A cruise can be a fabulous way to see the world while keeping the kids happy and engaged. Flo Powell, Director of the Association of Cruise Experts (ACE), investigates what’s on offer for families on the all-singing, all-dancing cruise ships of today.

Cruising is on the crest of a wave at the moment. The first ship launch of the year was the stunning Disney Dream, and as the year progresses we will see launches including Carnival Magic, Celebrity Silhouette, Costa Favolosa, Oceania’s Marina, Seabourn Quest, Compagnie Du Ponant’s L’Austral and, new to brand, P&O Cruises’ Adonia. These ships highlight the huge range of cruise styles available, and include a growing number of ships aimed specifically at families.

Family cruising has come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade as cruise operators have invested heavily in facilities, entertainment, dining and other services for families. What’s particularly impressed me is the range of clubs and activities for all ages – from toddlers to teenagers – and the attention that’s paid to parents too.

Families cruising today can expect to find up to five different clubs for youngsters, with areas of the ships dedicated to specific age groups. There’s a whole host of activities, from rock climbing and surfing to soft play areas and mini cinemas, plus games consoles, Internet access points and nightclubs. Children’s activities are supervised by trained youth teams with some cruise lines offering shore excursions and spa areas for children, too.

Disney, as we all know, has a stellar track record in entertaining children, and I anticipated that the new Disney Dream would have enough activities to keep even the most demanding of kids happy.

I was right. The Animators Palate restaurant is a delight for all ages, with the animated turtle from Finding Nemo, who ‘talks’ to diners from what appears to be the Pacific Ocean. Kids can play detective, hunting down Disney characters by way of paintings positioned around the ship that come to life when shown a detective badge. There’s an Oceaneers lab where little ones can make flubber shapes; a tweens area for under 14s; and Vibe, exclusive to teenagers, with games consoles, a pool area and activities. I tried to take a peek but the doors only open for someone aged between 14 and 17, which I’m sure pleases the teens immensely! The shows in the Walt Disney Theatre were great, a combination of stage performances and film clips on an enormous screen, and there were plenty of photo opportunities with all your favourite Disney characters.

What I hadn’t counted on was three days not being long enough to experience everything the ship had on offer for adults. I needed another day to take it all in – the spa and gym, the restaurants and cafés, the adults-only ‘Cove’ pool area, the nightclubs, bars and evening shows.


There’s a whole host of kids’ activities on board cruise ships today, from rock climbing and surfing to soft play areas and mini cinemas

Disney Cruise Line is just one of a number of companies ideal for family cruising. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas was launched just a few months ago, and along with her sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, offers spa areas, a nightclub and sun lounges just for teenagers.

And don’t be surprised if you find yourself bumping into characters such as Shrek, King Julien VIII and Kung Fu Panda on board.

O Cruises offers dedicated children’s facilities on a number of its ships. Little ones can meet Noddy while teenagers can get to grips with the latest games technology and enjoy adventure trips ashore, all organised through the onboard Reef programme.

Other companies catering for family cruise holidays include Norwegian Cruise Line, which has teamed up with Nickelodeon to offer a host of children’s activities, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises.

Family cruising can be a fantastic experience for children of all ages, and for us ‘older kids.’ With impressive service, innovative use of technology and breathtaking shore excursions, there are plenty of fun times to be had both on and off today’s cruise ships.

For more on family cruising pick up the next issue of Cruise International, out on April 15. To find your local ACE agent and book your next cruise holiday visit discovercruises.co.uk.