World’s Best Cruise Lines for Families 2015
Parents who have traveled with their brood in tow will be the first to admit that their children are usually the hardest to please. Fortunately, Travel + Leisure readers chimed in on our annual World’s Best Awards survey about which cruise lines are ideal for everyone in the family, from parents to their teenagers, toddlers, and anyone in between. Rave reviews for the cruise lines featured here helped these top 20 brands earn the distinction of being 2015’s best cruise lines for families. They offer everything from the over-the-top (ice-skating rinks, zip-lines, bumper cars) to simple pleasures (arts and crafts, story telling, scavenger hunts). Some go to even greater lengths to keep kids occupied—and inspired—with dedicated programs for budding chefs, film directors, and more.
“We traveled with [Royal Caribbean],” reported one WBA voter, “and we all agreed it was the best family vacation we have taken to date. There were plenty of activities for [our sons], and the date nights my husband and I had were terrific. Just the other day he said he hopes we cruise again.”
After all, what’s a family holiday until every member of the clan is entertained, relaxed, and in full-on vacation mode?
And a successful getaway isn’t just about activities—it’s also about having a comfortable place to crash at the end of the day. Luckily, cabins on these top cruise lines include dedicated family suites and adjoining staterooms. And for parents who want a night alone on the town—er, onboard—most ships provide babysitting services. Because as much as parents may love their offspring, nothing says “vacation” like a night away.
No. 20 Small-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Windstar Cruises
Proof that yacht-style cruising is growing in popularity? In 2015, Windstar Cruises doubled the size of their luxury yacht fleet, adding two world-class vessels. Their itineraries are a better fit for families with older children—albeit ones who are comfortable doing everything their parents are doing. But when that includes waterskiing, relaxing in the spa, and exploring destinations like Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, and even Tahiti, we’re pretty sure they won’t complain.
No. 19 Small-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Silversea
The family-owned Silversea reaches 800-plus destinations on all seven continents—more than any other cruise line. While the ships don’t have dedicated kid-friendly facilities or babysitting services, the luxurious suites (all with ocean views) are large enough to accommodate extra members of your brood. And if the idea of bringing young ones to a fine-dining restaurant stresses you out, just ask your personal butler to bring dinner to you. (Note that the Silver Galapagos—as well as the Zodiacs used on Silversea Expeditions—can’t accommodate children under the age of 6.)
No. 18 Small-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Seabourn
Seabourn is introducing travelers of all ages to yacht-style cruising, and has done its due diligence to cater to multi-generational travelers. A number of the line's cabins and suites have interconnecting doors, and during the summer months, it offers youth programs for ages 5 to 17. Scavenger hunts, dance parties, and arts and crafts are all on the table. Chances are, however, kids won’t want to leave your side—not while you’re exploring UNESCO sites like ancient cities and partaking in adventurous shore excursions such as snorkeling and hiking.
No. 17 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
This is one ocean cruise line that doesn’t skimp on luxury: the all-suite ships have balconies in every room, marble bathrooms, walk-in closets—not to mention an all-inclusive model that even includes round-trip airfare, liquor, gratuities, and unlimited shore excursions. (And get a load of its newest ship, the Seven Seas Explorer.) On sailings where a high number of children are anticipated—like Alaska cruises and European getaways during the summer—a counselor is on-hand to oversee the Club Mariner program, available for ages 5 up to 17. Click here for a list of current kid-friendly itineraries.
No. 16 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Crystal Cruises
There’s a lot in store for Crystal Cruises, a No. 1 World’s Best Award winner for 20 years in a row. How has it won so many loyal fans? Its enrichment programs are unmatched, with offerings like Berlitz language courses (an industry first), Yamaha keyboard lessons, and digital filmmaking classes. Crystal also has late-riser itineraries, giving guests the option to sleep in before embarking on excursions—especially helpful for those who need extra time getting young children ready for the day. There are daily organized activities for ages 3 to 17, and for an added fee, parents have access to babysitters if they want a night to themselves. And both the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony have staterooms that connect.
No. 15 Mega-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Cunard
Cunard straddles the Mega and Large-Ocean categories, thanks to its slightly smaller ships, the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Petite by the Queen Mary 2’s standards, these ocean liners still hold more than 2,000 passengers, and harken to the Golden Age of ocean travel. Modern-day kids will find plenty to do in one of the dedicated play zones, including arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, and, for teens, pizza parties and discos. Have a budding astronaut in the family? He or she will love the QM2’s planetarium—the only one at sea—set inside the ship’s Illuminations theater. Celestial programs developed with New York’s Hayden Planetarium are projected on a large overhead dome.
No. 14 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Holland America Line
Launching in April 2016, Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam will be the brand’s largest ship to date—and the first with purpose-built staterooms for families, with enough space for five guests, more closet space, and two showers. The Club HAL program is available for kids in various age groups: those 3 to 7 can participate in pirate treasure hunts, storytelling, and arts and crafts, while tweens can compete in XBOX tournaments and relay races and practice their dance moves at karaoke disco parties. Teenagers have access to all kinds of cool classes, like mocktail mixology, hip-hop, and tech. And for burgeoning chefs, the Culinary Arts center offers cooking workshops.
No. 12 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises
Kids as young as one month and as old as 17 are well taken care of on Celebrity Cruise getaways: the on-board Fun Factory is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. And the staff is happy to accommodate families in need of babysitting while ships are in port (from noon to 2 p.m.) and at night (up to 1 a.m.) for a nominal fee of $6 per hour. Get extra-special treatment with the line’s VIP pass for kids, which includes unlimited programs, 40 percent off special kids-only meals, goodie bags, and the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship.
No. 10 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Princess Cruises
With 1,000 cabins, the Coral Princess is one of two Princess Cruises vessels small enough to fit through the Panama Canal—and 90 percent of its rooms have ocean views, to boot. Onboard youth and teen centers are chock-full of games (both video and board), but kids can also join their parents at the pool, on the putting course and at the Movies Under the Stars outdoor theater.
No. 9 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian’s smaller ships may lack the mega sports complexes and big water parks of its mega-sized vessels, but there’s no shortage of entertainment for young ones. The complimentary Splash Academy for ages 3 to 12 offers everything from Circus School (what kid doesn’t want to learn to juggle?) to treasure hunts, while teens can participate in the Entourage program (complete with dance parties). And free-style dining means you can eat whenever and wherever you want—and toddlers younger than three always eat for free. What’s more, every Norwegian ship comes with family mini-suites and interconnecting staterooms.
No. 8 River Cruise Line: Viking Cruises
Downton Abbey fans know all too well about Viking River Cruises: the corporate sponsor of the show wowed viewers with its transportive commercials. And it has also wowed T+L readers—including those with river-faring children. Longships feature Sun Decks complete with a putting green and shuffleboard, as well as a library stocked with board games. A concierge is always on hand to help arrange private excursions, pointing out the port of call’s most kid-friendly parks and activities. Those with an interest in art and history can sit in with mom and dad on expert lectures; there are also chef-led cooking demos and bridge visits with the ship’s captain. And parents with picky or impatient eaters need not worry: you can skip the three-course dinner any night and opt for a more casual pub-style menu in the Aquavit Lounge.
No. 7 Mega-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
The cruise line that brings us a Walking Dead-themed itinerary and annual rock festivals at sea also pulls out all the stops for families traveling with children. In addition to complimentary youth programs, there are plenty of ways for young broods to stay entertained in the company of their parents. Among the amenities on the mega-ships: mini-golf, a rock-climbing wall, and a water park.
No. 6 Mega-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Princess Cruises
Your kids will be forgiven for being overwhelmed by the number of activities that Princess Cruises offers. Those ages 3 to 7—or the Princess Pelicans—can literally go non-stop, with arts and crafts, talent shows, and educational workshops by day, and kids-only dinners and pajama parties by night. Same goes for the 8 to 12 (a.k.a. Shockwaves) and teenage (Remix) groups. And onboard family meals are stress-free, with a pizzeria, 24-hour buffet, and all-day room service. But adults don’t have to sacrifice every night: the high-end restaurants all offer kid’s menus.
No. 5 Mega-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Carnival Cruise Lines
When the brand-new Carnival Vista sets sail on May 1 next year, it’ll do so with an IMAX theater, SkyRide bicycle course, mini-bowling, and a ropes course. And on Carnival Cruise Lines’ three Dream class ships—their biggest, carrying up to 3,652 guests—there’s no shortage of kid-friendly fun, from a make-your-own bear workshop to Club 02, a hangout where moody teenagers can go to escape. At the ZSPA—so named for Generation Z—ladies-in-training can get treatments ranging from an Acne Attack facial to a hair styling session.
No. 4 Large-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean International
Big news for Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, one of the line’s smaller ships (capacity: 2,110): Come April 2016, it will be reborn with plenty of family-friendly perks like renovated staterooms (including a two-bedroom family suite), a poolside movie theater, three new dining options, and onboard WiFi. And on every ship, the award-winning and complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program means that kids ages 3-11 will never be bored. Traveling with a baby or toddler? There are even interactive classes for kiddos as young as six months.
No. 3 Mega-Ship Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean may be known for having the world’s largest cruise ship—the soon-to-launch Harmony of the Seas, which can hold up to 5,479 passengers—but it can also brag about its award-winning kids’ program and attractions that include ice-skating rinks, zip-lines, bumper cars, roller-skating, and multi-level waterslides. A deal with DreamWorks means you may encounter familiar faces from iconic movies (Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda) and Barbie-themed activities, including movies and storytelling, will keep little girls entertained. But it's not just children who will be pleased. Multiple WBA voters reported traveling with large groups and massive age ranges (one family reunion had a 1-year-baby and a 75-year-old) and yet, despite the gap, everyone had an excellent time.
No. 2 River Cruise Line: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
This may be a luxury river cruise line, but they still know how to keep children happy—and their adults, too. "The children's excursions were outstanding, extremely well organized and well managed. My grandson had a blast!" reported one T+L reader. Uniworld's multigenerational cruises—which always take place during summer and winter school vacations—include free bicycles during land excursions, kid-friendly menus, onboard language lessons, hands-on crafts workshops, and a dedicated Family Host to oversee kids’ activities.
No. 1 Mega-Ship Ocean Cruise Line: Disney Cruise Line
A tea party with Disney princesses. Pirate-themed dinners. Water slides, splash zones, and pools galore. The options for kids are almost endless on Disney Cruise Lines’s four ships: the aptly named Magic, Wonder, Dream, and Fantasy. Children ages 3 to 12 can also spend their days at sea in the Oceaneer Lab, where they can learn to draw their favorite characters, conduct science experiments, take cooking classes, and much more. Proof that adults can have fun on a Disney cruise? There’s everything from whiskey and rum tastings to relaxing spa treatments. (Read on about one T+L editor’s Disney experience.)