Best Cruises for Kids
Here are the top cruises for kids, from toddlers to teens.
Happy family cruises are all alike because they allow parents and kids to each be happy in his or her own way. A parent of a toddler, for instance, might be happiest with a cruise that provides trustworthy child-care services at flexible hours. Children, of course, have their own priorities. A teen, say, will probably want lots of activities for socializing after 10 P.M.
We scoured the top cruise lines to find the best ones for children, grouping them by age group: infants and toddlers, kids ages 3 to 7, ages 8 to 11, and ages 12 to 17. See our picks below.
One thing: We haven't sailed every cruise available out of U.S. ports—though we're working on it. For activities we didn't have personal experience with, we relied on the knowledge of parents and teens with whom we've talked about cruising, such as those who participated in our recent online chat about family cruising. Despite our connections, we may have overlooked some great activities. Let us know what we've missed by e-mailing us at Letters@BudgetTravelOnline.com.
- Disney Cruise Line
The fully equipped nurseries are a dead giveaway: Disney's ships outperform every other major cruise line in offering services for children who are at least 12 weeks old and less than 3 years old. It's the little details that count. Each Disney stateroom has a bathroom with a bathtub, for instance. And, as every parent knows, a bathtub is easier to use than a shower when caring for infants and toddlers. Yet most other cruise ships only offer showers in their rooms, unless you purchase one of their costly suites. Topping it all off, Disney's Magic and Wonder each have pools with separate filtration systems that allow diapered tots to swim. Disney stands out in this regard from most rival cruise lines, which generally prohibit diapers in all of their pools. (The fine print: Disney's nurseries charge a fee of $6 per hour per child. A tip: Reserve the hours when you'd like to leave your little one in the nursery as soon as you embark.)
- Carnival Cruise Lines
This is one of the few lines whose youth counselors change diapers when necessary. Carnival also stands out because its youth programs accept kids starting at age 2. In contrast, most programs elsewhere require that children be age 3 and fully potty trained. An added plus is that after 10 P.M. Carnival's ships offers group babysitting for children under age 2. You can even rent strollers. Group babysitting for those under age 2 costs $6 per hour for the first child and $4 for each additional child. These prices also apply for group babysitting of toddlers who are more than 2 years old. (See the Carnival section, under Children Ages 3 to 7 below.) Stroller rentals: All Carnival ships rent strollers (both single and double ones) on board. The fee is $6 per day on the three- and four-day itineraries and $25 per cruise for lengthier trips.
- Holland America Line
No matter that its youth programming doesn't admit children under age 3. Holland America still scores points for encouraging toddlers and parents to play together in groups at scheduled times. What's more, Holland America joins Disney in being one of the few cruise lines to offer private babysitting for an hourly fee. (Private babysitting costs $8 per hour for the first child in a family and $5 per hour per sibling.) Here's another nice gesture: If you're traveling with an infant or toddler, tell your agent upon booking and he or she will send you a detailed request form so you can order baby food, diapers, and wipes. For a fee, this unique service delivers the food and other items to your cabin—along with a mini fridge—so that you don't have to haul baby supplies to the ship. (The fine print: Parents must fill out an infant services order form 30 days prior to a North American sailing or 60 days prior to other sailings. Baby supply service fees: diapers, $1 each; a pack of 80 wipes, $5; jars of baby food, $1 each; and refrigerator rental, $2 per day.)
If your kids enjoy Disney characters and movies, they'll love this cruise line. In a much more intimate setting than the Disney theme parks provide, you and your children can enjoy free meals with costumed characters, including tea with Wendy (from Peter Pan). You can also see elaborate stage shows, such as Disney Dreams, that showcase popular Disney characters, like Captain Hook and Snow White.
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