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The Best Cruises for Kids

by Fran Golden | June 28, 2016

Cruise ships are often magnets for families, with activities and entertainment designed for an all-ages crowd. But certain ships really cater to kids, offering everything from age-specific clubs where they can hang out and make new friends to crazy water parks with racing slides, character breakfasts, all-you-can-eat taco bars, and dining rooms that keep the mac-and-cheese and ice cream coming night after night.

But these ships are not all about the kids. You'll appreciate the cabins built for more-than-two — as well as the cocktail bars, casinos, and adults-only pools, not to mention the babysitting services.

Here are our picks for the best cruises for kids, and exactly what they offer.

1. Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy

These two ships (Disney's newest and largest) are both family-friendly wonderlands, with extensive kids clubs, plenty of places to splash, well-designed cabins configured to make families comfortable, and a nursery that welcomes kids as young as six months old.

Dining: If you can convince your children to order something other than a hot dog (again) you'll find that kids’ menus in the main dining rooms go beyond the standard choices to healthier options. Mickey Mouse ice-cream pops are available day and night — a great inspiration for finishing, say, their vegetables.

Dining rooms are also run for minimal restlessness: The wait staff members — who move from dining room to dining room with your family — perform magic tricks at dinner to keep the little kids entertained, and present riddles and brain teasers to the whole family. Plus, as a bonus for adults, youth counselors can whisk kids away halfway through dinner so you can finish your meal in quiet and linger over dessert. (And just how charming are those waiters? We've seen several kids bid them tearful farewells on the last morning.)

Activities: This is Disney, so costumed characters — including lots of princesses — abound for meet-and-greets on board. The production values are high at the live shows that often incorporate songs and characters from multiple Disney stories, while the movie theaters screen both first-run and classic Disney and Pixar films. Best of all, the water park on the pool deck includes a splash park for little kids and a water slide that — get this — is more like a rollercoaster. (Just dare your tween to act jaded about that feature.) Disney is also the only cruise line with lifeguards at the pools.

Clubs: There are four different rooms on each ship with creative activities and themed play for kids aged three to 12. Have a "Star Wars" fanatic on your hands? Disney Dream has a recreation of the Millennium Falcon. Teens get their own club, which includes a 103-inch LCD screen plus a private sundeck. Babies are well-served at the It's a Small World nursery, which has gear and toys for little ones six months to three years of age. While the other clubs are complimentary, the nursery costs $9 per hour.

Babysitting: There is complimentary babysitting for children age three to 12 until 1 a.m. The nursery is also open that late as well, for $9 per hour.

Cabins: What really makes these ships some of the best cruises for kids is the family-friendliness of the staterooms, most of which have one and a half bathrooms to help keep bedtime on time. You'll also have a bathtub instead of just a shower, a godsend for parents with small children.

Fran Golden

Fran Golden is a Cleveland-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.

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