It can be overwhelming trying to plan the perfect Caribbean cruise for your family. One week of vacation and thousands of kid friendly cruises to choose. It's a lot of decision making!
Hopefully we can take some of the pressure off by saying there are no wrong answers here. Sailing on any one of these family cruise lines to the Caribbean will make for phenomenal family vacation experiences and memories. It's important to remember Caribbean Cruises are not a one size fits all situation. It's a matter of choosing the best option that works for your family's wishes, wants, timing and budget.
Here is a break down of the most popular family friendly cruise lines sailing to the Caribbean, including a very important tip....
1. Disney Cruise Line
Disney is the worldwide leader in family entertainment and their cruise line is no exception. Disney Cruise line ships are certainly innovative for families when it comes to both function and creativity.
Parents often ask us the ideal age to take children on a Disney Cruise and that answer is the same as with Disney Theme parks....before kids lose their "magic". Generally it's between the ages of 3 and 8 when kids believe in the tooth fairy and the world is full of wonder and possibilities. Young children will enjoy meeting their favorite, beloved Disney characters on board and immersing themselves in all the activities.
As with all family friendly Caribbean Cruise lines there is a complimentary kids club. Disney kicks it up a notch with appearances by Disney and Star Wars characters, dress-up parties, crafts and movies keep kids aged 3–12. There are Broadway style performances of Disney theatrical productions and their deck parties and fireworks are legendary.
That said, if there is one huge misconception about the Disney Cruise Line is that it's all about kids. Disney has gone out of their way to include activities for every age group from infants to seniors. Disney offers "It's a Small World Nursery" (fee) for infants and toddlers starting from ages 6 months through age 3. Teens ages 14 through 17 can enjoy their very own Vibe Lounge. Disney Cruise line also offers "Adult only" areas, restaurants, spa and activities. Remember adults have "grown up" with Disney and are often more engaged than kids!
When comparing Disney cruise line to other family friendly Caribbean cruise lines, Disney costs more. It is considered a "premium" Cruise line compared to most of the other family Cruise lines and this is the reason for the higher price tag. To a novice cruiser other than Disney Characters there may not appear to be too much difference. Some of the subtle differences are things like bathtubs and split bathroom design in staterooms making it easier for families. Heated swimming pools, more food options, higher staff to guest ratios, onboard entertainment technology and much more. Expect to pay more for a Disney Cruise to the Caribbean but understand you get what you pay for. Be sure to check out our tips on how to save on a Disney Cruise.
2. Royal Caribbean
When it comes to family cruises to the Caribbean, their name pretty much says it all! This cruise line is ideal for families and even extended family groups looking for lots of activities while at sea. If you can imagine it, you can probably find it on one of their ships - bumper cars, skydiving simulator, high rise observation towers, ice skating rinks, rock climbing, multiple pools, water slides, 18 story dry slides, zip lines and much more.
There are 26 ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet so not all ships offer all the attractions. The newer Quantum and Oasis class mega ships were certainly designed for families with plenty to offer. Of course, all of these latest features come with a higher price tag compared to older ships in the fleet that may not have all the latest gadgets.
As with all the family friendly ships, Royal Caribbean offers its own children's programming The Royal Tots and Royal Babies for ages 6 months to 3 years old offers drop-off babysitting services as well as specific playtimes for children accompanied by their parents. The Adventure Ocean kids club areas are immense and imaginative with separate areas for learning, crafts, play and theater. Children are grouped according to ages...Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5), Explorers (6 to 8) and Voyagers (9 to 11). Activities are varied and age appropriate. Tweens and teens (12 to 17) have their Living Room coffeehouse-style hangout and Fuel disco.
Royal Caribbean offers a multitude of stateroom options with families in mind. Some of their mega ships offer guests a choice of 26 different room categories including family suites that will sleep up to six and plenty of connecting staterooms for parents who prefer some "privacy". There are plenty of larger suites that will sleep up to 12. Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas offers the Ultimate Family Suite at sea which is simply amazing. (and yes....I've tried out this slide!)
If there is one area where Royal Caribbean excels it's their entertainment. Guests onboard can expect to see full Broadway productions of shows like Hairspray, Grease, Cats, Mama Mia, Saturday Night Fever, We will Rock You and more. In addition, Royal Caribbean's original productions are just as good if not better than their Broadway Counterparts. In addition, some ships offer death defying, high diving acrobatics and high tech ice skating shows. The latest addition to Royal Caribbean's entertainment line up that guests will absolutely love is a "Perfect Day at CoCoCay" which is their new tricked out private island stop in the Bahamas.
3. Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise line also offers waterslide and rock climbing but how about virtual reality laser tag and a racetrack at sea? NCL also offers a line up of Broadway style productions like Rock of Ages, Jersey Boys and Kinky Boots.
What makes Norwegian Cruise Line a favorite of parents taking their kids to the Caribbean is the fact that they offer free drinks. Yes, you read that correctly - Free alcohol and complimentary kids clubs. Because let's face it, parents need a family Caribbean Cruise just as much (if not more) that kids do!
Actually alcohol isn't the only thing free on Norwegian Caribbean Cruises. There is a whole list of "Free at Sea" offers from Norwegian Cruise Lines to choose from based on your cabin category. The free drink package and specialty dining program are the two most popular because they offer the greatest dollar amount value but families can choose whatever makes the best sense for their needs.
So while parents are kicking back on board with some cocktails, kids will be having fun in Norwegian's Splash Academy which features separate activities for kids ages 3 to 5, 6 to 9 and 10 to 12. In addition there are family entertainment on board like Game Shows, Sports Challenges, Pizza Making, and Trivia contests to help families play together. For children ages 6 months to 3 years the Guppies nursery that offers parent/child play times and drop off babysitting (fee). Tweens and teens have their own supervised Entourage lounge where they can enjoy video games, movies, arts, music and sports.
4. Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise lines have a few features working in their favor that families absolutely love...
- Over all, they are the most affordable cruise fares compared to the other Caribbean cruise lines mentioned here.
- . Their complimentary child care starts at age 2 and children do not need to be potty trained. Staff will change diapers (supplied by parents)
- They offer the most standard cabins that will fit a family of five without having parents pay to upgrade to a suite.
- Food is a matter of personal taste. Our staff has sailed and inspected many different ships and cruise lines. We all agree, next to Disney, Carnival's food is the best overall.
- They do a fantastic job managing large groups like family reunions and celebration vacations.
The kids will enjoy their Camp Ocean that divides children from ages 2 to 11 into three different age groups. Teen programs are divided into two age groups which some parents really appreciate. Circle C is for pre-teens ages 12 to 14 and Club O2 is for teens ages 15 to 17. Each have their own supervised spaces with access to dance and pool parties, special teens-only shore excursions and gaming systems.
Carnival ships come complete with waterslides, multiple pools and plenty of fun family activities. By comparison if there is one area where they fall a wee bit short it would be their evening entertainment. While many of their singers, musicians and comedians are extremely talented in their smaller venues, their many theater shows are fun but way off Broadway but comparison to the other lines mentioned here.
5. Celebrity Cruise Line
Celebrity Cruise Line, like Disney is considered to be a premium line. For many years it's served mainly an adult market. It was voted the best premium cruise line in 2018. In recent years, loyal adult clientele have been bringing more and more children onboard, especially for family reunions and celebrations. So Celebrity needed to up it's game when it came to the younger cruisers heading to the Caribbean.
You won't find children's aqual parks or death defying slides on any Celebrity ship. What they do offer may actually be preferable for some families.
Like it's counterparts, Celebrity offers complimentary kids clubs for ages 3 through 11 broken down into three different age groups. There is also a teen lounge with supervised activities for Junior teens, ages 12-14 and Senior teens ages 15 - 17. What makes Celebrity Cruises to the Caribbean so unique is that their children's programming program is completely customizable to the unique interests of each young guests. Programming activities are based around S.T.E.M. activities including robotics and Anturus Adventure Academy at sea, Art, Recreation and Culinary. For programming like dance and culinary, the crew from the entertainment and culinary teams on board interact with children. There are over 500 specialized activities children can explore depending upon their interests. Celebrity invites family members to join the fun in the kids club whenever they desire. (and this kid at heart wished I could have stayed the played the entire time!) In addition, celebrity is one of the few cruise lines that still offers private in stateroom babysitting in the evening (fee).
So Celebrity family cruises to the Caribbean may lack some of the bells and whistles of other ships but they excel when it comes to young curious minds eager to learn and discover new possibilities.
6. MSC Cruise Line
MSC is one of the largest Cruise lines in the world and yet most Americans are not familiar with them. Ask a European and it might be their first choice for a family Caribbean cruise. MSC has catered to the European market for years offering many Mediterranean cruise options. Recently they launched their newest ship, the MSC Seaside which now sails the Caribbean from Miami year round.
This ship was specifically built to cater to the American family market. It has many of the features American families have come to expect like ziplines and a huge waterpark complete with slides. That said, this ship still caters to a huge world market of guests. When I last sailed on this ship the captain announced that they had guests from over 100 different countries on board. Taking your family on an MSC Caribbean Cruise is like exposing your children to European culture without the long plane ride. While some on board experiences are very "Americanized", there are obviously differences like less food choices on the buffet and opera as part of the evening entertainment.
One thing very different on MSC Cruises is that, in addition to selecting your family's cabin on board, MSC offers 3 levels of service that guests can select and pay for. Each level of service offers more inclusions not to mention better attention from the staff.
MSC has a partnership with Chicco's baby gear so parents with infants and toddlers can expect FREE bottle warmers, strollers, backpacks, bouncing chairs, high chairs and much more along with parent/child playtime and drop off babysitting (fee). Their kids club is divided into two age groups - Mini club for ages 3 to 6 and and Junior Club for ages 7-11. MSC partners with Legos so your kids can build to their heart's content and parents don't need to worry about stepping on them. There are also two supervised teen programs for ages 12-14 and ages 15-17.
The biggest selling selling point for MSC Cruises is their "kids sail free". It's important to read the fine print here. Children under the age of 2 always sale free when sharing a cabin with two adults. Select sailings will also offer free cruise fares for children ages 2-11 with discounts for teens. There are some low season sailings where kids under 17 sail free. "Free" applies to the cruise fare only - children will still have to pay for their taxes and port fees.
7. Princess Cruise Line
Like Disney and Celebrity, Princess Cruise line is another premium cruise line that has taken great strides in recent years when it comes to family cruises to the Caribbean. Recent updates have made their ships more family friendly and ideal for large family reunions and celebration vacations. Unlike Celebrity, Princess is re-fitting their ships to include features like their Reef Family Splash Zone, an interactive splash pad with giant whale feature will entertain kids of all ages with showers, sprays and a water jet from the whale's spout!
Princess has partnered with the Discovery Channel so much of their kids club and family programming is based around favorite TV programming. Camp Discovery for kids is broken down into two age groups - The Treehouse for ages 3-7 and The Lodge for ages 8-12. Kids will enjoy activities based on shows like Mythbusters and and Animal Planet along with a variety of sports, games and art programming. Speaking of Animals, Princess is unique in that they invite local animals on board with their Parrots in the Piazza and stargazing on their Caribbean itineraries.
Another area where Princess excels is their family shore excursions. Again thanks to their partnership with Discovery and Animal Planet, Princess Cruises to Caribbean offer family specific excursions designed to enhance the destination experiences of families with children ages 3-11.
Again there is a lot to consider here. Once you decide on which cruise line offers what your family is looking for there are plenty of other decisions ahead to consider.
TIP! - Did you know the cost of working with a professional travel agent is already included in your cruise fare? It doesn't cost you any extra to work with an experienced travel agent who can answer all of your questions, help with your decisions and even monitor your cruise reservation to insure you get the best deal right up until your departure time. Often travel agents can offer perks and bonuses you can't get booking direct with the cruise line so talk to one of our Vacationkids experts who can help make planning your family cruise to the Caribbean a whole lot easier!