From ballet for babies to Cruise Got Talent for teens, cruising kids are spoiled for choice, and there’s massive competition between lines to come up with the best boredom-busters on a family cruise.

Fun is a serious business, says Melissa Mahaffey, director of youth experience at Carnival Cruise Line. “We carry around 900,000 kids a year, and we’re known for our fun, spirited onboard atmosphere.”

Disney also goes the extra mile to creating ideal family cruises – as you’d expect – and if Mickey and friends are your kids’ idea of heaven, they’ll just love a Disney cruise.

But it’s not only big ships that offer entertainment for all. A-Rosa was the first river line to target the family cruise market, and offers free cruises for kids under 15 – the only river line to do so – on all but its Douro routes. So if you’re planning a great escape with little ones, here’s where to begin…

Family cruises: Disney cruise
A Disney cruise is sure to keep everyone smiling

Best for…Babies

Cruise ships wanting to target families are bursting with kids’ club options, but they don’t always cater for tiny tots, so we love the Babytainment sessions on Marella Discovery and Discovery 2. Parents and babies are invited to join in nursery rhyme sing-alongs and baby ballet, and can also follow CBeebies’ Mr Tumble and learn sign language in Sing & Sign sessions. At least one different Babytainment session is on offer every day and they’re available all year round.

Family cruises: best for babies
Toddlers and water are a match made in heaven

 

Get on Board

7-night ‘Mediterranean Gems’ cruise aboard Marella Discovery 2, round trip from Naples via Barcelona, departing
6 May 2020, from £753 based on two adults and two children sharing an inside cabin on an all-inclusive basis,
tui.co.uk/cruise

7-night ‘Magic of Spain’ cruise aboard Marella Discovery, round trip from Palma via Gibraltar, Lisbon, Cadiz, Malaga and Cartagena, departing 27 June 2020, from £881, based on two adults and two children sharing an inside cabin on an all-inclusive basis, tui.co.uk/cruise

Best for…Family Suites

Imagine your kids zooming down a slide to land on the floor of your hotel suite. Not to mention having their own floor-to-ceiling wall of Lego, an 85in TV, a private 3D cinema, an air hockey table and a bumper pool on the balcony. That’s what’s on offer in the aptly named Ultimate Family Suite on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. If you’re after the trip of a lifetime and serious fun for serious amounts of cash, this could be for you.

Get on Board

7-night ‘Western Caribbean & Perfect Day’ cruise aboard Symphony of the Seas, round trip from Miami via Honduras, Mexico and Bahamas, departing 29 August 2020, cruise only from £6,178, based on two adults and two children sharing a Junior Suite, royalcaribbean.co.uk

7-night ‘Eastern Caribbean & Perfect Day cruise’ aboard Symphony of the Seas, round trip from Miami via St Thomas and Bahamas, departing 5 September 2020, from £25,732 based on two adults and two children sharing the Ultimate Family Suite, royalcaribbean.co.uk

Royal Caribbean Ultimate family suite
Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate Family Suite is a dream come true – at a price

Best for…New Attractions

With so much competition between cruise lines to offer bigger and better family activities, sone of the biggest draws are the incredible swimming pools and waterparks. Carnival Cruises has a great range of kids’ (and big kids’) facilities. From late this year, guests will be able to bounce around at the first trampoline park at sea, Sky Zone on board Carnival Panorama,
and from August 2020, thrill-seekers on Carnival’s brand new ship, Mardi Gras, can take a trip on the first ever cruise-ship rollercoaster, which is part of The Ultimate Playground.

Get on Board

7-night ‘Mexican Riviera’ cruise aboard Carnival Panorama, round trip from Los Angeles via Cabo St Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, departing 9 May 2020, from £1,160 based on a family of four sharing two Family Harbor inside cabins, carnival.com

6-night ‘Canada & New England’ cruise aboard Mardi Gras, round trip from New York via Portland, departing 24 September 2020, from £1,377 based on a family of four sharing two Family Harbor inside cabins, carnival.com

Family cruises: Carnival Horizon's WaterWorks
Carnival Horizon’s WaterWorks gives Dr Seuss fans the chance to make a splash

Best for…Teens

Forty per cent of the guests on board MSC cruises are 13-17 year olds, so a new raft of teen-focused entertainment activities has been designed with them in mind. There’s plenty for teens to do on MSC Bellissima, and those lucky enough to be cruising on MSC Grandiosa can take part in MSC Dance Crew (developed by the Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor team) for a chance to win Dance Crew of the Year. There’s also Drone Academy, a high-tech, high-energy drone relay race; Spy Mission, MSC’s first immersive roaming spy experience, and a brand-new web series, Cabin 120006, targeted at teens.

Get on Board

7-night ‘Mediterranean’ cruise aboard Grandiosa, round trip from Marseille via Genoa, Naples, Messina, Valletta and Barcelona, departing 4 April 2020, from £2,176 based on two adults and two children sharing a balcony cabin, msccruises.co.uk

7-night Mediterranean cruise aboard Grandiosa, round trip from Genoa via Naples and Barcelona, departing 25 October 2020, from £1,936 based on two adults and two children sharing an inside cabin, msccruises.co.uk

Family cruises: MSC ships
On board MSC ships, teens get their own theme nights

Best for…All Ages

P&O has long been a favourite of British cruisers young and old, and new ship Iona is broadening the line’s appeal to families with great age-specific kids’ clubs and immersive family game shows. From May 2020, younger guests will also be able to enjoy new family-friendly excursions including a wilderness kayaking adventure in Norway, a trip to the Atlantic Sea Park – one of Europe’s largest saltwater aquariums – and an adrenaline-pumping day at Entre Ramas Adventure Park in Cadiz. Meanwhile, thanks to all those P&O home comforts, Mum, Dad and the grandparents will be happy, too.

Best for all ages: cruises
Cruises tailored to all members of the family, no matter what age

 

Get on Board

7-night ‘Norwegian Fjords’ cruise aboard Iona, round trip from Southampton via Stavanger, Alesund and Bergen, departing 12 September 2020, from £1,716 based on a family of four (two children under 16), pocruises.com

14-night ‘Canary Islands’ cruise aboard Iona, round trip from Southampton via Madeira, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Cadiz and Lisbon, departing 20 February 2021, from £2,000 based on a family of four, pocruises.com

Top 5 family cruise must-haves

Age-relevant kids’ club

No matter how friendly they may be, it’s unlikely your 15-year-old will be happy hanging out with a gang of under-tens. Have a good look at the cruise line’s website before you book anything.

Plenty of dining options

Nearly all of us have a picky eater in the family, so make sure there’s a choice of eateries for everyone. Look for a cruise with flexible dining times, too.

Babysitting services

It’s likely to incur an extra cost, but having the option of a babysitting service on board frees up parents for at least one child-free day or evening. If you’re planning a tour around an archeological dig, it may not be best for baby…

Buggy-friendly facilities

Sometimes ships have to anchor outside ports for shore excursions and lifeboats are used to ferry people ashore. This may be problematic for prams and push chairs, so check before you book.

Easy travel arrangements

While the cruise itinerary and facilities may be perfect, consider the logistics of getting your family on board. Will you need to catch multiple flights and get through lengthy transfers before the holiday even begins?