Courtesy of Carnival
Carnival Liberty and Carnival Freedom
Kids Will Love: Giant waterslides, big video arcades, outdoor movie screens.
The “Fun Ship” line is well established in catering to the younger set. The current Camp Carnival program was started in 1991, but the line has welcomed kids onboard since it started operation in 1972. On these newer (less than three years old) 2,974-passenger ships, kids’ clubs are equipped with gaming consoles (think PlayStation 2 and Xbox), candy-making machines, computer labs, and spin and sand art for the bigger kids and a soft play area and outdoor wading pool for toddlers. Teens get a hip disco complete with DJ. Big video arcades have the latest and greatest, and there are 214-foot waterslides and poolside movie screens. Activities from finger-painting for toddlers to late-night parties for the older kids are offered for five age groups: 2-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, and 15-17.
Insider Tip: Ages 2 and up are allowed in the Camp Carnival program, with potty training not required.
Deal: 12-day Mediterranean cruise on Carnival Freedom, from $1,619, May-October; weeklong eastern or western Caribbean on Carnival Liberty, year-round, from $679.
Courtesy of Disney Cruise Lines
Disney Magic and Disney Wonder
Kids Will Love: Everything Disney—characters, shows, movies.
It is no surprise that these 1,760-passenger ships pull out all the stops, with nearly an entire deck dedicated to kids’ programming. Activities—including a Goofy Detective School for young CSI’s and cultural offerings based on the ports, such as Mexican cooking lessons in Mexico—are available for age-specific groups (3-4, 5-7, 8-9, 10-12, and teens; the latter are even given their own clubhouse on top of the ship). A nursery cares for babies from three months. More than on any other line, nighttime shows, such as the new Toy Story – The Musical, on the Disney Wonder, are family oriented. Contests and other participatory events encourage family togetherness. Disney character spottings are frequent.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the movie showings; these ships run the same Disney movies playing in theaters, making a family night onboard a much easier—and more affordable—prospect than going to the local multiplex.
Deal: Weeklong Mexican Riviera on Disney Magic, from $1,640, May-August; four-night Bahamas on Disney Wonder, year-round, from $1,274.
Courtesy of Princess Cruises
Kids Will Love: Backstage tours, science experiments, hot tub parties.
Parents relax on the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess (and sister ships Emerald and Crown), while kids are kept active. At the Fun Zone, Princess Pelicans (ages 3-7) do arts and crafts, games, and scavenger hunts and splash in the kiddie pool. Shockwaves (for ages 8-12) includes PlayStation 2, movies, and backstage tours of the ship’s theater, as well as a science program operated in conjunction with the California Science Center (so your kids may actually do chemistry experiments onboard). Teens get Remix, with their own teen center, sports competitions, late-night movies, and hot tub parties. Outdoor movies are a popular attraction.
Insider Tip: Pick “personal choice dining,” which allows you to show up for dinner in the dining room whenever the kids are hungry.
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem
Kids Will Love: Bowling alleys, dining variety, cool teen club.
You’ve got to love ships that have bowling alleys. These 2,300-plus-passenger vessels (along with sister ship Jewel) are bright and hip in décor, and boast “freestyle dining,” which means you eat when you want at your choice of a dozen eateries. Kids’ facilities include indoor and outdoor play areas and a video arcade. Youth counselors lead activities (for ages 2-5, 6-8, 9-12, and 13-17). The ultra-cool teen club even has its own juice bar.
Insider Tip: Splurge at the Teppanyaki restaurant ($25 for a prix fixe dinner), where the chefs perform with their knives.
Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
Kids Will Love: Counselor attention, scavenger hunts, late-night pool parties.
High-end all the way, this luxury 1,080-passenger ship is nonetheless an excellent venue for multigenerational cruises. Junior activities directors run the Fantasia program for ages 3-7 and Waves program for ages 8-17 in dedicated kids’ spaces, a rarity on luxury ships. More counselors are added during holidays and summer based on the number of kids onboard; the schedule of activities on each sailing is also determined by the number of kids onboard. Little kids can play in giant padded cubes and enjoy arts and crafts and toys and games as well as scavenger hunts and fashion shows; the bigger kids enjoy late-night pool and disco parties, a video arcade, and PlayStation consoles.
Insider Tip: Once during each cruise, special not-to-be-missed tours take kids to the galley to see how all the food is prepared and how shows are run backstage in the theater.
Deal: 12-day Mediterranean cruises from $4,675, May-October; 50 percent savings for kids 11 and under (with two full-paying adults).
Courtesy of Costa Group
Costa Serena and Costa Concordia
Kids Will Love: International flavor, giant Legos, guitar under the stars.
Cruising with an Italian flavor is what Italian line Costa serves up for kids and adults alike—Italian food, Italian-speaking crew, Italian design, American and European passengers. Each of the multicultural 3,700-passenger vessels has a kids’ playroom with a giant Lego setup and video games. Teens have their own club. Very enthusiastic youth counselors lead four age groups in a variety of languages—American kids will mingle with kids from Italy and elsewhere—with such activities as pizza-making and Interview the Captain, and for teens, guitar playing under the stars and temporary tattoos. Picking up a few words in Italian is de rigueur.
Insider Tip: Costa offers free babysitting until 1:30 a.m. for kids 36 months and up, allowing parents a chance for a night out without an extra fee.
Deal: Weeklong Mediterranean cruises from $799, April-November.
Courtesy of Holland America Cruise Lines
Oosterdam and Westerdam
Kids Will Love: Cooking classes, teens-only “loft,” destination arts & crafts.
Holland America is more adult-oriented than some of the other lines but is a good choice for those with teens and well-behaved younger kids. On these 1,916-passenger ships (and their sister ships), teens get their own hangout, the Loft, modeled after a New York artist’s loft with music, video games, and a large-screen movie area; it connects to a secluded, sundeck called the Oasis. For younger kids, the Club HAL program has a play area for ages 3-7 and arcade/club for those ages 8-12. Activities are geared toward the sailing location, so in Alaska the kids may learn to make baked Alaska, create a polar bear puppet, and color a picture of the state bird, the Willow Ptarmigan.
Insider Tip: A Culinary Arts Center program on HAL ships is popular with adults as well as kids who love to cook. Professionals teach the classes ($29 each) in specially designed learning kitchens.
Courtesy of Cunard Line
Kids Will Love: Playing dress-up, PlayStation 3, fencing.
This new 2,014-passenger Cunard ship has real British nannies to look after the little ones in the Play Zone Nursery and Children’s Center (for ages 1 to 6), with age-appropriate activities including finger-painting. In a cheery dedicated club space well-equipped with PlayStation 3 systems and a jukebox with popular dance tunes, youth staff keeps older kids (7 to 16) busy with activities including scavenger hunts, ship tours, pizza nights, basketball, and T-shirt painting. Those ages 16 and up can participate in adult shipboard offerings including daily fencing lessons. A large outdoor deck area is reserved for families to sun together. Kids who have taken ballroom dancing will, like the adults, enjoy hitting the ship’s dance floor.
Insider Tip: This ship serves up a formal environment, and kids who are out and about during the three or four formal nights are expected to dress the part; pack the mini ball-gowns and tuxes.
Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions
Kids Will Love: Digging in dirt, studying volcanoes, jungle excursions.
Lindblad Expedition operates small ships including this 45-passenger sailing yacht, which attracts a well-traveled grown-up audience. But kids are welcome, and special family excursions in places including Greece, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos are encouraged. Thanks to its affiliation with National Geographic, the naturalist staff on these cruises gets special training from National Geographic Kids magazine in how to deal with and educate kids, with activities in Greece, for instance, including simulated archaeological excavation and volcanic studies.
Insider Tip: Your friends can follow the cruise on the Web via daily expedition reports and videos.
Deal: Nine-day Greek Isles (excursions included), from $4,980 ($500 less for kids under age 18), July and August.