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Taking a cruise is a bucket list item the entire family can check off together. But some cruises are more kid-friendly than others.
For example, ships sailing under the mouse flag do a good job at minimizing "meltdowns" according to Condé Nast Traveler's Senior Editor, Corina Quinn. "Disney does a great job carrying its expertise from the parks into the cruise experience," she said. Quinn, who did a Disney Cruise with her young nephews in December, said they even saw two films on the ship that were currently in theaters.
If your kids are too old for costumed characters, don't worry. We found plenty of cruises designed for preteens and teens too. From Caribbean cruises that stop at private Bahamian islands to an Alaska "uncruise" and even a Southeast Asia adventure on the Mekong River, here are 10 bucket list-worthy cruises the whole family can enjoy.
Best for ages: 3-10
Where: Florida to the Caribbean, New York to Canada or Bermuda and California to Mexico
What to expect: "Everyone was wearing pirate outfits, princess dresses and superhero costumes — it was sheer joy," recalled Jacqueline Gifford, Editor-in-Chief of Travel & Leisure. Gifford recently took her son, Bobby, on the Caribbean version of this Halloween-themed cruise. One of their trip's highlights was the beach time at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Gifford says the 3-night cruise was the perfect length of time for her 3-year old. However, for older kids there are also 4-night and 7-night sailings.
Price: Rates for adults on the 3-night Caribbean cruise start at $714. Rates for children start at $477.
Best for ages: 2-12
Where: Fort Lauderdale, Princess Cays, St. Thomas and St. Maarten
What to expect: The ship's water features are as enticing as the surrounding sea. In June, Princess Cruise Lines' Caribbean Princess will debut its Reef Family Splash Zone. The focal point is an interactive whale whose tail is guaranteed to get you wet. With its showers and spray tools, this splash zone is the perfect place for kids who can't swim yet but don't want to miss out on all the aqua-related action. Through a partnership with Discovery Communications, Princess Cruise Lines also offers a Camp Discovery where kids can participate in educational activities inspired by their favorite shows. Finally, this 7-day voyage includes a stop at Princess Cays, Princess Cruise Lines' private island. It boasts one of the Caribbean's best white sand beaches.
Price: from $663/person (guests 3 and 4 in the same stateroom from $99)
Best for ages: 8+
Where: Honolulu, Hilo, Kahului, Kona and Nawiliwili
What to expect: This cruise, that starts and ends in Honolulu, Hawaii, is the only Hawaiian cruise to visits four islands in just seven days. On select dates (and with two paying adults), kids even sail free. Besides being an incredible value, it's incredibly convenient. Norwegian Cruise Line offers this voyage, voted the "Best Family Experience" by Travel Weekly in 2017, year-round. Parents of picky eaters will appreciate having 16 dining options on board. Parents who are anxious about spending six nights in a cruise ship cabin with overly-excited kids will appreciate the two overnights on land. If you can, allow for a few extra days to check out Disney's award-winning Aulani and see Pearl Harbor on Oahu — one of 40 places to take your kids before they're grown.
Price: from $949/person
Best for ages: 7+
Where: Venice, Chioggia, Polesella, Porto Viro, Burano, Mazzorbo, Torcello and Milan
What to expect: Experience Italy in the most hands-on way possible. As part of Uniworld’s Generations Collection, this 10-day cruise caters to Generation Z with its "Milano por bambini" program. Activities include making pizza with the ship's chefs, a scavenger hunt in Milan's most famous cathedral and castle and a kid-friendly pasta workshop in Bologna. There's also a glassblowing class on Giudecca Island, and plenty of opportunities for parents to enjoy Northern Italy's finest wines.
Price: from $4,299/adult; fares are half-off for children ages 4-17
Best for ages: 8-15
Where: Budapest, Vienna, Dürnstein, Wachau Valley and Salzburg
What to expect: This 8-day cruise, offered eastbound and westbound, sails right up to the heart of historic towns built along the river that "connects Europe." Here, the holiday season is unrivaled. That's because Europe's 700-year-old Christmas markets offer the most sensory Christmas experience imaginable. In addition to visiting these markets, the itinerary includes baking gingerbread with a German family who has been doing it for generations, waltzing lessons at a private palace in Vienna and visiting Oberndorf — the idyllic Austrian village where the song "Silent Night" made its public debut in 1818.
Best for ages: 9+
Where: Juneau to Ketchikan
What to expect: "You'll venture where the big ships can't go and get up close and personal with the glory and grandeur of our last frontier," says Lynn O'Rourke Hayes, editor and owner of FamilyTravel.com. UnCruise Adventures' fleet includes ships that only carry between 22-90 passengers. This cruise, which runs from April through September, introduces kids to glaciers and fjords, North America's most impressive wildlife and even new cultures like the Tlingit people. Basically, the list of reasons why an Alaskan cruise is one of 40 trips to take while the kids are still young is as long as the state is big.
Price: from$2,995/person (includes alcohol for adults)
Best for ages: 8+
Where: San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Panama Canal, Cartagena, George Town, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Galveston
What to expect: "Because it’s a two-week voyage that occurs during the school year, this sailing is less crowded with children than a typical Disney cruise," says Josh Roberts, Senior Executive Editor of FamilyVacationCritic. Roberts adds that the "centerpiece experience" of this 14-night voyage is a full-day transit through the Panama Canal. "Kids can watch the waters rise and fall as the ship is transported through one of the world's greatest engineering marvels." In typical Disney fashion, there are also plenty of familiar faces on board. And since it's Christmastime, expect to share the ship with Santa and his friends.
Price: from $2,520/adult and $1,344/child
Best for ages: 13+
Where: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and small villages
What to expect: "It's an amazing experience that gets thinking families thinking and talking about human rights and world history," says Christine Sarkis, Deputy Executive Editor of SmarterTravel. Since this 13-day trip up or down the Mekong River includes visits to Vietnam's Cu Chi tunnels used during the Vietnam War and Cambodia's Killing Fields and genocide museum, it's best for older kids who are emotionally mature. Of course the voyage also includes more light-hearted activities like touring Angkor Wat's temples, shopping at traditional markets and even meeting with local children at village schools. According to Sarkis, it's a varied trip offering curious, adventurous families with an "easy structure" for exploring Southeast Asia.
Price: from $3,469/person
Best for Ages: 15+
Where: Tampa or Miami to Havana
What to expect: Travel back in time to the 1960s on this 4 or 5-day cruise that makes legally visiting Cuba as easy as signing up for a shore excursion. Carnival Cruise Line's land tours — centered around exploring Old Havana and its colorful past — all fulfill the educational/people-to-people requirement that must be met for Americans wanting to visit Cuba. Even for teenagers who don't seem too interested in history and/or economics, visiting this controversial destination is an eye-opening experience. New departure cities being added throughout the year include Charleston, Norfolk and New York.
Price: from $294/person
Best for ages: 6+
Where: Miami and CocoCay
What to expect: Be among the first to experience Royal Caribbean's new private island. When it opens in May, CoCoCay will boast the Caribbean's largest freshwater pool and North America's tallest waterslide, the 135-foot-tall Daredevil's Peak. For young adrenaline junkies or even just waterslide enthusiasts, it's basically heaven on earth. Of course a Royal Caribbean ship is just as fun. In fact, Laura Begley Bloom, a senior contributor to Forbes Travel, calls the cruise line a "no-brainer" when it comes to cruising with kids. And she should know. Her 6-year-old daughter has been on more cruises than most adults. "I've taken Lucy on both the Anthem of the Seas and the Harmony of the Seas," says Begley Bloom. "I think these are a little better for kids who are slightly older because of all the extreme sports like zip lines, surfing and skydiving."
Price: From $319/person
Best for ages: 0+
Where: Genoa, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Cannes, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona and Ajaccio
What to expect: Over the course of 8 days, see some of the Med's most famous sites and open-air museums while knowing your floating hotel has six distinct areas catering to kids of all ages. Thanks to a partnership with Chicco, MSC Seaview's baby club is outfitted with state-of-the-art infant equipment, supplies and toys. Similarly, its teen's club has the latest gaming consoles and digital entertainment. But the best part of cruising with MSC Cruises is its well-received new Family Explorer Club where families can explore each port together while on educational "missions" designed with help from the kids.
Price: from $509/person
For more travel recommendations, check out:
- 40 great places to take your kids before they're grown
- The 19 best beaches for families and kids
- 14 spring break ideas for families on a budget