THE CARIBBEAN, WITH BIG KIDS
Our pick of the ships Royal Caribbean's brand-new Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest cruiser.
Route to happiness The seven-day western Caribbean itinerary includes port calls in Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and RC's private island, Labadee, off the northern coast of Haiti.
Departing From Miami, every Sunday in June, July, and August.
Where the kids are At the two pool complexes: one devoted to interactive spray cannons, ground gushers, and a lazy river, and one with a wave pool—the first ever on a cruise ship—for surfing and Boogie-boarding.
Parental perk A massive gym—and classes in everything from boxing to spinning—lets you burn off calories from the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Come together The Presidential Suite sleeps up to 14 and offers a whopping 1,215 square feet indoors and another 810 outside. Reunion, anyone?
Shipshape 160,000 tons, 1,817 staterooms, seven restaurants, 16 bars, three pools, an ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall (the biggest at sea), and a boxing ring. Plus: a kids' club with five age-specific areas (two for teens).
The lowdown From $900 per person, double occupancy. 800/327-6700; www.freedomoftheseas.com.
THE CARIBBEAN, WITH LITTLE KIDS
Our pick of the ships The revamped Disney Magic has an expanded
fitness center and a gigantic LED movie screen that shows animated classics and live-action
flicks—all Disney all the time.
Route to happiness Until the Magic takes its first Mediterranean voyage in summer 2007, the eight-day western Caribbean itinerary is the way to go; it has new stops at Castaway Cay, Disney's private Bahamian island, and along Mexico's Riviera Maya.
Departing From Port Canaveral, Florida, on June 24, July 22, and August 19.
Where the kids are In a real captain's chair in the new Ocean Quest kids' center, where would-be navigators can "steer" the vessel with the help of a live video feed from the bridge.
Parental perk New couple-sized spa-treatment rooms—with private veranda, hot tub, and outdoor shower—are perfect for your own mini getaway.
Shipshape 83,000 tons, 877 cabins, 10 decks, four hot tubs, five restaurants (one of which is adults-only), three pools, 12 bars (including a family nightclub), and five kids' clubs.
The lowdown From $849 per person, double. 888/325-2500; www.disneycruise.com.
Our pick of the ships The new Diamond Princess and Sapphire
Princess, both of which are staffed with specialists on Alaskan wildlife and folklore.
Route to happiness The seven-day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise along the Inside Passage makes stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, continuing through Glacier Bay National Park and Prince William Sound.
Departing On Saturdays throughout the summer from either Vancouver or Whittier, Alaska.
Where the kids are In the youth center, dissecting a squid as part of a program run by the California Science Center.
Parental perk Balconies in standard rooms—not just suites—give you front-row views of glaciers and killer whales.
Hit the ground running Among the 15 new shore excursions are a zip-line canopy adventure in Ketchikan and dog-sledding on a glacier in Juneau.
Don't let the fun stop now Before or after your cruise, a new Direct-to-the-Wilderness train will take you from the ship to a Princess lodge in Denali National Park, eliminating an overnight in Anchorage—and leaving you with more time for rafting, hiking, and spotting caribou.
Shipshape 116,000 tons, 1,337 cabins, 18 decks, eight hot tubs, 10 restaurants, five pools, four bars, one kids' club, and one teens' club.
The lowdown From $899 per person, double (cruise only); from $1,399 per person for cruise and Denali package. 800/774-6237; www.princess.com.
Our pick of the ships Costa Concordia, new from Italian company
Costa Cruises and home to the largest spa on any ocean liner yet. Expect a full European-immersion
experience, which means later mealtimes (dinner seatings are at 7:15 and 9:15) and language
lessons for all ages—not to mention the occasional topless sunbather.
Route to happiness Seven-day round-trip cruises drop anchor in Genoa, Barcelona, Majorca, Tunis, Malta, and Sicily.
Departing From Rome, every Sunday from July 23 through August 27.
Where the kids are Living out their Mario Andretti fantasies behind the wheel of a Formula One simulator, or attending "Coketail" parties (for the younger set) or boogying at discos (for teens)—all part of Costa Kids.
Parental perk Supervised children's activities on "formal nights" mean you can dress up without the agony of forcing your kids to.
Hit the ground running During port stops, go horseback riding on Malta and biking in Barcelona.
Takeaway Learn to say "ciao" like a real Italian. Picking up a foreign pen pal is practically guaranteed for older kids.
Shipshape 112,000 tons, 1,500 cabins, 13 decks, 13 bars, five restaurants, five hot tubs, three pools (two have retractable glass roofs, for swimming on rainy days), and two kids' clubs.
The lowdown From $1,379 per adult, from $549 for each child under 17 sharing a stateroom with two adults. 800/462-6782; www.costacruises.com.
Our pick of the ships NCL America's new Pride of Hawaii—one
of the few ships to cruise the Pineapple State during the summer.
Route to happiness A seven-day round-trip shimmy around the islands, with stops on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai.
Departing From Honolulu, every Monday year-round.
Where the kids are Getting a taste of what it's like to be cruise director, chef, or ship doctor, in the Kids' Crew program.
Parental perk Two brand-new two-bedroom, two-bath Garden Villas provide space for all, plus access to a private concierge lounge and sundeck.
Shipshape 93,500 tons, 1,123 staterooms, 15 decks, 12 bars, 10 restaurants, six hot tubs, two pools, a kids' club, and a teen lounge.
The lowdown From $900 per person, double. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com.
NEW ENGLAND AND CANADA
Our pick of the ships Holland America's Maasdam, one of the only
cruisers that tours these waters.
Route to happiness Seven-night sailings head due north to Bar Harbor, Maine, and then on to Nova Scotia, with stops in Halifax and Sydney; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and the Saguenay Fjord and Quebec City, ending in Montreal.
Departing From Boston, June 3 and 17 and August 5 and 19.
Where the kids are At Club HAL ice cream socials, Ping-Pong tournaments, and dance parties. Teens get to hang out in a Manhattan-style loft.
Parental perk Food & Wine magazineselected chefs give daily cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Center, which also has a roster of hands-on classes.
Hit the ground running Go horseback riding in Quebec, take an amphibious "duck" tour of Prince Edward Island, enroll in a soldier-for-a-day program at Halifax Citadel, or hop on a six-passenger floatplane for a ride over the wildlife-filled Saguenay Fjord.
Shipshape 55,451 tons, 629 staterooms, 10 decks, three restaurants, eight bars, three pools, and three kids' clubs.
The lowdown From $1,109 per person, double. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com.
Our pick of the ships The Santa Cruz, which has cabins large enough
to hold a family of four, from Metropolitan Touring, the company that helped pioneer ecotourism
in Ecuador's Galápagos islands.
Route to happiness Three-, four-, and seven-night expeditions, with excursions to different islands daily.
Departing All summer long, leaving on Mondays and Fridays from the islands of Baltra or San Cristóbal.
Where the kids are With their parents and naturalist guides, exploring the area in small glass-bottomed boats and on foot. Each island has its own collection of native species, from red- and blue-footed boobies to marine iguanas. During snorkeling outings, swimmers frolic with playful sea lions.
Parental perk After dinner, multilingual naturalists tell guests about the ecological wonders of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Popular talks: "When Rocks Change" and "The Flightless Cormorant."
Don't let the fun stop now Before heading back to the States, unwind for a few days at the company's Finch Bay Eco Hotel, on Santa Cruz—the only hotel on the island with its own stretch of beach.
Shipshape 1,675 tons, 42 staterooms, four decks, one dining room, a bar, and one hot tub.
The lowdown From $1,500 per person for a three-night expedition. 800/527-2500; www.galapagosvoyage.com.
The Small-Ship Alternative
Looking for something more intimate than a cruiser the size of a small city?Consider a tall ship. With their multiple sails fluttering, these vessels hark back to the early days of exploration and offer families a more personalized sailing adventure.
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises
800/327-2601; www.windjammer.com; from $1,200 per person for a seven-day trip.
Kids six and older can snorkel, kayak, and man the wheel of a 197-foot, 64-passenger yacht as it traverses the Caribbean.
800/395-1343; www.cruisearabella.com; from $1,099 per person for a six-day trip.
Lobster boils are a highlight on this 160-foot, 40-passenger schooner, which navigates the New England coast. Chesapeake Bay sailings are also available.
800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com; from $2,249 per person for a seven-day trip.
The line's three yachts carry 148 to 308 guests on expeditions to Costa Rica or the Greek isles, with free kayaking, sailing, and waterskiing along the way.