The Best Cruise Lines for Families With Little Kids

child sleeping on cruise ship
Credit Nikola Radojcic

The Best Cruise Lines for Families With Little Kids

Family cruises are amazing options for family vacations. Cruising combines luxurious resort amenities with all-inclusive dining options, amazing live entertainment, and the chance to visit incredible destinations on shore excursions. Here are our picks for the best cruise lines for families with younger kids for when you’re ready to plan your next family vacation.

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1. Disney Cruise Line

No list of the best cruise lines for families would be complete without talking about the fun you can have on a Disney cruise. Disney Cruise Line ships provide luxury, comfort and magical Disney touches like character greetings, themed pool areas, kids clubs, and themed deck parties. 

Key Information: Global destinations – Caribbean destinations best for kids – Adults-only dining available on all ships

Good to Know: For a more intimate cruise with more shore excursions and educational opportunities, try Disney’s European river cruise options. 

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Credit Fernando Jorge

2. MSC Cruise Line

MSC is quickly gaining a reputation as an amazing cruise line for families. Onboard one of MSC’s cruise ships, you’ll find water parks, sports courts, and a great kids club and teen club. These clubs have a ton to offer your kids, including video games, arts and crafts, and a chance to socialize and meet new friends.

Key Information: Global destinations – Kids clubs divided into five age groups from 0-17 – Private island excursion for Caribbean destinations

Good to Know: MSC caters to families with new babies. The Mini Club service looks after even the youngest babies, and each ship offers a unique baby laundry service that washes baby and toddler clothes separately using gentle detergents and sanitizers.

3. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line’s mega-ships are known for exciting activities and shipboard amenities. Their newest ships, the Carnival Mardi Gras and the Carnival Panorama are jam-packed with fun activities like ropes courses, a SkyZone trampoline park, giant water slides, and SkyRide—the cruise line’s unique suspended two-lane bike course high above the deck. Carnival Mardi Gras even has a roller coaster. Your kids will never, ever be bored on a Carnival cruise.

Key Information: Global destinations – Some activities have a fee – Kids clubs and nighttime babysitting available 

Good to Know: Carnival has special Family Harbor staterooms and lounges for families that have breakfast, snacks, board games, family movies, and more.

4. Princess Cruise Line

Princess Cruises offer numerous family amenities, and their Caribbean Princess ship is one of the best cruise ships to board. This ship offers lots of fun kids’ activities, including a brand-new splash pad complex for the littlest family members. Unique shore excursions developed in partnership with Discovery and Animal Planet

Key Information: Global destinations – Caribbean, Alaskan, and European destinations best for kids – Shore excursions extra

Good to Know: Families can relax on a Medallion-class Cruise, which outfits every family member with a device that acts as a key card and is trackable. You can let your teens and tweens explore, knowing that you can check in on them at any time.

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5. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Royal Caribbean’s family cruises are the kind of vacation that your family will remember forever. Their ships are packed with fun activities, including things like zip lines, water slides, action-packed sports courts, and more. Its flagship, Wonder of the Seas, will carry your family on an island-hopping Caribbean adventure full of daily activities, incredible dining options, and all the family fun you could ever want.

Key Information: Global destinations – Caribbean destinations best for kids – Some shore excursions extra

Good to Know: Royal Caribbean often offers Kids Sail Free deals, but this isn’t always available; for the best deals, check their booking page frequently.

6. Norwegian Cruise Lines

Norwegian Cruise Lines offers programs for children ages 3 to 17, as well as fun family activities like game shows, sports challenges, trivia games, and scavenger hunts. One of its ships, the Norwegian Encore, has an enormous go-kart race track, virtual reality games, and open-air laser tag, which makes it perfect for families with tweens and teens. For little kids, there’s the super fun Splash Academy, where kids can try all kinds of fun new activities. 

Key Information: Children must be fully potty trained to participate in kids’ clubs – Youth programming can make accommodations for kids with special needs – Guppies Open Play program is available for parents and babies and toddlers up to 4 years old 

Good to Know: Families should avoid booking trips on the Norwegian Spirit, the only ship in the line without any youth programming.

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7. Celebrity Cruise Line

Celebrity Cruises are fun for the whole family. There’s lots to do, including playing your favorite games on the half acre of real grass growing on several of their ships, and taking classes like glassblowing, archery, and more that are fun for every member of the family. 

Key Information: Global destinations – Camp Sea Kids Club available on all ships – Nightly live entertainment and family-friendly parties

Good to Know: Take advantage of off-peak times for better fares; for example, a 7-day Mexican Riviera cruise only costs $349 per person when you book in November.

Baby enjoying one of the best cruise lines for families at the pool
Credit: Derek Thomson

8. Costa Cruises

This smaller cruise line is an absolute hidden gem of the family-friendly cruise world. Based in Italy, Costa Cruises’ brightly colored cabins are great for families traveling with little kids– as are the activities on board! Children ages 3 to 11 have access to the Squok Club, where the youngest kids can be entertained with special Peppa Pig activities. Older kids can play water games and explore the ship’s pirate ship and castle play areas.

Key Information: Global destinations – European destinations highly recommended – Family Spaces promotion available for families with 3 or more children

Good to Know: Costa Cruises is known for its ability to accommodate guests with dietary issues. If your kid has any kind of dietary restrictions, the ship’s dining options will bend over backward to make sure they have something safe and delicious to eat.

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9. Holland America Cruise Lines

Your kids will have a great time on a Holland America Cruise. Club HAL offers amazing opportunities for children ages 3 to 17, including joining other kids their age for arts and crafts, sports, video games, scavenger hunts, team games, and themed parties. Club HAL welcomes kids with special needs, too—everybody is included. When your whole family is together, you can enjoy award-winning dining options and one-of-a-kind shore excursions. 

Two of the ships, Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam, even feature family rooms with enough beds for five and an extra bathroom.

Key Information: Global destinations – Alaska and Caribbean destinations recommended for kids – Kid activities not available on longest itineraries (35+ days)

Good to Know: Cribs, high chairs, and booster chairs are available on board at no charge.

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10. AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways is a little different from the other cruise lines we’ve recommended, and your kids are sure to love it. Ama cruises are all river cruises, with destinations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. These cruises are small and intimate, with the largest ship only holding 196 passengers. What this means is that your family will always have attention from the amazing crew and local guides. These ships might not have kids’ clubs, but with all that you’ll be learning, seeing, and doing as a family, you won’t miss them.

Key Information: River cruises only – Unique local entertainment on board – Award-winning dining options

Good to Know: The best destinations for families with kids are the European river options aboard the larger vessels. 

11. Tauck Small Ship Cruises

Tauck is the perfect cruise line for families who love adventure and want the littlest family members to be included on every expedition. Tauck offers smaller ships with greater crew support, with expert local guides, naturalists, and more to guide you through unique shore excursions and adventures. The award-winning cruise line has been listed on Travel + Leisure‘s “World’s Best” list for 25 consecutive years. Kids will love meeting local artisans, learning how to make local treats, and splashing in the pool on the sun deck. 

Key Information: River cruises and small ocean cruise destinations – European and African river cruises highly recommended for families with kids – Global support network

Good to Know: All shore excursions are included with fare. 

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