Making a cruise is an attractive holiday option for families, and for a good reason. With accommodation, meals and a wide range of onboard activities included in the nightly rate; sailing is one of the most inclusive and affordable vacations around. Even so, it can still be pricey to take the entire family on a seagoing adventure. If you’re angling for a cost-effective family cruise, then read our list of cruise lines that are child-friendly or even let kids come with you for free.
1. MSC Cruises
Best for families who like to spend most time all together
This Italian cruise line is splashy and elegant, yet it’s also affordable. Kids younger than 12 always travel free when they share a cabin with their parents. With exciting children activities for ages 1-17, water parks and partnerships with LEGO and the European brand Chicco, MSC ships are with no doubt kid-friendly. MSC vessels cater to an international passenger base, so they’re ideal for children who are curious about other languages and cultures.
2. Norwegian Cruise Line
Best for families that like a “freestyle” cruise
Norwegian Cruise Line is a great option for those that like to get most flexibility during their cruise as they don’t have set times or assigned tables for dinner. All ships are equipped with a kid’s club called Splash Academy; its highlight is the circus school where children learn various circus acts like juggling. As well the children can participate in other activities like dancing, crafts, and costume-making. In addition, the dinner theater magicians and acrobats entertain the kids while enjoying their meal. Norwegian offers discounts for the third and fourth passenger that are booked in each cabin.
3. Princess Cruises
Best for families that look for an educational trip for their kids
Princess Cruises provide plenty of age-specific activities for younger children as well as for teens. On top of a regular kids’ program, the cruise line offers science activities and educational initiatives on wildlife and conservation. Teens will enjoy music and games such as Nintendo, Karaoke, and movies on giant TV screens. As well, Princess Cruises teamed up with Discovery to create Discovery at Sea where campers may gaze at the stars from the upper deck, learn about marine creatures or perform chemistry experiments. Younger kids will find plenty to do at the youth center, staffed full-time with youth coordinators and babysitters.
4. Royal Caribbean
Best for families who like their toddlers and tweens to be fully entertained
Royal Caribbean achieves consistently high marks for its (non-stop) children’s activities including partnerships with Crayola and Fisher-Price. Year-round the ships offer a youth program, Adventure Ocean, targeted to kids from 3 to 17 years, but the cruise line also has a nursery program for ages three months to 36 months as well as a babysitting service.
The newer ships of Royal Caribbean feature science labs where they conduct experiments and stages. Beyond specific programs, children are entertained with cupcake making, character parades, rock climbing, surfing, and boogie boarding. The cruise line frequently offers “third and fourth passenger” deals, allowing parents to bring their kids for free or at a lower cost.
5. Disney Cruises
Best for families with children that love Mickey and his friends (and for parents that are looking for an alternative Disney holiday)
Anyone who loves Disney will enjoy a Disney Cruise; the Disney characters entertain the kids on the ship, and there are as well numerous family activities. The ships have the “It’s a Small World” nursery for babies and supervised children’s programs year-round for ages 3 through teens. Fares for kids — from 6 months to 2 years — are roughly half the children’s rate on Disney cruises.
6. Crystal Cruises
Best for an all-inclusive luxury family cruise
Crystal provides high-end services from dining to accommodations and – in contrary to many of its competitors – alcohol, soft drinks, specialty dining, shore excursions and gratuities are included in the (quite expensive) cruise fares. However, children younger than 12 always sail at a 50 percent discount. Crystal also has special “kids sail free” offers where all children under 17 can travel free as the third passenger, when sailing with two adults. Although you might not find as many children onboard as you would on larger cruise ships, all of Crystal Cruises offer kids and teens programs, including scavenger hunts and a children’s library.
7. Holland America Line
Although Holland America is known for drawing a somewhat older crowd, its holiday cruises are excellent options for a larger group of families where the young ones will feel at home just as much as the older guest. All ships of the Holland America Line offer dedicated kids clubs and Broadway shows that will also appeal to younger cruisers. From time to time you may encounter “third and fourth passenger” discounts, with free or reduced fares.
Which cruise line you choose, depends on your expectations and family needs.
For sure, you’ll find a cruise that will give all the family members an exciting holiday at sea!