Cruising is a popular vacation option for the whole family, and it’s easy to see why. Today’s cruise lines have pulled out all the stops to create the perfect trip to sea for kids, including the addition of children’s clubs, onboard waterparks and staterooms with plenty of space. Since food and entertainment are included in the nightly rate, parents can enjoy themselves without worrying over the intricacies of that vacation budget.
Some cruise lines make themselves even more family-friendly by offering promotions that let kids cruise free or special rates for a third or fourth guest on a single booking. These cruise deals can help you save big on a future adventure without sacrificing any of the fun.
If you’re angling for an affordable family cruise, it helps to know which cruise lines let children sail for free – at least part of the year. Read on to find out which lines let the kids tag along without an added charge so you can save on your next cruise fare.
(Note: Some of the following cruise lines may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates; in addition, certain cruise offerings may be temporarily suspended. Check with your chosen cruise line, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
(Courtesy of MSC Cruises)
MSC Cruises is one of the biggest cruise lines in Europe, and its cruise offerings are also becoming increasingly popular in the North American market. This rise is partly due to the incredible prices MSC offers on family cruises in the Caribbean, but also because of the glitz and glamour you find on all its vessels. MSC ships feature beautiful interiors adorned with details such as the line’s hallmark Swarovski crystal stairs, for an upscale cruise experience.
Even better, MSC Cruises lets children younger than 18 cruise for free all year long on eligible itineraries. Kids must be traveling in the same cabin as their parents (at least two adults) for the deal to apply; note that any port fees and taxes still apply to children’s fares.
As if letting kids sail free on select voyages wasn’t enough, MSC Cruises also offers a variety of leisure activities and amenities designed specifically for kids. On board, youngsters can take advantage of everything from water parks with slides and swimming pools to Broadway-style shows and interactive dinners. The line also hosts fun family excursions and a “Lego Experience On Board” event every cruise. In addition, there are myriad amenities for parents to enjoy while the youngest passengers are occupied by one of five dedicated kids clubs.
Like many other cruise lines, MSC also has its own private island called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. Located near Bimini in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay offers plenty of places to relax and unwind, including a lagoon for snorkeling and its own spa.
[Looking to plan a cruise on MSC Cruises? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Holland America Line
(Courtesy of Holland America Line)
Holland America Line also offers a “kids cruise free” promotion for select itineraries at times, such as through the end of 2022. This promotion applies to many cruises that visit Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico and beyond; to qualify, children must be 17 or younger and cruising as third and/or four guests in the same cabin with adults. As with similar promotions, taxes and port fees are still required for each child’s sailing.
Families with kids will find plenty to do on Holland America ships. Family-friendly amenities include kids clubs and youth programs, as well as shore excursions oriented to families with little ones in tow. Plenty of stateroom options can also accommodate larger bookings. The Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam ships in particular feature oversized staterooms with beds for five and a second bathroom.
Where can kids cruise free with Holland America? Some of the most popular itineraries take place throughout the Caribbean, with many of the eligible cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Some offers also come with a discounted drink package and special savings on dining packages, shore excursions and onboard Wi-Fi access.
[Planning a family cruise on Holland America Line? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Norwegian Cruise Line
(Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a deal for families that lets third and fourth guests cruise free on certain itineraries. Cruises to which this promotion applies are offered all over the world in destinations like Alaska, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and more.
Some of the cruises that qualify for free third and fourth guests also come with complimentary onboard amenities like unlimited open bar, specialty dining, shore excursions or Wi-Fi access. Some itineraries are also offering discounts of as much as 40% off the full cruise fare, as well as free airfare for a second guest when booked through the line.
With Norwegian’s kids clubs for all ages, family dining, entertainment and activities included in one bundled rate, planning a kid-approved vacation with the cruise line is a breeze. Many Norwegian ships feature an array of family-friendly staterooms, including two-bedroom family suites.
[Want to cruise with your family on Norwegian Cruise Line? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Royal Caribbean International
(Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)
While Royal Caribbean doesn’t always let kids sail free, the cruise line does offer occasional promotions throughout the year that allow kids tag along for free with parents. For example, the line’s last “kids sail free” deal let children 12 years or younger cruise free provided they were third guests or higher in the same cabin as at least two paying adults.
Make sure to check back periodically with Royal Caribbean to catch its next promotion, and note that blackout dates can apply. When you do make a booking, you will quickly find that this cruise line boasts everything your dream cruise entails, with family-friendly amenities spanning kids clubs to onboard water parks. The brand’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, is also a big hit with young passengers thanks to its waterslides and splash areas.
[Want to cruise on Royal Caribbean International? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Disney Cruise Line
(Matt Stroshane/Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)
Disney Cruise Line is offering a special promotion for third and fourth guests on select sailings, but you have to be a subscriber of the Disney+ streaming platform to apply. Specifically, this limited-time deal lets third and fourth guests cruise free with two full-fare passengers in the same cabin during certain cruises on the Disney Magic, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships. Subscribers can also book up to two staterooms with this offer, with two paying adults in each.
Note that this offer only applies to select sailings in January through April 2023. Each of the Disney ships you can cruise with makes for an ideal family trip. For example, the Disney Magic has various pools, a splash area for smaller kids, an AquaDunk waterslide and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique dress-up shop on board. Of course, children can also participate in character dining experiences and meet-and-greets while at sea.
[Want to cruise with your family on Disney Cruise Line? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
The bottom line
Cruising the seas is ideal for families who want more than a simple hotel getaway. Cruisers with kids – from toddlers to preteens and teens – can enjoy an array of onboard activities and get excited at the prospect of exploring a new destination each day.
A cruise vacation is even better when the kids can come along for free, so before you book your next trip to sea, make sure to check for “kids sail free” deals and special promotions that help make family travel much more affordable. If you’re not entirely sure which deals are best for you, you can also reach out to a travel agent for help.