The Best Cruise Lines To Book For Your Next Family Vacation, According To Travelers

A cruise can make a great family vacation. You get to visit multiple places and do interesting things; plenty of food options means even picky eaters will have something to eat; and on board, there are seemingly endless family-friendly activities. When booking a cruise, however, families will want to consider more than just the cruise's itinerary and amenities, although these are also important considerations. 

For example, cabarets and casinos won't be especially fascinating to the younger set. You'll also need to look at the accessibility and availability of cabins in terms of the layout your family needs. Two bunks and a double bed? Does a pullout couch work? Also, what sort of childcare does the cruise line have? Will you have any evenings to yourself?

The cruise industry offers a wide variety of ships and specialties. Some lines cater to upscale (and generally older) travelers, with opulent luxury and fine dining. Others have gone all in for families with kids, creating what can be seen as floating amusement parks. Other cruise lines are trying to strike a balance, with a little something for every age group. By scouring online reviews from other travel experts and drawing from our own cruise experiences, we've chosen the top cruise lines for family vacations. 

Disney Cruise Lines

Disney is the top choice for many families, with good reason. From character dining to excursions on Castaway Cay — its own private, family-friendly island — Disney cruises are designed from top to bottom with kids and their parents in mind. U.S. News & World Report ranked Disney Cruise Lines as number one for families, citing the spacious cabins and food and beverage offerings as particularly worthy of praise.

Fans of Mickey and the gang will love the chance to meet Disney characters, including "Star Wars" and Marvel characters, and some of the stage shows are based on popular movies like "Frozen" and "Beauty and the Beast." On the downside, all that Disney cruise magic comes at a cost, and it's higher than many of the other family-oriented cruises. Additionally, while most of the food and drinks are covered by the per-person price of the cruise, as is the case on most cruise lines, alcohol is not. Unlike other cruise lines that sell an alcoholic drinks package, Disney does not, which means this additional cost could add up.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Billed as "the Fun Ship," Carnival Cruise Lines prides itself on providing a festival atmosphere on each of its cruises. For families, that means things like waterslides, SkyRide (i.e., what you get if you cross a zipline with a bicycle), and Camp Ocean Kids Club. On top of that, there is plenty of Dr. Seuss-themed fun, including a character parade, stage shows, and even a Green Eggs and Ham breakfast. Kids aged 2 to 11 can go to Camp Ocean, which offers entertainment and supervision, while teens have their own dedicated hangout spaces. Infant care is also available. 

One of the biggest draws, though, for Carnival Cruises is the price point. With the frequent family cruise vacation deals you can find, your cruise can be a relatively inexpensive holiday. This, along with its all-ages inclusivity, makes Carnival an attractive option to first-time cruisers and a more youthful demographic. While Carnival's party-forward environment is undoubtedly fun, the downside is that it can create a noisy, sometimes overwhelming atmosphere. Also, the high-capacity ships can feel crowded, especially at the buffet, by the pool on a hot day, and during embarkation and disembarkation.

Princess Cruise Lines

Princess Cruise Lines is carving out a niche for itself as a luxury line at an affordable price. A little more upscale than others that put kids front and center, Princess is perfect for those traveling with multiple generations, especially if your kids are no longer tiny. For a family celebrating a milestone, a glamorous night at one of the specialty restaurants or exclusive dining options, like the immersive 360 Dining Experience or Lumiere Chef's Table, would be an unforgettable way to mark the occasion.

Balcony staterooms are also available in multiple configurations (bunk beds, pullout beds, etc) to accommodate families, and you can add additional space by choosing a mini-suite or suite. Onboard, there are adults-only areas to retreat from the kids, and for the young ones to retreat from the adults, there are kids and teens clubs. Landside, there are excursions to appeal to a range of interests and abilities. Of note, many families may be interested in the science-focused excursions that Princess designed in partnership with the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. 

One thing that may give families pause is the fact that, while Princess cruises are open to all ages, the demographic tends to skew slightly older, with the average age being 57, according to The Points Guy. That means children make up a smaller percentage of passengers than they do on other cruise lines. If you are looking for tons of kids for potential playmates, you may want to look elsewhere.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

Royal Caribbean ships have nearly endless activities onboard to keep kids and their parents entertained, which is why we think it's great for families. If the dining options and stage shows aren't enough to keep everyone occupied, you can try bumper cars, rock-climbing walls, ziplines, and the surf simulators. Royal Caribbean ships are among the largest on the seas, and all that room means several cabin configurations are available, including family suites and even "townhouse"-style accommodation, allowing your family to spread out.

When the Icon of the Seas launches in January of 2024, it will be the biggest cruise ship in the world. The amenities are also mega-sized, including what is being hailed as the largest waterpark ever built on a cruise ship. Of course, not everyone is thrilled by the gargantuan Icon of the Seas. When the artist's rendering of the ship was released on social media, it caused a furor. On X, formally known as Twitter, one person wrote, "Icon of the Seas looks more like a Hieronymus Bosch painting than a cruise ship."

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Cruise vacations were originally built on the naval traditions of traveling by boat, and sometimes retain that formality that many see as old-fashioned. While it may be charming to some, for others, especially those with kids, this atmosphere may feel, well, a bit stifling. However, Norwegian's family-friendly cruises, with their "freestyle cruising" approach, are anything but stifling. The freestyle mentality refers to the fact that Norwegian ships don't have a dress code or set dining times.

In addition to this carefree vibe, families will find lots of activities to love. Of note is the Guppies Program and its open play areas, which give parents a spot to play with their babies and toddlers. For families with older kids, the VR games in the Galaxy Pavillion, ropes courses, waterslides, and race courses will likely be hits.

There's lots to do on a Norwegian ship, but we should mention that the cruise line is making a shift in its itineraries toward more time in ports of call. If you are someone who treasures your days at sea, this excursion-forward change may feel like a drawback. 

P&O Cruises

American cruisers may be less familiar with P&O Cruises than they are with cruise lines that sail regularly from U.S. ports, but P&O, which bills itself as Britain's favorite cruise line, knows a thing about catering to all kinds of passengers -– families included. English Claymation animation stars Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep make special guest appearances on family-friendly cruises. The characters are featured in arts and crafts in The Reef kids club and play an augmented reality version of hide and seek with younger passengers. Aboard P&O's newest ship, Arvia, Wallace and Gromit star in a special live show for their young fans. 

Something that makes P&O stand apart is the nursery services for babies and toddlers. Not every line includes baby care in the cost of the cruise, much less nighttime nursery service. However, families with infants will be happy to know that evening child-minding is included for passengers aged 6 months to 4 years. 

Since P&O is a British company, passengers are largely English and prices are generally given in pounds sterling, so you may need to calculate conversions for various costs related to the cruise. Another consideration is that only five of the P&O ships are family-friendly. The remaining two are adults-only, so make sure you plan your family vacation with the correct ship in mind. 

MSC Cruises

Cruise Critic concedes MSC Cruises "may not be on your radar" for family cruises, but goes on to report "it's actually a great option for people traveling with children." And with some very cool, all-ages activities aboard its ships, it's hard to disagree. By purchasing the MSC Fun Pass, you'll have access to bowling, an XD interactive cinema, and a flight simulator. Another plus is how MSC has worked to make things more accessible for passengers with limited mobility, most notably on its private Caribbean island, Ocean Cay Marine Reserve. The island is fully ADA-compliant and has beach wheelchairs that, upon request, will be set aside for passengers to use as soon as they reach the island.

MSC attracts an international clientele and officially operates in six languages: English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese. Which language takes precedence on any given cruise is determined by the language spoken by most passengers. That doesn't mean you won't be able to communicate in a different language, but if you are considering booking a cruise with MSC, know that English is not the default language.

Celebrity Cruises

Traveling with teenagers is notoriously tough, as stuff that appeals to kids may be too baby-ish, but an adult-only cruise isn't feasible either. Celebrity Cruises seems to have struck a magic balance, and according to Forbes, is the best cruise line for teenagers. The publication singles out Teen Camp programming, describing it as "particularly interesting for more mature children and teens." Activities include silent discos, video game competitions, sports competitions, and culinary lessons.

On the new Celebrity Ascent, the spa has services specially designed for kids and teens, as opposed to many adult-only spas with strict "no kids allowed" policies. On the Celebrity Equinox and Celebrity Edge, S.T.E.M. activities developed with the Frost Science Museum teach kids about sailing and navigation, nature and conservation efforts, as well as marine life. In addition, Celebrity offers autism-friendly cruising, which includes specialized dietary options and toys and films that accommodate passengers with sensory sensitivity. The cruise line also offers priority boarding and check-in to help these families avoid crowd bottlenecks. 

While there are lots of great things for families on a Celebrity ship, their main demographic remains adults, as it has been from the beginning —marketing themselves as an edgier alternative to staid competitors. If you have young kids or are looking for a cruise fully focused on the younger set, Celebrity may not be the line for you.

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Ritz-Carlton is one of the top brands in luxury accommodations, and they've brought the same white-glove service they are known for on land to their cruise superyacht, the Evrima. The ship will be joined by two more in 2024 and 2025. For now, the small vessel (with only a 298-passenger capacity) stands alone for the brand. Ritz-Carlton has made a name for itself with gorgeously designed spaces, and the suites on the Evrima carry on this tradition, with beautiful furnishings and high-end touches. Families can make use of the convertible sofa beds found in many of the suites, while the two-story lofts offer a bit more privacy. In these spacious suites, the sofa bed is located upstairs in the sitting room, while the master suite is located on the lower floor. 

In this luxury yacht and small ship category, kids clubs are not a given, but Ritz Kids, a popular program offered at Ritz hotels, has been bought aboard. The club offers creative programming for kids with trained counselors to enrich the time young people spend on board. During school holidays and summer sailings, expect more young passengers than at other times of the year.

In keeping with the theme of a luxury hotel on water, the pricing structure of the Ritz-Carleton Yacht Collection is closer to a hotel than an all-inclusive resort (like other cruise lines). This means things that you might expect to be included in your fare may not be. This includes the kids club, which incurs a charge per child, per session.

Hurtigruten Expeditions

Hurtigruten Expeditions is where it's at for adventurous families. With small ships and itineraries visiting places like the Galapagos Islands and Arctic regions, a trip with Hurtigruten appeals to those with an explorer's heart. For people who aren't enchanted with the floating theme park feel of some mega-ships, but want to share a marine experience with their kids, this could be just the thing. You won't find Broadway-style stage shows or waterslides, but they do have hot tubs (some ships also feature infinity pools). However, you'll have ample opportunity to learn from onboard experts while spending time with the ones you love most.

Although the cruise line used to offer a Young Explorers' Programme, which provided specialized programming for passengers aged 6 to 12, the educational youth program has been indefinitely suspended. However, the ship still offers educational lectures and interactive workshops, allowing passengers of all ages to learn more about the culture and natural wonders of various destinations. Children are welcomed onboard Hurtigruten Expeditions, but it's important to note that they must be at least 5 years old to visit Antarctica and South Georgia. For safety reasons, participation in excursions for those under 12 is based on the captain's discretion.