If you’ve set your sights on setting sail this year, we’ve got the list for you. Cruises are fantastic vacation options for families as they offer tons of experiences both on- and off-ship. From roller coasters and trampoline parks, to ziplining and swimming with dolphins, cruises offer them all. We’ve rounded up a slew of our faves—cruise on!
Why settle for seeing just one island on your Hawaiian vacation when you can cruise in style and explore four island jewels? Sailing with Princess is a far better vacation value and you’ll visit the top-rated Hawaiian islands—Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island—without all the time-consuming hassle of island hopping by plane. From enriching Discovery and Animal Planet shore excursions to the immersive "Aloha Spirit" program onboard, you'll discover each island's unique charm and fall in love with Hawaii's enchanting beauty.
From $1,599 for a 15-day Hawaiian excursion.
Find out more: princess.com
The Great Lakes—Victory Cruise Lines
The M/V Victory I, designed for coastal cruising, will set sail on the storied Georgian Bay starting in May 2019. Guests can admire the natural beauty of Niagara Falls and take in the breathtaking vistas of the Southern Canadian Coast. This ship is purposefully-designed for coastal cruising, with every modern convenience to explore North America’s maritime history throughout the Great Lakes and southern Canadian coast. Guests onboard will enjoy immersive and inclusive shore excursions in each port of call, exquisite multi-course fine dining with specialty and casual options including spirits, beer and wine; onboard enrichment, evening entertainment and Wi-Fi in public areas.
Rates start at $3,989
Find out more: victorycruiselines.com
Families with kids 8 and older should definitely check out the small ship, big adventure offerings of UnCruise. Head south to nature's wonderland and meet animals you have never seen before on an UnCruise trip around the Galapagos Islands. See blue-footed boobies, flamingos, penguins, iguanas and Darwin’s famed giant tortoises in their natural habitat. The 7-night exploration of the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador's Guayaquil accommodates up to 48 travelers. It will take you to the Charles Darwin Research Center as well as on seven islands and islets with the help of certified guides.
UnCruise prices its adventures to include everything from room charges, meals, alcoholic beverages and even off-ship excursions so you know up front what your vacation will cost. There won't be any expectations to bring fancy clothing to dress up for dinner as meals are much more streamlined on UnCruise. It really caters to families looking for bucket list experiences.
From $8,345/person, all inclusive. Kids 8-13 are $500 less.
Find out more: uncruise.com
Eastern Caribbean—Royal Caribbean
If you’re looking to zoom through Haitian skies on an absolutely epic zip-line (the longest in the world over water) or swim with dolphins in perfect turquoise waters, then a Royal Caribbean seven-night Eastern Caribbean or Western Caribbean cruise is for you (they have some 299 other destinations available, too). The adventure continues on deck, whether you fancy a surf in the FlowRider, thrilling waterslides, or mini golf. And their Adventure Ocean youth program is a must for families.
Once the kids have discovered the Adventure Science Lab and Imagination Studio, they won’t even ask where you’ve gone (the Bottomless Galley Brunch, perhaps?). Little cruisers can jump into ball pits at Aquanauts while teens have a whole disco to themselves (dance party included). There are even Royal Tots playgroups for babies on board. Additional stops along the way include the Perfect Day at CocoCay, the first destination in Royal’s new private island collection when it launches in May 2019, St. Maarten, the Bahamas Blue Lagoon Island, and St. Thomas’s Turtle Bay. For a closer look, check out Red Tricycle’s recent jaunt aboard Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship in the world!
Rates start at $628
Find out more: royalcaribbean.com
France—Avalon River Cruises
If river cruising is more your family’s speed, Avalon Waterways has fantastic options for seeing Europe (or Asia or South America). You won’t find the clubs that keep the kids entertained during long stretches at sea, but you will find wraparound wonder with so much constantly in view right from the ship (your room included), making this a trip-of-a-lifetime for culture-seeking big kids. If you have eight to 16 days free in 2019, take a voyage down the epic Seine. A Grand France cruise stops at landmarks made famous by the likes of Napoleon, Joan of Art and Vincent Van Gogh. Plus, Paris! In addition to visits to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, the kids will love counting the 37 Parisian bridges—or challenge the family to keep a tally on the whole journey. Their MyAvalon service will also help you personalize shore excursions to your family’s liking.
Rates start at $2,599
Find out more: avalonwaterways.com
Baja—Disney Cruise Lines
When you board a Disney cruise ship, character appearances, onboard themes like Pirate Night, and all the magic of a Disney theme park set sail with you. Itineraries abound, from a three-to seven-night Bahaman adventure that kicks off from Texas, Florida or New York and includes an excursion to Disney’s very own private tropical island, Castaway Cay, to a two-to five-night cruise to Baja you can plan in time for next Halloween!
All three spooky options sail from San Diego, a great place for the kids to get their feet wet, so to speak, while still on dry land, with a Disney Pre-Cruise Package ahead of setting sail (a Vancouver departure is also newly available for booking). There’s lots of festive fun onboard as well as ports of call in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, where you can stay on theme with Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, charter a private sail or go on a treasure hunt snorkel around Banderas Bay, bike Mazatlan, or meet dolphins (kid encounters are specialized for ages four to eight as well as 10 and up).
Rates start at $1,950 (includes taxes, fees, and port expenses)
Find out more: disneycruise.disney.go.com
Mississippi River—Riverboat Twilight
If you’re not sure a week-long cruise or hours on the open sea are for you, check out Riverboat Twilight’s one and two-day cruises along the Mississippi River. The two-day cruise travels between LeClaire to Dubuque, Iowa, on an authentic paddleboat and gives the family the overnight experience of being onboard a ship while taking in the gorgeous bluffs along the Mississippi. It also includes excursion like admission to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.
Prices start at $399/per person, with kids under 10 being just $159 (and children under 3 free).
Find out more: riverboattwilight.com
The Bahamas—Norwegian Cruise Line
In addition to West Coast and Florida ports, the East Coast is another popular point of departure, with Norwegian ready to sail you away to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, or the Bahamas, the locale of Great Stirrup Cay—Norwegian’s own private island, complete with white sand, sea turtles to snorkel alongside, and a new complimentary taco bar, Abaco Taco (need we say more?). Norwegian’s youth programs, Splash Academy (ages three to 12) and Entourage (ages three to 17), are also complimentary for play and parties, while its Guppies Program hosts activities for parents and baby cruisers six months to three years. (If you book a cruise on the Escape, there is also a Guppies Nursery.) While on Norwegian’s Breakaway, Getawa, and Epic ships, watch for Cirque Dreams to perform amazing acrobatic stunts.
Insider Tip: On select five or seven-day cruises to the Bahamas, extra guests can sail for free!
Rates start at $549
Find out more: ncl.com
Panama Canal, Costa Rica & Caribbean—Princess Cruises
Thanks to its Discovery at SEA program, Princess Cruises caters to kids of all ages both on deck and ashore. New programs are rolling out fleetwide, with new center designs launching throughout 2019 as part of Camp Discovery. The Treehouse is now dedicated to three-to seven-year-olds for hands-on play and fun; The Lodge serves up sports and comfort for eight-to 12-year-olds, and The Beach House will be the onboard hangout for teens. Did we mention these are all included? Learn all about it here.
And everyone can stay in comfort with Mini-Suites with convertible bunk beds for the kids or larger Family Suites with separate bedrooms available too. You’ll be well rested when it’s time to snorkel and kayak at a tropical port like those on their 10-day Panama Canal with Costa Rica & Caribbean, where you can get up close and personal with both baby and 600-pound turtles alike at Cayman Turtle Farm, encounter sloths IRL at a Costa Rican sanctuary, or ride a rainforest aerial tram. Thanks to Discovery Family Tours, many hands-on experiences are geared to the three to 12 camp.
Rates start at $1,009
Find out more: princess.com
Vast, wild and utterly gorgeous, Alaska tops many travelers’ must-visit lists. For families, a visit offers so much to see and do that nobody complains of being bored. Even tablets and iPods are likely to be set aside in favor of watching whales breach or listening to the thunder of a calving glacier. A cruisetour pairs the best of cruising with the best of land touring, showing off the heart of Alaska’s untamed wilderness and its scenic coastline. Aboard the Celebrity Millennium®, cruise the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Skagway before disembarking in Seward. Luxury motor coaches and glass-domed trains then carry you into the unspoiled interior, to lodges set in the shadow of awesome Denali. Take time to unwind and tuck into locally-sourced meals before joining a tour of breathtaking Denali National Park.
We love Celebrity Cruises for their inclusivity. They’ve gone the extra sea mile to ensure that their onboard environments are autism friendly for kids of all ages, with sensory toys and movie-viewing environments, gluten- and dairy-free menu options and well-trained Fun Factory and Youth Staff. Other services include priority check-in, equipping parents with contact phones while their kids are signed in to Fun Factory programs, and a Cruising Social Story booklet to download ahead of the cruise.
Rates start at $799
Find out more: celebritycruises.com
Great Britain—Poseidon Expeditions
If you have rising history buffs in the family, want to take a closer look at medieval castle life, or be amazed by wildlife, take note that Poseidon Expeditions is launching a brand new 13-day cruise, British Isles: Legendary History & Wild Nature, on May 22, 2019. You’ll have the chance to see baby puffins on the Skellig Islands off Ireland or spot otters and wild ponies while exploring Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Dolphin, whales, and seals are also likely to swim by. The kids can direct their nature questions to naturalist guides led by renowned historian Dr. Hew Lewis-Jones. With 55 guest suites aboard the Sea Spirit, the scale of this cruise isn’t overwhelming either, but a sure way to see remote and wondrous corners of Great Britain.
Rates start at $5,795
Find out more: poseidonexpeditions.com
Mexican Riviera—Carnival Cruise Line
Did you hear? Carnival Panorama, their newest ship, will be ready to set sail from Long Beach and take your family on Mexican Riviera cruise starting this December 2019. Featuring the first Sky Zone Trampoline park at sea (yes, you read that right!), the ship offers SportsSquare’s mini golf and games, ropes course, and the elevated SkyRide, as well as Dr. Seuss Waterworks (with two epic waterslides that are kid and parent friendly). The Camp Ocean kids club is another play area just for little cruisers (ages two to 11), while Serenity is an onboard retreat just for adults. The family can reunite for a comedy show or go head to head for a Lip Sync Battle.
The 7-day cruise takes you from Long Beach, CA with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Enjoy ziplining, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking among other activities. For a kiddo’s first-hand take on all the Carnival fun, check out our report.
Rates start at $519
Find out more: carnival.com
Disconnect completely with a phone-free family vacation along the Peruvian Amazon in 5-star luxury aboard Aqua Expeditions' Aria Amazon. With no internet or cell reception, all 16 Design Suites on the Aria Amazon across the first and second deck measure 250 square feet, include air conditioning, polished timber flooring and its most amazing feature—a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass facing the Amazon River. Guests aboard the Aria Amazon can see sloths, elusive pink dolphins, all varieties of monkey, piranha, toucans, caimans, anacondas and more, and will visit multiple indigenous villages along the banks of the river. This one-of-a-kind digital detox will have the whole family reminiscing about their Amazon adventures for years to come.
More info: aquaexpeditions.com
Alaska—Thomson Family Adventures
Experience America’s last frontier with an intimate family cruise that explores the breadth of Alaska’s outdoors. This customizable cruise gives families a wide variety of activities to choose from such as whale watching in the Icy Strait, one of the most densely populated waters by whales in Alaska and kayaking the Chatham Strait, searching the secret coves, fjords and anchorages that define the area. View glaciers up close and hike through UNESCO World Heritage Site Glacier Bay National Park.
Find out more: familyadventures.com
Experience Norway’s beautiful fjords, charming ports, and rare wildlife under the midnight sun or the spectacular northern lights. On select Hurtigruten cruises, kids ages 7-13 can join the Young Explorers Program and learn about other cultures, the importance of nature in our daily lives and the impact humans have on our delicate and beautiful planet. A dedicated host will plan and organize all the activities, which focus on fun and eco-friendly learning events, tailor-made to awaken a sense of adventure.
Find out more: hurtigruten.com
Mediterranean Sea Cruise—Royal Caribbean
If you think exploring Europe with kids is impossible, consider taking a cruise around the Mediterranean with Royal Caribbean. You'll board in either Barcelona or Rome, and can enjoy exploring three different countries: Spain, France and Italy. There are plenty of kid-friendly excursions available to families, including pizza making in Italy and beach days in Barcelona. Depending on which cruise you pick, you'll either be aboard the Oasis of the Seas or the Jewel of the Seas. Both ships are full of fun and adventure, including everything from Royal Caribbean's famous kids' clubs, original entertainment, pools, zip lines and more.
Rates start at $456 per person.
Find out more: royalcaribbean.com
—Kate Loweth & Jennifer Massoni Pardini