The 8 best cruise ships for families and kid-friendly cruises

The 8 best cruise ships for families are luxury hotels, restaurants, sports arenas and entertainment venues all rolled into one. In fact 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 a lot 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 that you can get the whole family on a fantastic vacation 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 2022. 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. And this way you can build your perfect cruise.

1. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line – Oasis of the Seas

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

Let’s start with the biggest and best cruise line in amongst these 8 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 best cruise ship.

The Oasis Class – perfect for kids and active families

Sister ship to Harmony, Allure and Symphony (and soon Wonder of the Seas) which all belong to Royal’s “Oasis” class, Oasis of the Seas gives you some of the best adventures and entertainment at sea. Recommended for families and adventurous, lively couples, Oasis was the first ship built in the Oasis class and has undergone a complete renovation in 2019. 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 game of glow in the dark laser tag. Adventure is the name of the game here.

There are great kids clubs and if you are travelling with teens. They will have their own 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 have been completed revamped. Expect a Caribbean style pool area with more bars, whirl pools and a variety of seating including day beds and cabanas.

Family dining and live music

You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to 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 lovers you will love the Music Bar where you will find live music and fantastic dance floors. The Spotlight Karaoke venue is always a highlight of the cruise where you can sing your heart out in front of other guests. This is one of the most popular venues onboard Royals ships and great fun. All in all it is safe to say that Oasis of the Seas offers some of the very best family fun at sea.

Cruise destinations for Oasis of the Seas in 2022

  • Caribbean
  • Bahamas
  • Nova Scotia

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 which has recently had a complete upgrade. And offers just the right amount of variety – 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 there is now a cool outdoor area exclusively for teens.

Great design, great restaurants

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

Cruise destinations for Voyager of the Seas in 2022

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 you are lucky enough to be on one of these ships, then you will not be disappointed. These cruise ships are spectacular, and true works of arts.

Thrill rides for an adrenalin rush onboard

To start with there are the activities. The go-kart track on board gives the kids the adrenalin rush that they may be seeking! There are two water slides – including Ocean Loops for a true thrill ride.  You’ll find 4 hot tubs and plenty of loungers. On deck 16, there are two large pools, a kids aqua park and bars. At night there are superb dance parties on deck.

A speedway track which loops over the side of the ship will give a fantastic experience for those of you who love speed! This feature alone could win this ship a place amongst 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, I recommend making a reservation from your cabin via your TV. Both 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 awesome but everything is at an extra charge.

A multitude of dining options

You have a fantastic choice when it comes to their main dining restaurants (no reservation needed). Try as well the American Dining restaurant – a specialty restaurant with great food, 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. Personally I prefer the Cagney’s Steakhouse, rather more casual and offering food to rival any great steak restaurant.

Back to deck 8 and you find The Waterfront, an quarter-mile long outdoor promenade deck which comes into its own at sunset. Relax at the bar at sundown, a good place to recharge your batteries before your choice of evening entertainment.

If you are a music fan, NCL have built a replica of The Beatles famous Cavern Club, here you can hear Beatles music and listen to the tribute bands – really great! 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 on over to The Social comedy club afterwards – one of my best evenings on board! I can absolutely recommend that you pay at least one visit to the Teppanyaki where you can watch the slicing and dicing skills of your entertaining chef, it’s fun family experience with a menu to suit all.

Open-air movies on deck

There is a great open air movie screen with plenty of seating, it’s great 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 appreciated the StarBucks on board for a warm drink and something sweet to finish off the evening. Check out the Southern Night Rock evenings – great music, very relaxed and good snacks too.

The Guppies and the Splash Academy kids clubs offers fully supervised activities for your youngsters. Whilst Entourage is a parent-free zone so your teens will have a fun, safe environment to enjoy with other teen guests. This was so popular with my teenage boys, there were more than a few evenings when they spent a few hours with new-found friends.

Cruise destinations for Norwegian Encore in 2022

  • 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 is popular for it’s mid-size and has a capacity for a little under 2400 passengers. This is comparitively small compared to the larger, newer ships. And it may be old (built 2005) but has undergone an extensive refurbishment in 2018 bringing it up to it’s 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’ve been on.

Part of 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 in the evening the parties awesome. These are just a couple of the 20 restaurants on board to choose between. Six of these are included in your price and you will be sure to find a menu to suit you. You will have great cuisine 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 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 of the other ships in NCL’s fleet, but this is the reason why the itineraries are so exciting – more choices of port where the vessel can dock.

With a smaller ship comes of course exciting stops – often into ports of call that simply don’t allow the bigger ships to dock. So you are likely to find your dream itinerary, but just note that whilst there are great kids clubs and pools, there are fewer activities on board, That means fewer venues for you to visit compåred to the Bliss, Encore and Joy.

Cruise destinations for Norwegian Jewel in 2022

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

5. MSC Cruises – MSC Grandiosa

  • Number of guests: 6300
  • Year: 2019

MSC Cruises has a reputation on 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 Novemer of 2019 and is, in our opinion, their best ship to date. And therefore it’s here in our summary of 10 best cruise ships.

The glamour of Italy on board

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

This is a big ship. There are cabins enough for over 6000 guests. The huge theatre offers free nightly shows, as do most other cruise lines. And whilst 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 offer 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 have to admit that we gave the theatre shows mostly a miss whilst on board. We prefered instead to spend time in the bars, lounges and on the dance floor.

Family frendly prices

MSC Cruises is very family friendly with prices to match. You have have a luxurious family cruising experience often at a lower prices compared to, say, 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 between 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 that includes amongst other things the all inclusive beverage package, free spa treatment and access to a private sun deck. We felt this was well worth the extra.

Cruise destinations for MSC Grandiosa 2022

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 it’s 50th birthday. With a long history of being synonymous with fun, Carnival Vista offers all the family fun you could wish for on a vacation.

With playgrounds for all ages, this fun ship boasts a “sky ride”, a suspended pedal bike track early 50 metres above the ocean. In fact 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 a family zone offering various room configuraions where up to 5 can stay in each cabin. Carnival are one of cruise lines which really caters to large families. With it comes access to the family lounge with movies, popcorn, self-serve icecream machines and more.

What we love about Carnival Vista is the endless choices of food venues, you will soon see that this really 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 on board 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 wonderful – 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 icecream and prizza, and a breakfast buffet area. Beware! If you are super-private people then it’s important to know that other guests can walk by your area. There is a walkway in between your patio and the railings looking over the ocean. So if you like your privacy then opt for the balcony rooms instead. But if you can afford the extra cost and are very social then we love the extra perks that this area on Carnival Vista offers!

Cruise destinations for Carnival Vista in 2022

  • Western Caribbean

7. Princess Cruises – Sky Princess

  • Number of guests: 3660
  • Year: 2019

Much like Celebrity Cruises, Princess ships do not have the big water slides and aqua parks for your kids. But they make up for this in many other ways. The newer ships are beautiful and modern yet still feel traditional, with focus on good cuisine and service, lots of 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 newest ship Enchanted Princess, and Discovery Princess 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 travelling then we can highly recommend The Sanctuary and The Retreat which are private outdoor areas for adults only.

The main pool area for all guests and families has 2 deep pools and there is plenty of space for loungers and in the evenings this area become 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 2 sky suites onboard, you even get a direct view to the movie screen from your own private balcony.

One down side we discovered with Princess Cruises is that rather than have a separate room for smokers, they allow smoking inside the casino. So if you adults were thinking of visiting the casino whilst the children were using the kids clubs, beware that there will be smokers there. If you don’t enjoy being around smokers then 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, self-service laundry facilities (for a few dollars per load and you buy tokens onboard). And a fantastic Seawalk glass platform either side of the ship which hangs out over the ocean.

From tots to teens, children are entertained in kid friendly areas of The Treehouse, The Beach House and Camp Discovery.

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

Cruise destinations for Sky Princess in 2022

  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

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

We love Disney Magic for it’s friendliness and intimacy. Whilst 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 activities on offer. 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 pay attention to details and everything in your cabin is geared towards making light of travelling 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 just can’t get enough of Disney and especially if you have young children, this cruise ship is for you, despite the high-end price tag that follows.

Cruise destinations for Disney Magic in 2022

Brand New Ships for an even greater experience

As the delays the cruising industry has suffered due to the Pandemic can eventually be put behind us, the cruising industry will get back on it’s feet again.

We wait with anticipation and great excitement to see the ships that have undergone renovation in dry dock or new cruise ship that are waiting to launch ready for the 2022 season and beyond. What can we expect? Check out list of the ships that are coming soon to brighten our landscape and offer us more the type of vacations and cruising holidays that we love so much.

Meet the Author

Mattias has nearly 2 decades of travel industry expertise, working with cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, IT providers, hospitality suppliers and everything else in between that makes the travel industry tick. more..