Best Family Cruises

With so many cruise ships at sea, how do you pick the line for your family?

by Shoshana Lewin Fischer
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Disney Cruise Lines

The Vibe 
Magic: The Disney touches are overt in some areas, very subtle in others. And where else would you find a horn that plays "When You Wish Upon a Star" (or "Be Our Guest" or "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes")?
 
Fleet
 
Classic Ships (Each holds up to 2,700)
Disney Magic® (1998) and Disney Wonder® (1999);
 
Newer Ships (Each holds up to 4,100)
Disney Dream® (2011) and Disney Fantasy® (2012)
 
Departure Spots
Port Canaveral (ongoing); Miami, San Juan, Barcelona and Dover (seasonal);
 
Where They Go
Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean (Eastern, Western and Southern), Europe (Mediterranean and Northern), Panama Canal, Transatlantic
 
The 411 on Youth Programs
Disney has multiple programs for its passengers who are 17 and younger, as well as Flounders Reef Nursery (M/W)/it's a Small World Nursery (D/F) for those 3 months to 3 years. Starting in February 2010, activities in the The Oceaneer Club (typically ages 3-7) and the The Oceaneer Lab (usually ages 8-10; ages 8-12 on the Wonder) combined, allowing children to select activities by interest (like science, crafts or problem solving) rather than age. The change allows siblings in different age groups to participate in the same programs. The daily Navigator will continue to recommend activities for specific age groups, but it's now up to parents and their kids to pick the program in which they are interested. The Edge (formerly Quest) (ages 11-13) allows preteens and teens to captain a virtual ship and chill watching the latest Disney Channel shows; Vibe (formerly Aloft/The Stack) (ages 13-17) is a haven for teens who want a break from mom and dad with everything from nightly dance parties to their own beach on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Also, families have access to an online service provided by provided by Babies Travel Lite that allows them to order baby supplies — such as diapers, baby food, infant formula and specialty travel items — before their cruise and have them delivered to their cabin.
 
Your Family Will Love
Take the incredible service and pixie dust of a Disney vacation and put it on a boat. Families that appreciate everything a trip to the Disneyland® Resort or Walt Disney World® Resort has to offer will enjoy the nautical version. Dance the night away with your kids at Studio Sea or the D-Lounge, be a part of the action when the pirates take over the ship at the Pirates in the Caribbean Deck Party, or watch the world premiere of the latest Disney movie in the Buena Vista Theater — which now offers 3-D. No casino, but there are plenty nightspots for the adults at the three clubs on Route 66 or Beat Street on the Magic and Wonder. On the Dream and Fantasy, adults have The District and Europa, with five uniquely themed venues, including a bar with a changing skyline and one that feels like you are inside a bottle of champagne. And - of course, the Aquaduck (on the Dream and Fantasy), and Aquadunk (on the Magic), make for great ways to cool off, unlike anything else afloat.
 
Cost
Starting at $349 for three nights and $449 for four nights on the Wonder (cruise only); and $599 for seven nights (per person for inside stateroom on the Caribbean and Bahamas routes). Land and sea vacations can also be arranged with a stay at the Walt Disney World® Resort or Disneyland® Resort prior to the cruise, which includes tickets to the park and hotel accommodations.
 
Booking Tip
You can also book shore excursions, spa appointments, dinner at the adult-only restaurant Palo (and Remy's on the Dream and Fantasy) and space in the nurseries online a certain amount of days before your cruise once you are paid in full.
 
Loyalty Program: Castaway Club
 
Web Site: disneycruise.disney.go.com. For more ways to share the magic with your family, visit our Disney Parks site.

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Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

The Vibe
Adventure: The line's whose catch phrase is "get out there" is all about topping itself — and there isn't much passengers can't do at sea. Zipline anyone?
 
Fleet
Vision Class (can hold between 2,075 and 2,440 passengers): Legend of the Seas (1994), Splendour of the Seas (1995), Grandeur of the Seas (1996), Rhapsody of the Seas (1996), Enchantment of the Seas (1997) Vision of the Seas (1998)
 
Radiance Class (can hold between 2,100 and 2,500 passengers): Radiance of the Seas (2001), Brilliance of the Seas (2002), Serenade of the Seas (2003), Jewel of the Seas (2004)
 
Voyager Class (can hold more than 3,110 passengers): Voyager of the Seas (1999), Explorer of the Seas (2000), Adventure of the Seas (2001), Navigator of the Seas (2002), Mariner of the Seas (2003)
 
Freedom Class (can hold 4,370 passengers): Freedom of the Seas (2006), Liberty of the Seas (2007), Independence of the Seas (2008)
 
Oasis Class (can hold 5,400-6,400 passengers): Oasis of the Seas (2009), Allure of the Seas (2010)
 
Quantum Class (can hold up to 4,900 passengers): Quantum of the Seas (2014), Anthem of the Seas (2015)
 
 
Departure Spots
Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Boston , Buenos Aires, Cape Liberty (New Jersey), Colon, Copenhagen, Dubai, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston, Honolulu, Istanbul, Lisbon, London (Harwich and Southhampton) , Malaga, Miami, Norfolk, Oslo, Perth, Port Canaveral, Rio De Janeiro, San Diego, San Francisco, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Seward, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tampa, Valparaiso, Vancouver, Venice
 
Where They Go
Alaska (Glaciers, Inside Passage), Asia, Australia/ New Zealand, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada/New England, Caribbean (Eastern, Western and Southern), Dubai/Emerates, Europe (Baltic, British Isles, Mediterranean), Hawaii, Mexico (Baja, Mexican Riviera), Pacific/Northwest, Panama Canal, South America, South Pacific/Tahiti, Transatlantic
 
The 411 on Youth Programs
There are seven programs for the under-18 set on Royal Caribbean: Royal Babies (ages 6-18 months) and Royal Tots (ages 18-36 months), both of whom can enjoy activities designed by Fisher-Price; Aquanauts (ages 3-5), who can enjoy an ice cream party and Crayola's Adventure Art; Explorers (ages 6-8), who participate in Camp Broadway's Adventure Theater class and enjoy scavenger hunts; Voyagers (ages 9-11), who participate in Adventure Science by High Touch High Tech and play in their own X Games; and two groups of Teens (ages to 12-14) and (ages 15-17), who and Dance Dance Revolution and can enjoy a teen casino. Each of the groups has their own "adult-free" hangout. Also, for three sailings in 2009, RCCL is teaming up with Nickelodeon to offer themed cruises on Freedom on the Seas (sailing from Port Canaveral) and Mariner of the Seas (sailing from San Pedro). Starting March 23, through the Babies 2 Go program, parents can pre-order organic baby food and Huggies diapers, wipes and creams for delivery to their cabins and the Stroll & Roll program allows parents with strollers take over the jogging track during specified times for some onboard exercise with their baby. As for mealtime, the new Lunch and Play program is an alternative to closing down Adventure Ocean at lunchtime. Between noon and 2 p.m., lunch will be served in the kids' clubs, along with supervised play.
 
Your Family Will Love
The Royal Caribbean ships give your family the chance to do things on sea they might never do on land. From the 40-foot high rock climbing walls that overlook the ocean, inline skating tracks that circle the sports deck, nine-hole outdoor miniature golf course, indoor ice skating (plus evening skating shows), ziplines, carousels, cupcake bakeries, swimming shows and a surfing simulator called the Flowrider. For those who like to take it a bit easier, there are also plenty of slower-paced -- but just as fun -- activities, including a family disco, bingo and talent shows. When parents need some alone time, the Solarium Pool and Shipshape Spa and Fitness Center make for a quiet break. Or turn it up in the Casino Royale and then party the night away at a nightclub that has a 360-degree view of the ocean.
 
Cost
A seven-night cruise to Alaska in June starts at $699 for an inside stateroom; seven- night Southern Caribbean cruise from San Juan in February starts at $599; and a 10-night cruise in Australia in November starts at $919.
 
Booking Tip
Once you've put down the deposit for a cruise, Royal Caribbean's Web site lets you see a countdown of your cruise, book shore and land excursions and make reservations at one of the specialty restaurants. You can also check-in on line and print out your boarding pass.
 
Loyalty Program: Crown & Anchor Society
 

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Princess Cruise Lines

The Vibe
Love: The line that was the setting for the original Love Boat still carries with it an aura of amour, whether it is love of family or love of destinations -- although you won't find Julie on the Lido deck.
 
Fleet
Explorer Class (can hold approximately 700 passengers): Tahitian/ Ocean Princess (1999), Pacific Princess (built in 1999, acquired by Princess in 2002), Royal Princess (built in 2001, acquired by Princess in 2007).
 
Sun Class (can hold 1,950-1,970 passengers): Sun Princess (1995), Dawn Princess (1997), Sea Princess (1998), Coral Princess (2002), Island Princess (2002)
 
Grand Class (can hold 2,600-3,100 passengers): Grand Princess (1998), Golden Princess (2001), Star Princess (2002), Caribbean Princess (2004)
 
Gem Class (can hold 2,670-3,070 passengers): Diamond Princess (2004), Sapphire Princess (2004), Emerald Princess (2007), Crown Princess (2006), Ruby Princess (2008)
 
Departure Spots
Acapulco, Anchorage, Athens, Auckland, Bangkok, Barbados, Barcelona, Beijing , Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston, Honolulu, Lima, London (Southampton) , Los Angeles (San Pedro) , Manaus (Brazil), Mumbai , New Orleans, New York City, Osaka, Papeete, Québec City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, San Francisco, San Juan, Santiago, Seattle, Singapore, Sydney, Vancouver, Venice
 
Where They Go
Alaska (Glaciers, Inside Passage), Asia, Australia/ New Zealand, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada/New England, Caribbean (Eastern, Western and Southern), Europe (Baltic, British Isles, Mediterranean), Hawaii, Mexico (Baja, Mexican Riviera), Panama Canal, South America, South Pacific/Tahiti, Transatlantic.
 
The 411 on Youth Programs
There are three programs for the under-18 set on Princess: Princess Pelicans (ages 3-7), which offers pajama parties and movie nights; Shockwaves (ages 8-12), which has scavenger hunts and shipboard Olympics; and Teens (ages 13-17), who can enjoy casino nights and The Dating Game. Each of the groups also has their own "adult-free" hangout, either the Fun Zone or Teen Center. On some of the newer ships, there is a teen-only hot tub, and, on certain sailings, the California Science Center presents "edutainment" interactive science programs for those in the Fun Zone.
 
Your Family Will Love
Love is all around the Princess fleet. Food lovers can enjoy Anytime Dining, classic traditional dining, specialty dining, snacks 24 hours a day, or even experience the chef's table hosted by the executive chef. Entertainment lovers can spends every night enjoy watching movies under the starts or catch an original show in the theater. While the kids are partying in their zones, lovers of learning can take an array of classes in everything from scrapbooking to wine tasting as part of the line's Scholar@Sea program. And spa lovers can relax with a massage in the Lotus Spa or chill out in the adult-only outdoor Sanctuary.
 
Cost
Seven nights in the Caribbean in May starts at $449 for an inside stateroom. Seven-night Inside Passage cruise in Alaska in May starts at $499. A nine-night Transatlantic cruise in April from Ft. Lauderdale to Portugal starts at $599.
 
Booking Tip
The cruise finder makes it easy to search by length of cruise, embarkation point, date, ship and destination. You can also book shore excursion and spa appointments in advance on the Web site to make sure you get the ones you want.
 
Loyalty Program: Captain's Circle
 
Web Site: www.princess.com

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Norwegian Cruise Lines

 

The Vibe
Freestyle: Norwegian Cruise Line was the first of the mega-lines to incorporate having no assigned times or tables for dinner. You do what you want, when you want.
 
Fleet
Sky Class (can hold 1,900-2,400 passengers): Norwegian Sky /Pride of Aloha (1999), Norwegian Sun (2001)
 
Leo Class (can hold nearly 2,000 passengers): Norwegian Spirit (1998, acquired by NCL in 2004)
 
Libra Class (can hold more than 2,220 passengers): Norwegian Star (2001), Norwegian Dawn (2002)
 
Jewel Class (can hold 2,200 -- nearly 2,400 passengers): Norwegian Jewel (2005), Norwegian Pearl (2006), Norwegian Gem (2007), Norwegian Jade (2008)
 
Other ships in the fleet: Norwegian Majesty (can hold slightly more than 1,000 passengers; built in 1992, acquired by NCL in 1997), Pride of America (can hold 1,900 passengers, built in 2005)
 
Departure Spots
Athens, Barcelona, Baltimore, Boston, Buenos Aires, Charleston, Honolulu, Istanbul, London (Dover and Southampton), Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Quebec City, Rotterdam, San Francisco, Santiago
 
Where They Go
Alaska, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada/New England, Caribbean (Eastern, Western and Southern), Europe, Hawaii, Mexico (Mexican Riviera), Pacific Coast, Panama Canal, South America
 
The 411 on Youth Programs
There are four programs for the under-18 set on Norwegian: Juniors (ages 2-5), which includes storytelling and painting; First Mates (ages 6-9), which has pool parties and pizza making; Navigators (ages 10-12), which has sport activities and team building; and Teens (ages 13-17), who have their own disco and movie nights. Each of the groups also has their own "adult-free" hangout (and while there are some family activities, a parent can only attend with a child).
 
Your Family Will Love
Norwegian puts the free in freestyle for the family with a two-story Ninento Wii screen, a bowling alley at sea , private Karaoke rooms, waterslides, rockclimbing and grabbing a sweet treat at the Chocoholic Buffet. Then when mom and dad decide they need a break, they can enjoy a show by the Second City troupe, party it up at 13 different bars and lounges, or relax at the pool's quiet zone.
 
Cost
Starting at $379 per person for inside stateroom to the Mexican Riviera; $579 per person for a balcony. Two-day getaway roundtrips out of Miami start at $199, or out of New York for $369. Some cruises to Alaska start at $449 out of Los Angeles.
 
Booking Tip
Norwegian has several sailing deals on its Web site, including onboard credits and special rates on certain sailings. Once you've booked your cruise, you can also arrange shore excursions and check in on the company's Web site. Since the ship offers freestyle dining at its 13 restaurants, there is no need to select a dining time -- unless you want to.
 
Loyalty Program: Latitudes
 
Web Site: www.ncl.com

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Carnival Cruise Lines

The Vibe
Party: The emphasis here is on fun. Even though the newer ships tone down the line's famous neon décor a bit, Carnival is still party central.
 
Fleet
Fantasy Class (can hold around 2,600 passengers): Carnival Fantasy (1989), Carnival Ecstasy (1991), Carnival Sensation (1993), Carnival Fascination (1994), Carnival Imagination (1995), Carnival Inspiration (1996), Carnival Elation (1998), Carnival Paradise (1998).
 
Destiny Class (can hold around 2,700 passengers): Carnival Destiny (1996), Carnival Triumph (1999), Carnival Victory (2000)
 
Spirit Class (can hold almost 2,700 passengers): Carnival Spirit (2001), Carnival Pride (2001), Carnival Legend (2002), Carnival Miracle (2004)
 
Conquest Class (can hold 2,974 passengers): Carnival Conquest (2002), Carnival Glory (2003), Carnival Valor (2004), Carnival Liberty (2005), Carnival Freedom (2007)
 
Splendor Class (can hold more than 3,000 passengers): Carnival Splendor (2008)
 
Dream Class (can hold 3,650 passengers): Carnival Dream (2009), Carnival Magic (2011)
 
Departure Spots
Anchorage, Baltimore, Barbados, Buenos Aires, Charleston, Civitavecchia (Rome), Ensenada, Ft. Lauderdale, Galveston, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Los Angeles (Long Beach), Miami, Mobile, New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, Port Canaveral, San Diego, San Juan, Santiago (Valparaiso), Tampa, Vancouver
 
Where They Go
Alaska (Glacier Bay, Northbound route, Southbound route), Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada/New England, Caribbean (Eastern, Western and Southern), Hawaii, Mediterranean, Mexico (Baja, Mexican Riviera), Panama Canal, South America, Transatlantic
 
The 411 on Youth Programs
There are three programs for the under-18 set on Carnival: Camp Carnival (Toddlers ages 2-5; Juniors ages 6-8; and Intermediates ages 9-11), which includes everything from game nights to dance parties; Circle "C" (ages 12-14), which has movie night and shipwide scavenger hunts; and Club 02 (ages 15-17), which offers pool parties and teen-only shore excursions. Each of the three groups has their own "adult-free" hangout.
 
Your Family Will Love
These aren't called "Fun Ships" for nothing. Take in a show, eat at one of the many restaurants, plunge down the huge waterslide at the pool (the Fantasy fleet is getting this makeover as part of the "Evolutions of Fun") or catch a flick on the 12-foot-high poolside LCD screen on the newer ships). Plus, adults can relax at the Spa Carnival or party the night away at one of the many bars, lounges and clubs.
 
Cost
The prices vary greatly based on the ship, vacation date and the embarkation port. Prices can start as low as $249 per person for an inside stateroom on a four-day trip to the Western Caribbean, $304 for an oceanview and $649 for a suite.
 
Booking Tip
The Web site's cruise finder makes it easy to search based on port, date, destination, and cruise length. Saver fares are available for those who book early and there are special residency rates and senior rates.
 
Loyalty Program: Past Guest
 
 

 

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