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Which Cruise Lines Offer the Best Family Vacations?

Mar 05, 2013 12:03AM ● By Erin Frisch


We’re into March already, and vacation season is quickly approaching. A popular vacation option for lots of families is a cruise. Many are all-inclusive and offer ways to keep every member of the family happy. Some cruises provide childcare so parents can enjoy a relaxing dinner alone, and others offer age-specific clubs and activities. However, choosing the best cruise option for your family is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Some cruises are better designed for babies and toddlers, and others are geared toward tweens and teens. Add to the mix the fact that ships vary greatly, not just from line to line but within lines, and that some are better than others when it comes to onboard accommodations and activities, and choosing the best fit for your family becomes an even greater challenge. Here are a few of the most family-friendly cruise options for your consideration.

Royal Caribbean: Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has the most impressive array of family activities and entertainment. Choices on their mega ships appeal to children of all ages and all interests. They offer rock-climbing walls, Rollerblading, mini golf, and even ice-skating. Kids’ clubs are offered, subdivided by age groups (3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, and 15-17), and the counselors are some of the friendliest in the business. Kids can participate in activities like karaoke, rock-wall challenges, and group skating sessions. There is a toddlers-only splash pool, a video arcade, and an arts and crafts workshop. For older kids, there’s a teen-only nightclub and a coffeehouse hangout. For kid-friendly food, Royal Caribbean has a Johnny Rockets on board in addition to the normal cruise fare. Oasis of the Seas also offers DreamWorks theme cruises where kids can meet characters like Kung Fu Panda and Shrek! And to keep the whole family happy, they offer 28 loft-style suites that give you and your loved ones more room to spread out than the traditional cruise cabin.

Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic

Carnival offers a terrific variety of family activities and spaces, plus top-notch kids’ clubs that accept children as young as two. There are two family-friendly outdoor pools, 10 whirlpools, and a huge shipboard water park. The ships also boast an outdoor movie theater and an exciting ropes course the whole family will enjoy. The Camp Carnival program divides kids ages 2 to 5 from those ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 11. Younger kids can do arts and crafts, sing songs, and participate in coloring contests, while their older siblings play Disney trivia, paint tee shirts, have talent shows, and participate in scavenger hunts. Two separate clubs are offered for preteens and teens, giving each group their own space to hang out and regular access to dance parties and pool parties. There are also teen-only shore excursions so your kids can explore the ports with their peers. Carnival ships include options for larger cabins where families can spread out comfortably.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Epic

Norwegian’s casual atmosphere makes it a great choice for families who don’t want to adhere to a strict schedule of dining times and activities, and its newest ship offers all the accoutrements of most other mega ships. Rock-climbing walls, a bowling alley, and a water park are just a few of the popular amenities on the ship. Add pools (plus a wading pool), hot tubs, and a separate kids’ pool, and you’ll find something to keep every member of the family happy. The Recess Kids’ Club has separate programming for kids ages 2 to 5, 6 to 9, and 10 to 12, with arts and crafts, karaoke, video games, and an interactive light-up dance floor. A special area for teens ages 13 to 17 is on Deck 16, and it offers air hockey and foosball tables, flat-screen televisions, and plush couches for hanging out. At night, it turns into a teens-only nightclub. Norwegian offers late-night babysitting (at an extra cost) from 10:30pm to 1:30am so parents can enjoy time to themselves after dinner. The theater on the ship hosts the Blue Man Group show—great for all ages. There are 20 different dining options, including 24-hour pizza delivery. For cabins, the Epic has 46 two-bed, two-bath family “villas” that can sleep up to six people. They even offer a private courtyard area separate from the rest of the ship.

What’s been your experience with family cruises? Which cruise line gets top ratings from your point of view?

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