"Buccaneer Blast" on the Disney DreamI always feel sorry for families who have never discovered cruising. They simply don’t know what they’re missing.

Having taken my 10-year-old twins on several sailings aboard many different ships over the years, it never fails to amaze me that more parents haven’t discovered this type of family holiday.

In recent years, cruise lines have invested millions of pounds to woo the lucrative family market and, as a result, there are numerous child-friendly ships packed to the funnels with eye-popping experiences that range from zipwire rides and waterslides to ice-skating rinks and climbing walls.

There are nurseries and kids’ clubs galore, some of which take youngsters from just three-months-old, and parties and parades with the likes of famous characters such as Mickey Mouse, Shrek or Dora the Explorer.

And it’s not all about the entertainment. Family-friendly cabins that sleep groups of four or five; buffet restaurants that cater for young palates; and the general thrill of being at sea are all factors that make cruising an ideal choice for all ages.

For the uninitiated, choosing your first family cruise can be a daunting task. After all, the most important factor is to pick the right ship.

The main cruise lines, and particularly those with newer vessels, offer a good range of family-friendly facilities.

Disney Cruise Line is the ultimate family option. While the other cruise companies are family-friendly, Disney is family-centric with activities truly geared to its younger guests and staff that really know how to capture children’s attention.

Excellent Mickey-themed deck parties and regular sightings of characters around the ships add extra magic to its sailings.

Royal Caribbean International caters admirably for youngsters from six months upwards with nurseries, kids’ clubs and activities that range from rock-climbing walls and surf simulators to ice-skating rinks and a full-size carousel on its two largest ships.

Norwegian Cruise Line is another that caters for all ages and is renowned for its “freestyle” cruising where there are no set meal times or dress codes – making it wonderfully flexible for families who can choose their own routine.

Like RCI, it also boasts fun waterslides and water play zones, plus climbing walls and bowling alleys.

Carnival Cruise Lines boasts similar facilities, as does MSC Cruises which, as an Italian company, injects a more continental ambience.

It also offers free sailings for kids, with under-18s who accompany full-fare paying adults and share their cabin travelling for free, paying only port charges and flights.

P&O Cruises offers more of a British-style flavour with lots to do and excellent kids’ clubs along with character appearances by Noddy and Mr Bump for younger children, while Thomson Cruises offer more of a resort-style flavour, not dissimilar to its land-based holidays.

Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises bring a more sophisticated experience to family cruising, catering admirably for youngsters but without the all-out singing and dancing family theme that some other lines have.

So get out there and get cruising – there are more family-friendly ships than ever before.

Sara Macefield is on the esteemed panel of judges at this year’s Cruise International Awards.

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