If you’ve set your sights on setting sail in the near future, we’ve got the list for you. Family cruises are fantastic vacation options for big groups, as they offer tons of experiences both on- and off-ship. From roller coasters and trampoline parks to ziplining and swimming with dolphins, family cruises offer them all. We’ve rounded up a slew of our faves—so cruise on!
Meet the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands—from sea lions and blue-footed boobies to giant tortoises and Darwin’s finches. This 48-person cruise will have you snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding and exploring the wildlife and local culture.
Kids will love participating in the onboard National Geographic Global Explorers program where they can choose among a host of cool activities—from recording wildlife sightings in their field notebook to collecting and observing plankton fresh from the ocean—all designed to help them develop what National Geographic Education defines as the attitudes, skills and knowledge of an explorer. They can collect points on their way to becoming a National Geographic Global Explorer—with the certification to prove it!
From $5,730/person for a 7-day Galapagos trip, kids save $500
Read more: expeditions.com
Caribbean, Baja and Alaska—Disney Cruise Lines
If you want an ultra-magical family cruise experience, Disney has you covered. 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 Bahamian 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.
Onboard activities happen from opening time to closing time at the ship's kids club and the schedule varies: there are talent shows, a Magic PlayFloor where kids’ movements control the action (think flying over London with Peter Pan.) and for any Star Wars fans—Jedi Knight training and challenges. There's even a club for tweens and teens to hang out. Read all about the onboard activities here.
Stay tuned for 2022: Disney just announced that its newest ship the Disney Wish will be headed to a port near you! Around that same time, Disney plans to open another private island in the Bahamas.
Find out more: disneycruise.disney.go.com
UnCruise offers a different type of cruise, and families will love it. Think smaller ship, more individualized attention and programming that kids and parents will both enjoy. Just recently, UnCruise started sailing around Hawaii year round, and it's been an instant family favorite. You can visit four islands: Molokai, Hawai’i, Maui, Lanai, and you have the opportunity to view loads of marine life. No need to dock and pick up another boat to go snorkeling or swimming, there's an option to do so right off the ship, along with paddleboarding.
UnCruise prices its adventures to include everything from room charges, meals, alcoholic beverages and even off-ship excursions, so you know upfront 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. Kids eight and up are always welcome, and special exceptions are made for those seven and under.
Seven-day cruise costs $5,195 and up with kids 8-13 save $500
Read more: uncruise.com
Iceland, Greenland, Arctic and More—Adventure Canada
A cruise unlike all others, an Adventure Canada expedition cruise takes you to far-away places that you've only dreamed of. Kids of every age can hop aboard zodiac boats to head ashore and explore Viking ruins, hike to waterfalls and learn all about villages buried under years-ago volcanic eruptions. Expedition cruise life means you'll get cultural immersion in the towns that you visit and learn from local experts and naturalists. These excursions are perfect for multi-generational travel as small ships are easy for the mobility-restricted to manage and not so big that you worry you'll lose the kids on board.
Kids under age 2 are free, those ages 2-4 pay only for charter airfare and everyone under 30 saves 30%.
Read more: redtri.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 fleet wide, 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.
Even better news? Princess Cruises MedallionClass Vacations now offer a variety of new features specifically designed to enhance everyone's vacation experience. Through the use of an OceanMedallion, families cruising with Princess can now expect an expedited ship to shore experience along with onboard on-demand delivery service, real-time navigation and interactive features on every floor. Learn more about the first MedallionClass ship enabled by OceanMedallion here.
Everyone can stay in comfort in a Mini-Suite with convertible bunk beds for the kids, or larger Family Suites with separate bedrooms. 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. You can get up close and personal with both baby and 600-pound turtles 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 designed for ages 3-12.
Rates start at $1,009
Find out more: princess.com
Blue Danube Family Riverboat Adventure—Tauck
Guests on this European journey fly into Munich and board the riverboat in Vilshofen. A subsequent stop in Germany visits Passau (where everyone can learn to make marzipan!) before the ship sails into Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Along the way, guests enjoy an Imperial Evening inside a private Viennese palace, a cycling excursion along the Danube, medieval games in Slovakia and visits to castles, catacombs, an amusement park and sites from the film, “The Sound of Music.”
Parents enjoy this cruise because it’s fully inclusive, so there’s zero stress about mounting costs throughout the trip. Prices include all shore excursions, all gratuities, all meals, all onboard beverages (adult and otherwise), all activities, airport transfers, luggage handling and much more.
From $4,390/person plus airfare for this 7-night cruiseRead more: tauck.com
Costa Rica and Panama—Windstar Cruises
The best time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December to April (the dry season) when you can explore rain forests or lounge on the beach without weather interrupting the fun. That's also the time when most tourists want to visit, meaning higher prices on hotel rooms and at resorts, along with more people.
Enter Windstar. The cruise line sails in the region in the winter only (both the 212-passenger all-suite Star Legend and 148-passenger motorized sailing yacht Wind Star run sailings) and accesses smaller ports and islands away from the crowds. Windstar makes "wet landings" because that's the only way to reach the shore in these tiny ports. Rugged inflatable boats deliver you directly from the yacht to the beach, where you disembark directly in the water. All of this means you'll still enjoy the best weather of the year, but on an uncrowded ship that also offers boutique, small-sized (and fairly priced) shore excursions that help you do things like sport fishing in areas protected from the winter winds.
Windstar has a naturalist onboard all of their Costa Rica and Panama Canal sailings, so guests get extra insight into the flora and fauna of the region. This cruise appeals to multi-generational families traveling together because of all the varied offerings. Kids must be eight and older to sail.
Read more: windstarcruises.com
Tahiti & the Society Islands—Paul Gaugain Cruises
Sailing to exotic islands in French Polynesia is special and offers families a way to experience this unique destination seamlessly. On all sailings, guests receive complimentary access to Paul Gauguin Cruises’ two exclusive retreats. Off the coast of Taha’a lies the private islet of Motu Mahana, where guests can enjoy a day of watersports, Polynesian activities, a sumptuous barbecue feast and cocktails from full and floating bars. In Bora Bora, guests can relax on a private, white-sand beach and enjoy refreshments, a game of volleyball, snorkeling and paddleboarding.
The ship's Moana Explorer program invites guests to discover and value the natural wonders of this breathtaking part of the world through hands-on, interactive learning on summer and December holiday sailings. While it is designed for children and teens ages 7-17, all family members are welcome to participate. Every day of the voyage, there is a combination of naturalist-led island and/or beach excursions, science activities, crafts, games and other adventures.
From $4,295/person including economy airfare from LA. The third person 17 and under in a stateroom is free, exclusive of airfare and taxes.
Read more: pgcruises.com
Florida to San Juan—Crystal Cruises
Crystal Cruises’ ocean vessels feature a fully supervised Junior Activities program for kids between the ages of 3 and 17 on holiday voyages and nearly all summer sailings, each with dedicated play areas for both young kids and teens. The kids club Fantasia for ages 3-12, and Waves teen club from ages 13-17, welcomes junior cruises with games, crafts, popular Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 kiosks to play on large-screen televisions. Children aboard call also enjoy board games and personal computers with entertainment and education. Kids of all ages can also enjoy a special Junior Cruiser's menu (hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, etc.).On the Colorful Cultures cruise, families can relish in the rejuvenating calm of the Caribbean while sailing from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan aboard Crystal Serenity. Families can snorkel in St. Thomas, participate in a semi-submarine adventure in St. Barts and hike in the rain forest in Saint Kitts while creating experiences to remember for a lifetime. From $1,695/person for this 8-night cruise Read more: crystalcruises.com
Castles along the Rhine—Uniworld
We love the river cruise option for families as it provides a smaller ship experience with tons of stops along the way. This 8-day cruise takes a maximum of 152 passengers down the Rhine—Germany on one side, France on the other. Marvel at castles that were once mighty fortresses, and get an insider’s look at one of the only castles on the Rhine that has never been destroyed, Marksburg Castle. Visit historic cities, including ancient Cologne and picturesque Strasbourg, then stroll through the fairytale town of Rüdesheim.
Families will especially enjoy the Generations Family Program, which includes special programs, events and excursions designed specifically for your world travelers in training. Travelers ages 4-17 receive a 25% fare discount on these trips.
From $2,999/person for 8-day Basel to Amsterdam journey
Read more: uniworld.com
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
This eight-day Galapagos cruise specially designed for families with children covers the highlights of the Western Islands. Spend your days discovering the beauty and wonders of the Galapagos and exploring the wildlife-rich shores of San Cristobal, Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Isabela and Santiago. Celebrate crossing the equator with a King Neptune kid's costume party and enjoy shipboard educational activities such as board games, games with prizes, drawing contests, talent shows and ice cream sundaes. Kids must be five or older.
Rates start at $7,850
Read more: adventure-life.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
Princess Land and Sea—Alaska
To really experience The Last Frontier, families can embark on a two-week trip on a Princess Land and Sea excursion which includes exploring the Alaska Interior (including Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks). Princess Cruise Line has been in Alaska since the 1970s (they are celebrating 50 years in 2019), so they have deep relationships in most Alaska communities. Princess is the only cruise line that owns lodges, as well as train cars, which makes for seamless travel (music to our ears when traveling with kids), so they are the go-to partner for many travelers for Alaska Land and Sea packages. If you can, book a MedallionClass ship, Princesses newest technology that make onboarding, managing services and keeping track of kids much easier. For more detail about how the Ocean Medallion systems works, click here.
You can bundle anywhere from 3-10 nights on land into your 7-day cruise, and opt to do it “On Your Own” (no prescheduled activities), Connoisseur (includes planned excursions and a Tour Director) or pick a few options in between.
TIP: If you’re doing a Land and Seas excursion, we definitely recommend scheduling the land portion FIRST. While Princess makes moving around Alaska interior pretty easy, after 4 or 5 nights in different lodges, it was a treat to unpack our suitcase in our cabin on the cruise ship and have our cabin and personal items safely stored for the rest of the trip.
Get a three-day sample itinerary by clicking on our insider's guide.
Cunard’s Quebec City itineraries offer the opportunity for multi-generational families to travel and spend much-needed quality time together. Queen Mary 2 offers unique activities for families, including taking a virtual ride into space with the ship’s full-scale planetarium, watercolor painting classes and even learning how to fence.
Cunard offers a variety of areas dedicated to hosting and entertaining children while onboard. They include the Night Nursery, where infants aged 6 to 24 months are housed by childcare professionals and parents are given a pager in case their child wakes. For older children, Cunard offers the Play Zone for kids ages 2-7, and the Kids Zone for kids ages 8-17, which includes fun activities, arts and crafts, gaming consoles and planned excursions to the ship’s theatre or cinema. The Teen Zone accommodates ages 13-17 and offers planned activities such as deck sports, karaoke, gaming, quizzes and more. Infants under two sail for free, while ages two and up sail at half fare (when sailing as the third or fourth passenger in the cabin).Read more: cunard.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—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, St. Maarten, the Bahamas Blue Lagoon Island and St. Thomas’s Turtle Bay. For a closer look, check out our insider's guide to the 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 9-16 days free in 2020, 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
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 on board a ship while taking in the gorgeous bluffs along the Mississippi. It also includes excursions 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
The East Coast is a popular point of departure, and Norwegian is ready to sail you away to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, or the Bahamas. Head for Great Stirrup Cay—Norwegian’s own private island, complete with white sand and sea turtles to snorkel alongside. Don't forget to enjoy the 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.
TIP: On select 5 or 7-day cruises to the Bahamas, extra guests can sail for free!
Rates start at $549
Find out more: ncl.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 cruise tour 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 launched 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. Dolphins, 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 rather a sure way to see remote and wondrous corners of Great Britain.
Rates start at $4,596
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 SportSquare’s mini-golf and games, ropes course, and the elevated SkyRide, as well as Choose Fun 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 paddleboarding 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
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 6-12 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 & Jacqui Boland