When traveling with kids, many families find that cruises are one of the best options.
With limited stress and plenty of amenities and activities focused on everyone in the family, cruises can be a great way to relax, do things that interest you, and come together as a family in the evening for dinner and a show.
There are few cruise lines that are not kid-friendly. Some, like Silversea Cruisers, do not expressly prohibit children but don’t cater to them. While adults may enjoy being pampered on the luxury line, kids will miss out on some pretty neat "you can't do this anywhere else!" experiences.
Others, like the brand-new Virgin Voyages, do not permit anyone under the age of 18 to sail. Celebrity Cruises does not even let anyone under 18 join their loyalty program; however, once they turn 18, they get credit for every sailing completed prior.
When you are choosing a cruise line for your family, you will want to look at the specific amenities and activities offered by the ship you’ll be sailing and choose the cruise line that appeals to your family the most.
Even among some of the most kid-friendly cruise lines, activities vary greatly. This is especially important for longer sailings and those sailings with multiple days at sea, where you will be spending much time on the ship.
Some of the most popular family cruise lines have introduced new ships in recent years with flashy amenities and luxuries including themed restaurants, roller coasters, zip lines, bumper cars, virtual arcades, surf simulators, and more.
You might have trouble narrowing down which cruise is perfect for you and your kids!
Royal Caribbean is even releasing a brand-new class of ships in early 2024 that will have an entire water park onboard featuring six record-breaking water slides! It seems there are no limitations to what can be done at sea now!
Read more: Icon of the Seas guide
Here are some of the most popular kid-friendly cruise lines, starting with the one that immediately comes to most people’s minds when thinking about cruises for families.
Disney Cruise Line
As you would expect, Disney Cruise Line was designed with families in mind. Fans of Disney brands such as Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars, along with the original Walt Disney characters, will love seeing the various touches around the ships. These include stage shows, character greetings, themed dining experiences, merchandise, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and so much more!
Like at the infamous Disney theme parks, the ships are filled with families and Disney Cruise Line really caters to them.
Menus include the types of foods kids like and have exciting themes that kids love. There are also fantastic kids clubs decorated with characters, scenes, and items from popular Disney movies, and energetic crew members that lead activities. Onboard their newest ship, Disney Wish, you can dine with Frozen characters one night and experience the World of Marvel on another!
Disney Cruise Line is also family-friendly in other ways. Popular kid movies play on Funnel Vision, the huge screen mounted over the pools on one of the ship’s funnels. There’s also an indoor movie theater offering first-run Disney movies, including Marvel and Pixar releases.
In addition to the amenities and activities that are always on board, Disney Cruise Line offers specialty sailings such as Pixar Day at Sea, Star Wars Day at Sea, and Marvel Day at Sea. These themed cruises are limited to specific ships and itineraries, and they will often cost a bit more. They are a great option for families with a particular love of these themes.
Plus, Disney's accommodations are family-friendly. Most have a split-bathroom concept, which gives families two private spaces to get ready, rather than making do with one bathroom.
Even their private island, Disney's Castaway Cay, is a fully immersive experience. You will not go a second without feeling the Disney magic!
Read more: Top 20 Fun Things to do at Castaway Cay
And for adults, don not worry-- Disney Cruise Line has exclusive amenities for those 18+ if you want a romantic afternoon or evening alone while the kids (probably) have more fun than you in the youth clubs! These include dining at Palo and Remy and the Quiet Cove Pool.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line, known for having the most "fun ships at sea," also offers kid-friendly activities on board all of their ships. These activities include movies, family game shows, arcades, Seuss at Sea, a sports decks with ropes courses, mini golf, ropes course, the Skyride, pools, and waterslides (activities vary by ship).
Carnival Cruise Line also offers popular kids’ clubs, with separate clubs for kids aged 2-11 (Camp Ocean), 12-14 (Circle “C”), and teenagers (Club O2). There are scheduled activities as well as play areas available at all times.
For kids younger than two, Carnival is currently rolling out the Turtles Program. This program will keep the youngest cruisers entertained with themed activities, including Turtle Playdates, Turtle Band, and Baby Turtle Trek.
Carnival’s newest ship, Mardi Gras, offers BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea. Their next ship, Carnival Celebration, will also include a Bolt roller coaster, as well as many other kid-friendly amenities.
While they may not be the largest cruise ships at sea, there is still enough onboard to keep everyone happy. Plus, Carnival is known to be one of the cheaper cruise lines, so it is a family and wallet-friendly trip!
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean has been known for its huge ships filled with “WOW” factor activities, like zip lining, carousels, rock climbing walls, observation capsules, VR experiences, bumper cars, RipCord by iFly, and FlowRider surf simulators. Kids, especially teens, love these adventurous activities, and will likely enjoy days at sea more than days in port!
Their newest ship, Wonder of the Seas, is the fifth addition to the cruise line's Oasis Class of ships and is the largest cruise ship in the world.
You will definitely need a full 7-day itinerary to enjoy the ship’s activities, which include rock climbing walls, zip lining over the Boardwalk neighborhood, a carousel, an escape room, a huge dry slide, water slides, an arcade, mini golf, pools, and so much more.
Wonder of the Seas also offers several world-class shows, including an AquaTheatre show, broadway-style entertainment, and an ice skating show. You do not need to sail on their newest ship to have a blast, though.
You do not have to sail on the newest ship to experience all the thrills, though.
Through the cruise line's Royal Amplification program, many of their older ships have received newer thrills, like the Perfect Storm water slide duo, and updated pool decks.
Note that ships that as of April 2023, the SkyPad virtual reality bungee trampoline is being phased off of ships. It is unclear what will go in its place, but it is sure to be a one-of-a-kind experience.
In addition to these types of activities, Royal Caribbean ships also offer kids’ clubs. Options include Royal Babies and Tots for babies 3 years and under, Adventure Ocean which offers programs for kids aged 3-11 (there are three separate levels by age), and a teen program (with two separate levels).
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line is another line offering many family-friendly activities and amenities on board their ships, including shows and freestyle dining.
The Breakaway and Breakaway Plus Class of ships (Norwegian Joy, Getaway, Escape, Encore, Bliss, and Breakaway) all offer an Aqua Park and a Kids Aqua Park, along with mini-golf and arcades. Some ships also have bowling lanes and go-karts!
They also offer broadway-style entertainment and other shows to entertain crowds of all ages. As of February 2023, the following shows are available on select ships:
- SIX on Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Breakaway
- The Choir of a Man on Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Escape
- Burn the Floor on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, and Norwegian Epic
- Legends in Concert on Norwegian Pearl
- Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on Norwegian Prima
Norwegian Cruise Line also offers youth clubs that are a great way for kids to meet other children and let parents to enjoy some much needed alone time! The minimum age for these clubs is a bit older than some of the other cruise lines, with the Splash Academy for Kids aged 5 to 12.
Entourage for teens includes programming and classes that teens are interested in, including circus skills, video games, and improv. There is also late-night programming for kids aged 5-12, but that is offered at an additional fee.
Norwegian Escape offers the largest ropes course at sea! It towers three-stories above the sports deck and includes two planks.
Norwegian Cruise Line used to have a partnership with Nickelodeon, and children loved the themed programming. It has been discontinued, but we hope to see something similar implemented in the future!
MSC is a popular global brand with an increasing presence in the North American market. They offer a surprising amount kid-friendly activities for families. One of the most unique of these is the LEGO® Experience On Board, which includes a full day of LEGO activities.
Depending on the specific MSC ship, other activities include VR experiences, theater shows, a formula racer, zip-lines, arcade games, game shows, pools, and other activities. There are also youth clubs, with options for kids 0-3, 3-6, 7-11, 12-14, and 15-17.
In April 2025, its newest cruise ship, MSC World America, will be homeported in Miami and sail to the Caribbean. Unlike MSC World Europa, MSC World America will feature new bars, restaurants, and public spaces designed specially to cater to the North American cruising market.
One new area will be the Harbor, an outdoor space on that was designed just for families! Located on the top of the ship on deck 20, you will find a waterpark with different interactive water features, a High Trial course and zip line, sensory play area for younger children, and a thematic playground dubbed "Harbor Lighthouse." Located nearby will be food trucks to fuel up for all the fun being had.
Which kid-friendly cruise line should you choose?
Regardless of which cruise line you choose, check the specific ship to see what activities are offered. If your child is, for instance, looking forward to the BOLT roller coaster, be sure to book a cruise onboard Carnival's Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, or Carnival Jubilee. The might be disappointed if they get on an older ship to find out that they one thing they really wanted to do is not onboard.
Keep in mind that some activities may be temporarily unavailable depending on the weather or other maintenance issues.
While the ship you choose may have enough activities to keep you busy every day, be sure to get off the ship and explore local culture wherever possible. The combination of exploring each port of call and having a blast onboard with the different cruise activities really can make for a perfect vacation.