Kids are everywhere on cruise ships these days, whether you are in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska or far-flung destinations like the Galapagos Islands and even the polar regions. According to the 2016 Portrait of American Travelers, more travelers who travel with kids (63 percent) as compared to those without kids (56%) are interested in a cruise vacation and, with a projected 25.3 million passengers projected for 2017, kids will indeed be everywhere.
Welcome to our Taking the Kids Cruise Guide for 2017 published in partnership with The Family Travel Forum. Parents love cruising because they get a bang for their vacation buck. Grandparents are fans because cruises are an easy way to get the whole gang together. Kids love the freedom onboard and making new friends. Cruise lines have never done more for kids and families, from featuring hip teen and tween hangouts with DJ studios, video games and connectivity to social networks, to centers for the littlest cruisers — often better equipped than many preschools and with skillfully supervised nurseries at sea.
Worldwide, expansion continues, with 26 new ships on order as of December, 2016 and many operating at new ports of call in Asia and elsewhere. Advances in technology at sea and the addition of ultra-luxury facilities are among the biggest trends. MSC, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and other cruise lines are introducing technological advancements both in pre-cruise and while onboard. Mobile apps will be available for itinerary and shore excursion planning, e-commerce, booking activities, menu information and reservations.
Other trends include the rise of the river cruise (about 7% since 2015 with many catering to families), more private islands, drivable port locations, dining options helmed by celebrity chefs, and an increased demand for expedition cruises. A recent Expedition to the Antarctic where there were 34 kids between 10- and 18-years old, is an example of this kind of exotic destination and the experiences in store for passengers.
Why Should You Take A Cruise Vacation?
Parents love cruising because they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck: activities, meals and lodging all for one price, including supervised morning-till-night programming for kids, at considerably less than many resorts charge. Grandparents are fans because cruises can prove an easy way to get the whole gang on vacation, especially in Alaska and Europe, and reduce the stress of group travel.
Experienced cruisers never leave shore unless they’re protected by cruise travel insurance because when something goes wrong on your vaction, insurance can help make things right. If the shp sails without you because your flight to Miami was delayed, cruise insurance can hlep you catch up. If you break you leg and have to cancel your trip, the cruise line won’t reimburse you – but travel insurance can. And if any of your loved ones suffer a medical crisis, cruise insurance can cover evaction and emergency medical care. Cruise travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance includes many other benefits, such as lost/delayed baggage coverage, trip delay coverage, trip interruption coverage and more, affordably priced.
Kids, especially tweens and teens, give ships a thumbs-up because they love the freedom they have onboard and the chance to make new friends. Kids with special needs, restricted diets and severe allergies routinely are accommodated in organized programming, too. Everyone enjoys being able to visit new places without the hassles of packing, unpacking and getting lost.
Another cruise plus: there are nearly two dozen U.S. home ports, from Boston to Seattle, eliminating the need for many families to fly to the port of embarkation. Take advantage to plan a pre- or post-cruise urban adventure with CityPASS, which offers discounted prepaid admission to top attractions.
The Most Popular Cruise Itineraries
Begin your planning here or visit Cruising.org, which provides U.S. cruise planners with basic information about major cruise lines’ cruising style. To determine where they leave from, do an online search for the nearest port to see which cruise lines are serviced there. If you’re exploring farther afield and set on visiting certain destinations, check out the global guide, What’s in Port? to read about 1,200 different ports of call.
Itineraries are as varied as the passengers: you can cruise for just a few days or more than a week, checking out beaches or historic sites. Of course, weather at the destination is a big factor to take into consideration, too.
While the Caribbean remains the most popular cruise destination for Americans (perhaps because most itineraries head east), adventure-lovers should keep Pacific routes in mind. From the west coast, major lines are making calls at ports like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, famous from “The Loveboat” TV series, or transiting the Panama Canal. Use online cruise guides like Family Travel Forum’s or the comprehensive reviews of Cruise Critic for more ideas.
And if you don’t want to go on a large ship, charter your own boat (with a crew or without). Eileen Ogintz has cruised with her family around the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to Greece to Alaska. She’s written The Kid’s Guide to Cruising Alaska (Kid’s Guides Series), and discovered along the way that the key is to choose the right cruise for your family and kids.
So what are you waiting for? We’re featuring some of our favorite cruise lines plus great information from the 2016 Taking the Kids Cruise Guide to help you plan an adventure at sea, so set your sails.
Cruise Reviews Of Major Family-Friendly Cruises
Here are some great options to consider:
AdventureSmith Explorations facilitates family travel on small capacity, adventure-oriented ships around the world. Sail aboard intimate yachts and smaller expedition vessels in Alaska, British Columbia and Oregon, or choose more far-flung locales like Baja, Costa Rica, Australia and the Galapagos Islands. They can steer you to special family sailings, deals and travel resources. Company founder Todd Smith helped pioneer the concept of wilderness cruising that combines the comforts of a small cruise ship with the adventure of sea kayaking, hiking and exploring remote wilderness areas seldom associated with more mainstream cruise itineraries. Smith frequently travels with his two young sons, and has published numerous resources on the AdventureSmith website to assist in planning travel with a family focus. The company also has launched a carbon-free cruising initiative and offers dedicated family itineraries as well as substantial savings, including $100 off per person on select land-and-sea combo trips and special youth rates.
What’s New: AdventureSmith has launched several additions for 2017 including a new, active family friendly option in Panama aboard the 62-guest Safari Voyager, sailings aboard the new 100-guest National Geographic Quest in Alaska, and kid-friendly departures aboard the 70-guest Chichagof Dream giving children passengers more time in Glacier Bay National Park, a dog-sledding adventure and a visit to the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest leisure travel company whose 10 leading brands operate a fleet of 101 ships stopping at more than 700 ports around the world, has created three original TV programs that highlight the benefits of ocean travel. Shown on Saturday mornings on ABC, NBC and The CW, the half-hour programs focus on exotic ocean treks, cultural explorations, and inspiring vacations. Learn more at Carnival Cruise Lines Sail Away TV.
In more big news, Carnival announced the new OCEAN proogram, uniting smartwatch technology, concierge services and machine learning to personalize each traveler’s cruise experience through an Ocean Medallion device, expected to depub in late 2017 on Carnival’s Regal Princess.
The 25 ships in the Carnival family cruises fleet expect to carry more than 700,000 children in 2017, the most in company history.
What’s New: Carnival Vista, Carnival’s newest, largest and most innovative ship entered service in the spring from Europe, and recently launched a year-round program of six and eight-day Caribbean cruises. Carnival Vista features family suites with access to a family lounge, Camp Ocean and Seuss at Sea, and the first IMAX and multiplex at sea among other cool features.
For Kids: Carnival Cruise Lines offers complimentary programming and facilities for kids in three age groups – Camp Ocean (2-11), Circle “C” (12-14) and Club O2 (15-17). Camp Ocean is designed for younger cruisers and features indoor play areas stocked with games and toys along with indoor climbing mazes, computer labs and video walls. Kids can also eat with their counselors so parents can enjoy a night to themselves, and enjoy a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with Dr. Seuss characters for a nominal fee.
For Tweens: Circle “C” provides 12 to 14-year olds with a place of their own to dance, watch movies outdoors, play games and get together with new friends.
For Teens: Club O2 includes a dance floor with a DJ, soda bar, movies, video games, and pool parties.
Around the Ship: Outdoor games and activities, along with children’s wading pools, and main Lido deck pools offering the line’s signature water slides. Outdoor play areas with mini basketball hoops, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, mini golf, as well as game rooms offering the latest video and arcade games, are available fleet-wide. The line also offers nightly babysitting and Carnival Night Owls featuring a full schedule of activities running as late as 1am (fees apply for babysitting and the Night Owls program).
These 12 ships are known for their sophisticated cuisine, upscale ambience, destination-focused itineraries and themed cruises focusing on art, food and wine. Still, families cruise Celebrity because it’s more low-key than its sister Royal Caribbean ships, and the line offers popular kids’ programming.
What’s New: In the Summer of 2017, Celebrity’s Equinox introduces year-round Caribbean sailings, from Miami, for those seeking a summer getaway to the tropical islands of the Eastern and Western Caribbean Islands. On these cruises, Summer Camp at Sea will entertain kids, ages 3 to 17-years-old with fun and educational activities includieng Adventure through Science and video production. Beginning in March of 2017, Celebrity is launching exclusive sailings and new itineraries to the Galapagos Islands on 10 to 15-night cruises with shore excursions guided by expert naturalists. These will be available on the state-of-the-art Xpedition, and on the 24-stateroom Xperience and the 8-stateroom (charter the whole ship) Xploration, both of which have underbone multimillion dollar upgrades.
For Kids: Celebrity Fun Factory programs are available for kids ages 3-11 from 9AM-10PM every day. The programs feature adventure science activities, crafts, treasure hunts, theme parties, the latest gaming and more. There are late-evening activities ($6/hour per child). In associate with Autism on the Seas, Celebrity Cruises has earned Autism Friendly Cruise Line Status for accessible inclusion of autistic and developmentally delayed children. Ships are outfitted with Xbox stations for players of all ages. Free play time is also available during certain times for Xbox One and Kinect for Xbox 360.
For Teens: Cruisers ages 12-17 have their own X-Club with gaming consoles, late-night dance parties, and sports. There’s also a special Teen Bliss spa menu at the onboard Canyon Ranch Spa featuring massages, mani/pedis, styling sessions and more. Celebrity has introduced the free iTake program, where aspiring young directors learn to shoot and edit video using the latest technology. iTake is available on all ships with a Celebrity iLounge.
Around the Ship: Kid’s pools and slides, as well as basketball courts, are available almost fleet-wide. In-room sitting is $19 per hour for up to three children. On shore days, some programming is available for an extra fee.
Europe’s top cruise line will give your family a chance to get to know European families and offers a youth program fleet-wide. There are reduced Costa family rates for kids under 17 sharing a cabin with parents, periodic “Kids Sail Free” deals in off peak seasons, and children’s prices on some shore excursions.
What’s New: Peppa Pig World, a new kid’s fun area offering activities and games, opened in April, 2016. Cruisers will experience a menu created by Bruno Barbieri, the Michelin-starred chef and “Pepper” the first robot that can read human emotions will be onboard to improve guest experience and provide help and entertainment.
For Kids: Youth programs begin at age 3, and youth counselors will take kids to dinner. They might enoy being ‘Captain of the Day’ or ‘ Princess for a Day.’ stage junior Olympics, take dancing lessons, go on treasure hunts, and more.
For Teens: Dance lessons, sports and games tournaments, pool and beach parties, talent shows, and a international karaoke keep teens busy and offers a chance to make new friends.
Around the Ship: Kids’ pools, water slides, volleyball, basketball, football, tennis, table tennis, table football, waterpolo, water basketball, water volleyball, darts, hoops, bowling, shuffleboard, and video games on giant screens. In-room sitting is not available, but there is free late night group sitting until 1:30am for kids ages 3 and up. All of the newest ships have an enclosable pool deck – great for the occasional rainy day – and more than 3,000 square feet of space reserved for kids, including the Squok Lido for little ones and a Teen Club for older kids. Costa Fascinosa and Costa Favoloso even have two deck squok clubs and spectacular open-air WaterParks with water games, a pirate ship and castle.
This is one of the world’s largest river cruise companies operating more than 40 river cruises and barges with the added bonus of being very French – service and food are excellent. There’s a friendly, multilingual staff, and shore excursions emphasize expert guided tours of local arts and history. Parents with tweens and teens with a cultural bent will be happiest, as land excursions are included with rates and there’s little entertainment on board. Multigenerational groups and young couples may prefer the privacy of one of their elegant, crewed barges — both options are very good value and you can see in our review of a CroisiEurope cruise.
The all-inclusive cruise line, Crystal reports that growing numbers of families and multigenerational groups are opting for the line’s six-star service and designated spaces for kids and teens—rare at this level. The ships carry between 900 and 1,100 passengers with all of the amenities you’d expect on a cruise line touting luxury, service, space and enrichment programs. In those staterooms that are designed for triple occupancy, the third berth may be used, with a waiver, at a discount for kids. Those ages 11 and under are charged 50% of the minimum cruise-only fare when accompanied by two full-paying adults. The line also offers “Kids Sail Free” offers on select cruises, where guests17 years and under sail free as third berth with waiver passengers, in the same room with two full-paying adults.
What’s New: New routes in 2017 for Crystal Serenity include a 94-day “Ultimate South America” World Cruise and a 99-day “Pan-Pacific” Grand Cruise from Sydney. For the remainder of the year, the oceanliner will sail throughout North America offering routes along the east and west coasts as well as into the Caribbean. Having taken her maiden river voyage in 2016, Crystal Mozart will sail to Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Hungary in 2017, and be joined by two additional luxury river yachts. Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, sailing the Danube, Rhine and Main Rivers. Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises on Crystal Esprit will sail the Indian Ocean/Seychelles, Mediterranean/Adriatic Coast, Holy Land and Middle East/Persian Gulf featuring shore options such as deep-sea fishing in the Seychelles and trekking to Delphi and Mount Parnassus in Greece. A new “Extended Land Program” offers a post-cruse four-day safari through East Africa. The islands of the West Indies is another destination for a Crystal Esprit Yacht Expedition sailing from Marigot Bay, St. Martin on seven and 14-day journies.
For Babies: The Library offers more than 2,000 titles, including a selection of children’s books and children’s DVDs for use in the cabins. In-room sitting is available ($10/hour for 1 child, $15/hour for 2 children, $20/hour for 3 children).
For Kids: The Junior Activities Program located at Fantasia welcomes kids ages 3-12. Activities include arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, cookie baking and pizza making, theatrics, sports and more.
For Teens: Waves, for ages 13-17 is a separate teen club and video arcade, late night pool and dance parties, movies and more.
Around the Ship: Digital filmmaking, Tai Chi instruction, wellness seminars, wine tasting, and art workshops are among dozens of classes offered through Crystal Cruises’ Creative Learning Institute (CLI). Golf clinics and lessons from pros are available on most sailings.
Cunard continues the tradition of luxury cruising that began in 1840, complete with fencing (Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth), dance classes (on all three Queens), and the only ship offering regularly scheduled transatlantic service between New York and Southampton, England (flagship Queen Mary 2).
What’s New: In June 2016, Cunard revealed Queen Mary 2 remastered, following one of the most significant refits Carnival UK has ever undertaken, costing in the region of $131 million. Key upgrades include 30 additional Britannia Club Balcony Staterooms whose guests can dine any time in the dedicated Britannia Club restaurant, the addition of 15 single staterooms to accommodate multi-generational groups, and the addition of 12 kennels (beyond the existing 12) to welcome Fido and Fluffy aboard on the only cruise liner to do so. Special event cruises focusing on fashion, food, music and dance include Transatlantic Fashion Week on the Queen Mary 2, Arts and Literary Tour of the British Isles on the Queen Elizabeth and Big Band Balls at Sea on the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.
For Babies: The Night Nursery is available for children ages 6-23 months from 6pm to 11pm. It is free-of-charge on a first come, first served basis.
For Kids: Kids ages 2-7 are invited to the Play Zone, an area stocked with books, toys, puzzles, computer games, and more. Tots ages 6 months to 2 years are welcome with a parent in the Play Zone. The Kids Zone is for 8-12 year olds and features gaming consoles, sports competitions, arts n’crafts and karaoke.
For Teens: Teen Zone offers team games and deck sports by day, while evenings bring pizza and dance parties. Game consoles are available. All kid’s and teen programs are free-of-charge.
Disney has raised the bar for creative kids’ programming and shore excursions, and a ship design that enables every member of the family—from infants (there is a stand-out nursery) to seniors – to have a real vacation, complete with fireworks at sea. “Dine and Play” means kids are served dinner in an expedited fashion so youth counselors can escort them to organized activities while parents linger. Special shore excursions are designed so parents get a break part of the time.
What’s New: Disney Cruise Line guests can again explore a “galaxy far, far away” during Star Wars Day at Sea, a day-long celebration of intergalactic proportions with iconic characters and out of this world entertainment. New in 2017, the Disney Fantasy special sailings expand to both eastern and western Caribbean itineraries with a total of 15 cruises. Also new this year is another day-long celebration: Marvel Day at Sea with special voyages on Disney Magic beginning in the fall of 2017. Departing from New York City. the eight-night Bahamanian cruises will depart on October 6, 14, 28 and November 4, 11 and 18, 2017 with stops at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay and Port Canaveral, Florida, and include a day at Walt Disney World Resort. The one seven-night Canadian Coast cruise will depart on October 21, 2017 and stop at Charlottetown, Sydney and Halifax. Meet Super Heroes and Super Villains such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor and others among lighting, sound effects and pyrotechnics; play Marvel trivia and other Marvel-themed games; enjoy activities and arts and crafts, and top it all off with screenings of fan-favorite films from the Marvel Universe.
2017 brings several exciting itineraries to Disney Cruise Line passengers. Transatlantic cruises with stops in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Portland, England (a short distance from Stonehenge) will be offered on a 15-night crossing on May 13, 2017. Amsterdam will also be a part of at 10-night northern Europe itinerary departing on June 18. For the first time, Disney Fantasy will sail from Port Canaveral on longer itineraries. 10- and 11-night cruises to the southern Caribbean will sail on June 17 and June 28, 2017. Special sailings in June and July will make two stops at Castaway Cay along with a stop in Nassau.
For Babies: Children ages 6 months to 3 years are welcome at the It’s a Small World Nursery where they’ll be cared for by trained counselors ($9/hour for first child, $8/hour for second child from same family). Reservations at the nurseries are strongly recommended.
For Kids:Open to kids ages 3-12, the Oceaneer Club is the ultimate destination for creativity and fun. At Marvel’s Avengers Academy on Disney Magic, kids join Marvel characters in their latest crime-fighting missions. In Andy’s Room, the stars of Toy Story come to life in a multi-level space stocked with Andy’s favorite toys. Kids will also enjoy making crafts and playing games in the Mickey Mouse Club on Disney Magic, or exploring the world of Tinker Bell and friends at Pixie Hollow on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. And don’t forget the Oceaneer Lab. This pirate-themed, interactive space features an animator’s studio, Navigator Simulators, and more.
For Tweens: The 11 to 14-year-olds have their own Edge club with flat-screen TVs, the latest videogames, theme nights, and karaoke.
For Teens: Teens 14-17 have their own Vibe club and, on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, their own sundeck. Open all day (and half of the night), the areas are the perfect chill-out spots with comfy couches and flat-screen TVs. Club hours of operation are typically from 11am to 2am, except on day of embarkation. There are special teen shore excursions like the Wild Side at Castaway Cay, where teens explore, snorkel, and go boating around the island.
Around the Ship: Everything from character meals and meet-and-greets, to first-run movies and Broadway caliber entertainment to adult-only restaurants and deck areas. Families love Disney’s private island Castaway Cay with its snorkeling lagoon and kayaking, as well as chances to swim with the stingrays, play in the water park, or head to separate adult and teen beaches.
A new Carnival brand designed for “social impact travel,” this ship offers families the chance to work alongside locals and give back. The volunteer in-port activities reviewed here by FTF are typical of Fathom Travel shore excursions that will soon be available on all Carnival ships calling on the Dominican Republic. However, all Fathom itineraries to the DR and Cuba will be modified during the 2017 season, so watch this space for updates.
This line now carries more than 25,000 kids and their families aboard its 14 mid-size ships every year—including so many multi-generational groups that they have designed a special Family Reunion Program (for groups booking eight or more rooms) featuring a complimentary room upgrade, $50 beverage card per room, and more. The junior foodies in your gang will love the kid’s and teen’s Americas Test Kitchen with complimentary cooking lessons. All the kids will like the Cartoon Network offerings that air on the in-cabin television.
What’s New: Holland America’s newest ship, ms Koningsdam, sailed its maiden voyage last year from Rome, and adds a series of northern Europe and Baltic cruises to HAL’s itineraries. With a $300-million investment, HAL is planning exciting enhancements to its top staterooms with new furnishings, decor, amenities and upgrades for all suites on the line’s Signature, Vista and R-Class Ships. HAL’s shipboard Culinary Arts Center will be transformed to replicate America’s Test Kitchen and deliver food demos and workships. Designed specifically for Holland America Line, the shipboard shows will be hosed by HAL chefs trained by America’s Test Kitchen culinary experts. Shipboard cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops – with topics ranging from shaping Asian dumplings to making the perfect pie crust – will combine foolproof, accessible recipes and cooking techniques that are rooted in the rigorous testing and science-based approach of America’s Test Kitchen.
For Kids: The Club HAL program provides supervised activities for kids ages 3-12, including PJ parties, arts and crafts, kids Olympics, videogame tournaments, and more.
For Tweens: The 8-12 year olds have their own special area featuring arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, family-safe Internet access (for a minimal fee), videogames, deck sports, and pool parties. They may participate in the National Park Service Junior Ranger program on Alaska cruises.
For Teens: The Loft is an adult-free lounge where teens ages 13-17 can hang out and enjoy movies, games, and music. Oasis, a teen-only sundeck with a wading pool and juice bar, is also available on select ships.
Around the Ship: Swimming pools, basketball, volleyball and tennis. Families love the private island Half Moon Cay with its array of activities like snorkeling, bicycle tours, watersports, and adventure areas. Limited babysitting is available for kids ages 5 and under through the Front Desk. Club HAL is open from 10pm to 2am for After Hours Care for $5/hour per child. Babysitting is not available when the ship is in port.
MSC Cruises offer innovative itineraries, great family deals and some luxury perks to guests from around the world. Kids 11 and under sail free on select sailings on MSC Cruises when traveling as the third and/or fourth guests in a stateroom with two adults. Guests of the all-inclusive MSC Yacht Club also enjoy a luxury lounge with a special 24-hour concierge and butler service, private dining, and more on all Fantasia-class ships (MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa), as well as MSC Cruises’ next generation ships including MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside.
What’s New: During the 2017-2018 season, MSC will introduce its new “Seaside” class of ships with its first, MSC Seaside, arriving to PortMiami in December, 2017. MSC Seaside is the first of up to three ships in this class, with a modern “condo-on-the-beach” design, sailing from Miami to the Caribbean year-round. Additionally, the MSC Meraviglia will be arriving to the western Mediterranean in June, 2017. Aboard both next generation ships, families will find the untimate oasis with activities for all ages as well as family-friendly accommodations including modular connected staterooms that can fit up to 10 people. Onboard MSC Seaside, families can enjoy activities for all, including one of the most interactive waterparks at sea with four waterslides and cutting edge slideboarding technology combining a slide and interactive game; two of the longest zip lines at sea spanning 394 feet each; a full-sized bowling alley; and a 5D cinema with interactive elements. MSC Meraviglia also has a varitey of features for families including a super amusement park and children’s area; a tech lab for kids to eplore new technology; sports courts including basketball, football and volleyball; two F1 simulators and a 5D cinema and a full-zides bowling alley.
For Babies: A Special Baby Laundry service is available for 0-6 year-olds. Their clothing is picked up from your cabin, washed separately with a specialized sanitizing program with gentle cleansing agents, and delivered back the next day. While at sea, toddlers ages 1-3 years are welcome at the Mini Club, under the care of a trained staff from 1pm to 2pm and from 6pm to 7pm. Advanced reservations are required. The Mini Club is also open on both Port Days and Sea Days at specified times so that mom or dad can play with baby and meet other families. The Mini Club is stocked with toys chosen by Chicco, a baby care brand with a history of more than 50 years.
For Kids: Organized activities are available for kids at DOREMILAND which is divided into two age groups (3-6 and 7-11). Open 9am to 11pm while in port and at certain hours while at sea, fun activities include dance classes, sports, PlayStation, Xbox and Wii and group games under the supervision of a professional staff. Children are also able to dine together with the staff and enjoy a special menu designed for them. Or, they can enjoy Happy Dinners, a quick dinner with mom and dad as they enjoy their first course, and then return to the club for a fun evening. Although private babysitting is not available, supervised late-night play and napping is offered for a small fee. In association with LEGO, the 3 to 11 year-olds have a huge selection of bricks and accessories to create with, and LEGO Experience On Board, a full day dedicated to LEGO activities, is held one day on every cruise. A full roster of family-fun activities is available through the onboard DOREMI Club.
For Teens: Teens are also divided into two age groups (12-14 and 15-17) and meet a different times. Activities include Wii/Xbox/PS3 games, social network games, dance contests, sports and karaoke. Teens are also able to enjoy the shops onboard by purchasing a teen card designed for nominal onboard purchases. Weekly teen events can include a Teen’s Talent Show, Twisted Scavenger Hunt, MSC Flashmob, and more.
Around the Ship: Ship activities may include miniature golf, tennis, basketball, football, dodgeball, mini-bowling, shuffleboard and table soccer, kids and family pools, an Aqua Park and Water Slide, 4D Cinema and a racing car simulator. Aboard the new MSC Seaside guests of all ages can enjoy one of the most interactive water parks at sea. For thrill seekers, MSC Seaside will have two fo the largest zip lines at sea, spanning 394 feet. Entertainment on board is available for all ages, with every ship offering at leas 6 different shows, even on a 7-night cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line invites you to cruise with your kids from Miami, New York, Boston, Tampa, Orlando (Port Canaveral), New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu, Vancouver, Quebec, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome (Civitavecchia), Venice and almost twenty additional ports of departure worldwide including embarkation ports in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and South America. The line is famous for “Freestyle” Cruising, meaning you can do and eat when you want and where you want. The newer ships have space dedicated to craft brews and fine wines. The line’s newest Breakaway and Breakaway Plus class ships even have The Waterfront, a promenade with outdoor cafes for the most popular eateries; just be prepared to pay extra to sample some of the specialty restaurants.
What’s New: The line’s newest ship is Norwegian Escape, the largest in the fleet, sailing weekly 7-day cruises from Miami to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. In addition to the largest ship-within-a-ship private suite complex, The Haven, Studios for solo travelers, and multi-generational group cabin configurations, Norwegian Escape features 28 dining options, the Tony-Award winning Broadway musical “After Midnight,” as well as the 80’s movie montage smash-hit “For the Record: The Brat Pack,” a three-story sports complex that includes a multi-story ropes course with five zip tracks, and the biggest Aqua park yet for the family-welcoming cruise line. Norwegian’s Free at Sea promotion offers guests the choice to select value added offers to add to their cruising experience. Promotional offers vary depending on the time of booking and stateroom category but can include incredible amenities such as free unlimited open bar, free specialty dining, shore excursion credits and free wifi.
Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Cruise Line’s first purpose-built ship customized for China, will debut in Summer, 2017. Designed to provide First Class at Sea experiences with onboard amenities that cater to the unique vacation desires of Chinese guests, Norwegian Joy will provide a multitude of VIP accommodations, engaging and innovative activities including a first-at-sea two-level competitive racetrack, a tranquil open space park ,as well as the line’s largest upscale shopping district.
Norwegian Bliss, the third ship in the line’s Breakaway-Plus class, will be the first cruise ship custom-built with features and amenities for the ultimate Alaska cruise experience, and the first Norwegian ship to make its debut in Seattle, where she will seasonally homeport beginning Summer, 2018.
For Babies: Moms and dads can bring children ages six-months to three-years to Guppies Nursery which offers drop-off, fee-based childcare services for playtime; parent supervision is required. Private babysitting is not available. Group sitting services are available nightly and on port days for a small fee.
For Kids: Activities for kids ages 3 through 12 are centered at Splash Academy, and include arts’n’crafts, sports, video games and treasure hunts. Kids can also attend Circus School and learn juggling, plate spinning and walking on stilts.
For Teens: Entourage is Norwegian’s exclusive teen area for ages 13 through 17 providing teens with a complimentary and supervised space where they can hang out, play video games, watch movies and play sports.
Around the Ship: Look for onboard bowling alleys and basketball courts, pub crawls and wine tastings for the over-21 crowd, Behind the Scenes tours, and live entertainment.
The line operates the longest continually-sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin. No other ship has offered such single-destination focus year-round.
What’s New: A new itinerary, a 16-night “Fiji to Bali” voyage, departing April 29, 2017, from Lautoka, Fiji, and visiting Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu; Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands; Samarai Island, Papual New Guinea; Port Moresby, Papual New Guinea; Merauke, Indonesia; Dili, Timor-Leste; Komodo Island, Indonesia; Lembar, Lombok Island, Indonesia; and Benoa, Bali, Indonesia. The reverse itinerary, “Bali to Fiji,” is 17 nights and departs June 7, 2017. The Gauguin will be showcasing its most sought-after itineraries: the 7-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands;” 7-night “Tahiti, the Society Islands & Tuamotus;” 10 night “Society Islands & Tuamotus;” 11-night “Cook Island & Society Islands;” and 14-night “Marquesas, Tuamotus & Society Islands.” Also in 2017, the popular 12- and 13-night “Society Islands, Cook Islands, Tonga & Fiji” itineraries return. Fares include roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles.
For Kids: Paul Gauguin Cruises is offering a new way for families to explore this breathtaking part of the world together, through a joint program with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS has been committed to saving wildlife and wild places for over 120 years. During the summer months and holiday season, Stewards of Nature: a WCS Partnership, is offered aboard the m/s/ Paul Gauguin and invites guests to discover and value nature through hands-on, interactive learning for children ages 7-17, as well as family members for an extra fee.
There is music; and even yoga for kids and teens along with the regular activities. Families love the private island and family-friendly shore excursions. Be forewarned that the line’s smaller vessel, Pacific Princess, doesn’t have dedicated youth spaces, but children’s programs operate when 20 or more children ages 3 to 17 are on board.
What’s New: The new Regal Princess, sister ship to Royal Princess, is a spectacular example of the next generation of innovative Princess ships. The breathtaking Atrium & Piazza, now over 50 percent larger than our other ships’; Atriums, features exciting new eateries and signature features like The SeaWalk®;a dramatic glass-bottom walkway which USA TODAY calls one of the “Top Gee-Whiz Features at Sea.”
In collaboration with Discovery Communications, Princess is expanding its Discover at Sea partnership with re-imagined youth centers for Camp Discovery. Starting in early 2017 on the Grand Princess, the new program will then roll out in March on the Caribbean Princess, April on the Regal Princess, October on the Sea Princess and November on the Island Princess. Experiences will be focused around the categories of Play, Discover, Huddle (interact with peers) and Create with lots of activities for each. Additionally, cultural activities related to the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe will help young cruisers learn about the customs and nature of where they cruise and MythBusters science activities will challenge their minds.
For Kids: Princess Youth Programs will start at age 3 with The Treehouse, a bright, whimsical forest and animal-themed center including hands-on activiites for kids.
For Tweens: The Lodge for 8- to 12-year-olds is inspired by the great outdoors and is filled with sports activities and places for kids to explore and hang out.
For Teens: The Beach House will offer 13- to 17-year-olds a contemporary surf-themed lounge where teens can hang out and socialize. There will be parties, movies, teen makeovers, dance classes and game competitions.
Around the Ship: Families love the giant outdoor movie screens, swimming pools, the line’s private island Princess Cay, arcades, basketball court and more. Afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition on Princess ships offered on the Promenade Deck from 3:30 to 4:30pm daily. Guests can now get moving with Zumba Fitness at sea, the exhilarating dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music and contagious choreography. Discovery at Sea brings some favorite TV shows and hosts on board with programs like Shark Week. Additionally, there are Discovery and Animal Planet Shore Excursions and Stargazing with Discovery at Sea. In-room babysitting is not available, but there is late night group sitting for $5 per child. On shore days, youth programs are offered.
Upscale families love that the classy cabins are all suites, the cruise is all-inclusive (including free shore excursions) and there is special pricing for kids on select voyages. Because the ships are smaller—just 700 guests -– there may just be 50 youngsters on board.
What’s New: Touted as the “most luxurious cruise ship on the seas, Seven Seas Explorer, launched in July of 2016, accommodates 750 guests. Free WiFi is available on all Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Using a laptop, tablet or smartphone, unlimited WiFi will be available in all categories and from any location onboard. Eleven sailings in Asia and Africa will offer 3-night land tours in Cape Town, Angkor Wat, Hong Kong or Beijing with experiences such as an African safari, a Thai elephant camp and a visit to the Great Wall of China.
For Kids: Programming starts at age 5 in three groups (ages 5-9, 9-12, and 13-17), but the Club Mariner youth program is only available on certain voyages. Ages 1 and up are welcome to sail, but there are no programs for ages 1-3, or separate facilities for teens and tweens, though separate activities are offered through the Club Mariner Youth program whose counselors host a variety of activities, including games, craft projects, movies, and “food fun” to make sure each child has a memorable experience. Activities are customized for each group. In-room babysitting is expensive and officially not available, but staff members sometimes will babysit upon request.
Think family vacation –- on steroids. Think every kind of food and entertainment you could want aboard some of the world’s biggest ships (Oasis and Allure of the Seas) and on its most innovative, (Quantum and Anthem of the Seas). There is a skydiving simulator, a 300-foot-tall observation pod craning above the deck, bumper cars and basketball, rock climbing walls (on several ships), indoor lap pools, remarkable digital and live entertainment, teen spa treatments, Nickelodeon character breakfasts, a casino, live shows and performances, and a huge selection of restaurants plus room service. The innovative seven-neighborhood concept on Oasis-class ships offers locales that are packed with varying experiences made for all ages, perfect for a multi-generational family on vacation. And that’s only the beginning — this is not the cruise line for couch potato relaxation.
What’s New: In 2016, Royal Caribbean launched Harmony of the Seas, sailing from Fort Lauderdale. With 5,497 guests, it became the largest ship in the world and features Ultimate Abyss, a pair of side-by-side slides, the tallest at sea. Allure of the Seas will also homeport in Fort Lauderdale. Oasis of the Seas will sail a new 7-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary in 2017 from Port Canaveral; Ovation of the Seas has repositioned to Sydney, Australia for its summer season. Anthem of the Seas is currently cruising from its homeport in Cape Liberty, New Jersey, and has been joined by Rhapsody of the Seas for expanded Caribbean itineraries. The newly revitalized Empress of the Seas will embark on its first sailing to Cuba on a 5-night sailing from Miami in April, 2017.
For Babies: Aboard select ships, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for toddlers 6-36 months old offers parents childcare drop-off options in the daytime ($6/hour) and evening ($8/hour). All caregivers have four-year degrees in education, recreation or a related field and extensive experience. On all ships, free-time play for this age group is also offered daily, and parents and children can share unique age-appropriate learning and fun activities. The Babies 2 Go program also allows parents to order Gerber organic baby food and diapers, wipes and creams by Huggies for delivery to their staterooms upon arrival. In-room sitters are available ($19/hour for up to 3 kids) and come equipped with books and toys. There is also late-night group babysitting until 2AM ($7/hour per child ages 3-11).
For Kids: The Adventure Ocean programs are available for kids ages 3-11. Activities vary by age (3-5, 6-8 and 9-11) and range from art workshops, parades and ice cream parties to scavenger hunts, theater games, and sports tournaments. Led by the trained staff, kids participate in science and arts projects, sports tournaments and talent show. Royal Caribbean is proud to announce their designation as an “autism-friendly ship” where staff has been trained to accept, work with, and facilitate the cruise experience for passengers on the spectrum.
For Teens: Tweens and Teens (12-14 and 15-17) have their own separate activities, including everything from DJ training to movie nights, karaoke, pool parties, video and arcade games. There is a teens-only lounge, nightclub, and spa offering facials, hair treatments, pedicures, and more on each ship.
Around the Ship: Families love to splash around the H2O Zone waterpark with pools, waterfalls, geysers, a FlowRider surfing simulator and more. Harmony and Liberty of the Seas also now feature kids aquapark Splashaway Bay and The Perfect Storm waterslides. The DreamWorks Experience features parades, themed activities and character breakfasts with DreamWorks Animation’s popular feature-film characters, including Po of “Kung Fu Panda;” Shrek, Fiona and Puss In Boots of “Shrek;” plus Alex and the Penguins, and King Julien from “Madagascar.” For entertainment lovers, on select cruises there are Broadway style performances of Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Mamma Mia!, Cats and We Will Rock You, an ice-skating spectacular, and AquaTheater dive shows, as well as live jazz.
Also look for zip lines, mini-golf, and pool scuba diving (select cruises), plus several “firsts” at sea – a skysimulator, RipCord by iFLY; North Star, a capsule offering 360-degree views and the “Highest Viewing Deck on a Cruise Ship” by the Guinness Book of World Records; and SeaPlex with bumper cars, a roller skating rink and much more. On shore days, children’s activities are ongoing.
Tauck pioneered the first river cruise designed specifically for families in 2010, and today operates four itineraries – one each on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Seine.
What’s New: For 2017 Tauck is doubling its family river cruising capacity (increasing from 10 to 20 departures) and adding a new family river cruise itinerary on the Seine.
For Kids: Tauck includes a number of kid-friendly activities on each family itinerary, including a scavenger hunt in Paris’ Louvre, a lesson in petanque (a ball game similar to bocce) in Viviers, a hayride in the Camargue, bicycling in Avignon, and a French cooking demonstration at a Michelin-starred culinary school in Valence. Each Tauck riverboat boasts a staff of three Tauck Directors and a Tauck Cruise Director ( vs. a single cruise director on most lines) to ensure great service and a fun experience for all. In addition, Tauck’s riverboats have a far higher percentage of suites than other lines; each is equipped with a king bed and pull-out sofa and can easily accommodate a family of four. Read Eileen Ogintz’s story about a Tauck Danube River family cruise here.
Un-Cruise Adventures are unmatched, hands-on small boat explorations with a focus on outdoor activities. Kayaks and whales, snorkels and paddle boards, mountains and desert, service and wine — all combine to help you uncover an adventure of interest. Then just pack your bags and venture into some of nature’s most exciting playgrounds and historic ports for exploration, eye-to-eye wildlife encounters, and living history. Discover something special in Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Hawaiian Islands, Galápagos Islands, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Pacific Northwest. Read about the Ogintz family cruise on the Wilderness Discoverer in Southeast Alaska in summer 2012.
For Kids: Kids ages 8 and older are welcome on most departures. A Family Discoveries program invites families aboard all ships and itineraries except for the 22-guest Safari Quest (charter only). Kids ages 8-13 and save $500 on regular fare excluding December holiday departures.
With less than 200 people aboard, Uniworld is a different kind of experience for those seeking five-star yet family-welcoming luxury and the chance to explore new places without the hassle of moving from place to place. The cruise line’s multigenerational family-friendly river cruises feature special pricing which includes all meals and entertainment onboard, exciting shore excursions, complimentary use of bicycles, and transfers on arrival and departure dates. Eileen Ogintz shares her Uniworld River Cruise experience here.
What’s New: Uniworld offers 17 departures of their multigenerational cruises with 9 itineraries including “Grand European Discover,” “Gems of Northern Italy,” “Castles Along the Rhine,” and “Classic Christmas Markets.” Contact them for a special brochure about family-friendly cruising. In March 2017, Uniworld will introduce their new masterpiece, the one-of-a-kind Super Ship, SS Joie de Vivre, sailing along France’s historic Seine River on the Paris & Normandy itinerary; this itinerary includes a few multigenerational departures. Aptly named, Uniworld’s new ship will reflect the French “joy of living” philosophy and their profound appreciation for food, wine, art and music. Everything from the ship’s decor and design to farm-to-table cuisine and superb local wines will be on full display for guests to enjoy.
For Kids: While there are no separate facilities, children’s programs start at age 4. Kids will enjoy playing together and watching movies in the Playstation 2 or Wii-equipped game room. There’s also a special menu with kid-friendly food options and complimentary soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard.
As well as visiting breath-taking sites in Europe and the Mediterranean, you will also see some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. Guest speakers are an integral part of the Voyages to Antiquity experience – they closely complement the in-depth program of shore excursions in bringing to life the art, history and culture of the regions visited. Cruise fares include shore ecursions as described in the itinerary, gratuities and wine with dinner on board ship, flights and transfers.
MV Aegean Odyssey is a premium class ship that explores areas that bigger ships are unable to access. The vessel provides the best features of a mid-size ship, such as passenger space and choice of restaurants, with the personal service and intimate surroundings of a smaller vessel .
What’s New: Voyages to Antiquity will operate its first dedicated European program that features no-fly cruising from the UK in 2017. The new program features 17 itineraries, four ex-UK sailings, and maiden visits to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Iceland and Olbia in Sardinia. Highlights of the 2017 program include: 1) The 15-day ‘Iceland, Faroes and Shetland Islands’ cruise, which departs from Tilbury (London, England) and calls at Rosyth (Scotland), Kirkwall (Orkney Islands), Heimaey, Reykjavik, Isafjordur, Akureyri and Husavik (all Iceland), Torshavn (Faroe Islands) and Lerwick (Shetland Islands) before return to Tilbury where guests disembark and 2) The 16-day ‘England, Ireland and Scotland’ cruise, which departs from Tilbury (London, England); and calls at Guernsey (Channel Islands); Falmouth and Isles of Scilly (both England); Dublin, Ireland for an overnight stay; Liverpool, Douglas (Isle of Man), both England, Isle of Arran, Stornoway (Hebrides), Kirkwall (Orkney Islands), Scrabster and Oban (all Scotland) before arriving in Greenok (Edinburgh, Scotland) for a two-night stay in Edinburgh beffore the flight home.
Guests can enjoy the best of small ship ocean-and river-cruising on select 2017 itineraries. In western France, the Aegean Odyssey will sail into the Gironde and the Loire Rivers and visit the famous chateaux country; while in England call in to Falmouth, Cornwall to explore the West Country. The award-winning cruise line will be welcoming celebrated guest speakers from The Ashmolean Museum, Welcome Trust and Cambridge University among others, throughout its 2017 program. Notable speakers onboard include BBC broadcaster Ernest Rea, astronomer and geologist Peter Cattermole, and the newly appointed Sackler Keeper of Antiquities at The Ashmolean Museum, Dr.Paul Roberts.
For Kids: While there are no particular facilities for young children, the ship is cozy, safe and intimate. Anyone with an interest in history and geography will appreciate the informal talks, culture evenings, and stocked library featuring books about the destination.
Around the Ship: Cabins range from suites to singles. In addition to using the small gym, pool, bar, and a few restaurants whose excellent cuisine varies each day to match the port of call, the best thing to do is explore the unusual ports easily accessed by this small cruise ship.
Windstar is casually elegant small ship cruising, visiting smaller harbors and classic ports and paired with world-class cuisine and personalized service families can truly appreciate. The fleet of six yachts (three with sails; three all-suite power yachts) offer ample decks, nautical decor, and rare travel events: chat up the captain on the open bridge, be a VIP at Monaco’s famed Grand Prix, or take a dip in the ocean directly from the Watersports Platform, when weather and prot conditions allow.
Because of Windstars intimate size (with no more than 320 guests on board) and absence of programming specifically designed for children, we recommend the cruise line as an ideal option for parents who want a getaway without the kids, or a special trip with older children.
What’s New: Windstar will offer itineraries in Asia and Arabia in 2017/18, with its agile Star Legend yacht docking in the hub of must-see Asian cities (where larger ships typically dock on the outskirts), sailing on routes less traveled, and visiting out-of-the-way islands and villages that big ships skip. Also new in 2017/18 are seven new sailings to the hidden harbors and smaller ports of the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and Panama.
AND A WISHLIST
Given the number of young children drowning or experiencing critical injuries in cruise ship pools, we have long wished that the industry would accept responsibility for the onboard safety of all passengers and provide lifeguards and life jackets at each pool. Disney Cruise Line has established lifeguards who monitor deck pools on a scheduled basis and provide flotation vests in various sizes. In more good news, we’ve learned that Royal Caribbbean may be contemplating additing pool lifeguards to its crew.
Since the UN has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, we hope to see more proactive environmental measures onboard ships and more opportunities for travelers to engage with with sustainable development projects at each port of call.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.
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