The Best Cruises for Kids

by Fran Golden

The Best Cruises for Kids

by Fran Golden

Cruise ships are often magnets for families, with activities and entertainment designed for an all-ages crowd. But certain ships really cater to kids, offering everything from age-specific clubs where they can hang out and make new friends to crazy water parks with racing slides, character breakfasts, all-you-can-eat taco bars, and dining rooms that keep the mac-and-cheese and ice cream coming night after night. But these ships are not all about the kids. You'll appreciate the cabins built for more-than-two — as well as the cocktail bars, casinos, and adults-only pools, not to mention the babysitting services. Here are our picks for the best cruises for kids, and exactly what they offer.

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Disney Dream's Animator's Palate / Disney Cruise Line
Harmony of the Seas' Splashaway Bay
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2. Harmony of the Seas

The 5,500-passenger Harmony of the Seas is action-packed, with more activities than kids (and adults) can possibly tackle in a week, which include everything from a surfing simulator to a carousel. 

Dining: Kids’ menus in the main dining room feature standard choices like pasta and chicken, plus a grilled catch of the day. Specialty restaurants have options for younger diners as well, with an additional fee of $8 for children age six to 12. (There's no charge for kids 5 and under.) No matter where you eat, you can arrange for youth counselors to pick the kids up early and bring them to the kids' club. 

Activities: The ship has both the Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story thrill slide, as well as three fast waterslides, all of which will keep older kids entertained. Younger cruisers can cool off in the new Splashaway Bay water park. Other favorites include family ice-skating, a large miniature golf course, appearances by DreamWorks characters, and parades.

Clubs: A large swath of Deck 14 is dedicated to the Adventure Ocean program, which offers age-appropriate activities for kids three through nine years old. The setup includes an art studio, a science lab, and a children’s theater. (Tweens and teens get their own separate spaces.) Parents of children ages six months to three years can opt for the fee-based nursery, which costs $6 per hour during the day and $8 per hour in the evening.

Babysitting: An hourly late-night rate of $6 per child applies for Adventure Ocean after 10 p.m. In-room babysitting (a rarity on cruise ships) can also be arranged, starting at $20 per hour.

Cabins: Options include large and affordable interior and ocean-view accommodations that sleep six.

The 5,500-passenger Harmony of the Seas is action-packed, with more activities than kids (and adults) can possibly tackle in a week, which include everything from a surfing simulator to a carousel. 

Dining: Kids’ menus in the main dining room feature standard choices like pasta and chicken, plus a grilled catch of the day. Specialty restaurants have options for younger diners as well, with an additional fee of $8 for children age six to 12. (There's no charge for kids 5 and under.) No matter where you eat, you can arrange for youth counselors to pick the kids up early and bring them to the kids' club. 

Activities: The ship has both the Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story thrill slide, as well as three fast waterslides, all of which will keep older kids entertained. Younger cruisers can cool off in the new Splashaway Bay water park. Other favorites include family ice-skating, a large miniature golf course, appearances by DreamWorks characters, and parades.

Clubs: A large swath of Deck 14 is dedicated to the Adventure Ocean program, which offers age-appropriate activities for kids three through nine years old. The setup includes an art studio, a science lab, and a children’s theater. (Tweens and teens get their own separate spaces.) Parents of children ages six months to three years can opt for the fee-based nursery, which costs $6 per hour during the day and $8 per hour in the evening.

Babysitting: An hourly late-night rate of $6 per child applies for Adventure Ocean after 10 p.m. In-room babysitting (a rarity on cruise ships) can also be arranged, starting at $20 per hour.

Cabins: Options include large and affordable interior and ocean-view accommodations that sleep six.

Carnival Vista's Kaleid-O-Slide
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3. Carnival Vista

Carnival keeps raising the bar with more and more attractions on board, and the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista launched in May 2016 with lots of new additions.

Dining: Even picky kids will be in their comfort zone with the dedicated children's menu in the main dining room. Plus, there are poolside treats like burgers at Guy's Burger Bar and tacos at BlueIguana. If you want to take the whole family to one of the specialty restaurants, many charge just $5 for kids.

Activities: One of Carnival Vista's main attractions is the first IMAX theater at sea, which shows first-run blockbusters as well as short films. Water babies will love the ship's extensive WaterWorks, which includes the colorful Kaleid-O-Slide and the Power Drencher. (Picture 300-gallon water buckets being dumped on you.) Little ones will be amazed to see their favorite Dr. Seuss characters at the Seuss-themed sea day brunch and at story time, which is held in the colorful Seuss-themed library.

Clubs: Designed for the two and older set, Camp Ocean includes activities focused on marine education. Tweens and teens also have their own separate spaces.

Babysitting: After 10 p.m., group babysitting is $6.75 per child, per hour (for ages 6 months to 11 years). For the same price, there are also select daytime babysitting hours for those under age two.

Cabins: The new Family Harbor cabins and suites include access to a shared lounge, where families can eat breakfast, watch movies, and play games. If you book one of these staterooms, children also eat free in specialty restaurants and — if you'd rather dine alone — you get one free night of babysitting.

Carnival keeps raising the bar with more and more attractions on board, and the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista launched in May 2016 with lots of new additions.

Dining: Even picky kids will be in their comfort zone with the dedicated children's menu in the main dining room. Plus, there are poolside treats like burgers at Guy's Burger Bar and tacos at BlueIguana. If you want to take the whole family to one of the specialty restaurants, many charge just $5 for kids.

Activities: One of Carnival Vista's main attractions is the first IMAX theater at sea, which shows first-run blockbusters as well as short films. Water babies will love the ship's extensive WaterWorks, which includes the colorful Kaleid-O-Slide and the Power Drencher. (Picture 300-gallon water buckets being dumped on you.) Little ones will be amazed to see their favorite Dr. Seuss characters at the Seuss-themed sea day brunch and at story time, which is held in the colorful Seuss-themed library.

Clubs: Designed for the two and older set, Camp Ocean includes activities focused on marine education. Tweens and teens also have their own separate spaces.

Babysitting: After 10 p.m., group babysitting is $6.75 per child, per hour (for ages 6 months to 11 years). For the same price, there are also select daytime babysitting hours for those under age two.

Cabins: The new Family Harbor cabins and suites include access to a shared lounge, where families can eat breakfast, watch movies, and play games. If you book one of these staterooms, children also eat free in specialty restaurants and — if you'd rather dine alone — you get one free night of babysitting.

Norwegian Escape's Aqua Racer
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4. Norwegian Escape

Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest ship, the Miami-based, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape will wow older kids with the racing slides and ropes course, while little ones (even babies) get their own spaces to play.

Dining: There is a kids' menu in the main dining room, but the real draw here is that those age 12 and younger eat free from special children’s menus in the ship's specialty restaurants.

Activities: Adventurous kids will love the water park with its four multistory slides, as well as the challenging three-story ropes course. (There are tamer versions of both for younger kids.) And the whole family can head to the mini-golf course for some friendly competition.

Clubs: Norwegian Escape is the only ship in the fleet where children ages six months to three years can be dropped off at the Guppies nursery (the other ships require parent supervision), but there is an additional fee of $20 for two hours. For older kids, the complimentary Splash Academy operates fun, age-appropriate programming — including a circus school — for ages three to 12. Teens can play video games and watch movies in their own separate lounge, which transitions into a dance club at night.

Babysitting: Group babysitting from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. costs $6 per hour for kids three years and over. The Guppies nursery is also open for little ones from 11 p.m. to 1:20 a.m., at a cost of $24 per child.

Cabins: A variety of family-sized cabins sleep five and are located near the children’s facilities.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest ship, the Miami-based, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape will wow older kids with the racing slides and ropes course, while little ones (even babies) get their own spaces to play.

Dining: There is a kids' menu in the main dining room, but the real draw here is that those age 12 and younger eat free from special children’s menus in the ship's specialty restaurants.

Activities: Adventurous kids will love the water park with its four multistory slides, as well as the challenging three-story ropes course. (There are tamer versions of both for younger kids.) And the whole family can head to the mini-golf course for some friendly competition.

Clubs: Norwegian Escape is the only ship in the fleet where children ages six months to three years can be dropped off at the Guppies nursery (the other ships require parent supervision), but there is an additional fee of $20 for two hours. For older kids, the complimentary Splash Academy operates fun, age-appropriate programming — including a circus school — for ages three to 12. Teens can play video games and watch movies in their own separate lounge, which transitions into a dance club at night.

Babysitting: Group babysitting from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. costs $6 per hour for kids three years and over. The Guppies nursery is also open for little ones from 11 p.m. to 1:20 a.m., at a cost of $24 per child.

Cabins: A variety of family-sized cabins sleep five and are located near the children’s facilities.

Treats on the deck of Regal Princess
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5. Regal Princess

The newest ship in the Princess Cruises fleet, the 3,560-passenger Regal Princess retains the line's sophisticated feel while also offering fun programs to keep the kids busy.

Dining: Children’s menus serve standard kid-friendly fare. There are also select nights where kids can dine with their peers from the kids' club, and these often include pizza and ice cream parties.

Activities: You won’t find the bells and whistles of larger ships (no waterslides here), but kids love Movies under the Stars, which feels a lot like a drive-in theater — but with unlimited soft-serve ice cream.

Clubs: The creative activities program goes beyond basic arts-and-crafts to “junior chef” classes and even science experiments. There is a lot of space to play, too, with large indoor and outdoor areas for children ages three and older. The younger set can ride tricycles on the deck and explore the playground, while tweens can play with the air hockey table and the DJ booth. Teens get activities their own activities, such as hip hop dance classes and late-night movies.

Babysitting: There is group babysitting available for children ages three to 12 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. ($5 per child, per hour).

Cabins: This ship offers a variety of stateroom categories, including family suites that measure up to 932 square feet with a sofa bed, walk-in closet, and balcony.

The newest ship in the Princess Cruises fleet, the 3,560-passenger Regal Princess retains the line's sophisticated feel while also offering fun programs to keep the kids busy.

Dining: Children’s menus serve standard kid-friendly fare. There are also select nights where kids can dine with their peers from the kids' club, and these often include pizza and ice cream parties.

Activities: You won’t find the bells and whistles of larger ships (no waterslides here), but kids love Movies under the Stars, which feels a lot like a drive-in theater — but with unlimited soft-serve ice cream.

Clubs: The creative activities program goes beyond basic arts-and-crafts to “junior chef” classes and even science experiments. There is a lot of space to play, too, with large indoor and outdoor areas for children ages three and older. The younger set can ride tricycles on the deck and explore the playground, while tweens can play with the air hockey table and the DJ booth. Teens get activities their own activities, such as hip hop dance classes and late-night movies.

Babysitting: There is group babysitting available for children ages three to 12 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. ($5 per child, per hour).

Cabins: This ship offers a variety of stateroom categories, including family suites that measure up to 932 square feet with a sofa bed, walk-in closet, and balcony.

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