Maybe you're new to cruising, or you've been cruising for years. Maybe you're looking for a family reunion trip that will satisfy all ages. Maybe you like the idea of showing the kids a bit of the world without having to pack and unpack every two days.
Cruising has never been more popular for families of every stripe. Whether you choose the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska or far-flung destinations like the Galapagos and even the Arctic, you’ll find all-inclusive deals and enjoy the advantage of packing and unpacking just once and leaving the logistics of getting from place to place to others. The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that nearly 24 million passengers will cruise this year, many of them families. Cruise lines are scheduled to debut 27 new ocean, river and specialty ships this year with even more bells and whistles. (See Biggest cruise ship debuts of 2016.)
1.5 million kids now cruise each year
Welcome to our Taking the Kids Cruise Guide for 2016, produced with our partners at Family Travel Forum. By our calculations, some 1.5 million kids now are cruising every year — more than 1,000 on some sailings and 700,000 on Carnival alone. And cruise lines have never done more for them, from featuring hip teen and tween hangouts with the latest music and video games, wi-fi access to their social networks, to centers for the littlest cruisers (that are better equipped than many preschools) and even nurseries at sea. With Carnival’s new Fathom line, there are even opportunities for family voluntourism.
Parents love cruising because they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck — activities, meals and lodging all for one price, including supervised morning-till-night programming for kids, for considerably less than many resorts charge. Grandparents are fans because cruises can prove an easy way to get the whole gang on vacation, especially in Alaska and Europe. Kids — especially tweens and teens — give ships a thumbs-up because they love the freedom they have on board and the chance to make new friends. Kids and parents alike love the major lines’ private Caribbean islands, too.
Departure ports & destinations
Family cruises are also a good bet weather-wise. For example, the hotel metasearch engine Trivago analyzed its top 10 searched-for hotel destinations for spring travel, and found New York (2), Orlando (4), Miami (5) and Fort Lauderdale (8) in that group — all major cruise ports. We’re glad to see so many travelers booking hotel rooms on the night prior to a cruise departure. Picking out the right bathing suit should be enough stress in planning a cruise vacation, not worrying about late flights.
Another cruise plus: There are nearly two dozen U.S. home ports, from New York to California, eliminating the need for many families to fly to the port of embarkation. You might even want to extend your stay and use a CityPASS to save money on admission to attractions (here's how).
While the Caribbean remains the most popular cruise destination for Americans, adventure-lovers should keep Pacific routes in mind. From the West Coast, major lines are making calls at ports like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the popular fishing village turned foodie/nightlife lover’s paradise. To really see the region, sign up for a cultural excursion, a private beach day at Las Caletas, which has its own kid-size zipline, or a try dolphin encounter with a local tour operator.
Remember before booking any cruise — or travel for that matter — to consider whether you need travel insurance. Cruise insurance plans like this one from Allianz covers emergencies that could cause you to cancel your trip.
Kids with special needs and severe allergies routinely are accommodated in organized programming. Autism on the Seas provides specialized staff on some sailings. And you can cruise for just a few days or more than a week, checking out beaches or historic sites.
Cruiseable's editorial content can help you discern the differences between ships and figure out what you want to do in port, its Bliss Filters can help you zero on a good match, and its team of expert travel agents can find a cruise that's the right fit for your needs. Other good resources for your research include Cruise Lines International Association and Cruise Critic.
If you don’t want to go on a large ship, one option is to charter your own boat (with a crew or without) as we have done several times in Tahiti and the Caribbean.
Cruise lines that cater to families
I’ve cruised with my family around the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to Greece to Alaska. I’ve found along the way that the key is to choose the right cruise for your family and kids. Here are some great options to consider:
Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney River Cruises