The 8 best family-friendly cruise ships

The eight best cruise ships for families are luxury hotels, restaurants, sports arenas and entertainment venues all rolled into one. Cruise ships today are no less than our holiday escape on a 5-star floating resort.

So which cruise ship is best for you and your family, and who offers kid-friendly cruises?

There is much to consider when choosing how to spend your vacation budget. Especially as you have most likely taken time to save for your dream vacation. Or if this is one of the few times a year you can get the whole family on a fantastic holiday that everyone – old and young – can enjoy together.

Cruising is expensive when you are many family members. But there are smart choices to be made, great deals to be had and ways to make your money go further. And at the same time you may find it is one of the most exciting, luxurious and value-for-money kid-friendly cruises vacations you will ever have.

Knowing what questions to ask yourself in the planning stage will guide you in making the right choice when picking the best family cruise for you. And our tips below will help you narrow your choice.

We have put together our top 8 best cruise ships for families – and the reasons we think they are great. All of these are kid-friendly cruise lines. Here’s what to expect onboard and in which region these cruise ships sail in 2023. If you find the cruise ship to suit you but not the itinerary you want, check out the sister ships, which offer similar facilities but have different ports of call. That way, you can build your perfect cruise.

1. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Wonder of the Seas

  • Number of guests: 5400
  • Year: 2009. Updated 2019

Let’s start with the biggest and best cruise line among these eight best cruise ships for families. Who doesn’t like to sail the ocean in a mini-city and have the best of everything within walking distance? Here is our first vote in Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s fleet for the best cruise ship.

The Oasis Class – perfect for kids and active families

Sister ship to Harmony, Allure, Symphony, and Oasis of the Seas, which all belong to Royal’s “Oasis” class, Wonder of the Seas gives you some of the best adventures and entertainment at sea. Recommended for families and adventurous, lively couples, Wonder had its maiden voyage in March of 2022. Expensive? Yes. Value for money? Absolutely.

Start with a ten-story high slide thrill in a tunnel, the Ultimate Abyss, that delivers you safely to the boardwalk deck. Learn to surf on their wave riders on the top deck or meet new friends in a glow-in-the-dark laser tag game. Adventure is the name of the game here.

There are great kids clubs, and if you are traveling with teens. They will have their lounge and a new dedicated outdoor deck area where making new friends will be easy. Your kids can even try out a Mission Control Apollo 18 escape room.

The pool decks are fantastic – so good that they get very crowded. Expect a Caribbean-style pool area with more bars, whirlpools, and a variety of seating, including day beds and cabanas.

Family dining and live music

You will be spoilt for choice when dining, but we like Giovanni’s Italian kitchen and wine bar. You get rustic family-style dining with the traditional Italian dishes that everybody loves. Also on offer will be Poolside BBQ and Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, both highly popular with families.

For music fans, you will love the Music Bar, where you will find live music and fantastic dance floors. The Spotlight Karaoke venue is always a cruise highlight where you can sing your heart out in front of other guests. This is one of the most popular venues onboard Royals ships and is great fun. It is safe to say that Wonder of the Seas offers some of the best family fun at sea.

Cruise destinations for Wonder of the Seas

  • Caribbean
  • Bahamas

2. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Voyager of the Seas

  • Number of guests: 3602
  • Year: 1999. Updated 2019

Voyager of the Seas is a great cruise ship amongst the fleet of Royal Caribbean for all types of guests. It’s a classy, elegant ship without being stuffy. You get a luxurious cruise on a ship that has recently had a complete upgrade. And offers just the right variety of restaurants, entertainment, sports, and relaxation.

Guest areas such as the Promenade deck, the Royal Theatre, and the fitness area have all been refreshed and refined. And the ice rink – the first at-sea ice rink on any cruise ship – still offers mesmerizing evening shows. The Perfect Storm twin waterslides and laser tag areas have been rebuilt, and a fantastic outdoor space is now exclusively for teens.

Great design, great restaurants

The Schooner Bar, a Royal Caribbean classic, is a must. We love the classical nautical design, ample seating areas, friendly bar service, and excellent atmosphere day and night. But if you’re traveling with teens, visit The Tavern instead, as they will enjoy the big-screen TV sports games. Among all the specialty restaurants onboard, Chops Grill is the firm favorite with our teens.

Cruise destinations for Voyager of the Seas

  • Caribbean

3. Norwegian Cruise Lines – Norwegian Encore

  • Number of guests: 3998
  • Year: 2019

Norwegian Encore is our favorite in the Breakaway Plus class of ships and is the sister ship to Joy and Bliss. If you find an itinerary to your dream destination and are lucky enough to be on one of these ships, you will not be disappointed. These cruise ships are spectacular and authentic works of art.

Thrill rides for an adrenalin rush onboard

To start with, let’s talk about activities. The go-kart track on board gives the kids the adrenaline rush they may be seeking! There are two water slides – including Ocean Loops, for a real thrill ride. You’ll find four hot tubs and plenty of loungers. On deck 16, there are two large pools, a kids aqua park, and bars. At night there are great dance parties on deck.

A speedway track that loops over the ship’s side will give a fantastic experience for those who love speed! This feature alone could win this ship among the best cruise ships for families! The galaxy pavilion is a virtual reality theme park, but there is an extra charge – not really for me, but your teenagers will love it!

Nearer to the front of the ship, you can play laser tag. We recommend making a reservation from your cabin via your TV. The laser tag and the speedway track cost extra, and you can book and pay on board.

The new Galaxy Pavilion offers full och virtual reality experiences. It’s incredible. However, everything is at an extra charge.

A multitude of dining options

You have a fantastic choice regarding their main dining restaurants (no reservation needed). Try the American Dining restaurant – a specialty restaurant with great food and decor reminiscent of a 50’s diner with booths and authentic touches everywhere. I love this place.

On deck 17, we recommend Le Bistro, a French diner for those of you who want elegant dining and perfect service. Cagney’s Steakhouse is excellent if you prefer a casual atmosphere and offers food to rival any great steak restaurant.

Back to deck 8, you find The Waterfront, a quarter-mile extended outdoor promenade deck that comes into its own at sunset. Relax at the bar at sundown, an excellent place to recharge your batteries before you choose evening entertainment.

If you are a music fan, NCL has built a replica of The Beatle’s famous Cavern Club; here, you can hear Beatles music and listen to the tribute bands. If you love beer, pay a visit to the District Brew House, where you are spoilt for choice. And if you never tire of a pub atmosphere, visit The Local for pub-style food and drinks, and you can even try your hand at bowling.

At the Q Texas Smokehouse on deck 6, try authentic Texas-style BBQ and listen to country music. Head to The Social comedy club afterward. We recommend you pay at least one visit to Teppanyaki, where you can watch your entertaining chef’s slicing and dicing skills; it’s a fun family experience with a menu to suit all.

Open-air movies on deck

There is a vast open-air movie screen with plenty of seating; it’s excellent in the evening as the sun goes down. Grab a bite from the buffet restaurant and a glass of wine and nab a sofa before the crowds arrive. If you feel the need for something warmer, we appreciate the Starbucks on board for a warm drink and something sweet to finish off the evening. Check out the Southern Night Rock evenings with great music and good snacks.

The Guppies and the Splash Academy kids clubs offer fully supervised activities for your youngsters. Entourage is a parent-free zone, so your teens will have a fun, safe environment to enjoy with other teen guests.

Cruise destinations for Norwegian Encore

  • Caribbean
  • Southern Caribbean
  • Dominican Republic
  • Alaska
  • Panama Canal
  • California
  • Florida
  • Mexico

4. Norwegian Cruise Lines – Norwegian Jewel

  • Number of guests: 3998
  • Year: 2019

Every cruising family I meet loves NCL Jewel, and that’s why Jewel is on our best cruise ships for families list. It’s a popular mid-size with a capacity of under 2400 passengers; the ship is comparatively small compared to the larger, newer ships. And it may be old (built in 2005) but has undergone an extensive refurbishment in 2018, bringing it to its gleaming glory once more. With a more modern, fresher, and lighter decor, Jewel feels more personal than the bigger ships and therefore is one of the best cruise ships we have experienced.

The renovation included building the brand new Pit Stop, an all-American bar reminiscent of the beloved 50s era. This replaced the old Sky High bar and is an exciting addition.

Open 24/7, the O’Sheehans Neighborhood Bar & Grill is great. It’s a relaxed place to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and a good party venue in the evening. These are just a couple of the 20 restaurants on board to choose. Six of these are included in your price, and where you will have great food even if you don’t want to pay the extra to try the specialty restaurants.

The Bliss Ultra lounge has replaced the old karaoke lounge, as it is the place where you enjoy more classic dance music.

A smaller ship with exciting itineraries

What we love about this ship as one of the best cruise ships for families is that it is elegant without being flashy. The colors are soft and modern without being cold, and the staff seems at ease, experienced, and with an eye for detail. I loved being on board. It’s smaller than many other ships in NCL’s fleet, with exciting itineraries to more unusual ports.

Smaller ships can dock at ports that don’t allow the bigger ships to dock. So you are likely to find your dream itinerary, but note that while there are great kids clubs and pools, there are fewer activities on board, Which means fewer venues for you to visit compared to the Bliss, Encore, and Joy.

Cruise destinations for Norwegian Jewel

  • Southern Caribbean
  • Panama Canal
  • Alaska
  • Mexican Riviera
  • California

5. MSC Cruises – MSC Grandiosa

  • Number of guests: 6300
  • Year: 2019

MSC Cruises has a reputation for being a less expensive cruise experience with great kids’ prices. Founded in Italy, MSC is very popular amongst European guests. MSC Grandiosa was launched in November of 2019 and is, in our opinion, their best ship to date. And therefore, it’s here in our summary of the ten best cruise ships.

The glamour of Italy on board

MSC Grandiosa has a stunning interior, full of glamour and highlighted by the sparkling digital sky overhead. As you walk the indoor promenade, look up – the digital LED roof changes view often and are remarkable.

MSC Grandiosa is a big ship. There are enough cabins for over 6000 guests. The vast theatre offers free nightly shows, like most other cruise lines. And while the standard may not be up to the same par as the Broadway shows of Royal Caribbean, they are entertaining.

Cirque de Soleil at Sea

As an alternative, there is a smaller theatre that offers the Cirque de Soleil shows at an additional cost. We recommend booking dinner and the Cirque de Soleil show package from home before you sail as it is popular. But apart from some of the stand-up comics evenings, we must admit that we mostly gave the theatre shows a miss while on board. We preferred instead to spend time in the bars, lounges, and on the dance floor.

Family-friendly prices

MSC Cruises is very family-friendly, with prices to match. You often have a luxurious family cruising experience at a lower price than Royal Caribbean or NCL Cruise Line. As the cruise line was founded in Italy, the theme of the food in the main dining rooms is Italian too. But coupled with specialty restaurants (12 dining rooms on board in total), you will be spoilt for choice for cuisine from around the world.

There are some different classes to choose from when booking MSC Cruises. Each cabin class offers different experiences: Bella, Fantastica, or Aurea, and you can read all about what is included in each category on their website.

We have cruised with MSC Cruises several times and are a fan of their Aurea class, including the all-inclusive beverage package, free spa treatment, and a private sun deck. We felt this was well worth the extra.

Cruise destinations for MSC Grandiosa

  • Mediterranean
  • Caribbean

6. Carnival Cruise Line – Carnival Vista

  • Number of guests: 3934
  • Year: 2015

Carnival is one of the largest cruise companies in the world and is soon celebrating its 50th birthday. With a long history of being synonymous with fun, Carnival Vista offers all the family fun you could wish for on vacation.

With playgrounds for all ages, this fun ship boasts a “sky ride,” a suspended pedal bike track early 50 meters above the ocean. There are numerous colorful activities on board – take the Imax theatre, for example – that keep Carnival attracting families with children coming back for more.

Family Harbour is a family zone offering various room configurations where up to 5 can stay in each cabin. Carnival is one of the cruise lines that cater to large families. You can access the family lounge with movies, popcorn, self-serve ice cream machines, and more.

What we love about Carnival Vista is the endless choices of food venues; you will soon see that this is a cruise ship for families and kids who may be fussy eaters. There is something for you all on board, including you adults, with fantastic piano bars, comedy clubs, and even an onboard brewery.

Havana Cabanas on Vista class ships

We recommend looking at the Havanna category of cabins to book a room if you have children 12 or over. Havana cabins are available only on Vista category ships (Carnival Vista, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Horizon).

The Havana Cabana rooms are lovely – spacious with island-inspired decor and ocean-facing patios. In addition, you have access to a private area designated only for Havana guests: pool, hot tubs, bar area, 24-hour ice cream and pizza, and a breakfast buffet area. Beware! If you are a super-private person, then it’s essential to know that other guests can walk by your area. There is a walkway between your patio and the railings looking over the ocean.

Therefore if you like your privacy, opt for the balcony rooms instead. But if you can afford the extra cost and are very social, we love the additional perks that this area on Carnival Vista offers!

Cruise destinations for Carnival Vista

  • Western Caribbean

7. Princess Cruises – Sky Princess

  • Number of guests: 3660
  • Year: 2019

Much like Celebrity Cruises, Princess ships do not have giant water slides and aqua parks for your kids. But they make up for this in many other ways. The newer vessels are beautiful and modern yet still feel traditional, focusing on good cuisine and service, many activities on board, and fun-packed evening shows.

We recommend the newer Princess ships, and our choice is Sky Princess. We can also expect good things from the latest ship Enchanted Princess, and Discovery Princess is launching in Spring 2022.

A mix of private areas for adults and fantastic facilities for the whole family

Sky Princess is stunning. We feel that you get good value for money on this ship. If you are just two traveling, we highly recommend The Sanctuary and The Retreat, private outdoor areas for adults. The main pool area for all guests and families has two deep pools and plenty of space for loungers. In the evening, this area becomes an outdoor movie theatre. It’s one of our favorite spaces onboard amongst the many to choose from.

If you are lucky enough to book one of the two sky suites onboard, you can even get a direct view of the movie screen from your private balcony.

One downside we discovered with Princess Cruises is that they allow smoking inside the casino rather than having a separate room for smokers. So if you adults were thinking of visiting the casino while the children were using the kids’ clubs, beware that there will be smokers there. If you don’t enjoy being around smokers, this will affect your enjoyment of the casino.

The entertainment is great fun onboard Sky Princess with a good mix of magic shows, comedy, and acrobatics. You’ll also find a basketball court, minigolf, a running track, and self-service laundry facilities (for a few dollars per load, and you buy tokens onboard). And a fantastic Seawalk glass platform on either side of the ship hangs out over the ocean.

Children are entertained in kid-friendly areas of The Treehouse, The Beach House, and Camp Discovery, from tots to teens.

What we love about this ship, too, is the fantastic array of itineraries you can experience when cruising. See the list below.

Cruise destinations for Sky Princess

  1. Caribbean
  2. Norwegian Fjords from Southampton
  3. Scandinavia & Baltic Heritage
  4. Morocco Passage
  5. Canary Islands
  6. Iceland & Norway
  7. Canada and New England

8. Disney Cruise Line – Disney Magic

  • Number of guests: 1754
  • Year: 1998. Updated 2018

Disney is hard to beat regarding family entertainment, nostalgia, and pure fun. From super musical theatre shows to superheroes (Disney Magic is offering the Marvel-themed sailings), Disney offers up the heart-warming quality we have come to expect, year after year, cruise after cruise.

We love Disney Magic for its friendliness and intimacy. While the ship is old, the renovations and modernizations are bang up to date.

The family pool area may not be huge, but we don’t think your kids will notice with all the other available activities. And for an escape, the adults can enjoy the larger adult-only pool at the front of the ship.

Service is paramount, as you would expect from Disney, and it’s service with a smile at all times. The staff pays attention to details, and everything in your cabin is geared towards making light of traveling with kids. Everything around you will be Disney, from the music you hear playing, the costume characters in the dining rooms, to your mickey-shaped deserts. So if you can’t get enough of Disney, especially if you have young children, this cruise ship is for you, despite the high-end price tag.

Cruise destinations for Disney Magic

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..