We all know the feelings of excitement and anticipation that occur as a much-needed vacation approaches. After working tirelessly at your headache of a day job and pinching pennies to fill the vacation fund, nothing gives you more relief than when you finally sit down to book your trip.
You’ve spent the past few months daydreaming about what your perfect family vacation will look like. Of course, it has to include the essentials: plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained, down time for mom and dad, and (hopefully) an open bar within reach for when the kids go to sleep.
You’ve already considered all of the more popular vacation destinations: Disney World (too crowded), the beach (too prone to sunburn), and a stay at grandma’s house (too much mother-in-law). You’re racking your brain for ideas when suddenly, it hits you. The perfect family vacation that has all of the essentials rolled up into one affordable price: a cruise.
You scour the internet, searching for the perfect, just-for-you cruise line that has all of the best amenities, the best availability, and, of course, the best price. But with so many cruise lines and a seemingly endless amount of destinations, how are you to choose?
Well, quit worrying about research and get back to daydreaming – we’ve done the leg work for you. Here are the three best cruise lines for families.
It should come as no surprise that Disney makes the very top of the list. After all, the fun-loving folks at Disney are experts in entertainment and have been the world’s leading source of family-friendly fun and magic for decades. This certainly extends to their cruise lines as well. A Disney cruise has all of the perks of a trip to the parks, minus the hellish temperatures and the crowds. With four cruise ships in total, the Disney company has been cruising the high seas for over 20 years now and with no end in sight. Here’s just a glimpse into what makes a Disney cruise oh-so-magical for parents and kids alike:
Pros (for Adults): While Disney created their cruises to be a fun and magical vacation experience for the entire family, they understand that sometimes parents need time to themselves. That’s why they offer a large variety of adult-only spaces and activities aboard the ship. Once the kids are asleep, the adults get to play! Some of the most popular activities for parents include:
- Relaxing at one of the many adult-only spas, gyms, jacuzzis, and swimming pools
- Drinking at one (or more) of the Disney-themed bars, nightclubs, and pubs (open late each night)
- Enjoying a delicious meal at an elegant (and quiet) adults-only restaurant
- Participating in one of the many “no-kids-allowed” events such as bingo, karaoke, trivia night, and more!
As a bonus, many of Disney’s cruise lines offer on-board childcare for kiddos under the age of three at the Small World Nursery. While this service does cost extra, parents all over the world unite in agreeing that the cost is well worth a few hours per day of child-free relaxation. They also offer a Kids Club for older kids to enjoy during the day while mom and dad enjoy a massage, a sunbath, or a hard-earned margarita!
Pros (for Kids): There’s no doubt about it… Disney knows how to have fun! From waterslides to character meets, a Disney cruise offers something fun and magical for every kid on board (superhero and princess alike). Some of the most popular kid-approved amenities include:
- Character Meets (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, R2D2, and more)
- Unlimited Ice Cream
- Themed Events and Parties (with Dress-Like-A-Pirate day being among the most popular)
- Disney-only Movie Theaters
- Broadway-Worthy Shows (anyone down to watch a live version of Frozen??)
One of the biggest perks of a Disney cruise is the immersive experience you’re sure to receive at every turn. Disney prides themselves on their ability to bring the magic of their movies to life, and this certainly doesn’t stop at the border. From the magical staff and service to the fun-filled events and dock parties, a Disney cruise is sure to offer something that the entire family will love.
Cons: While there aren’t many downsides to a Disney cruise, one that we can’t neglect to mention is the cost. As with most branded Disney experiences, a Disney cruise can quickly become expensive and may not be the best choice for those shopping on a limited budget. In addition, Disney cruises tend to book up quickly and may not offer the most flexibility for those with an unpredictable schedule.
Cost: As with most cruise lines, Disney offers their pricing on a package basis. The cost of which will depend on the type of suite you stay in, the length of your vacation, and the experiences you choose (dining reservations, event attendance, etc). Experienced vacationers estimate that most families will spend between $200-600 per person per day. This means that, for a family of four, a three-day-long cruise can cost anywhere from $2400-7200. This does not include gratuities, shore excursions, spa services, alcohol, or premium dining.
While not inhabited by Mickey and the gang, Carnival Cruises offers an entirely unique and magical experience of its own. A well-known member of the family cruise line industry, Carnival Cruise has been sailing the high seas since 1972. Now, with over twenty operable ships launching from every coast in the US, Carnival has set out on a mission to prove why, for decades, millions of people have referred to Carnival Cruise as the “World’s Best Cruise Line.”
Pros (for Adults): Carnival doesn’t just do cruises for families – they do cruises for everyone. Honey-Mooners, Solo Travelers, and Empty-Nesters alike all adore Carnival for their unique ability to provide oceanic luxury while maintaining a family-friendly environment. There’s something for everyone aboard a Carnival Cruise. Some of the most popular amenities for adults include:
- Thriving Nightlife (such as the RedFrog Rum Bar or the Skybox Sports Bar)
- The Adults-Only Serenity Adult Retreat (a 21+ relaxation zone that includes luxurious whirlpools, chair-side bar service, and an adults-only viewing deck)
- Limitless Access to the Wine Bar (for more sophisticated drinking)
- A variety of nightclubs and adults-only deck parties (because who said that mom and dad can’t bust a move??)
- Table Games and Casinos
- Adults-Only Fitness Classes and Gyms
- Art Galleries and Libraries
- On-Board Childcare
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! With a Carnival Cruise, parents are sure to discover a relaxing and enjoyable vacation experience that kids and adults both will love.
Pros (for Kids): Carnival Cruise has spent decades learning just what kids want and how to make it happen! From trampolines and waterparks to movies and so much more, Carnival offers something fun for kids of all ages to enjoy. Some of the most noteworthy kid-centric amenities include:
- An onboard waterpark (complete with giant waterslide)
- An IMAX theater for maximum movie fun
- SkyZone Trampoline Park
- An onboard Build-A-Bear-Workshop
- A Dive-In Movie Theater (so that you can watch your favorite movies while you wade)
- A sea-worthy candy shop
- A kid-friendly spa
- Video Game Arcade
As you can see, there is an endless amount of fun activities available for kids on a Carnival Cruise. As a bonus, they also offer exclusive hang-out areas for tweens and teens so that they can have their “space” while still being a part of the family fun.
Cons: Carnival has recently earned a reputation as a young people’s cruise. And while that might not sound unappealing to some, others dislike Carnival because of the crowds they attract. Carnival knows how to party and so do their guests – unfortunately, that often means loud noise into the night and crowds of rowdy partygoers. While fun for some, that just might not be quite the experience you’re looking for if you’re bringing the entire family along. Call me crazy, but grandma and grandpa might not appreciate the ramblings of a drunk group of twenty-somethings at all hours of the night.
Cost: Carnival Cruise is easily one of the most reasonably priced cruises out there. This means that, while not the most inexpensive, they tend to offer the most bang-for-your-buck in terms of amenities. Their pricing model, as with most, is dependent on the type of suite you choose to stay in, the length of your vacation, and your choice in amenities. Travel experts estimate that most families will spend between $300-600 per person per day on a Carnival Cruise. This means that, for a family of four, a three-day cruise can cost anywhere from $3600-7200. This, of course, does not include all amenities. Extras include alcohol, gratuities, shore excursions, WiFi access, photo passes, and more. See our calculator to see if buying the cruise drink package makes sense.
As one of the largest family-friendly cruise lines sailing the high seas today, Royal Caribbean is known for their unique approach to traditional cruise vacations. With twenty-four active cruise ships (and two more on the way), this seaworthy conglomerate has been in operation since the 60’s. Patrons love Royal Caribbean for their innovative amenities, outstanding customer service, and so much more. Here’s what makes Royal Caribbean so special:
Pros (for Adults): Royal Caribbean is very intentional in their efforts to provide fun and relaxing activities for the entire family to enjoy. The heart of every family vacation is the actual time that you spend together as a family. That said, it is also important for the adult members of your family to have their own opportunities for kid-free relaxation. Here are some of the most popular amenities that Royal Caribbean offers their adult guests:
- An adults-only pool section (complete with bar service)
- A selection of off-shore excursions exclusively for adults
- An adult-only spa center (for manicures, pedicures, facials, and more)
- An impressive nightlife scene (open-late bars, casinos, nightclubs, and more)
- A collection of onboard shops for ultimate retail-therapy indulgence
- An open-late karaoke and piano bar (sing your heart out!)
- Broadway-worthy shows and musicals
- Fine dining so good that you’ll have to eat it to believe it.
In addition to these popular amenities, Royal Caribbean cruises offer an unbelievable amount of activities for the entire family to enjoy (adrenaline junkies and lazy-day-lovers alike)!
Pros (for Kids): A Royal Caribbean cruise is a real-life dream come true for kids. From waterparks to ziplining, there seems to be nothing you can’t do aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. Voyaging aboard some of the largest ships in the world, a few of the most popular amenities for kids include:
- An impressive waterpark (complete with rocket-fast waterslides and a lazy river)
- A zipline that gives you a birds-eye view of the entire deck
- Indoor Skydiving
- Themed Events and Shows (created with kids in mind)
- A top-deck surfing simulator
- Ice Skating
- Splashaway Bay (a fun and interactive splash pad for the younger kiddos)
- Video Game Arcade
These are just a few of the many amenities and experiences that Royal Caribbean has to offer. An ever-growing idea machine, Royal Caribbean is undoubtedly one of the most impressive cruise lines out there. Their ability to make seemingly impossible dreams a reality is something unique that sets them apart from any other mentionable competitor – you just never know what they’re going to do next!
Cons: While the average size of a ship in Royal Caribbean’s massive fleet is not a deterrent for some, many adult and senior guests have labeled the magnanimous size of the ship an inconvenience. Most (if not all) of the amenities are far from the suites and cabins, which may be difficult for some passengers to navigate. A Royal Caribbean cruise may not be the best option for those looking to simply eat, sleep, and lay out in the sun. This cruise line is full of energy and, if being surrounded by constant activity isn’t your cup of tea, you may consider boarding a smaller, more laid-back cruise ship instead.
Cost: While a cruise with Royal Caribbean isn’t what most would consider a cheap vacation, it is absolutely loaded with value. Experienced travelers estimate that the average cost for a Royal Caribbean cruise is between $150-500 per person per night. This means that, for a family of four, you can expect to spend anywhere from $1800-6000 for a three-day vacation. This, of course, is entirely dependent on your preferred cabin type and desired amenities. While most amenities are included in your fare, this price does not include gratuities, shore excursion costs, fine dining, alcohol, WiFi, or travel costs.
You Can’t Go Wrong with these Family-Friendly Cruise Lines
It’s safe to say that a family cruise is the perfect option for those who want to set sail on a warm-weather adventure of their very own. From a slew of innovative amenities to unrivaled customer experience, Disney, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean Cruises offer a convenient alternative to traditional family vacations. Quit your constant searching and book your families’ trip today (Expedia is usually the best place). It’s time to enjoy the hard-earned vacation that you all deserve.