Story by Ming Tappin
Vacay.ca Cruise Columnist
Cruising is an ideal vacation for families as it is a safe, self-contained environment that caters to the needs of multiple age groups and interests. Families can bond by sharing pool time, participate in games, sports, and excursions together. Or, they can pursue their own activities during the day, and regroup at meal times.
With the exception of luxury and expedition cruises, all ocean cruise lines cater to families, with connecting and/or family staterooms, myriad onboard amenities, and organized children’s programs staffed by professionally trained youth counsellors. These complimentary programs provide age-appropriate games and activities with their own dedicated space. Parents can enjoy their vacation assured their children are safe and are a quick call away. As third and fourth guests sharing a cabin with parents, kids also pay a reduced rate, and sometimes can even cruise free as part of a promotion.
Here is a look at my choices for the top 5 cruise lines that excel in family cruising.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Most staterooms accommodate four, and select rooms accommodate five.
Children’s program age groups: 2-5, 6-8 and 9-11, 12-14, and 15-17.
Notable: “Seuss at Sea” provides interactive story time, parade, and character breakfast for the entire family. Shipboard amenities include WaterWorks slides and pools, mini golf, deck sports, ropes course*, pedal-powered Skyride* and IMAX theatre*.
Disney Cruise Line
Staterooms and suites sleep up to seven, with the industry’s first split-bath concept. The largest dedicated space is for its Youth Club, which has access to nearly half a deck on each ship.
Children’s program age groups: 6 months to 3 years (nursery), 3-12, 11-14, 14-17.
Notable: Daily Disney character appearances provide full interaction with the entire family. Entertainment includes character dance parties, Disney movies, and Broadway-style shows. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers princess and pirate makeovers for kids 3-12. Family pool areas, movies, waterslides, deck parties with fireworks, special Star Wars- and Marvel-themed days on select cruises.
Kids under 11 always sail free when sharing a room with adults. Starting in summer 2018, kids 12-17 cruise free during low and mid-season.
Children’s program age groups: 3 and under (nursery), 3-6, 7-11, 12-14, 15-17. Partnership with LEGO offers play area and building activities.
Notable: Family-friendly activities include 4D cinema*, mini-bowling*, Formula 1 racing car simulator*, Aqua Park, and family pools.
Norwegian Cruise Line
A variety of family staterooms, suites, and villas that sleep up to eight guests.
Children’s program age groups: 6 months to 3 years (nursery), 3-5, 6-9, 10-12, 13-17.
Dining: Casual dress code and open sitting dining allow flexibility according to the family’s needs.
Notable: Amenity-filled ships include Aqua Parks with pools, waterslides, ropes course, mini-golf, bowling, rock-climbing walls, Cirque-style acrobatic shows*, laser tag*, and a race track*.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
The largest family suites onboard accommodate up to 14. The newest ships include extensive water parks, surf and skydiving simulator, laser tag, ice and roller skating, bumper cars, zip line and rock climbing wall. Dreamworks characters from Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon appear throughout the cruise and in parades*.
Children’s program age groups: 6-36 months (nursery), 3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17.
Dining: The My Time Family Dining program includes having kids ages 3-11 served their dinner within 40 minutes and then whisked off to their program, while parents can linger over their meal.
Notable: Royal Caribbean is a certified autism-friendly cruise line, and select sailings feature “Autism on the Seas” with specially trained staff and programming for children and teens with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities.
*On select ships only.