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What are the top lines for families?

by Fran Golden | December 02, 2016

Traveling as a family on the high seas has never been so rewarding — or so easy. With more than two million kids cruising each year (a number that continues to grow) the cruise lines have set a course to woo the family audience, investing in facilities and activities that appeal to children of all ages — toddlers, younger kids, tweens, and teens — while at the same time catering to their parents. From kids clubs to shore excursions, the top lines — Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line, among others — aim to keep the kids occupied and happy, which means the adults also enjoy their own cruise vacation experience.

Gone are the days when onboard entertainment meant shuffleboard and too many cocktails: today, these lines appeal to families with amusement park-style entertainment that really delivers.

The most important thing for any family on a cruise is the ability to have fun both while together and while apart. In complimentary, camp-like kids programs and elaborate playrooms, experienced staff keep kids well occupied, having fun, and even learning something new. Princess Cruises has science-focused activities created in conjunction with Discovery Channel, while Carnival Cruise Line's Camp Ocean includes marine education programming. Even the grumpiest teen will be impressed by cool teen lounges and activities such as DJ spinning classes on Carnival, hip hop dance lessons on Holland America Line, and the opportunity to make films on select Celebrity Cruises ships. There are plenty of free activities outside the kids clubs, too, such as table tennis, basketball, shuffleboard, and mini golf. 

And while the kiddos are immersed in age-appropriate activities such as arts and crafts, movies, games, and contests, parents can get a little R&R. Grab a lounge chair and hang out by the pool, make a spa appointment, or just relax in your cabin. At night, parents can go out to dinner or to a show knowing their offspring are being well cared for. The youth programs are complimentary in the early evening, although most lines charge a fee for group babysitting after 10 pm. (Only Disney offers complimentary childcare until midnight). Private in-cabin babysitting is available on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, but the prices are high.

Of course, the main reason you've brought your kids on vacation is for family fun, which happens, naturally, on the latest and greatest cruise ship attractions. Sample the super-fast waterslides and ropes courses on the latest Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival ships, share a raft on the AquaDuck water coaster on the latest Disney ships, or check out the amazing 100-foot Ultimate Abyss slide that runs through Royal Caribbean's new Harmony of the Seas. Younger kids will squeal with delight in splash areas. While shipboard pools may not be large enough for laps, they are the perfect size for play. (Just keep in mind that your little ones will need parental supervision; only Disney has lifeguards on duty).

And, while you can be active all day every day, there are plenty of ways to just relax, too: You can catch a first-run movie in 3-D (Disney and Royal), outdoor Movies Under the Stars (Princess) or an IMAX flick (for a fee on Carnival Vista). Royal Caribbean and Disney also do a particularly good job with family-focused show productions, and on both these lines you'll also find opportunity to mingle with familiar costumed characters (from DreamWorks and Disney/Pixar/Marvel, respectively). Carnival has Dr. Seuss characters on board, and offers a parade, story time, and a "Green Eggs and Ham" brunch, too.

Fran Golden

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

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