How to Choose the Perfect Family Cruise for Your Crew

How to Choose the Perfect Family Cruise for Your Crew

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Find a family cruise that’s a good fit for your family with these cruise tips.

Cruises are the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market—it’s estimated that more than 25 million people will set sail this year. But with so many cruise lines competing to woo families, how do you decide which one is perfect for your family? We’ve gathered cruise tips to help you decide. All aboard!

Things to Consider When Planning a Cruise

What does your family need?
Almost all cruises now offer some type of family programming, but the services and facilities vary between cruise lines and even individual ships. Some are better for babies and young kids, some for tweens and teens, and others are best for intergenerational parties. A ship that suits teens who want to entertain themselves may not be great for a sports-enthused tween, or a toddler obsessed with Disney princesses. Do you want drop-off activities for the kids or to play together as a family? Scheduled or freestyle fun? Investigate what’s offered and consider what each member of the family needs. 

How old are your kids?
Each cruise line splits its kids’ activities by different age ranges. Check that these work for your family, especially if you want siblings to play together. If you have really young kids, double-check that your chosen ship offers drop-off activities. Some will only allow potty-trained kids or children ages 3 and older in their programs. Most ships do not allow children who are not potty trained into the water areas and pools, so if you have a toddler, check first. 

What size ship suits your party?
Larger and newer ships are more likely to have bigger cabins and family suites, as well as exciting-sounding facilities such as bowling alleys and ice-skating rinks. They can also have a party atmosphere and crowds. Smaller ships may have fewer activities, but some families prefer the more sedate atmosphere and shorter lines. If you have teens who like to wander, you’ll want to bring cellphones to keep track of them on a larger ship. 

How many days do you want the cruise to last?
Most lines offer cruises ranging from three to 14 days. Up to seven days can be a good starting point for families and cruise newbies. After all, you don’t want to book a 14-day cruise and discover you hate it on day two! Consider how many days it will take your family to relax and settle in so you can come back from your vacation well rested.

What lodgings suit your family’s needs?
Each ship has a variety of accommodations, from basic cabins with dividing curtains, to suites with sea views and balconies. Some lines have better basic cabins, some better suites. If you have small kids and won’t be out every night, it’s worth making sure your cabin won’t be above a bar or nightclub. 

Do you want flexible or set dining times?
Each cruise line has a multitude of restaurants and dining choices. Some offer flexible, casual dining where you can pick and choose from whatever cuisine you want. Others are more formal, giving you set times to dine each night. Almost all cruises will offer buffets as well as dining rooms, room service, and often at least one formal meal per trip. 

What type of entertainment interests you?
Many cruise lines offer big-name performers and Broadway-worthy productions. Others have acrobatic shows, character meet-and-greets, or activity zones so the family can entertain themselves at a water park, ice-skating rink, or bowling alley. 

What atmosphere do you want?
Do you prefer a traditional, more formal ship or something more casual? A themed cruise or a trip with unrelated but exciting activities? Do you want to pick activities as you go, or to be scheduled? Some ships have a party atmosphere, while others are more laid-back. Figure out the ambience you desire overall as well as in the mornings and evenings. 

What is your perfect itinerary?
From the New York area, the Caribbean is a popular choice for families. Other destinations include city stops in New England and Canada or beach-focused trips to the Bahamas and Bermuda. Some cruise lines stop in Orlando, FL, which is perfect if you want to hit the theme parks or other nearby attractions. Just keep in mind many of the organized activities on land can be expensive, so you may want to plan ahead and book your own entertainment. 

Read the fine print
While some cruises are truly all-inclusive, others may charge more for certain things on board, excursions, or for activities during stops on land. Know what is—and isn’t—included in your ticket price, so you don’t have any surprises when it’s time to disembark.


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Main image: AquaLab, a new water playground on the Disney Magic.
Matt Stroshane
 

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