The Best Cruise Lines and Ships For Families - 2020 Members' Choice Awards
Choosing the best cruise for your family is no easy task. From family-friendly activities like mini-golf courses and rock climbing walls to kids-only spaces and babysitting, cruise lines will bend over backward to attract parents and kids onto their ships. To simplify the process, we analyzed the data from over 3,000 verified reviews submitted by families with kids within the past year. Here are the cruise lines and ships that received the highest average scores from our members.
Best Line for Families with Young Kids
1. Disney Cruise Line - 4.35
2. Royal Caribbean International - 4.30
3. Celebrity Cruises - 4.25
4. MSC Cruises - 4.20
5. Carnival Cruise Line - 4.18
Disney has always been the line to beat in this category, thanks to its ability to satisfy kids and parents alike. 2020 was no exception, as their mix of top-notch kids’ activities (think Disney-themed entertainment, parties, and character meet-and-greets) and surprisingly high-quality fine dining and classy bars once again made them the top choice for families sailing with young kids. If their prices weren’t two to three times higher than their competitors, the choice to sail Disney would always be a no-brainer for families.
After a third-place finish last year, Royal Caribbean moved up to the #2 spot. The selection of activities on newer Royal ships is second-to-none. While younger kids might not be able to enjoy the more physically demanding activities like rock-climbing walls, it’s a fantastic choice for pre-teens that might find a Disney cruise too cheesy.
Best Ships for Families with Young Kids
1. Symphony of the Seas - 4.56
2. Carnival Valor - 4.50
3. Freedom of the Seas - 4.49
4. Disney Dream - 4.49
5. Disney Fantasy - 4.48
The world’s largest cruise ship should have more than enough to keep both kids and parents entertained, and Symphony of the Seas does not disappoint. Royal Caribbean’s heart-pumping lineup of activities is not for the faint of heart: between the zip line that spans the length of the ship, two FlowRider surf simulators, multiple water slides, laser tag, and Ultimate Abyss (the tallest slide at sea), adrenaline-junkie families will never run out of things to do. (It’s worth noting that you can find almost all of these activities on the #3 Freedom of the Seas for a significantly lower price point.)
Carnival Valor isn’t a headline-grabbing ship, so it definitely turned some heads when it beat out the entire Disney fleet. The highly-rated onboard activities include some of Carnival’s best staples like the Twister waterslide, a mini-golf course, movies on the jumbo screen by the pool, themed deck parties like the 80’s Rock-N-Glow party, and Hasbro, The Game Show, a competition where members of the audience can compete onstage by playing massive, oversized board games.
Best Line for Families with Teens
1. Royal Caribbean International - 4.37
2. Celebrity Cruises - 4.31
3. Princess Cruises - 4.28
4. Carnival Cruise Line - 4.25
5. Holland America Line - 4.21
While Royal is always in tough competition with Disney regarding families with young children, it’s truly in a league of its own in the teen category. Even the older ships in the fleet have undergone refurbishments to add their signature activities like surf simulators and rock-climbing walls, so virtually any of their ships are a safe bet for families who like to keep busy.
Celebrity and Princess Cruises always surprise us when they rank highly in this category. The conventional wisdom is that their more elegant approach to cruising and less flashy ships would be a bore for many teens. They may not have rock walls and zip lines like Royal, but they do have exclusive teen-only programming like Celebrity’s X-Club. In this space, they can hang out, play sports, participate in activities like trivia or karaoke, and attend teens-only late-night dances. Princess has stepped up their game in this category as well with teen-only lounges and spaces like the Remix Teen Club on Royal Princess, a space for teens that comes with a fully-loaded DJ booth where teens can create their playlists, dance, or relax.
Best Ships for Families with Teens
1. Harmony of the Seas - 4.50
2. Allure of the Seas - 4.50
3. Anthem of the Seas - 4.48
4. Liberty of the Seas - 4.46
5. Ovation of the Seas - 4.46
We’ve seen dominant performances by Royal Caribbean before, but somehow they managed to take it to the next level by completely sweeping the Best Ships For Families with Teens category. Their Oasis-class ships (Harmony and Allure) have long been among the highest-rated ships by Cruiseline.com reviewers. While the Quantum class (Anthem and Ovation) has lagged behind a bit in the overall categories, the takeaway here is clear: teens like big, flashy ships with lots going on. This may not be a breakthrough in teen psychology, but it does seem to validate Royal Caribbean’s “go big or go home” approach to cruising, as they’ve virtually cornered the market.
Best Lines for Children’s Programs
1. Disney Cruise Line - 3.83
2. Royal Caribbean International - 3.80
3. Carnival Cruise Line - 3.75
4. Celebrity Cruises - 3.54
5. Norwegian Cruise Line - 3.52
While earlier categories rate how well ships did at pleasing the whole family, this category is just about the kids. It’s hard to beat Disney regarding children’s programming; they’ve dominated this category since we started keeping track. All of their children’s programs make full use of the Disney brand: Kids can become doctors at Doc McStuffins Toy Hospital, build cars during Mickey Mouse and the Roadster Racers, have a tea party while they Fancy It Yourself with Fancy Nancy, or show off their moves at the Dancelvania Dance Party with Vampirina. Disney's private island Castaway Cay has a special kid's area called Scuttle Cove for ships docked there.
Royal Caribbean’s lineup of kid’s programs is often regarded just as highly as Disney, even without the support of a lineup of iconic children’s characters. The Adventure Ocean Club blends fun with education as children perform scientific experiments with Adventure Science, make arts and crafts with Adventure Art, and learn the tools of the acting trade at Adventure Theater.
Best Ships for Children’s Programs
1. Symphony of the Seas - 4.27
2. Carnival Dream - 4.27
3. Disney Magic - 4.24
4. Disney Dream - 4.23
5. Navigator of the Seas - 4.14
Once again, the largest cruise ship in the world won the day thanks to its endless lineup of kid-friendly activities and programming. The Adventure Ocean Club is fully stocked with activities like brainteasers, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and dodgeball games. Young cruisers can also participate in the Adventure Science program, which offers hands-on science experiments on topics such as volcanoes, fossils, or gravity. Meanwhile, Carnival Dream’s Camp Ocean has a marine theme throughout the decor and the programming, from its color murals of sea creatures to activities like the Lego Reef Building.
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