Best Cruises for Families
Alaskan nature cruise: glaciers and orcas with a hint of history.
Leaves from: Seattle (May through September)
Sails to: Ketchikan; Juneau; Skagway; Victoria, British Columbia
Family Features: This newly renovated ship has five pools, including one that simulates swimming against the current. (Paddle for fun—and fitness!) Movies Under the Stars theater invites you to watch flicks from the pool or a deck chair. As you sail Alaska's scenic Inside Passage, naturalists point out sights and wildlife. Visit historic gold rush towns on port days and learn from hometown heroes: In Juneau meet the first woman to win the Iditarod dog race; in Skagway, a Native American storyteller brings local legends to life.
Teen Time: On deck in Glacier Bay, kids get a private viewing of the icebergs (and sometimes whales). National Park rangers encourage eco-awareness and explain global warming. When the sun goes down, Remix club for teens presents dinners, formal nights, and hot tub parties. Tweens have a space of their own: Shockwaves hosts pizza and ice cream events, talent shows, and scavenger hunts, as well as video game and trivia tourneys.
Parent Portal: Find solitude in the Sanctuary relaxation area ($10 per half-day), with massage cabanas and stewards who spritz you with Evian. On Glacier Bay days, Sanctuary guests are given binoculars, fleece blankets, and their own park ranger who delivers commentary. Toast the stunning scenery with a mug of Alaskan Summer Ale.
Innovative Eateries: Regional specialties (reindeer chili, anyone?) are showcased in the main dining room and at gala events. Expect several kinds of smoked salmon at Glacier Bay Buffet. On Deck Fish Barbecue has grilled prawns and Alaskan crab cakes.
More Info: 7-day cruises from $649 per person; $499 per person for 3rd & 4th passenger in cabin; 800-PRINCESS; princess.com
Party central: a hub for friend-meeting, family-style eating, and fest-making 24/7.
Leaves from: Galveston, Texas
Sails to: Western Caribbean (Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman Island; Montego Bay, Jamaica) starting November 2011
Family Features: At WaterWorks aqua park, race each other on side-by-side super slides, spiral down Twister (the longest waterslide at sea), and whoosh through DrainPipe into a giant "toilet bowl." Head to Sports-Square to climb the sky-high ropes course, buff up at the muscle-beach-style weight lifting area, and play mini golf. Later, compete against other families in Superstar Live Karaoke—a real band plays backup.
Teen Time: Kids can mingle in two private hot spots—Circle C and Club 02. Youth counselors organize pool parties, Guitar Hero competitions, and late-night dancing. They also lead teens-only shore excursions.
Parent Portal: On the Lanai promenade, find bliss in sea-view hot tubs that hang over the ship's sides. Or catch up on reading in Serenity, the adults-only retreat. After dinner enjoy live music and a private-label beer at RedFrog Pub or groove to the music on Ocean Plaza's indoor/outdoor dance floor.
Innovative Eateries: The international-themed Gathering buffet has stations for burritos, Mongolian stir-fry, Indian tandoori, and pasta. At dinnertime, the pasta bar transforms into Cucina del Capitano—the Captain's Kitchen— and the menu showcases beloved recipes from Carnival's Italian captains. Look for their pictures on the walls as you dig into your risotto (extra charges apply).
More Info: 7-day cruises start at $699 per person; $299 each for 3rd & 4th passenger in cabin; 800-CARNIVAL; carnivalmagic.com
One hip ship: sophisticated spaces, trendy cuisine, and individualized attention, including your own concierge.
Leaves from: Miami
Sails to: Eastern Caribbean (Puerto Rico; St. Maarten; St. Kitts)
Family Features: The top-deck Lawn Club has a half-acre of real grass for putting, croquet, and bocce. Watch master crafters at the Hot Glass Show, or cheer for the ship's top chefs at cook-offs. Need a computer fix? The iLounge Internet cafe has 26 workstations; take a video class and create a blockbuster.
Teen Time: XClub keeps kids busy with video games, a mocktail bar, and nightly disco parties. Teens can also join pool Olympics, team trivia, and ship-wide scavenger hunts. Outside the club, astronomy and sushi-making lessons are available through the Celebrity Life educational program.
Parent Portal: Let an iPad be your guide—borrow one from the ship—as you tour its extensive art collection. Or join one of the Celebrity Life classes: Cha-cha-cha your way through ballroom dancing or learn cool concoctions in Mixology 101. At night, hit the Martini bar or go wine tasting at Cellar Masters.
Innovative Eateries: At QSine restaurant ($30 per person), artful presentations make eating fun: Chitinis (Chinese food in mini martini glasses), Popcorn Fish & Chips (served in a red-and-white popcorn box), and Sushi Lollipops (raw fish on a stick). For dessert, try the tiny candied apples or individual cookie jars.
More Info: 7-day cruises start at $659 per person; $509 each for 3rd & 4th passenger in cabin; 800-437-3111; celebritycruises.com
Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas
World's largest cruise liner: 7 neighborhoods, an open-to-the sky park, and a zip line overhead.
Leaves from: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Sails to: Eastern Caribbean (Nassau; St. Thomas; St. Maarten) or Western Caribbean (private island of Labadee; Costa Maya, Mexico; Cozumel, Mexico)
Family Features: Extreme thrills await in the Pool & Sports Zone: Fly across the ship on the 9-story zip line and catch waves at the FlowRider surf simulator. Life's a carnival down on the Boardwalk—ride the carousel and grab some cotton candy, then head to the Opal Theater for fresh talent.
Teen Time: Kids can chill in three VIP lounges (there are specific times allotted to various age groups). The Living Room has comfy furniture, big-screen video games, poker tables, and a music studio with drum kits and Fender guitars. Pool parties rage on the adjoining back deck. Fuel Disco offers dancing, open-mike nights, and scratch DJ lessons.
Parent Portal: Find your Zen in the spa or the serene, romantic Solarium, which has four hot tubs and a freshwater pool. Stroll through Central Park, then sip cocktails at the Rising Tide Bar, which moves vertically to transport you from the park to the lively Royal Promenade three floors above.
Innovative Eateries: Grab a slice at Sorrento's Pizzeria, a dog at the Boardwalk Hot Dog House or a sweet treat at the Cupcake Cupboard ($2.50 each; or take a decorating class and create your own for $22). For dinner splurge at Brazilian-style Samba Grill ($25 per person), where skewers of meat and seafood are sliced tableside, and you signal gaucho servers when you've had enough.
More Info: 7-day cruises start at $729 per person; $399 each for 3rd & 4th passenger in cabin; 800-ROYAL CARIBBEAN; royalcaribbean.com
The laid-back line: flexible dining, no dress code, and entertainment for all.
Leaves from: Miami
Sails to: Eastern Caribbean (St. Maarten; St. Thomas; Nassau, Bahamas) or Western Caribbean (Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico)
Family Features: If your crew likes action, it's all happening poolside. Drop into a swirling bowl on Epic Plunge waterslide; get slimed in Nickelodeon at Sea games, and rappel backward off the rock wall. Upstairs, there's a batting cage and bungee trampoline. At showtime, pick from world-class acts: Blue Man Group, the Second City, Howl at the Moon dueling pianos, and Legends in Concert tribute artists.
Teen Time: On the top deck, club Entourage offers areas for gaming (PlayStations, foosball, and air hockey), relaxing (oversize sofas and giant flatscreens), and grooving (a dance floor and video jukebox). The Recess tween area has video games, plus a karaoke stage doubling as a cinema.
Parent Portal: Unwind your own way at Spice H2O private beach club: By day you can swim, or snooze on cushy lounge beds; at night the pool becomes a pulsating dance floor. For a new twist on frozen drinks, belly up to Svedka Ice Bar, where temperatures dip to 17 degrees (coats and gloves are provided) and the signature vodka cocktail is a cool Cobalt Blue ($20 cover charge, includes two drinks).
Innovative Eateries: Freestyle dining means eating when and where you want. Pick from 20 diverse restaurants, including Teppanyaki hibachi grill ($25 per person). The Japanese chefs will wow the kids with their slicing and dicing skills.
More Info: 7-day cruises start at $599 per person, double occupancy, for inside cabins; additional guests in stateroom from $249; 866-234-7350; ncl.com
A floating adventure: wild water coaster, fanciful restaurants, and deck parties with fireworks.
Leaves from: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Sails to: Bahamas; private island, Castaway Cay
Family Features: The main attraction is the high-speed AquaDuck water coaster, which blasts you through a translucent tunnel extending over the ocean. But each deck has magical surprises—from interactive artwork to family game shows to inside cabins' virtual portholes.
Teen Time: A special swipe card gets teens into club Vibe, where they can spin dance tracks, use computer stations, or hang out on the private sun deck, which has pools, Ping-Pong, and misting jets. Tweensters retreat to Edge, a loft in the ship's forward funnel. It has a lighted dance floor, a giant gaming and movie wall, and green-screen technology so kids can star in photo postcards and video karaoke.
Parent Portal: After lounging at the adult pool, reserve a date night at Remy, the upscale French-inspired restaurant with a Michelin-rated chef ($75 per person). Then explore the District, a strip of grown-ups-only lounges. Don't miss Skyline: Each night the bar glitters with a different international cityscape—London, Paris, New York, and more.
Innovative Eateries: Rotate through three main restaurants with the same servers so you can build a rapport. The decor at Animator's Palate morphs from black-and-white sketches to a full-color under-the-sea scene, with LED screens featuring animated Finding Nemo characters. The elegant Royal Palace resembles a ballroom (with a glass slipper chandelier) and has a regal menu to match (crown rack of lamb and princess cake). The more casual Enchanted Garden is set in a trellised greenhouse that transforms from daytime to starry night as the meal progresses.
More Info: 3-day cruises start at $359 per person; 4-day from $459; $329 each for 3rd & 4th passenger in cabin; 888-DCL-2500; disneycruise.com
Smooth Sailing Tips for Teens & Tweens
Frequent cruisers from our Momster community share their best bon voyage strategies.
"Encourage kids to attend the first-night welcome party at the teen club—that's when friendships form."
"We insist on doing meals and shore excursions as a family, then give our kids the run of the ship, as long as they stay together and check in with us between activities. I position my deck chair center-ship so we can spot one another easily."
"We let our kids decide whether to hang in the kid clubs. It makes them feel like they have a say, so no fighting."
"Our rule is at least one activity together each day—as well as dinner."
Cruise Control: 5 Ways to Save
While cruises are a great value, premium staterooms and out-of-pocket extras—like specialty restaurants and shore excursions—can add up quickly. Cap costs with these tips.
—1. Book with a cruise expert. Travel agents who specialize in cruises can score great deals. (Ask about discounts for groups and military members.) Do some initial research on sites like CruiseDirect.com, CruiseCheap.com, and MyCruiseValue.com, then call the toll-free numbers for personalized service.
—2. Skip the family suites. It's usually cheaper to get two inside cabins, or reserve a balcony stateroom for yourself and put the kids in a nearby inside room.
—3. Find your own flights. Pass on the sea-air packages. You'll usually uncover better fares by working directly with the airlines or using sites like Kayak.com and Fly.com. (But build an extra day into your itinerary in case your flight is delayed or canceled.)
—4. Buy a beverage pass. Soda and alcoholic drinks are not included in the cruise price, but a soda card costs about $6 per day. Some lines (like Royal Caribbean and Carnival) also offer discounted wine or beer packages.
—5. Shop around for shore excursions. First check the ship's website to learn what's offered, then see if you can secure a lower price with a local company. Find reputable ones at ShoreTrips.com or PortPromotions.com.
Originally published in the February 2011 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.