Best cruises for families

Maybe it’s a special birthday—or an anniversary. Maybe it’s just time to gather the gang. Whatever the reason, multigenerational groups have become a leading segment of cruisers. Good chance when you see a gaggle of kids on a ship, you’ll see grandparents too.

It’s easy to see the appeal—unpack once, plenty for everyone to do, organized activities for the kids and the teens, the chance to show the grandkids a bit of the world. And these days, grandparents can even opt for concierge levels like Norwegian’s Haven and MSC’s Yacht Club enabling them to escape from the fray while the grandkids are free to enjoy the hubbub.  Some ships may have as many as 1000 kids on board!

What’s the best cruise line for your family?Consider using a travel agent who is a cruise expert.  It can be difficult to sort out all the choices and a travel agent can wrangle upgrades and the best group deal. Before you decide:  Ask yourself:


Avoid flying and cruise from a port near home.  Norwegian, for example, now cruises year-round from New York City. You can cruise from Los Angeles or Galveston, Miami or New Orleans, Boston or Seattle—more than two dozen ports to choose from.


If teens are part of the equation, you probably want a line like Royal Caribbean with all the bells and whistles—everything from a climbing wall to a simulated sky diving experience on the line’s newest ships.

If you have tweens and teens, see if there are separate clubs for the two age groups. You know a 17 year-old won’t want to hang out with his 13-year-old brother.

Those with young kids want a line that offers activities for the youngest sailors. There is infant day care aboard Disney’s and Royal Caribbean Ships (at an extra charge). Camp Carnival starts at age two on Carnival Ships. And for those Frozen obsessed, Disney has unveiled new shipboard activities this summer. There’s even a new Summertime Freeze bar at Disney’s private Castaway Island inspired by Olaf, everyone’s favorite snowman.


A three or four day jaunt to the Caribbean or a longer experience in Alaska or Europe?


Some lines offer more than others. A tip: If you can’t get connecting rooms, book a balcony room for the adults and inside cabins directly across the hall for the teens.


Alaska is particularly popular with multigenerational groups and you will see many of them on Princess, Disney and Holland American ships, among others.

But you will also see more families heading for exotic climes—Japan cruises on Princess, the Norwegian Fjords on Disney. Norwegian and MSC Cruises now sail the Med year-round with many multigenerational groups on board.

Upscale Crystal has seen an uptick in  multigenerational groups on its Mediterranean and Alaska sailings and touts  deep discounts for kids 11 and younger when sailing with two adults.


Sometimes, grandparents pick up the entire tab; in other families, the middle generation pays for the flights and extra on board expenses. MSC Cruises, which just introduced the MSC Divina in New York, may be the best deal going: kids 11 and under sail free and those 17 and under get a significant discount when they are the third and fourth in a room.

If big cruise ships aren’t your style, consider a river cruise. Tauck now has special trips for families and Adventures by Disney has just introduced its first river cruises along the Danube.  Uniworld is tripling its family departures next year.

Families who love sailing can charter your own crewed sailboat from a company like Mooringss or mount an expedition on a small ship to the Galapagos, Antartica or Alaska with a company like AdventureSmith Explorations..

Consider planning your own shore excursions—at least some of them. If you have six our eight or more in the group, you’ll get more bang for your buck and have a more personal experience.   Companies like Tours by Locals can help.

Now the fun part—getting everyone excited about the trip.