Setting sail with your family combines all the perks of your favorite land-based resorts—like kids clubs, pools, mini golf and water slides—with all-inclusive prices and the chance to visit a full itinerary of fun destinations while only having to unpack once. “Cruising is a popular vacation for families because it’s affordable, hassle-free and fun for all ages,” says Cruise Critic’s senior editor and family cruise expert Erica Silverstein, and we couldn’t agree more. Extra bonus: You’ll never have to venture far from your room to find a kid-friendly activity, pool or restaurant, taking all the guesswork out of your family vacation. Here are our favorites for 2019:
For a VIP Feel: Celebrity Edge
Celebrity’s newest ship gets kudos for its sleek, luxurious design that includes a Magic Carpet restaurant that travels up and down the side of the ship. (Yes, your kids will want to eat there, and also at Le Petit Chef which serves up 3D animation along with dinner.) The ship caters to kids with a full range of children’s activities at Camp at Sea, which offers a fully customizable schedule of 500 activities involving art, recreation, culinary and STEM. (There’s even a coding class.) There’s also Toddler Time for little ones under 3 and cool hangout spaces for teens 13 to 17 (always a tough age to please). Family Veranda rooms offer plenty of space to stretch out, and there are connecting staterooms as well.
For Jaw-Dropping Water Slides, Surf Simulators and Splash Pads: Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
The largest ship at sea is filled from bow to stern with kid-pleasing attractions, including the monster Ultimate Abyss slide (the tallest at sea), laser tag, surf simulators and wet playground areas, not to mention mini golf and multiple kids clubs. If your bonus was particularly generous this year, check into the colorful, two-story Ultimate Family Suite; it has everything a kid could desire, from a corkscrew slide that connects the two floors, to an outdoor climbing wall on your private deck, to a mini fridge stocked with soft drinks filled by your butler, and, of course, a blinged-out game room. The ship also delivers big on entertainment with everything from ice skating performances to the outdoor, high-flying, Aquatheater diving show that puts every other aerial act to shame. Coming this summer, Symphony will make calls at the brand new Perfect Day at CoCoCay, a private island with a massive waterpark and the biggest pool in the Bahamas.
For Go-Karts, Laser Tag and a Chic Teen Lounge: Norwegian Joy
Following a $50 million enhancement, the Norwegian Joy has something to entice everyone in the family, including go-karts (the only ones at sea) that rev up to 30 mph and race around a two-level track and the indoor Galaxy Pavilion with virtual-reality experiences and a spaceship-themed outdoor laser tag arena. Splash Academy kids camp is split into four age groups for children from 3 to 12 years; the Guppies program, for kids 2 years and under, provides sensory play activities for parents and children to participate in together; and Entourage offers teens, 13-17, a complimentary and supervised space designed like a chic lounge (minus the adults).
For Discovery Channel Fans: Caribbean Princess
When the Princess emerges from its dry dock this June, it will have an ocean’s worth of watery fun at its new Reef Family Splash Zone and an exclusive partnership with Discovery. Look for new youth and teen Discovery camps on board to entertain kids 3 to 17, special Discovery Family Excursions that focus on hands-on and immersive experiences for kids 3 to 12, and onboard activities for everyone, including ones that incorporate favorite shows like MythBusters and Shark Week. The Princess will also offer multiple ways to keep the family together after lights out, including connecting staterooms and two-bedroom family suites.
For the Ultimate French Excursion: Adventures by Disney, Seine River Cruise
CruiseCritic awarded Adventures by Disney—a partnership between Disney and AmaWaterways—the Best for Families Editors’ Picks Award because of its family-friendly programming and tours. If you’re unfamiliar with Adventures by Disney, this may be your new favorite travel scoop: The cruises combine all the detail-oriented attention to entertainment that you expect from Disney with unique itineraries (including VIP entrance to sites and attractions) and special supervised programming, dinners, games and movie nights designed just for kids. For this new Seine itinerary, you get to explore Paris, the gardens of Giverny and French castles, plus take painting lessons, go horseback riding and canoeing, and do lots of chocolate sampling (yum!) all while sailing on luxe AmaWaterways’ AmaLyra.
For Plenty of Parties and Star Wars Fun Galore: Disney Fantasy
It’s hard to top Disney for sheer family-pleasing cruise vacations—ships have been designed to entice kids with everything from hidden Mickeys and interactive artwork to dining rooms that come to life with animation, and the kids clubs are second to none. (Disney does away with the normally ubiquitous cruise casinos to devote more space to kids facilities; the one on the Fantasy even has a recreation of a Star Wars command post with visits by BB8!) Plus, Mickey and Minnie and all their friends, dressed in their best sailor’s gear, and princesses galore are onboard for intimate meet-and-greets. The shows, including Aladdin the Musical on the Fantasy, are Broadway-caliber. Rooms are some of the best for families at sea, with split bathrooms that let two people get ready at one time, bathtubs (a rarity on cruises), and pull-down berths that reveal a whimsical Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and a star-filled night sky. Although all five Disney ships are winners, the Fantasy has a few additional standout features, including the AquaDuck, the first water roller coaster at sea, the Sweet On You ice cream shop, and for adults, the grown-ups only French dining option, Remy. But we saved the best for last: For the entire summer of 2019, the Disney Fantasy will be celebrating Mickey’s 90th birthday with Mickey & Minnie’s Surprise Party at Sea, a new deck party exclusive to the ship, which also includes special treats in your stateroom, such as party hats and chocolates.
For Dr. Seuss Fanatics: Carnival Horizon
Carnival’s newest ship rolls out a sea’s worth of fun activities for families, including the SkyRide, a suspended bicycle course that gives you a seagull’s-eye view as you pedal over the sea. If you’d rather keep your feet on deck, the kids will have “lots of good fun that is funny” getting soaked at the Dr. Seuss Waterworks with waterslides, sprinklers and lots of space to splash. The Seuss at Sea program also lets kids meet characters like the Cat in the Hat at events ranging from the Seuss-a-Palooza parade to the Green Eggs & Ham breakfast. Children can also spend time at Camp Ocean, and the whole family can play the interactive Hasbro Game Show together. The ship’s nautically themed Family Harbor staterooms and suites offer extra space and access to a family-friendly lounge filled with games and treats.
For Nonstop Fun on a Budget: MSC Seaside
A family-owned company, MSC Cruises prides itself on putting the needs of families at the heart of the cruise experience; on the Seaside, which launched last summer, this translates into kicking up the family fun with the longest zip lines at sea, four twisting water slides, two full-size bowling lanes and a 5D cinema. The Seaview also has the biggest kids and youth areas in the MSC Cruises fleet, featuring both a Chicco baby room and two LEGO-themed playrooms. Extra bonus: MSC cruises offers Kids Cruise Free offers on many of its sailings, great for your vacation P&L.
For Alaskan Adventures: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam
If you're looking for a smaller ship for a family cruise, HAL’s Nieuw Amsterdam might be the perfect fit, with 1,300 guests (instead of the nearly 3,000 of Royal Caribbean’s Symphony). While the ship isn’t the line’s newest, the itinerary it’s sailing this year is: seven nights around Alaska’s scenic wonders. From exploring the vast scenery to seeing the amazing wildlife, HAL offers excursions ideal for adventurous families, including sledding, a train ride to the Yukon, bald eagle–watching on a Deadliest Catch boat, panning for gold and whale-watching. Back onboard, the kids can spend time at Club HAL, which has targeted activities for varying age groups, including “Painting Picassos” for 3- to 6-year-olds. A separate tween area for kids ages 7 to 12 has ice-cream-eating contests and theme parties, and teen cruisers even have their own area with mocktails and karaoke. Outside, families can compete together in basketball, volleyball and dodgeball while checking out the Alaskan scenery.
For Holiday Magic: AmaWaterways AmaMagna
A new itinerary on a brand new ship is a winning combination for AmaWaterways, especially with teens in tow who can take advantage of perks like bikes to explore ports on their own. AmaMagna has plenty of room for families since it’s twice the width of traditional river cruise ships, plus most of its staterooms are suites, and there are connecting staterooms as well, providing lots of elbow room. River cruises are all about the destination, and AmaMagna’s newly introduced Christmas Markets on the Danube itinerary between Budapest and Vilshofen is a great option to get the whole family in the holiday spirit, visiting the charming markets and towns along the river. The ship also gets decked out for the holiday with tree-decorating contests, gingerbread-making, a Christmas party and a traditional holiday dinner with carolers.