Water parks at sea, meet-and-greets with Anna and Elsa – a cruise will keep the whole family happy. Here’s our pick of the best family cruises to suit all budgets
If you’re looking for the ultimate stress-free family holiday, a cruise is the answer, says Liz Jarvis, Editor of Cruise International. “Cruises offer a myriad of activities and destinations, so there’s something to suit everyone,” she says. “And because all your food and entertainment and kids’ clubs are included in the price of your holiday, they’re remarkably good value for money. Your children will love being on board, getting to know ‘their’ ship and making new friends – plus it’s a fantastic way to introduce them to new cultures, and show them the world’s greatest sights, from the Colosseum to the Catherine Palace.”
With activities ranging from stargazing to sky-diving at sea, zip-wiring, spas and sleepovers for teens, hanging out with Darth Vader and even shark hunting (don’t worry they’re not actually searching for Jaws, it’s a virtual thing), your children will have the time of their lives – and there will be plenty of grown-up time too. And the best thing is that while your kids are being safely looked after you can relax and enjoy some time to yourselves.
From luxurious six-star vessels to state-of-the-art ships offering all-inclusive, high-octane thrills, a cruise really is an incredible family adventure. Here’s our pick of the 10 best family cruise lines around…
1. MSC Cruises
This Italian cruise line – Sophia Loren is its celebrity godmother – prides itself on offering families a taste of the ‘dolce vita’. With West End-style shows, pre-paid debit cards, Formula One simulator, 4D cinema, Aqua Park with water slide, and teenage spa with hair and beauty treatments, it’s clear children on board the Mediterranean brand’s ships are stylishly catered for.
Baby Care, for ages one to three, gives parents time to explore, relax or pamper themselves in the Balinese spa, and there are four more kids’ clubs with free programmes to entertain every age group: Mini Club (3-6); Junior Club (7-11); Young Club
(12-14); and Teens Club (15-17).
This is one of the only cruises where there’s a Kids’ Corner at the port where security braces are provided before boarding, Baby Laundry, Happy Dinners – where children eat with the family and then escorted to the entertainment – and late-night supervised play at Kids Around the Clock, so adults can explore the
night-time attractions. Debuting this year are MSC’s Meraviglia – ‘wonder’ in Italian – and Seaside to herald a new era of luxury for families on board.
Getting there: A seven-night cruise for family of four around the Mediterranean on MSC Armonia departing from Genoa, Italy, on April 1 2017 staying in an ocean view room is £1,716 excluding flights (msccruises.co.uk).
2. P&O Cruises
Creating family cruises that set sail during school holidays – from Southampton no less – and boasting one of the best kids’ activities programmes on board its fleet, which includes Britain’s largest cruise ship, P&O proves it isn’t just size that matters.
Entertainment such as Secret Agent Academy Training, Wizard Spells and Golden Snitch Hunt, and discos on a light-up dance floor, show it is focused on being the best, as well as biggest.
All five ships have child-friendly pools and play areas, and free, round-the-clock kids’ club, which is split into: Splashers (2-4 years); Surfers (5-8s); Scubas (9-12s);
and a cool teenager’s club, H2O (13-17). Children can eat early so they can enjoy the entertainment, and the complimentary Night Nursery is open until 2am.
Getting there: A seven-night Mediterranean cruise for four on board Oceana on 13 April 2017 staying in an outside room is from £979 excluding flights (bolsovercruiseclub.com).
3. Holland America Line
Throughout its 140-year cruising history, Holland America has prided itself on creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences. That means spacious, elegant ships, sailing to exotic locations offering fine-dining and award-winning services. So while it doesn’t offer the most extensive children’s facilities and programmes on board, it has focused on getting the basics right.
Think hot tubs on deck, indoor and outdoor pools, basketball, shuffleboard, bingo and cookery classes. There are pool and pyjama parties, treasure hunts, karaoke and XBox tournaments at Club HAL, which runs morning and afternoon programmes for children aged 3-17 in three separate clubs for kids (3-6), tweens (7-12) and teens. The latter have their own deck, The Loft, with swimming pool, nightclub, hip-hop classes, cocktail mixology classes and sports competitions.
There are nightly shows, cleverly designed staterooms with a double bed, bunk bed and single bed behind a curtain to accommodate different ages. And foodies will love the variety of restaurants and friendly service.
Getting there: A seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise for a family of four in an ocean view room on board MS Eurodam on April 1 2017 is £2,346.24 including $100 onboard credit, excluding flights. Departs Fort Lauderdale, Florida (hollandamerica.com).
4. Disney Cruise Line
With fine dining at Beauty and the Beast’s Lumiere’s or the spectacular Animator’s Palate, meet-and-greets with the likes of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa, and Captain Mickey at the helm, Disney brings its own five-star brand of magic to a family cruise.
Its four award-winning ships boast state-of-the-art luxury and entertainment including Broadway-style shows, an entire deck of children’s activities, 3-D film premieres and a coterie of everyone’s favourite cartoon characters. There’s also a pirate party, complete with fireworks.
As you’d expect from the company that invented the art of family fun, Disney makes sure everyone enjoys themselves the moment they step aboard. From a dedicated nursery, catering for babies as young as three months, to its Vibe club for up to 17 year olds, with activities including arts, crafts, karaoke, music and dancing.
Staterooms are roomy, with a childproof balcony, split bathroom with tub, as well as shower, and a bunk that comes down from the ceiling. The entire fleet is glamorous with more than a passing nod to the golden age of shipping, and the Disney touches are subtle – you can be as Disney as you want.
There are Star Wars Days at Sea on Fantasy and Jedi Training with a Master to help children ‘feel the force.’ Add in Princess parties, animation lessons and itineraries including the Med, Norway, Iceland and the Caribbean, and it’s easy to see why so many families consider Disney to be a dream cruise.
Getting there: A seven-night Mediterranean cruise departing from Barcelona on board Disney Magic on August 12 2017 is £5,742 for an inside stateroom that sleeps four, exclusive of flights (disneycruise.disney.go.com).
5. Carnival Cruise Line
For family fun, Carnival Cruise Line is right up there among the best. Carnival Vista, which launched in May last year, has an expanded Carnival WaterWorks featuring the Kaleid-O-Slide waterslide. The 455ft-long flume with kaleidoscopic visual effects has one- or two-person rafts. There is also a 300ft Twister Waterslide that spirals and a 300-gallon Power Drencher tipping bucket. Younger children will love the Splash Zone and Mini Racer Slides. Carnival Vista also has the first IMAX® Theatre at sea while its ‘tah-dah’ moment is the new SkyRide featuring rollercoaster-style bicycle capsules on a monorail suspended above the deck.
This modern ship also offers Carnival’s first outdoor eating areas at several of its speciality restaurants, which are popular, despite the small cover charge. A special treat for families might be a visit to the Cherry On Top sweets and more candy store, which includes a mixed-to-order ice-cream parlour.
Getting there: A six-day Western Caribbean voyage on board Carnival Vista from Miami departing June 11 2017 starts at £806pp for an inside cabin (carnival.co.uk).
Read part two of Top 10 Family Cruises 2017 here.