Setting sail on a cruise is an adventure your family won’t soon forget. Even if it’s not your kids’ first time at sea, the little ones are bound to be excited by a journey to distant lands. When that magic wears off, you’ll want to make sure there are enough high-energy activities to keep them happy.
That’s where these cruise lines excel. They’re experts in family-friendly adventures and offer plenty of onboard entertainment to inspire in-the-moment fun — and a thirst for travel that lasts for life.
Everybody's dreams come true when you enter the magical wonderland of a Disney Cruise Line ship.
Entertainment: Kids' pools and splash areas, live shows, deck parties, youth clubs, character experiences, arcades and themed nights.
Baby nurseries? Yes — It's a Small World Nurseries are available on every ship for an additional fee.
Cabin configuration: Basic staterooms hold up to four people. Deluxe family staterooms hold up to five people.
A paradise for kids and the young at heart, Disney cruises feature everything from Mickey-themed restaurants to pirate-themed rooms and thrilling live musical productions. Make sure to pack your kid's favorite Disney costume — they'll fit right in with their favorite characters strolling the deck.
Its award-winning Adventure Ocean youth program educates as it entertains, with an imagination studio, science lab and theater. Oh, and it has the tallest water slide at sea.
Entertainment: Fencing, archery, cupcake decorating, Broadway musicals, aqua theater shows, DreamWorks character dining experiences, 3D movie screenings, family dining time, merry-go-rounds, zip lines, live shows, Adventure Ocean youth program.
Baby nurseries? Yes, Royal Caribbean has a dedicated nursery for babies of 6-36 months and hosts babies and tots interactive playgroup sessions.
Cabin configuration: Family rooms available for up to eight people.
Rock climbing walls, ice rinks, mini golf, a 3D movie theater and FlowRider surf machines are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to kid-friendly activities aboard Royal Caribbean ships. Youth clubs abound for when the adults need a break.
It has won multiple Best Cruise Line for Families awards, taking the cake with over-the-top entertainment and limitless fun.
Entertainment: IMAX theater, pools and water slides, Seuss-a-palooza activities, dive-in movie theater (movies you can watch from the pool), video arcade, mini golf, sports, Build-A-Bear Workshop, arts and crafts, SkyRide and the SkyCourse walk.
Baby nurseries?: No. But babysitting services are available for a fee. Camp Carnival, which is included in your fare, admits kids starting at age two.
Cabin configuration: A basic stateroom holds up to five people. Book a suite for a little more space, or opt for interconnected staterooms.
From Sky Zone trampolines to Dr. Seuss-themed activities and water slides that wrap around the deck, Carnival ships are a bit like amusement parks at sea. Camp Ocean will entertain 2- to 11-year-olds, while the SportSquare area has games like ping pong, soccer, volleyball and more.
You'll find a casual atmosphere on board, with Splash Academy programming devoted to entertaining your little ones. For teens, there's Entourage.
Entertainment: Family dining, mini golf, bowling, circus and magic shows, pools and water slides.
Baby nurseries? A Guppies nursery is available on the Norwegian Escape. Otherwise, fleet-wide Guppies playgroup programs are available for babies six months to three years.
Cabin configuration: Choose between interconnecting state rooms and family suites.
Norwegian is family-friendly without being overwhelming. On board, you'll find well-organized activities specific to each age group — from parades to treasure hunts and even a circus skills show. And the youth counselors and cruise staff are devoted to making sure your whole clan is comfortable and engaged.
Discovery at Sea includes an indoor planetarium and top-deck star gazing for aspiring astronauts. You'll also find Discovery-brand shore excursions designed with families in mind.
Entertainment: The Treehouse (ages 3 to 7), The Lodge (ages 8 to 12), scavenger hunts, sports tournaments, dance parties, mini golf, yoga, mini Olympics, video games, arts and crafts, cake decorating.
Baby nurseries? No. To join the youth program, little ones must be at least three years old. Families with babies may want to consider a difference cruise line.
Cabin configuration: Mini-suites and suites provide extra space, while a family suite can accommodate up to eight people.
If your kids are animal lovers, check out Princess cruises that feature Animal Planet partnerships, where creatures are brought on deck to mix and mingle. With Princess Cruises' imaginative programming, your kids will be free to explore and learn a thing or two about the world along the way.
Family-owned MSC encourages family travel by offering free accommodation for kids under 11 on select sailings when they stay with their parents in the same cabin.
Entertainment: Aqua park, bowling, Lego activities, arts and crafts, dance classes and performances, teen talent show and sports activities.
Baby nurseries? Yes — it's called Mini Club. It also has a baby care service that'll watch tots ages one to three during the day while you explore the shore.
Cabin configuration: Basic staterooms hold four guests, while suites hold five. Family staterooms can hold up to 10 people.
Onboard, the little ones can sign up for age-appropriate youth clubs and dine with their favorite staff entertainers. MSC Cruises focuses on helping your kids make new friends in a safe vacation environment — especially great for parents who simply want to relax while their munchkins play.
How we chose these cruises
When choosing cruises for this list, we looked at the range and quality of kids programs and activities available on board, prioritizing cruise lines with a mix of entertaining and educational activities. Additionally, we favored companies that offer itineraries and shore excursions curated specifically with youth in mind.
We also weighed stateroom amenities and dining options against the price, favoring companies known for delivering kid-friendly meals at the highest value. Finally, we sought out customer reviews on travel websites and personal travel blogs, considering first-person experiences and each company’s overall reputation.
Do kids need passports for cruises?
Sometimes — but usually a state-certified birth certificate or Certificate of Naturalization will suffice for minors. The minimum age to hold a US passport is 16 years old, so only kids ages 16 to 18 would be required to have a passport during a cruise, anyway — and then only with certain cruise lines.
Still, always check with your cruise line directly about what types of ID will be required. This is usually available in the terms and conditions up front, or in your confirmation and itinerary info after you’ve booked.
How to find free cruises for kids
Having kids is a total game-changer when it comes to budgeting for family vacations. Here’s how to find kids-sail-free promotions so you can cruise without sacrificing an arm and a leg:
Book with MSC Cruises. It offers free passage for sailors 11 and under on select routes all year-round.
Take advantage of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea. This frequent NCL promotion lets passengers choose up to five complimentary offers with each booking — including the choice to bring a kid or two along for free.
Keep an eye out for deals with discounts for the third and fourth passengers. After you and your partner board, two kiddos constitute your third and fourth traveling companions.
Look in to Crystal Cruises. This cruise line always lets kids age 12 and under sail at 50% off when accompanied by two adults paying full price. While Crystal Cruises is in the luxury cruise market and doesn’t necessarily cater to youth, the all-inclusive pampering might be worth it if you can save on fare for the little ones.
Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, though it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated travelers as of April 2021. It recommends that you delay travel if you are not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.
When traveling, follow safety measures that include wearing a mask in public, social distancing and washing your hands. If you are diagnosed with, have symptoms of or are waiting for COVID-19 test results — or are otherwise at risk of illness — do not attend gatherings or travel for 14 days.
The best cruises for kids strike a balance between heart-racing entertainment and educational enrichment. After determining which is best for your pint-sized passengers, check to see if a discount might apply to your family’s fare.
Frequently asked questions
Each cruise line has its own policy regarding minimum passenger age, but usually little ones must be at least six months old in order to sail.
Certain adult-orientated lines like Viking Cruises don’t allow any passengers under the age of 18.
MSC Cruise Lines offers some of the best itineraries when it comes to European cruises. Founded in Italy and based in Geneva, Switzerland today, its ships feature a Mediterranean design with an authentic ambiance. Its fare tends to be more affordable than other European cruise lines, so you can book a European cruise for the entire family on a budget.
It depends on the cruise line. Disney Cruise Line always offers reduced fare for kids, compared to the price adults pay. Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer discounted cruise fare for the third and fourth guests when traveling with two full-fare guests. Otherwise, unless you’re taking advantage of a kids-sail-free deal, most cruise lines do require full fare for kids.
Current cruise deals
Disney cruises from $705 per person to the Caribbean
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for a range of travel publications including Thomas Cook Magazine and Showpo. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping consumers stretch their travel cash while on holiday.
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