With so many cruise lines to choose from – and new ships offering an array of endless activities and amenities for kids of all ages – you may find it difficult to wade through the sea of options when planning an ocean-bound vacation for your family, especially when traveling with your infant or tiny tot.
Disney Cruise Line was the first company to target the family cruise market when it launched in 1998 with a focus on entertainment and activities for the whole family. Now, many mainstream and premium cruise lines offer well-designed staterooms with families in mind. Some ships even offer boatloads of family fun with water parks, rides and attractions, kid-themed venues, live entertainment and more – making cruising ideal for both young and multigenerational families.
Luxury travel adviser Elizabeth Caran, a member of Nexion Travel Group, says, “Many cruise lines offer the perfect solution for families with babies and toddlers to enjoy time together as well as adult-only time. From family-friendly activities to babysitting services and kids’ clubs, cruises encourage the whole family to travel together.”
Which type of cruise should I book?
Celebrity Cruises’ blog advises booking a shorter itinerary when cruising with young children – especially until little sailors learn the ropes and get their sea legs. You might also consider an itinerary departing from a port closer to home so you can drive there – and look for kid-friendly itineraries that offer age-appropriate excursions. If your schedule is flexible, book your vacation during the off-season or shoulder season, which will vary depending on your destination. Prices are typically lower, and the kids facilities won’t be as crowded when the older children are in school.
Before you decide on a cruise, it’s best to check with the cruise line regarding its policies for bringing infant food, formula and other items on board the ship. You may find you can order certain essentials like diapers or jarred baby food ahead of time and not have to pack and carry them with you. Items like baby bottles may also be available on the ship – complimentary or for purchase. Most of the lines also have cribs (such as the Pack ‘n Play kind) and highchairs or booster seats that you can use on board the ship. With some lines, you may need to reserve these items in advance. You’ll probably want to bring your own lightweight stroller, but again, check with your cruise line before you sail.
Whatever you can do to lighten your packing load, especially with little ones in tow, will make your cruise vacation less stressful.
When you’re ready to cast off with your young mates, these eight cruise lines offer varying degrees of creature comforts, in-cabin amenities, and activities to make this maritime adventure memorable for your baby or toddler – and for the whole family.
(Note: Some of the following activities, programs and amenities 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.)
[Ready to plan a family cruise? Find the best value sailings on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Disney Cruise Line
(Matt Stroshane/Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)
Minimum sailing age: Infants must be 6 months of age or older on embarkation day to sail with Disney Cruise Line. Children must be 12 months or older to sail on the line’s Hawaii, transatlantic and Panama Canal itineraries.
Disney Cruise Line’s family staterooms and suites offer expanded spaces for families, with some sleeping up to seven guests. Many of these cabins also have split bathrooms with separate sinks, a tub in one bathroom and a shower in the other. You’ll also find bunk-style beds, room-dividing draperies, extra space for storing luggage, on-demand television, in-room movies and a refrigerator.
Families traveling with infants will have access to many complimentary baby amenities on board Disney’s ships, including bottle warmers and sterilizers, diaper disposal units, playpens, cribs and Pack ‘n Play portable cribs. Parents can request these items through the stateroom host or hostess. Complimentary strollers are also available through Guest Services, and all of the dining venues have highchairs to accommodate your hungry shipmates. If you forgot your baby’s pacifier or other necessary items, you’ll find baby essentials including rash cream, infant formula (ready to feed) and more available for purchase at the onboard shops.
While you can bring your own baby food on board the ship (the items that don’t need food preparation from the kitchen), the restaurant staff is also happy to puree fresh vegetables, by request, in the main dining room or through room service.
When parents are ready for adult-only time, Disney’s fleetwide “It’s a Small World” nursery accommodates children starting at 6 months old (or 1 year of age, depending on the itinerary), up to age 3. This whimsical themed space boasts some of the most extended operating hours – and lowest hourly rates for child care – in the cruise industry. While at the “club,” tots can read or play with interactive toys, games, videos or crafts. If one of the counselors needs to reach you on the ship, never fear: They can contact you via an onboard mobile phone service.
Older children – ages 3 to 12 – have access to the Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab play areas, which offer even more Disney-inspired fun. And don’t forget all the other kid-friendly activities on the ship like themed parties and water attractions for little ones, as well as character encounters with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and a whole host of other princesses, pirates and superheroes. Don’t forget to pack your baby’s Disney-themed gear to join in the onboard fun.
[Want to cruise with your family on Disney Cruise Lines? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
(Courtesy of MSC Cruises)
Minimum sailing age: MSC Cruises welcomes children of all ages but recommends consulting your pediatrician if you plan to sail with a baby younger than 12 months of age.
When you’re ready to set sail with MSC, the line has connecting staterooms and large suites to accommodate families. You can also opt to stay in the exclusive MSC Yacht Club to experience the luxury ship-within-a-ship accommodations and amenities, which include private venues and a 24-hour dedicated private butler. Cribs and playpens from baby care brand Chicco are available for your complimentary use through the housekeeping staff.
The Baby Club (for ages 2 and younger) is one of five distinct offerings for kids. MSC partners with Chicco to provide a dedicated play space for babies and toddlers who are younger than 3 years old. MSC Baby Time is available at select times on sea days and in port, giving the ship’s youngest guests an opportunity to play with pals from around the world while you supervise your children and engage with other parents. Little ones will also enjoy the educational toys from the Osservatorio Chicco Baby Research Center, which include rhythm and music activities and crawling games. Another MSC offering allows 2- and 3-year-olds to test out their budding culinary skills with a Baby Chef activity. Babysitting is an option at the Baby Club for kids between 1 and 3 years old. This service – and available hours – varies by ship, so check with the Youth Program once you’re on board.
For slightly older sailors (aged 3 to 6), the Mini Club’s partnership with Lego provides even more friends and fun with arts and crafts, games, and events.
This cruise line’s kids menus offer a wide selection of delicious and fun choices assessed by nutritionists from the Osservatorio Chicco. Some food options are dedicated to 6- to 12-month-old palates, and the menus are available in the main and specialty restaurants. Each buffet also features a Kids’ Corner or Marketplace Family & Kids area. If your wee ones get hungry at off-hours and you don’t want to head out into the ship, you’ll still be able to keep them satisfied and happy – room service is available 24 hours a day.
For excursions, children 2 years and younger can join you free of charge; kids aged 3 to 13 receive a 30% discount off adult prices.
[Looking to plan a cruise on MSC Cruises? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
(Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Minimum sailing age: Infants must be at least 6 months old on the first day of a Celebrity Cruises sailing or cruisetour. Some cruises/cruisetours require children be at least 12 months of age to participate.
Celebrity’s Veranda Stateroom is the perfect option when traveling with younger kids as it allows parents the flexibility to go outside and enjoy a glass of wine or private time after the little one is fast asleep. If your child is more active, an Ocean View Stateroom still offers the view but with more peace of mind. If you splurge on a spacious suite, everyone will have more room to rest and roam – and get access to VIP areas of the ship – along with concierge and butler service. Suite accommodations also offer a private babysitting service for up to three children (for a fee), as long as the kids are all at least 1 year of age.
Celebrity offers several programs for younger children. Toddler Time is available in the ship’s playroom for all kids younger than 3 and requires parental supervision – and you can check out the fun and educational toys and books to take to your stateroom. Led by the ship’s youth staff, the daily Camp at Sea program is an option for potty-trained kids ages 3 to 5. Camp activities include science excursions, art activities, singing and cooking challenges. Children aged 3 to 12 who are registered in the youth program can join in for more activities with supervised afternoon and slumber parties on the ship.
Fussy young eaters will find plenty of kid-friendly favorites at mealtime like spaghetti Bolognese, mini pizzas, cheeseburgers and fries; these are some of the selections on the main dining room’s kids menu. The buffet is an excellent alternative for a relaxed environment and even more choices – including an ice cream and dessert station for those sweet tooths. If you prefer to dine in your stateroom, kiddie favorites are also available on the in-room dining menu.
[Want to cruise on Celebrity Cruises? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Holland America Line
Minimum sailing age: Infants cruising on Holland America Line must be at least 6 months old at the time of embarkation. On longer cruises, such as transoceanic voyages or itineraries in South America, Asia, the South Pacific or Hawaii, infants must be at least 12 months at embarkation.
Holland America offers a selection of accommodations ideal for families that include connecting cabins and rooms with sofa beds or Murphy beds. On the Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam ships, there are also dedicated family staterooms with beds for up to five guests, additional closet space and two bathrooms (one of which has a tub). The line also offers reduced fares for kids – who can even cruise for free on select itineraries during Holland America’s Kids Sail Free promotions.
A limited number of complimentary cribs, highchairs and booster seats are available on board. The line recommends requesting a crib no later than 90 days before sailing. If you don’t want to bring all the necessary supplies with you, select items can be purchased in advance, including diapers, baby wipes, formula and baby food.
Parents will appreciate the kids menu in the dining venues, with toddler-approved favorites like chicken strips, pizza, and mac and cheese, along with healthy options like soups, salads and fresh fruit. Children 12 years and younger receive half-off meals in specialty dining restaurants – or they can order from the kids menu for free – and you’ll find reduced rates for the kiddos on shore excursions.
Club HAL, the line’s youth program, is available on all 11 ships and offers supervised and entertaining activities for ages 3 to 17. At the Kids Program (for 3- to 6-year-olds), children can participate in games and crafts and attend themed parties like a “Ships Ahoy Pirate Treasure Hunt Adventure” or “Dino-Mite Night.” The program, along with lunch, is an option on port days. The line also encourages children with special needs to participate in Club HAL activities based on their chronological age.
[Looking to plan 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)
Minimum sailing age: Infants must be 6 months of age at the time of sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line, or at least 12 months old at embarkation if the voyage has three or more consecutive days at sea.
Norwegian’s “freestyle cruising” philosophy provides parents options to design a vacation that will be flexible and fun for everyone in the family. Choices abound for staterooms and suites, including connecting cabins. The Haven, the line’s exclusive luxury retreat, offers spacious accommodations, suites and villas – even a two-bedroom family villa. The Haven also boasts private venues, a concierge service, a 24-hour butler and other perks. During promotions on select sailings – and in all stateroom categories – kids can sail for free.
Complimentary portable playpens and foldable sleepers are available fleetwide. You’ll also find highchairs in the dining venues, but booster seats are only available on Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Encore.
For activities, the line’s Guppies Program is for tiny tykes ranging from 6 months to 3 years old. This hosted activity (on all ships) is open to parents and their children, focusing on sensory play, music and movement. Parents of children aged 3 to 12, meanwhile, can head out for an afternoon in port – or a night alone on the ship – and leave their children with the supervised Late Night/Port Play program for a fee. For more active pursuits, parents and their kids can check out the aquaparks and waterslides, play a game of mini-golf, or go on exciting and adventurous excursions, such as a whale watching expedition on a cruise to Alaska.
Throughout the ship guests will find complimentary dining venues, like the main dining rooms and buffet, where kids can enjoy tasty favorites like pizza, chicken fingers, pasta, waffles and soft serve ice cream. You can also visit specialty restaurants that offer a kids menu at no extra charge. If you’re staying in for the night, 24-hour room service is always available.
Note: The Guppies and Late Night/Port Play programs were not being offered at the time of publication because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check with Norwegian Cruise Line for more information on when certain activities will resume.
[Want to cruise with your family on Norwegian Cruise Lines? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Carnival Cruise Line
Minimum sailing age: Infants must be 6 months of age at the time of embarkation to sail with Carnival Cruise Line. For transoceanic crossings, remote itineraries and any cruise with more than two consecutive sea days, children must be at least 12 months of age. They also must be at least 12 months to sail if there’s at least one international port (Singapore, the Pacific Islands or New Zealand) or a port in Hawaii.
Carnival offers connecting cabins and flexible staterooms that can accommodate up to five guests – some also have an extra half bath. If you’re cruising from Long Beach, California, to the Mexican Riviera with the kiddos, plan to reserve one of the 96 Family Harbor staterooms or suites in the family-dedicated zone on Deck 2 of Carnival Panorama. These cabins accommodate up to five passengers and feature a nautical flag motif. Additionally, the Family Harbor Lounge is the perfect place to hang out with your little ones: The space has large televisions, hosted family activities, complimentary snacks – like milk and cookies or ice cream – and other amenities. You’ll also be able to grab continental breakfast in the lounge on port days. Family Harbor suites and staterooms are also available on Carnival Celebration, Mardi Gras and Carnival Vista. All the cabins in this category have additional perks like free specialty dining for kids and one free evening of day care.
While on board, parents can request a complimentary crib to use in the stateroom, and there are highchairs and booster seats available in the dining venues. Strollers are available to rent for a fee.
When it comes to activities, Camp Ocean has programs for infants younger than 2, with limited availability on sea days during the cruise. Children do not need to be toilet-trained to participate. Parents can leave their tots in the care of the ship’s youth staff for a fee, or they can stay and use the camp facilities free of charge. On port days, child care is also available (at additional cost), but parents must return at mealtimes to feed their children – or to administer any medications. Children who are 2 years of age can join in the kiddie fun in the Penguin group for ages 2 to 5, which offers complimentary programming with entertaining age-appropriate activities and kid-friendly cuisine. Other ways to keep young seafarers amused while on the ship include Seuss at Sea, Zumbini and Build-A-Bear Workshop at Sea.
In the evenings, infants 6 months and older – and children up to age 11 – may attend Night Owls (for a fee), a late-night supervised slumber party-type activity where tots can watch movies, play games, listen to music, participate in giveaways and enjoy snacks. Depending on the itinerary, there may also be themed Owl Jam Parties for the kids. Complimentary Pack ‘n Plays are available to use for infants.
[Looking to plan a cruise to the Caribbean on Carnival Cruise Line? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Royal Caribbean International
(Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)
Minimum sailing age: Infants must be at least 6 months old on the first day of a Royal Caribbean International cruise or cruisetour. Note, however, that they must be at least 12 months old for certain cruises/cruisetours such as transatlantic and transpacific voyages, Hawaii cruises and select South American itineraries. Children are required to be at least 12 months old for any cruise with three or more consecutive sea days.
Royal Caribbean has a wide range of staterooms and suites appropriate for all sizes and types of families, but for an epic adventure, book the Ultimate Family Suite. This two-story accommodation is available on three of the line’s ships, including Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest ship – and the largest ship in the world. Suite amenities feature a private game room and cinema, table tennis, an in-suite slide and VIP perks around the ship; you’ll even have your own dedicated Royal Genie. For shorter itineraries closer to home, consider booking one of the line’s Freedom-class vessels sailing from ports in Florida, Texas and New Jersey.
Take advantage of the line’s Babies 2 Go service to make packing light and easy for your cruise. This program will deliver Huggies diapers, baby wipes and cream, and Gerber organic baby food to your stateroom. The items must be ordered in advance.
Royal Caribbean’s Royal Babies program (for ages 6 to 18 months) offers little ones and their parents enriching classes in child development. Royal Tots features 45-minute interactive playground sessions for children aged 16 to 36 months. The ship’s youth staff hosts these programs; parents must attend alongside their infants or toddlers. If your little one is between 3 and 5 years old – and potty-trained – they can participate in the educational program as an Aquanaut at Adventure Ocean. With this program, kids take part in fun experiments to become a Certified Jr. Adventure Scientist. These programs are complimentary for guests.
If you want to dine early with your kiddos and avoid the crowds in the main dining room, My Family Time Dining is available for kids ages 3 to 11 during the first seating. After dinner, they can head to Adventure Ocean for nighttime kid fun while their parents have an adults-only evening to explore the entertainment on board – or off the ship.
[Want to cruise on Royal Caribbean International? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
Minimum sailing age: Princess Cruises requires infants be at least 6 months or older on embarkation day and at least 1 year old for remote itineraries and transoceanic crossings. Children must be at least 5 years of age to participate in an escorted cruisetour.
Princess ships have plenty of staterooms that will accommodate up to four guests. The line also offers connecting cabins and two-bedroom suites for a family of up to eight that boast additional living space, a balcony and two bathrooms (one with a full tub). If you need a portable crib, you can call the line or reserve one in advance through the Cruise Personalizer.
Kids aged 3 and older (who must be potty-trained) can participate independently in Camp Discovery, a hosted complimentary program during the day and evening. Late-night group babysitting is also available at Camp Discovery for a small hourly fee, so parents can drop off their children and enjoy a quiet date night or some “me” time. Families can also delight in onboard entertainment such as stargazing with Discovery at SEA, kid-friendly films during Movies Under the Stars, festivals, dining events and more.
Kids menus are available in the main dining rooms and in specialty restaurants, where children receive half-price meals. Complimentary stage 1 and 2 jarred baby food can be ordered in advance through the Cruise Personalizer. You can also request fresh pureed fruits and vegetables in the main dining room.
[Looking to plan a family cruise on Princess Cruises? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]