Convenience and calm
Forget the stress of hauling all of your family’s supplies from destination to destination. A cruise means you can travel to several disparate spots without having to pack and unpack, arrange for multiple forms of transportation and hotels, and navigate dining options daily—all of which can be particularly cumbersome with young children. For instance, on Norwegian Cruise Line’s family cruises, you’ll find a variety of rooms that can accommodate families, such as mini-suites and multi-room suites with interconnecting staterooms. Plus, the “array of dining options means there’s always something to suit all tastes—from the pickiest of junior cruisers to the refined tastes of seasoned foodies,” a spokesperson for Norwegian tells Condé Nast Traveler.
On a cruise, it’s as much about the journey as the destination—while your ship is in-between ports of call, there are plenty of onboard happenings for every member of your clan. Most large family cruises offer attractions such as live shows, fitness centers, spas, swimming pools, arcades, mini-bowling, restaurants, playrooms, and shopping. Plus, every cruise line has its specialties. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista, for example, features the Sky Ride—an open-air cycling experience in which travelers can bike their way around an 800-foot track suspended 150 feet above the sea—and also offers an IMAX Theatre, the SkyCourse ropes course, and a water park that includes a 455-foot water-tube slide. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class of ships also offers a whole host of activities to keep kids entertained, such as an onboard surf simulator, zip line, and rock-climbing wall.
Family cruises provide a ton of opportunities for bonding. Disney Cruise Line has deck parties where parents and kids can sing, dance, play games, and enjoy live entertainment together, and each Disney ship also offers character experiences. On certain itineraries in Fall 2017 and early 2018, families can join in Marvel Day at Sea, which includes activities featuring characters from The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—as well as Spider-Man. And on Norwegian Cruise Line, there’s a chance for friendly competition between family members: Staffers regularly host game shows and poolside challenges where parents and kids can playfully battle against each other.
Major cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and Disney, all tout their staff-supervised kids camps, which offer activities throughout the day and evening for kids of all ages while also allowing parents (and grandparents) to have time to themselves. Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean program—for kids ages 6 months to 17 years—provides a range of options from music classes, science experiments, and scavenger hunts to teen dances, pool parties, and karaoke. Notably, Royal Caribbean also has autism-friendly programming that includes specially trained staff and sensory-focused toys for children with special needs. On many cruises, babysitting is also available for an additional fee.
You don’t need to choose a big ship to find big adventure. Small ship cruises such as the Glacier Bay and Island Adventure, which sets sail on ships that have 49 to 74 passengers, offer a more intimate cruising environment that’s meant to bring families together while providing a larger-than life look at Alaska’s nature, culture, and wildlife. Recommended for families with children about 6 years old and up, you won’t find a kids camp or babysitting service on these ships, but you will find unique opportunities for family exploration.
“Imagine kayaking in front of a tidewater glacier, walking among ancient temperate rainforests, or watching whales at water level from a small skiff,” says Todd Smith, founder and president of AdventureSmith Explorations. “Onboard most small ships, your family can truly disconnect from devices and reconnect with each other and nature as there is no cable TV and often no cell service and Wi-Fi due to cruising in remote wilderness regions.” (As it turns out, a tech-free family vacation might not be so bad). Other excursion highlights include dog sledding in Juneau, a visit to the Sitka Sound Science Center, and a day at Glacier Bay National Park. Onboard, kids can experience photo workshops, zodiac-driving lessons, Junior Ranger programs, and more—all taught by knowledgeable expedition leaders. “It’s learning disguised as fun,” says Smith. Bonus: kids ages 17 and under receive discounts off double occupancy rates.