8 Kid-Friendly Cruise Ships
These ships offer children’s programs, youth counselors and
By Michelle WhiteToday's amenity-filled cruise ships provide the best of both worlds, making adults and children feel at home while providing new thrills and experiences for everyone. With complimentary on-board kids' programs, experienced counselors and age-appropriate activities for young cruisers, parents can enjoy well-deserved adult time while children are off on their own adventures. And, from theme parties to pools, sports and games to shore excursions, opportunities abound for family fun together.
There are dining options to please everyone, from laid-back pizzerias to elegant restaurants. All of the cruise lines below offer evening baby-sitting services for a fee, so parents can get away for a quiet dinner.
With accommodations, meals and on-board entertainment and many activities included in the fare paid upfront, cruises are a terrific value. A tip: It is common for families to select an ocean-view or balcony cabin for the adults, and an inside cabin across the corridor for the kids.
The following family-friendly ships leave from U.S. ports in the summer, and many depart from the same home port year-round.
Freedom of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International
Upon its debut in May 2006, Freedom of the Seas became the world's largest cruise ship, at 158,000 tons with a capacity for 3,600 passengers. The Royal Caribbean vessel features six family-focused stateroom categories, topping out at the 14-guest, 1,215-square-foot presidential suite -- ideal for a family reunion cruise.
Parents and their little ones ages 6 months to 3 years can experience interactive Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots sessions, developed by Fisher-Price to stimulate young imaginations within a fun and nurturing environment. Adventure Ocean, for ages 3 to 17, is run by college-educated or highly experienced child-care experts. Kids are grouped according to age (3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14 and 15-17), and activities include learning about local customs, science experiments, movie nights, themed parties and sports. Children ages 12 and older have the freedom to come and go from the kids' center as they please, and teens have their own club for late-night dancing.
For parents desiring free time during the evening, group or in-room babysitting is available for a fee. Make great family memories with on-board activities such as ice-skating, karaoke, talent shows and miniature golf. There's even a rock-climbing wall and a surfing simulator on the Freedom of the Seas.
Dining options are abundant, and there are fun kids' menus and casual dinners for children hosted by youth staff. Click here to see a list of upcoming sailings aboard Freedom of the Seas.
On the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess from Princess Cruises, family suites sleep up to eight people and comprise two bedrooms connected by a large living room that leads to a balcony. The line's kids' programs group children according to age and feature arts and crafts, dance and birthday parties, scavenger hunts and talent shows. Children can also participate in "edu-tainment" programs, which can range from the enthralling (whale-watching) to the exciting (building and racing toy sailboats) to the delightfully icky (dissecting a squid).
Teen centers feature video and board games, movies, karaoke and more, while activities can include pizza or hot tub parties, sports competitions, late-night movies, DJ workshops and hip-hop dance classes. The youth and teen centers are complimentary and staffed by trained counselors. A supervised, complimentary lunch service is also available. Group baby-sitting is offered for an additional charge.
Families can gather around one of the ship's pools for "Movies Under the Stars," projected on a 300-square-foot screen. Other on-board highlights include a nine-hole putting course and golf simulator, duty-free shopping, art exhibits and four pools, including one swim-against-the-current pool.
For a list of upcoming cruises on the Caribbean Princess, click here.
Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Wonder combines the pleasures of cruising with the magic of Disney-themed adventures. From a nursery with "Little Mermaid" decor for children ages 3 months to 3 years, to a family club resembling a television soundstage, Disney boasts diversions to captivate all ages.
Nearly three quarters of the staterooms on this 2,500-passenger vessel have ocean views, and for large family gatherings, the royal suite with a private veranda sleeps seven. Children's programs feature unique activities linked to favorite Disney stories and characters, including arts and crafts, games and contests, science experiments, and karaoke for ages 3 to 12. Preteens can check out private listening rooms with state-of-the-art equipment, animation programs and flat-screen computers loaded with family-rated software.
Ages 13 to 17 have a teens-only lounge designed as a part dorm room, part loft apartment with music, movies, Internet and video games. Dance parties, trivia contests, animation lessons and fitness classes are among the entertaining options. Teens can also learn about the art of film-making -- and even make their own movies.
The family club is the site of cabaret shows, dancing and games. Three pools provide fun in the sun: one for young kids who love to splash, one for families and one just for adults who want to relax in a serene setting with whirlpool spas and a poolside bar. An array of on-deck sports plus video and arcade games are among amenities. Guests enjoy a variety of distinctive indoor restaurants, as well as casual on-deck dining and 24-hour room service. Group baby-sitting is available for a fee.
Click here for a list of Disney Wonder's upcoming cruises.
Holland America Line
Carrying 1,848 passengers, the Westerdam is part of the Vista-class fleet of Holland America. Children have a blast at Club HAL, where age-appropriate activities are supervised by full-time program directors with degrees in education or related fields. Kids ages 5 to 7 can enjoy arts and crafts, bingo, ice cream and pizza parties, ship tours and storytelling, while ages 8 to 12 can partake in miniature golf, on-deck sports and games, scavenger hunts and theme parties. Club HAL is open during the day, with an after-hours program at a nominal fee. For parents who want to check out the spa, casino or the Crow's Nest nightclub and observation lounge, baby-sitting is also available at an extra cost.
Holland America's variety of kid-friendly food includes hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches and tacos. There are formal restaurants and casual buffets, and six lounges, bars and nightclubs. Pools, a fitness center, library, deck games and cooking classes round out the on-board amenities.
To see a list of the Westerdam's upcoming cruises, click here.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The 2,974-passenger Carnival Conquest of Carnival Cruise Lines welcomes families with an extensive supervised children's program for cruisers ages 2 to 17. Among the age-appropriate activities at Camp Carnival for toddlers 2 to 5 are finger painting, sing-alongs and memory games, while ages 6 to 8 participate arts and crafts, talent shows, T-shirt painting and more. Preteens ages 9 to 11 have dance classes, parties, scavenger hunts and swimming under the stars. Ages 12 to 14 can enjoy games and sports tournaments, karaoke and designated evening hours at the shipboard dance club. Carnival's Club O2 is a haven for teens 15 to 17, with theme and pool parties, outdoor sports, board and card games and teens-only lounges.
Kids ages 6 and up are privy to PlayStation 2 and IMac time, while Carnival's "ExerSeas" and "EduCruise" provide fitness and educational programs for a wide range of ages. Stroller rentals and evening baby-sitting services are available for a fee.
Children have their own menus with kid-friendly fare in the ship's restaurants. On most nights, there are supervised children's-only dinners in the casual Lido restaurant, as well as lunches on port days when parents are ashore.
Click here for a list of upcoming cruises on the Carnival Conquest.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line embraces the "freestyle cruising" concept, which emphasizes freedom and flexibility on board all its ships. While on the 2,224-passenger Norwegian Dawn, guests can eat when and with whom they want, because there is no assigned seating. The dinner dress code is always "resort casual," so families can enjoy an easygoing, informal getaway.
The Norwegian Dawn's family suites and connecting staterooms are ideal for parents and kids traveling together. For a large family group, consider the Garden Villa, comprised of a living room, dining room and three separate bedrooms within its 5,750 square feet. It accommodates six guests and also has room for two rollaway beds and three cribs.
The complimentary Kid's Crew program offers energetic activities supervised by trained counselors. For ages 2 to 5, there are arts and crafts, pizza-making sessions and treasure hunts. Activities for ages 6 to 9 include games, painting and storytelling. Ages 10 to 17 have board games, video games, sports and more, with pool parties and a teen disco for the older set. The "Teen Passport Program" includes non-alcoholic drink tickets at a surcharge and teen parties with DJs and pizza. Teens can come and go freely, while children 12 and under must be picked up from the kids' center by a parent.
For a fee, group babysitting is available from day to night on port days and in the evenings on sea days. Ten restaurants, 24-hour room service, a spa, casino and original art collections round out the amenities.
For a list of upcoming cruises aboard the Norwegian Dawn, click here.
Mariner of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International
The 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class fleet, with one of the highest public space-per-guest ratios in the cruise market. Four family suites can accommodate up to eight guests. These staterooms feature two bedrooms with twin beds that convert to queen-size beds (one room features third and fourth Pullman beds), two baths, a living area with double sofa bed, private balcony and concierge service.
Royal Caribbean provides well-coordinated kids' programs, starting with the interactive play-group sessions of Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots. These programs reinforce early learning and are designed for parents and their little ones ages 6 months to 3 years.
Ages 3 to 5 participate in games, art and science; ages 6 to 8 have parties and make kites, masks and gummy candies, among other diversions; and ages 9 to 11 take backstage tours and play various games and sports. Ages 12 to 14 have a special teen lounge and join in games, sports, parties and contests, as do ages 15 to 17, who can also visit the teens-only nightclub Fuel. Group and in-room baby-sitting is available for a fee.
Innovative recreational opportunities on board include an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall and nine-hole miniature golf course. Additional highlights are extensive shopping venues and dining options that range from the health-conscious to the sinfully indulgent.
Click here for a list of the Mariner of the Seas' upcoming sailings.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Aboard the Carnival Pride, 80 percent of the staterooms have ocean views, and 80 percent of those boast private balconies. The 2,124-passenger ship has comprehensive dining options including a special kids' menu, pools, sports and an extensive children's program.
Parents of younger children are provided with beepers for immediate contact if necessary. Staffed by experienced child-care professionals, Camp Carnival offers age-appropriate activities for children ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. Activities range from arts and crafts, talent shows and finger painting for younger children to PlayStation 2 time, scavenger hunts and dance classes for preteens.
Teens can take part in a variety of games and sports tournaments, karaoke and special teen-only hangouts. Tailored specifically to older teens, Club O2 is staffed by activities directors who act as hosts, entertainers and DJs. There also are late-night diversions such as movies and dance parties.
For a list of upcoming cruises on the Carnival Pride, click here.
Information: For more information on these and other family-friendly ships, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in March/April 2006 . Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.