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6 best cruises for kids
They may never want to set foot on dry land again.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Cruise lines famously tend to offer kids-sail-free deals after Turkey Day wraps up — keep an eye on Royal Caribbean in particular.
- 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.
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.
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