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Tips for Planning Family Cruises

Family Cruises

A family vacation is a chance to make memories that will last a lifetime.  It is also chance for all those lingering memories to be bad, and only fun when recounted to disbelieving friends.  Keeping a smile on your family’s faces isn’t too hard though with a little planning and foresight. Each cruise line offers unique activities to make family cruises enjoyable for everyone.

The key is going to be your kids ages, and knowing what works for them and what doesn’t.  Primary school kids are going to get the most out of cruises that feature characters from their favorite movies.  Older kids and preteens are going to be less impressed by characters, but probably aren’t too old to enjoy water slides.  Really, who is too old for a water slide?  Teenagers ages 15 through 17 (our condolences by the way) might enjoy a water slide, but are more likely to prefer going off to be surly with other teenagers of the same age and disposition.

Most cruise lines are aware of the multigenerational market, and they cater to it.  This includes all of the lines sailing out of Port Canaveral.  After all, it is the port that serves Orlando, and Disney World with it.  So families that plan to cruise out of Port Canaveral may find themselves spoiled for choices.

Disney Cruise Lines Family Cruises


Disney Cruise Lines entire business model is built on catering to families.  It’s four ships were built around the concept of family cruising.  Staterooms on Disney ships are larger than industry standards in order to better accommodate families of 4, and often feature a bath-and-a-half layout with a full bath and a second toilet and sink that makes it easier to get everyone ready and out the door.  Each stateroom also comes equipped with two wave phones for staying in touch with your family while aboard the ship, or while at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay.  Read our previous article Smartphones at Sea to find out why this is such a big deal.

Pool areas on the decks of the ship are geared towards families with slides and splash pools abounding.  Disney’s later two ships upgraded the waterpark at seas concept with the AquaDuck water coaster. There’s also the AquaLab which is really just an excuse to get drenched, but does explain the backstory of the AquaDuck.

Disney’s youth program is called the Oceaneer’s Club, and it offers kids supervised activities, and their parents a break.  The activities range from ship wide treasure hunts to marine biology exercises.  It carries over onto Disney’s private island Castaway Cay.  Keeping kids entertained onboard and ashore.  Parents of the youngest kids can take advantage of the onboard nurseries which will care for infants and toddlers up to 3 years old.

Teens have their own lounge aboard ship which offers plenty of video games, music to listen to, and overstuffed chairs to recline in.  Aboard the Dream and Fantasy there are actually two different lounges.  The Edge is for 11 to 13 year olds, and Vibe is for 14 to 17 year olds.

Overall, the Disney ships do a great job taking care of families.  Magic and Wonder are decorated in an Art Deco style, whole the Dream and the Fantasy are in Art Noveau.  On the exterior they resemble the lines of the old style ocean liners.  This attention to detail all the way through, from exterior to interior is what makes a Disney cruise a magical experience for pier to port.  It makes it a top pick for any family cruise no matter the ages of the children.  However, all of that magic does come at a premium cost.  Perhaps making a Disney cruise a hard to justify expense for families with things like braces and college funds to think of.

Royal Caribbean Family Cruises


The Crown and Anchor does offer amenities and features that will appeal to families.  A partnership with Dream Works means that characters like the penguins from Madagascar, Po from Kung Fu Panda, and Shrek will make appearances aboard Royal Caribbean ships, albeit a relative few.  The Quantum, Allure, Oasis, Freedom, Liberty, Voyager, Mariner, and the new Anthem of the Seas are all hosting the characters.  Younger kids, and maybe their siblings and parents, will delight in meet and greets with these characters around the ship and at a special breakfast.  The parade down the promenade is said to be enchanting.

With a fleet that includes the largest and most modern cruise ships Royal Caribbean offers more for families to do aboard than some resorts.  Freedom and Voyager class ships have ice skating rinks.  Rock climbing walls and the FloRider surf simulator are nearly universal on Royal’s ships.  There is, however, a shocking paucity of water slides, and similar features aboard.

The line does make up for it with an excellent youth program.  Called the Adventure Ocean Club children are supervised during activities which they participate in on the basis of age.  Aquanauts range from three to five years old.  Explorers are six to 8 years of age.  Voyagers range from nine to eleven years old.  The final group are the Navigators who are 12 to 14 years of age, and whose scheduled activities include the rock climbing wall if one is aboard.  Teenagers 15 to 17 years of age don’t get a name, but are provided with their own dance club and video game tournaments, likely in the hopes that they don’t bother anyone else.  A group babysitting service for kids three years old and up is provided for parents who want to free up an evening for $6 and hour, and a private in suite babysitting service is $19 dollars an hour.

You get access to most of these services as a part of booking your passage on a Royal Caribbean ship.  A Royal Caribbean cruise does offer a lot of services and activities for families, and does so at a price that is likely more reasonable than a Disney Cruise.

Norwegian Cruise Lines Family Cruises

Norwegian Spirit Cruise

For a long time, a feature of family cruises on a Norwegian ship were the characters from Nickelodeon like Spongebob and Dora the Explorer.  For reasons unknown Norwegian and Nickelodeon will be ending their partnership in the beginning of 2016.  How this will affect the experience of families cruising aboard, and what if anything will take their place.

What Norwegian does have on its side in the family cruising market is amazing water slides.  Norwegian is justifiably famous for having large water slides, and often full blown water parks aboard its ships.  The ship that sails out of Port Canaveral, the Spirit, is the smallest in Norwegian’s fleet so it doesn’t have the deck space for Norwegian’s usual outdoor offerings.  However, kids will delight in Buccaneer’s Wet and Wild.  A smallish pool surrounded by caves and slides that have to be entered by going through a tunnel.

Norwegian’s youth programs, called the Splash Academy, have counselors that are remembered.  If for no other reason than they go by interestingly funny names like Popeye. Their activities trend heavily towards the physical.  Epic for instance has a jungle gym as part of its children’s area, and are perfect not just for entertaining children, but burning some energy off of restless kids.  Teens on Norwegian ships have dedicated lounge spaces where they can enjoy soft drinks, and video games.  Overall, Norwegian Cruise Lines offers fun and original activities that have a lot of appeal for families, and the ships relatively smaller size and choose-how-you-cruise freestyle cruise does a better job of making cruisers old and young alike feel more like a privileged VIP than other lines, whose go here at this time approach can remind you of your schooldays.

Carnival Family Cruises


Carnival’s ships have a lingering reputation as party barges.  This dates back to the company’s founding in the 1970s, and the company’s reasonable rates does make it the preferred choice for those who view a cruise as a chance to do a keg stand at sea.  However, Carnival has grown into the world’s largest cruise line and is revamping their ships.  True to form a lot of the Fun Ship 2.0 initiatives has focused on new venues to enjoy a drink, but also includes fun new activities like water slides.

Carnival offers youth programs.  Camp Carnival takes care of kids from 2 to 11 years old.  Groups are divvied up slightly differently from Royal Caribbean.  Kids 5 and under are in one group, children 6 through 9 are in the second, and ages 9 and up make up the last group.  The activities for each group tend towards fun for the youngest and whether or not and 8 year old will enjoy finger painting really depends on the temperament of the child.  It does have the Camp Carnival Night Owls program which runs from 10 PM to 3 AM and kids could get a kick out of staying up that late.

Teens are taken care of with one of two clubs.  Circle C is for 12 to 14 year olds.  Club O2 is for 15 through 17 year olds.  Younger teens get video games, late night movies, and swim parties.  Older teens can enjoy dance parties, sporting events, and special shore excursions.  Carnival does a pretty good job of letting teenagers feel like they’re on a vacation of their very own.

Onboard activities like the WaterWorks waterpark and the Sport Square are activities that families can enjoy together.  All of Carnival’s ships have mini-golf courses.  It is worth noting that every Carnival ship except the Vista has at least one pool under a retractable roof so there is swimming whatever the weather may be.  Carnival also has characters from Dr. Seuss making appearances, so on Christmas cruises the Grinch will be stealing Christmas.
Port Canaveral Fly Snooze Cruise

Your Perfect Family Cruise

Building perfect family cruises isn’t easy.  It takes knowing your family’s likes as well as their dislikes and what each cruise line offers.  It’s up to you to chart a course where the latter satisfies the former.  Preferably accomplished without dipping into your children’s college funds.  When sailing out of Port Canaveral, a Go Port package can help.  A Snooze Park Cruise or Fly Snooze Cruise package saves you money on your family’s needs ashore.

To make family vacations even easier look into our great Orlando Airport partner hotels like the Embassy Suites.  Not only is it close to Orlando International Airport and includes transportation to and from Port Canaveral, but it also includes the option to return to the hotel after your cruise and use the amenities without having to check into a room.  A perfect option for families whose flights are departing later in the day and who are facing the daunting prospect of keeping their children entertained and happy in an airport.  We humbly suggest you enjoy the pool instead, or try shopping at the Orlando Outlets, or avail yourself of the local entertainment like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Disney, and Universal theme parks.

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