15 Best Family Cruises the Whole Brood Will Enjoy
On-deck waterslides, go-karts, escape rooms and never-ending soft serve! The best family cruises are designed for kids—and kids at heart.
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Imagine a family vacation during which you only have to unpack once, are offered age-appropriate amenities and never have to make the beds, do dishes or cook. Oh, there’s also an on-deck water park for kids, an outdoor theater, roller coasters, go-kart tracks, escape rooms, skating rinks, skydiving simulators, pools, hot tubs and restaurants all within a short walk. Sounds like a dream, right? This is what the best family cruises have to offer.
The best cruise lines provide children of every age with a never-ending buffet of thrilling experiences, the chance to make new friends and the ability to indulge in rides, slides and soft-serve ice cream around the clock. For your next family vacation idea, check out these Disney Cruise tips and consider the cruise ships on our list, all of which customize their onboard experiences with age-based camps, activities and entertainment, offering thoughtful touches and even some hidden features.
And it’s not just children who benefit. With family-friendly rooming options, separate adults-only areas and flexible, day-by-day planning, some of the best family cruises and best themed cruises happen to be ideal for adults too—parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles included. So whether you’re a seasoned cruiser looking for port excursions for the kids (think snorkeling, zip lining and outdoor adventures) or a new-to-the-sea vacationer, check out our picks for the best cruises for kids and families.
How we chose the best family cruises
Using a combination of expert recommendations, user reviews, star ratings and our own personal experience, we’ve gathered the best family cruises and cruise ships for 2023, sure to be packed with family-favorite experiences, shore excursions, food, drink, adventure and more. Pack your sunscreen!
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Best for Disney superfans
The newest ship in Disney Cruise Line’s fleet, Disney Wish is packed with surprises that will delight anyone wearing mouse ears. Kids will love meeting characters, sliding down from the atrium into their own private play space and riding AquaMouse, the first-ever Disney attraction at sea. A dazzling lineup of entertainment is now available, including two beautiful theaters showing Disney movies, elaborate stage productions (like an under-the-sea stage show of The Little Mermaid) and imaginative, music-filled dinners with Queen Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf in Arendelle.
While the tiny tots make friends in the kids clubs below deck, older Disney superfans might head to the Hyperspace Lounge for a fizzy grown-up beverage at the “Star Wars” bar, have cinematic dinners with the Avengers or spend time in the elegant, adults-only restaurant inspired by Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast. It’s easy to see why the new Disney Wish makes the grade as one of the best cruises for kids and their magic-loving parents. Before setting sail with Mickey and friends, be sure to consult this essential cruise packing list.
Best for large families
Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas
The largest passenger ship ever built also happens to be one of the best cruises for large families, thanks to the sheer volume of stuff to do. The best family cruises need to be the ultimate people pleasers, and Wonder of the Seas will please your toddlers and teens equally.
A floating resort, the ship itself is split into several neighborhoods, so it never feels crowded. Onboard activities include zip lining, surf simulators, rock climbing walls, laser tag, ice skating, an old-fashioned carousel, Broadway-style theater shows, live country music and so much more. Discover fun secrets, like the roaming piano player who just might end up in the elevator with you, or check out these cruise line secrets (like when to book and what “all inclusive” really means). The 24-hour pizza will be a hit for the kids, of course, and the exclusive teen spaces, both inside and outside, include a hot tub and non-alcoholic bar just for them.
Best cruise for families on a budget
Carnival Mardi Gras
Carnival Cruise Line is famous for their “Fun for All” slogan, which focuses on less-stuffy cruising no matter your bank account balance. One of the newest vessels in their fleet is Mardi Gras, which blends a touch of class and elegance together with their promise of a good time. Looking for the first roller coaster at sea? That’s Bolt. Game night productions? Check out “Family Feud Live.” There’s music and dancing on stage in the theater and a massive water park for all ages, with slides galore.
The cruise line is also beloved for their free age-appropriate kids camps, where fun times (video games, crafts and meals) are had all day and late-night parties rage till 2 a.m., allowing adults to enjoy a drink in the Fortune Teller Bar or a romantic jazz show from the cushy red velvet seats of the Brass Magnolia. With so much to keep the kids occupied all day and night, Mardi Gras could also double as one of the best cruises for couples.
Best for space explorers
Many children dream of space travel, exploring the moon and planets as an astronaut. And while a life-size rocket is something you won’t see on cruise ships, NASA experiences have become one of the most talked-about parts of the Carnival Celebration cruise. When this brand-new ship sets sail, kids ages 2 to 11 can blast off with the Space Cruisers program, developed in partnership with the Kennedy Space Center. On the ship, they can take part in NASA-inspired activities, including building a Mars Rover, hands-on learning about orbit, designing their own mission patch and more.
On Celebration, kids get the autonomy they crave, can make new friends in camp and have easy access to great food, and that’s all included in the price. All the while, you know they’re safe and supervised in a contained space: the ship! While they play, you can head to the spa or adults-only lounge, read that book you keep meaning to get through or get the rest and relaxation you deserve.
Best for adrenaline junkies
Winner of the best new cruise ship of 2022, the Norwegian Prima also happens to be one of the best family cruises available today. One reason can be found on the top decks of this brand-new ship. The Prima Speedway is a go-kart racetrack spanning the top three decks, providing wannabe race car drivers of nearly every age the chance to rev their engines far away from land. If the weather is wet or windy, or the temperatures too cold, families can head into the Galaxy Pavilion, a virtual-reality playground, where they’ll find more opportunities to race cars, play zombie games, take a swing or kick with a bevy of virtual sports experiences or try to make it out of the escape room.
We love the Vegas-style bright lights at the mini-golf course, the wood-paneled basement-esque open-air darts rooms and the beer pong, shuffleboard and pickleball court that comprise The Stadium on Deck 18. If an extreme adrenaline rush is your kid’s thing, then The Drop and The Rush slides are going to be a hit. The former is 10-stories tall and the first free-fall slide in the world that actually winds around the outside of a ship.
Best for LEGO builders
Wondering if children pay full fare on cruises? On MSC Seaside, kids sail free. And when you combine that budget-friendly deal with the LEGO partnership that delivers a once-per-cruise special event called the LEGO Experience on Board (an entire day dedicated to kid-friendly LEGO activities), you get a top cruise option for kids. The LEGO Group has designed new play areas featuring a vertical LEGO wall, a tech experience, a LEGO parade and a “master builder” diploma award ceremony.
For a virtual-reality feel, the ship also has a 5D movie theater that allows you to interact with films and a racing simulator, making it easy to see why the MSC Seaside is one of the best cruises for kids. For little ones (and their parents!) with a sweet tooth, there’s an ice cream shop serving up Italian gelato on the back deck. With all this onboard a ship, it’ll feel like spending a week at one of the best all-inclusive resorts for families.
Best for jedis and stormtroopers
You know Disney World and Disneyland, but there’s another Disney-themed adventure you should meet. It’s hard to pick just one favorite aspect of the Disney Dream, but we can confidently say that the entertainment is hard to beat. Gravitate toward the Millennium Falcon area in the kids club or head to a stage show production of Beauty and the Beast. At the end of a long day of play, kids can snuggle up and watch Disney movies on the pool deck under the stars.
The cruise line also tends to make eating fun for kids of all ages. Of course, we’re charmed by all things Mickey-shaped (from waffles to ice cream pops), but the Animator’s Palate stuck with us. The whimsical dining experience begins with walls covered in Disney animation sketches, and as the courses are served, it magically transforms into color. You can draw your own cartoon and watch it come to life, and the eatery is why we think Disney Dream is one of the best cruises for kids.
Best for a private beach experience
Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
Not only can you expect waterslides and a miniature-golf course on this massive Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas ship, but the adventurers in your family won’t want to miss the Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story slide that starts with a terrifying walk across a transparent platform before appearing to plunge off the side of the ship, dropping nine decks. And for eye-popping, high-energy acrobatic, tightrope and high-diving shows, the AquaTheatre will leave kids breathless as they watch beneath the stars.
One of the great benefits of sailing on the newest Royal Caribbean ships is not only the thrilling amenities (laser tag, escape room, ice skating, zip line and surf simulators onboard), but also the chance to spend a day in port at one of the best private islands around the world: Perfect Day at CocoCay. There, families will find some of the best beaches, cabanas, swimming pools, more zip lines and even a tethered hot-air balloon.
Best for teens
Celebrity ships, especially the high-class Celebrity Edge and Apex, aren’t typically known for being a bastion of family fun. But when it comes to teens traveling with their parents, especially those who enjoy art, amazing views, quiet time or just the finer things in life, Celebrity Beyond is a dream at sea. And this might just be because it’s the prettiest ship at sea.
Eden, a stunning multilevel, architectural space (with more outward-facing glass than any other venue at sea), is a serene place to unwind with a book or a Nintendo Switch game, while at night, it offers inventive theater and onstage music. The Basement on Celebrity Beyond is a robust space designated exclusively for teens, while other onboard sports activities and scavenger hunts are available throughout the ship. For youngsters looking to kick their feet up, the spa on Beyond has a teen-focused menu of treatments, such as facials for sensitive skin, nail care and mini vacation–approved mother-daughter spa time.
If you’re bringing younger kids on the Celebrity Beyond, don’t miss the immersive dining at Le Petit Chef, a 3D tabletop animation that never fails to be a huge hit for kids. Additionally, Celebrity offers an autism-friendly environment on Beyond—and all their cruise ships—with sensory-friendly films, toys and dietary menu options, as well as services like priority check-in and boarding.
Best for scenic views
Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas
The best family cruises offer attractions that make cruisers of all ages say “I can’t believe we’re doing this on a cruise ship!” Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas does just that. It’s a Caribbean destination in and of itself, with views that are the star of the show, thanks to the North Star, a 360-degree observation capsule that hovers more than 300 feet above the ocean and over the sides of the ship.
Oh, there are also bumper cars, a skydiving simulator and surfing classes. This awesome ship offers a great mix of high-adrenaline activities at sea that make it one of the best cruises for kids.
Best for climbers and clowns
Norwegian cruises tend to please parents because their “Free at Sea” all-inclusive cruise rates include airfare, WiFi, excursions, open bar and specialty dining, meaning there’s nothing to worry about during your family vacation at sea. What makes the Norwegian Escape cruises ideal for kids are the fun-in-the-sun extras, such as tandem waterslides, mini golf, five zip-line tracks and a three-story rope course with two planks to walk. Kids also tend to gravitate toward the tabletop escape game built around heroes and villains—what kid doesn’t love to save the day? For structured play, children can enroll for free at Splash Academy, where youngsters can take part in storytelling and arts and crafts, while older siblings can enjoy scavenger hunts, themed nights, sports competitions or even learn to juggle at circus school!
Best for outdoorsy kids
When summertime sailing in Alaska on the new Discovery Princess, you and the kids can actually visit with adorable husky dog puppies that come onboard for you to pet. You can also sign up for the Deadliest Catch Crab Fishermen’s Tour, inspired by the Discovery Channel show, and get up close and personal with bears, whales, mountain goats and massive glaciers.
Any cruise in Alaska could be one of the best family cruises to take, but traversing the narrow waterways on a new ship is a rare treat—the Inside Passage is not as deep as the ocean, meaning enormous new vessels can’t take you to Alaska. The Princess, however, was built small enough to fit inside the natural beauty of Alaska, so you get all the glitz and glamour of a glittering new cruise ship—and husky puppies!
Best for Cirque du Soleil fans
While not as heralded as Royal or Carnival, MSC offers a great warm winter getaway for families, thanks to a wealth of activities onboard its European, Caribbean and Bahamian cruises. On Meraviglia specifically, you’ll find a massive water park and splash zone, ropes course, virtual F1 race car driving, flight simulators, 4D movies and an arcade room. For more active pursuits, families can challenge each other to bowling or a soccer match or basketball game on ship’s court. Large families will love the Super Family Cabins on MSC, which combine two balcony cabins and one inside room, sleeping up to 10 people.
But what truly separates MSC for the other cruise lines are the exclusive Cirque du Soleil shows. These theatrical productions are events you won’t want to miss. And when you’re ready for some quiet adults-only time, simply send the kiddos off to the LEGO-themed kids club with age-based areas for babies, kids and teenagers. Inside is their own theater for movies and dancing, a 3D printing lab and VR gaming. And here’s the good news: Kids sail free on most MSC cruises.
Best for Europhiles
AmaWaterways Adventures by Disney
River cruises are a lot of fun, but the demographic skews older. The notable exception to this is on AmaWaterways river cruises with Adventures by Disney. The two travel companies combined forces to create the best family cruises on some of the great European rivers. Sail the Seine, Rhine or Danube rivers through France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary!
We love that these ships are custom-built for families, with twin balcony cabins that can sleep three people, suites that can accommodate families of four and connecting-cabin options for larger groups that need space. Most river ships (even America’s most scenic river cruises) don’t have a pool, but AmaWaterways does. And what’s cooler than lounging in a pool while watching real-life castles pass by?
Adventures by Disney offers free shore excursions in every city, sure to delight kids and adults. And while the onboard experience looks different than the others on our list, kids menus are always available along with occasional pajama parties, pizza and a movie and more.
Best for karaoke kings and queens
Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
Oasis of the Seas was the first game-changer that Royal Caribbean set sail back in 2009. Since then, it’s been amplified and improved and remains one of the best family cruises thanks to onboard adventures. Those include a Royal Escape Room challenge called Mission Control: Apollo 18, a glow-in-the-dark laser tag and a massive aqua park with colorful waterslides, water cannons, fountains, two drench buckets, and pools and whirlpools for everyone from wee babies to tweens and teens.
Even babies are treated like royalty on Oasis of the Seas, with tiny tots ages 6–36 months pampered with story circles, interactive play, group games and so much more. Older kids aren’t left out either, with camps and private spaces all their own. One of the standout features of this ship is Spotlight Karaoke, which happens either with all ears and eyes on you and your kids, or in a private karaoke room for a memorable time with favorite tunes.
Additional reporting by Sherri Eisenberg.