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Best Cruise Vacations for Families

From exciting eco adventure to theme park thrills, there's a cruise vacation that's perfect for your family.

By Ellen Parlapiano

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Eco Adventures
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Eco Adventures

Ship: Sapphire Princess
Departure point: Vancouver, British Columbia
Sails to: Whittier, Alaska (May to August)

Explore Alaska's wild frontier with onboard naturalists on Voyage of the Glaciers. Ice thunders into the sea as you glide through Glacier Bay National Park; otters, seals, orcas and other whales splash in pristine waters. Ports offer one-of-a-kind shore excursions: Snorkel in Ketchikan through kelp forests (triple-ply wet suits keep you toasty), combine whale watching with a guided glacier hike in Juneau, and drive the dogsled at a musher's camp. The newly renovated ship is especially popular with multigenerational families and features a slew of group activities (Movies Under the Stars, family karaoke, American Idol-style contests) as well as teen clubs and adult areas. Optional add-ons include a land tour to Mount McKinley in Denali National Park.

Details
Seven-day cruises start at $974 per person, $559 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; 10-day cruise/land tour packages start at $1,502 per person, $1,097 for third and fourth passengers; princess.com.

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Theme Park Thrills

Ship: Disney Fantasy
Departure point: Port Canaveral, Florida
Sails to: Eastern/western Caribbean and Castaway Cay, a private island

From wild rides to fireworks at sea, the new Fantasy has deck after deck of Disney magic. Rocket over the ocean on the awesome AquaDuck, a coaster-meets-waterslide fusion; see your hand-drawn characters come to life at Animator's Palate restaurant; and watch Jack Sparrow rappel from the smokestack during the Pirates IN the Caribbean party. Tweens and teens have exclusive hangouts (decks away from each other) in Edge (ages 11-13) and Vibe (ages 14-17). Meanwhile, you can dine at two adults-only specialty restaurants -- the French Remy or northern Italian Palo (additional charges) -- followed by clubbing at the exclusively-for-grown-ups Europa entertainment district.

Details
Seven-day cruises start at $1,085 per person, $749 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; disneycruise.com

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Nonstop Action

Ship: Carnival Breeze
Departure point: Miami, Florida
Sails to: Eastern/western/southern Caribbean

Carnival's latest Fun Ship has super-cool family activities and high-tech innovations to keep everyone going day and night. Compete for prizes in Hasbro, The Game Show, featuring trumped-up versions of classic games. Experience wind, water and other special effects at the Thrill Theater (extra charge). Get drenched at the multistory water park, with two twisted slides and a giant dumping bucket, then harness up and conquer the SkyCourse ropes challenge with a view of the sea 150 feet below. The Breeze has separate supervised tween/teen spaces and celebrity partnerships. Food Network chef Guy Fieri developed the recipes for Guy's Burger Joint and comedian George Lopez vets the performers in Punchliner Comedy Club.

Details
Six-day southern Caribbean cruises start at $609 per person, $249 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; eight-day cruises start at $769 per person, $249 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; carnival.com.

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Freedom of Choice

Ship: Norwegian Breakaway
Departs from: New York City
Sails to: Bermuda (May to October); Bahamas, Florida and southern Caribbean (October to April)

Norwegian prides itself on flexibility and takes that to the max on its newest ship, launching May 2013. Freestyle cruising means no dress codes or rigid schedules; you dine when and where you want (choose from 28 options) and have multiple opportunities to catch Broadway shows, like Rock of Ages. Amazing Aqua Park features five waterslides, including double Free Falls (the floor breaks beneath you!); the three-story sports complex offers mini golf, rock climbing wall, bungee trampoline, ropes course with zip track and a walk-the plank that extends 8 feet over the side of the ship! Teens can chill at ultra-private Entourage club (ages 13-17); tweens (ages 10-12) can hang at Splash Academy, with dance parties, sports camps and theater programs. You'll have plenty of chances to check out the gym's Black Light Spinning Classes or chill at the Spice H20 outdoor deck lounge.

Details
Seven-day cruises start at $1,119 per person, $499 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; breakaway.ncl.com.

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Affordable Luxury

Ship: Celebrity Reflection
Departure point: Miami
Sails to: Eastern Caribbean

Celebrity's stylin' ship offers high-end ways to unwind without breaking the bank. The grass-covered Lawn Club features concerts and family bocce and croquet tournaments, plus plenty of relaxing hammocks and oversize Adirondack chairs (we're talking giant). Dining options include the hands-on Lawn Club Grill (extra charge), where one family member becomes grill master, barbecuing steak, seafood, pork, lamb and pizza, with staff as sous chef. When kids aren't splashing in the pool or trouncing you in the Game On room, they can disco the night away in the glitzy, supervised X-Club (with programs for ages 9-11, 12-14 and 15-17). That's your cue to head to the spa or sample the craft beers at Michael's Club.

Details
Seven-day cruises start at $749 per person, $496 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; celebritycruises.com.

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Sports and Fitness

Ship: Allure of the Seas
Departure point: Fort Lauderdale, Florida Sails to: Eastern/western Caribbean and Labadee, a private island

There are many ways to move that body on the world's largest cruise ship -- especially at the Pool & Sports Zone. Zip line across the decks, hang ten in the FlowRider surf pools, tee off at mini golf or go for a full-court press at basketball. Jog on the outdoor track, head to the gym for spinning and Pilates, or skate circles round everyone at the ice rink. Even the sit-down shows are athletic: Don't miss the high divers and acrobats at the outdoor AquaTheater. Teens have three separate hangouts for sports, dancing and pool parties -- and you can rock it Gangnam style at the many nightclubs. Even walking around is bound to give you a workout: There are seven distinct neighborhoods, including Central Park and the Boardwalk, with a carousel and gourmet Dog House. Indulge -- after all that activity, you deserve it.

Details
Seven-day cruises start at $749 per person, $399 each for third and fourth passengers in cabin; royalcaribbean.com.

Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.

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