The 6 Best Cruise Lines for Kids and Families

Kid-friendly cruises offer activities and entertainment designed to create lasting memories for the whole family.
Lee Huffman
By Lee Huffman 
Published
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

If you're looking to book your next family vacation, one of the most popular options is a cruise.

When searching for the best cruises for kids, some things to think about include the cruise's length, the ports it visits, the kid-friendly activities available and the meals on board.

When comparing the best cruise ships for kids, we reviewed six options based on destinations, departure cities, cruise options, amenities and price.

1. Disney Cruise Line

  • Ships: Six.

  • Departure ports: 17.

  • Destinations: 19.

At the top of the list is Disney Cruise Line, which offers some of the best cruise ships for kids. Disney Imagineers have taken the experience found in Disney parks and created a cruise vacation for families.

For lovers of all things Disney, this is the best cruise with kids. During your cruise, you'll interact with Disney characters and experience Disney-themed shows, rides and more.

Disney cruises to 19 destinations, including Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe and Hawaii, and departs from multiple ports around the world.

It also offers themed voyages that are immersive experiences for the entire family, like Pixar Day at Sea and Halloween on the High Seas. The company also has two private islands — Castaway Cay and Lookout Cay — for families to enjoy.

2. Royal Caribbean International

  • Ships: 29.

  • Departure ports: 54.

  • Destinations: 300-plus.

Royal Caribbean has been helping families create memories on cruises since its launch in 1969. It recently added to its fleet three new cruise ships that are essentially floating amusement parks. Icon of the Seas, Utopia of the Seas and Star of the Seas are the best cruise ships for kids because they're loaded with family-friendly activities that most travelers couldn't imagine being available on a cruise.

On Icon of the Seas, you'll find the largest water park at sea. It features six record-breaking slides for guests who love thrill-seeking adventure, including the Frightening Bolt (the tallest waterslide) and Pressure Drop (the first open freefall waterslide).

The company has 29 cruise ships in its fleet, sailing from 54 port destinations. Depending on the cruise, your itinerary may include CocoCay, the cruise line's private island that features beaches, lagoons, live DJs, cabanas, zip lines, Thrill Waterpark and more.

Royal Caribbean has received numerous awards, including best cruise line overall, best private island and best cruise line for kids and families.

3. Carnival Cruise Line

  • Ships: 27.

  • Departure ports: 20.

  • Destinations: 20.

Carnival Cruise Line serves millions of guests every year, and it's in the process of launching five new cruise ships. The company was founded in 1972, and it also owns Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Line and other cruise lines. Carnival offers cruises to match everyone's availability and budget, with voyages lasting from two to 31 days.

Popular onboard activities include the WaterWorks water park, the BOLT ultimate sea coaster, the SkyRide suspended bikes, and authentic “Family Feud” game shows for the family to compete in.

Plus, parents can pamper themselves in the Cloud 9 Spa or the Serenity adults-only retreat. Starting in 2025, Carnival passengers can enjoy Celebration Key, the cruise line’s new private island experience.

4. Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Ships: 20.

  • Departure ports: 50-plus.

  • Destinations: 450.

Norwegian Cruise Line is an excellent choice when cruising with kids. Families can save money and experience the cruise line’s free kids clubs, included speciality dining for kids under age 12, free third and fourth guests promotion on select cruises, and free airfare for second guest promotion.

When you cruise with Norwegian, family-friendly options including pools and water parks, interactive game shows and competitions, and Broadway musicals. Norwegian also features the only racetrack at sea, the largest ropes course at sea, a zip line over the ocean and other thrilling adventures. Plus, the cruise line includes free youth clubs with programming and activities catering to each age group.

Normally, cruise ships have small staterooms, which can get crowded while traveling as a family. Norwegian, however, has several spacious room options that rival the space and amenities you'd find at a hotel. Room options include balcony staterooms, family suites, two-bedroom suites and Haven staterooms. The Haven is a luxurious private area with a 24-hour butler, private lounge, restaurant and sundeck. Staterooms at The Haven include a 1,307-square-foot suite and a 6,694-square-foot three-bedroom villa.

5. MSC Cruises

  • Ships: 23.

  • Departure ports: 68.

  • Destinations: 250.

MSC Cruises offers a variety of cruise lengths for families to choose from, including classic cruises of three to 11 nights, longer cruises of 23 to 27 nights, or the ultimate 120-day World Cruise.

MSC offers shared experiences for the entire family. Families can enjoy on-shore excursions, onboard dining and kids clubs. A special treat is the LEGO Experience, which is an entire day of LEGO activities that's available on all MSC ships.

Some ships feature zip lines, an MSC Formula Racer, interactive XD cinema, immersive VR experiences and Broadway-style performances. Some itineraries also have the option of spending the day at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, the cruise line's private island in the Bahamas.

6. Celebrity Cruises

  • Ships: 17.

  • Departure ports: 26.

  • Destinations: 300-plus.

Celebrity Cruises offers vacations year-round with up to eight destinations in one sailing, and it also caters to families with itineraries during the summer, spring break and holidays.

Passengers can enjoy numerous family-friendly activities like movie night under the stars, kid-friendly excursions and kid and teen programs. Parents can even take advantage of Camp at Sea, which offers art classes, sports activities and special STEM-based programs to encourage children to learn when they're away from school.

For children with autism, Celebrity Cruises offers autism-friendly ships that feature interactive activities, special menu options and services geared toward passengers with autism.

If you're looking for a luxury experience for your family, book The Retreat. It includes a private sun deck, a spacious suite and large lounge areas. The Penthouse Suite is 2,500 square feet and is ideal for larger families or multiple families traveling together.

How prices compare

This chart compares the starting price for a seven-night Caribbean cruise in an interior room for a family of four in December 2024. (Norwegian offers only four-night and six-night cruises to the Caribbean in December 2024, so this chart includes Norwegian’s six-night cruise.)

The family includes two adults and two children ages 12 and under. While there are numerous variables involved in each package, this gives you an idea of the budget needed to book one of the best cruise lines for kids.

Cruise line

Options

Starting price

Average price per night

Departure port

Destinations

Disney Cruise Line

4.

$6,668 for 7 nights.

$953.

Port Canaveral, Florida.

Tortola, St. Thomas and Disney Castaway Cay.

Royal Caribbean International

28.

$1,512 for 7 nights.

$216.

New Orleans.

Cozumel, Puerto Costa Maya and George Town.

Carnival Cruise Line

21.

$2,127 for 7 nights.

$304.

Miami.

Aruba, Curacao and Amber Cove.

Norwegian Cruise Line

10.

$2,458 for 6 nights.*

$410.

Miami.

Harvest Caye, Cozumel and Roatan.

MSC Cruises

17.

$1,994 for 7 nights.

$285.

Miami.

Ocean Cay, Puerto Plata, San Juan and Nassau.

Celebrity Cruises

15.

$1,537 for 7 nights.

$220.

San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Philipsburg, St. Johns, Castries, Bridgetown and Roseau.

* Norwegian does not offer a 7-night cruise to the Caribbean in December 2024.

When shopping for the best cruise with kids, consider using an aggregator website like Cruise Sheet. It provides a dashboard to compare prices from different cruises all at once, rather than you having to visit each company's website individually.

Cruise vacations can be nonrefundable, so consider purchasing travel insurance for your vacation. While many cruise operators sell insurance policies, you may be better off buying a stand-alone travel insurance policy for the trip or for the entire year.

Cruise amenities that are family-friendly

When searching for the best cruise for kids, you should consider the cruise line's amenities. Not only do you want a great experience for the kids, but the cruise should fit into your budget and keep the adults entertained, too.

  • Room sizes. Does the cruise offer enough space for your entire family, or will you need to book multiple rooms? If you have older kids who are mature enough, they can have their own room.

  • Dining options and room service. What dining options are available, and is room service included? Some cruise ships charge extra for premium dinners and have assigned times for dinner.

  • Adults-only areas. Are there areas of the ship that are strictly for adults? These adults-only spots can give you a break from the kids and keep the party atmosphere away from family areas.

  • Swimming pools and slides. How many pools are available on the ship, and do they offer slides and other amenities?

  • Kids and teen clubs. These clubs provide entertainment, crafts and other activities that are geared toward different age groups. You can drop off your kids for a few hours while you go get a massage, take a nap or enjoy adults-only parts of the ship.

  • Family-friendly activities. What activities and amenities are designed for the whole family to enjoy? Are there shows, dining experiences or games that involve the parents and kids?

  • Babysitting. Does the ship offer babysitting services for younger children? Some cruise lines have minimum age requirements, depending on the destination.

Top destinations for kids cruises

The best cruises for kids travel to multiple destinations during your trip. Depending on the length of your cruise, you may be able to visit several cities or countries. Common cruise destinations include:

  • Alaska.

  • Hawaii.

  • The Caribbean.

  • Mexico.

  • The Mediterranean Sea.

Typically, U.S. citizens need a passport when traveling outside the U.S. However, children under the age of 16 don't need a passport for land or sea border crossings with Canada or Mexico. For this reason, cruises to Canada and Mexico are popular among families.

For cruises beyond Canada or Mexico, and all flights to destinations outside the U.S., children must have their own passport. If your child doesn't have a passport, a certified copy of your child's birth certificate can be used instead.

Frequently asked questions

While many adults enjoy cruising, kids can have just as much fun. Today's cruise lines offer amenities and entertainment that rival water parks and theme parks. Plus, growing kids will love the all-you-can-eat dining options available when cruising. Kids clubs are also an excellent way to have fun and meet kids who are the same age.

Cruising is fun for the entire family, yet not all children are ready for this type of vacation. Some cruise lines have minimum age requirements. When reviewing cruise options, think about the types of cruise activities you're interested in, and consider whether your child is mature enough to participate.

Traveling as a family can be expensive, so some cruise lines offer discounts for younger children. Royal Caribbean is one of the best cruise lines for kids because children age 12 and younger cruise for free on select dates with the cruise line's Kids Sail Free promotion. Families must still pay taxes, fees and port expenses for all travelers, even those who are cruising for free.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Cards for Cruises from our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

75,000

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card

on Bank of America's website

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
4.2
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5x-2x

Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Receive 60,000 online bonus points - a $600 value - after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Points
See more cards for cruises
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.