even a sea turtle munching on sea grass.
One of Carnival Cruise Line’s newest 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 group 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 Cruises’ 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.
The cruise line made famous by the classic ‘80s TV series The Love Boat now hosts more than 2 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 – Princess Cruises’ first splash zone at sea.
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Other features that earn the Caribbean Princess a spot on any 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 [email protected] cooking classes.
MSC Cruises might be the largest cruise line you’ve never heard. 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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MSC Meraviglia is the newest of its ships sailing from the U.S., launched in 2017, and it features seven different kids’ clubs for young children ages zero to 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.
In addition to MSC‘s kids sail free promotions, the family-friendly cruise line partners with Chicco and LEGO for their baby and kids clubs. Featuring family-favorite Bahamas and Caribbean voyages, MSC Divina also sails to MSC Cruises’ recently opened 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 paddle boarding, kayaking, and swimming. Some family cruises dock overnight at Ocean Cay, allowing guests to watch the spectacular Lighthouse light show.
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 two-level go-kart track, laser tag, immersive virtual reality games, mini golf, waterpark, splash ground, and kids’ clubs, your family’s biggest problem on the Norwegian Joy might be deciding how to balance all the activities with quiet relaxation.
The Norwegian Joy debuted in 2017 and was already one of the best cruise ships for kids before it received a refurbishment just two years later to prepare it for Alaska sailings. The ship’s Observation Lounge offers panoramic 180-degree views to soak in the scenery. After playing the day away in port or on the ship, families can enjoy dinner followed by a live performance of the musical Footloose based on the cult-classic ’80s film.
Oasis of the Seas
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. After a reimagining 10 years later, Oasis of the Seas is still a popular option for family cruises with its Caribbean-inspired pool deck and Perfect Storm trio of multistory waterslides.
Tiny tots will enjoy Splashaway Bay’s three waterslides, two dump buckets, water cannons, fountains, and pools. While the kids play, adults can relax sipping Caribbean cocktails close-by. After dinner, gather everyone together to take in a show such as Broadway’s Cats, Aqua80 in the AquaTheater, the Frozen in Time ice show, or many, many more.
Symphony of the Seas
Symphony of the Seas offers guests seven distinct neighborhoods, such as the tree-lined Central Park and shop-filled Royal Promenade. For thrill-seekers, the family cruise ship also touts the 10-story Ultimate Abyss slide, a trio of waterslides, and Splashaway Bay kids waterpark. Similar to other Oasis Class ships, Symphony of the Seas boasts entertainment offerings that span ice, water, air, and stage.
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The ship’s Caribbean cruises 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) to an expansive water park and zip line (available for an extra charge).
An upscale cruise line, 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.
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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.