When it comes to serving families who are traveling with children, not all cruise lines are created equal. Here are our picks for the best cruises for families, and what sets these top lines apart from their competitors:
Disney Cruise Line
This may be the most expensive of the kid-friendly lines, but it delivers an experience that will leave you happy you spent the extra money (especially with the two newer ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy). Cabins are designed especially for making bedtime a breeze for broods with multiple children: Bathrooms are split into a shower/sink room and a toilet/sink room, so two kids can brush their teeth at once. Dining service is also tailored to travelers with little people. Passengers rotate among the dining rooms, and waiters follow. They have drinks on the table when you arrive, entertain kids between courses with magic tricks, and provide fast, smooth service that gets everyone out of the dining room before meltdowns can take place.
Why they are the best cruises for families: The kids clubs on these ships also serve every age group well, with a nursery for the little ones — who, unlike on other lines, don’t have to be potty trained — and tween and teen clubs with everything from scavenger hunts to slumber parties. Add to that the variety of character meet-and-greet opportunities, and this is the best of the Disney resorts, offered at sea.
Royal Caribbean International
Known as the line for adrenaline junkies, Royal Caribbean’s newer ships such as Anthem of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas have activities like skydiving and surfing simulators, bumper cars, ice-skating rinks, and zip lines. These types of innovations — providing fun activities not seen on any other ships — are really where the line shines.
Why they are the best cruises for families: Besides those high-energy activities, you’ll also find kids clubs for children of all ages and a partnership with DreamWorks that results in parades of characters and character breakfasts, as well as screenings of 3-D movies that are still in theaters back home.
Carnival Cruise Line
Depending on when and where you sail, Carnival ships can be filled with 20-something partiers (on the short sailings out of Florida) or families with children in tow. The line works hard to serve groups with kids of all ages, and its newest ship — Carnival Vista — is designed with family-focused cabins.
Why they are the best cruises for families: Younger kids will love Seuss at Sea, which includes story times, character parades, and Green Eggs and Ham breakfasts. The line also teamed up with Hasbro for shows in which its famous board games are played out by the audience, including Yahtzee Bowling and Connect 4 Basketball.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Bowling, water slides, ropes courses, miniature golf, rock-climbing walls … Norwegian’s newer ships offer plenty of reasons to hang out with the whole gang. Look for sailings on the line's most recent ships — Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Escape, and Norwegian Getaway.
Why they are the best cruises for families: Norwegian also has kids clubs for every age group, and the low fares mean lots of other kids for yours to play with, depending on the itinerary and whether school is on break.
AmaWaterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney to create the first river cruises designed for families. Cruises will take place on a handful of AmaViola sailings in Eastern Europe on the Danube River with — you guessed it — plenty of castle visits.
Why they are the best cruises for families: Designed for groups with children ages 6 and above, the cruises will sail with complimentary loaner bicycles. Instead of character visits, look for guides that cater to both adults and children, plus onboard activities, such as strudel making in Austria, designed to teach kids about the countries they visit.