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Looking to take a family cruise, but don’t know which ships are the most kid-friendly? These cruise ships have the coolest programs and amenities for babies, toddlers and big kids.
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Ship: Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean International
Itineraries: Seven-night Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Price: From $749 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares from $399
Standout Perk: Kids can rub shoulders with Shrek, Po the Panda and other DreamWorks characters
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Royal Caribbean ship that doesn’t indulge pint-sized passengers, but Allure and Oasis are the latest and greatest in the 22-ship fleet. They boast loft-style staterooms, the cruise line’s first nursery for infants and toddlers (6 months or older), the first carousels and zip lines at sea, 43-foot-tall rock-climbing walls, two surf simulators apiece and a special spa for kids and teens. Thanks to a partnership with DreamWorks Animation, guests get to mingle with characters from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and other animated faves. Serious fans should choose Allure, the exclusive venue for a Madagascar-themed aqua show and How to Train Your Dragon on ice.
The 16-deck, 5,400-passenger ships have expansive “youth zones” with dedicated spaces for 3- to 5-year-olds, 6- to 8-year-olds and 9- to 11-year-olds. A packed calendar of supervised activities for kids and teens—from finger painting and scavenger hunts to DJ training and themed dance parties—means parents get plenty of “me time” (or maybe even sexy time!). Western Caribbean itineraries include a stop at Labadee, Haiti, Royal Caribbean’s private peninsula. With five beaches, a 4,000-foot-long zip line and a water park complete with floating trampolines, it’s a hit with both kids and their parents.
Parents of infants will appreciate Royal Caribbean’s Babies 2 Go program, which allows you to order organic baby food, and Huggies diapers, wipes and creams for delivery to your stateroom. Don’t worry about packing toys either. The cruise line’s Fisher-Price Toy Lending Program lets you borrow them like library books.
Ship: Carnival Dream
Cruise Line: Carnival Cruise Lines
Itineraries: Seven-night Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean cruises from Port Canaveral, Florida
Price: From $794 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares from $519
Standout Perk: A whopper of a water park
With a mighty fleet of 23 ships (and a 24th in the works), Carnival carries more kids than any other cruise line. In 2009, with the debut of Carnival Dream, the line introduced five-berth, two-bath staterooms—a more affordable alternative to adjoining rooms or suites for families with three children. It also unveiled its largest aqua park yet, featuring a 303-foot-long spiral slide. The 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream also boasts an 18-hole mini golf course; a video arcade; a massive poolside LED screen showing movies, sporting events and more; and separate, age-appropriate facilities for 2- to 11-year-olds, 12- to 14-year-olds and 15- to 17-year-olds. Camp Carnival, designed for the youngest group, is further divided into sections for children ages 2-5, 6-8 and 9-11. Club O2, designed for the oldest group in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, includes a dance floor with a DJ and a “Coke-tail” lounge serving non-alcoholic specialty drinks.
Parents who like to party will appreciate Carnival’s group babysitting service, available from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. nightly for $6.75 per child per hour plus gratuity. All ships host three late-night kids parties at least once each voyage. They’re geared toward different age groups and cost $13-33 per child plus gratuity.
Carnival Dream offers weeklong sailings to the Caribbean year-round. It makes its home in Central Florida, not far from Orlando, so consider tacking on time for Walt Disney World. Its newer sister ship, Carnival Magic, is based in Barcelona for now but will soon relocate to Galveston, Texas, for year-round Caribbean sailings.
Ship: Disney Dream
Cruise Line: Disney Cruise Line
Itineraries: Three-, four- and five-night Bahamian cruises from Port Canaveral, Florida
Price: Three-night cruises start at $471 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares from $363
Standout Perk: First-ever shipboard water coaster
The Disney name is synonymous with family entertainment, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this cruise line’s three ships were built with kids in mind. The Disney Dream, which made its maiden voyage in January, is more than a decade younger than its predecessors and with 14 decks, 1,250 staterooms and a capacity of 4,000 passengers, it’s a great deal larger. That means more amenities, including the first shipboard water coaster. Nearly 800 feet long and four decks high, AquaDuck propels two-person rafts upward, downward, through river rapids and even over the side of the ship for a view of the ocean 150 feet below.
Known for lavish live productions of the G-rated variety, Disney Cruise Line outfitted its newest ship with a 1,340-seat theater that spans three decks. Beloved Disney characters take star turns in the nightly musicals. Each cruise includes a pirate-themed evening complete with an appearance by Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean fame and an extravagant fireworks display.
The ship is a showcase for Disney’s technical wizardry. Play spaces designed for kids age 3-10 feature interactive floors that let them soar over the streets of London with Peter Pan, leap over lasers with Stitch, and step into the world of Tron. At Animator’s Palate, one of half a dozen restaurants (including two reserved just for adults), more than 100 wall-mounted LCD screens create the sensation of dining beneath the sea. Visits by Nemo, Dory, Crush and other Finding Nemo characters punctuate meals. Can’t spring for an outside stateroom? Hakuna matata! Each of the ship’s 150 inside staterooms boasts a “magic porthole"—a monitor that displays real-time video of what’s going on outside the ship.
Ship: Norwegian Epic
Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
Itineraries: Include a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona, Spain
Price: Western Mediterranean cruise starts at $749 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares from $399
Standout Perk: An exclusive partnership with Nickelodeon
Want to introduce the kids to Europe? It doesn’t get easier than Norwegian Epic’s seven-night sailings from Barcelona, Spain. The newest, largest and niftiest ship from the line that pioneered Caribbean cruising in the 1960s visits the Italian cities of Florence, Rome and Naples, as well as the Spanish island of Majorca. However, a word of caution: Coaxing kids off the ship could prove a problem.
Its water park—a Norwegian first—boasts three slides of varying thrill levels, including The Epic Plunge, which swirls inner-tube riders around a bowl before spitting them out. Other standout amenities include a 33-foot-high rock-climbing wall; the first rappelling wall at sea; three bowling lanes in two venues; and a sports deck with an outdoor ice-skating rink, a full-size basketball court, a batting cage, a bungee trampoline and more. The 4,100-passenger ship also has separate areas designed for kids (ages 2-9), tweens (10-12) and teens (13-17). The youngest can cut a rug on a light-up dance floor or catch a flick in a state-of-the-art cinema. Tweens can belt out Bieber’s latest on a karaoke performance stage. Entourage, the ship’s teen zone, is a game room with air hockey, foosball and pinball by day and a dance club by night.
One of the most unique things about Norwegian is its exclusive partnership with Nickelodeon. Each cruise includes live Nickelodeon-themed interactive shows, breakfast with Nick characters, Nick-themed dance parties and other events for the SpongeBob set. Serious fans should keep an eye out for the occasional Nick-themed cruise, featuring appearances by the TV network’s talent.
The Norwegian Epic will make its way to Miami for several months of Caribbean sailings in the fall.
Ship: Diamond Princess, Coral Princess and Island Princess
Cruise Line: Princess Cruises
Itineraries: Include a seven-night “Voyage of the Glaciers” between Vancouver and Whittier, Alaska
Price: “Voyage of the Glaciers” starts at $649 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares from $399
Standout Perk: Killer views of massive glaciers
Princess sealed its reputation as a cruise line for lovebirds by snagging a starring role in The Love Boat, but don’t rule it out as a cruise line for families. Just about every voyage features distinct programs for 3- to 7-year-olds, 8- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 17-year-olds. The cruise line is particularly creative when it comes to teens, offering hip-hop dance classes, DJ workshops, hot tub parties, pizza and mocktail socials, formals and even makeup and skincare training. It added to its list of industry firsts when it introduced yoga classes for cruisers as young as 3, and a chef-led workshop where kids in mini toques and aprons learn to prepare dishes such as fruit pizza and sushi rolls. An exclusive partnership with the California Science Center makes Princess ideal for Einsteins-in-training. (Your little ones will never forget their first squid dissection!)
Princess offers more than 100 itineraries, with destinations on all seven continents, but it’s perhaps best known for Alaskan adventures. In fact, it’s the largest cruise and tour operator in the 49th state. A seven-night “Voyage of the Glaciers” journey between Vancouver and the Alaskan city of Whittier is a great way to expose kids to the wonders of nature. Three of the line’s 17 ships, Diamond Princess, Coral Princess and Island Princess, make the trip from late May to early September. The itinerary includes a visit to Glacier Bay National Park, home to the highest concentration of tidewater glaciers on the planet. Passengers get a front seat at one of the coolest, loudest shows on earth: the birth of massive icebergs.
Ship: Celebrity Summit
Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises
Itineraries: Include a seven-night Bermuda cruise from Bayonne, New Jersey
Price: Bermuda cruise starts at $899 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares from $399
Standout Perk: A boatload of shore excursions, including swimming with dolphins
For Northeasterners, seafaring doesn’t get more convenient and affordable than a weeklong Bermuda cruise aboard Celebrity Summit. The fun begins and ends at a port in Bayonne, New Jersey, just 10 miles from Newark Liberty International Airport. Like all Celebrity ships, Summit offers supervised activities for children and teens. During summer and holidays, it beefs up its youth staff and boasts separate programs for five age groups: 3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14 and 15-17. In-stateroom babysitting for one or two children (12 months or older) is a reasonable $8 per hour.
The 11-deck, 2,038-passenger ship docks for three days at Bermuda’s King’s Wharf port, where you get your pick of family-friendly excursions. Explore limestone caves, tour the historic Royal Naval Dockyard in a horse-drawn buggy, pay a visit to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo, kayak, snorkel or snuggle up to dolphins.
Ship: ms Nieuw Amsterdam
Cruise Line: Holland America Line Itineraries: Include seven-night Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Florida Price: Caribbean cruises start at $599 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares available for children Standout Perk: Age-appropriate culinary classes Holland America’s newest ship offers sailings in the Mediterranean and Caribbean—plus a taste of New York City. The 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam pays tribute to the Big Apple (dubbed Nieuw Amsterdam by its Dutch Founders) with its décor and multimillion-dollar art collection, which includes works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and stunning chandelier inspired by the New York skyline. The Loft, a lounge for the teen set, approximates a New York street, complete with graffiti art, a real New York yellow cab and an old-fashioned hot dog stand. Younger cruisers can hang at Club HAL, where paintbrushes serve as pillars and a huge tape dispenser serves as a slide. Supervised activities for children ages 3-7 range from candy bar bingo to tie-dying. An area for 8- to 12-year-olds includes arcade games, air hockey, foosball and Sony PlayStations. One of the cruise line’s most unique offerings is a culinary program for kids and teens. Aspiring Emerils can learn to make fruit roll-ups, soft pretzels, saltwater taffy and more. Parents will appreciate Nieuw Amsterdam’s state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, where they can learn from the ship’s master chefs as well as celebrity foodies.
Ship: Queen Mary 2
Cruise Line: Cunard Line Itineraries: Include seven- and nine-night transatlantic crossings Price: Transatlantic crossings start at $1,295 to $1,895 per person based on double occupancy; third and fourth berth fares available for children Standout Perk: The only planetarium at sea Cunard’s stock in trade is luxury with a British flair (think white-gloved afternoon tea service), which makes it an unlikely choice for families with young children. But if price is no object, consider a transatlantic crossing on the 2,620-passenger Queen Mary 2, the grandest of Cunard’s three ships. The only passenger ship offering regular service across the mighty Atlantic, QM2 sails between New York and Southampton, England or Hamburg, Germany, from mid-April to mid-November. Amenities include a play area for 1- to 5-year-olds, watched over by certified British nannies. A separate area for older children and teens features Xboxes and a large plasma screen. Kids can explore outer space or catch a 3D movie in Illuminations, the only planetarium at sea. Bedtime stories come courtesy of costumed members of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Ship: Crystal Symphony
Cruise Line: Crystal Cruises Itineraries: Include a 12-night Alaska and Canada cruise from San Francisco Price: Alaska and Canada cruise starts at $4,890 per person based on double occupancy; children 11 and younger pay 50 percent of minimum fare when traveling with two adults Standout Perk: High-end through and through Crystal is a luxury line, and its two ships are petite by industry standards. In other words, it’s a good choice for big spenders who eschew big crowds. The 922-passenger Crystal Symphony sails from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and other North American cities, while the newer Crystal Serenity makes its way around Europe. Crystal has bolstered its youth programs in recent years. Offerings are especially rich during summer and holidays and on shorter cruises, which tend to draw more children. Supervised activities run the gamut from galley tours to relay races to Twister. Last summer the line even introduced sushi-making instruction for teens. Parents can count on Crystal’s culinary staff to please even the pickiest eaters. In-stateroom babysitting is available at $10 per hour for one child, $15 for two and $20 for three. The line occasionally runs promotions allowing children to sail free when sharing a room with two adults.
Ship: Wind Surf
Cruise Line: Windstar Cruises Itineraries: Include a seven-night Caribbean cruise from St. Maarten and seven-night Mediterranean cruises from cities including Rome and Barcelona Price: Mediterranean cruises start at $2,299 per person based on double occupancy; third berth fares from $1,698 Standout Perk: The sensation that you’re starring in Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Forget what you know about cruise ships. Windstar isn’t your typical line. Instead of floating cities, think sleek yachts with teak decks and regal sails. Wind Surf, which holds the distinction of being the world’s largest sailing yacht, accommodates no more than 312 pampered guests. That makes it ideal for families more interested in together time than party-all-the-time. Windstar’s Caribbean and Mediterranean voyages are its most kid-friendly, and better suited to older children. In the Caribbean, it offers river tubing, zip-lining, snorkeling, scuba diving and hiking excursions. Social studies classes come alive as kids soak in historic sites, ancient ruins and local culture in the Mediterranean. Windstar yachts feature a water sports platform with kayaks, waterskiing and windsurfing equipment and a flotation mat when they’re at anchor.