If you've hung out on a pool deck recently, it's no secret that cruising has become hugely popular with families. The number of children onboard is growing steadily, and more than 2 million kids younger than 15 sailed on cruise lines in 2013, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Yet, despite the great strides made by cruise lines in accommodating children onboard, choosing the best cruise for your family is still complicated. Where once it was a struggle to find ships that were kid-friendly, the challenge now is wading through the bevy of activities, kids clubs, and child-themed bells and whistles many of the newer ships offer to determine which cruise ships are best for your youngsters.
Despite the advancements, some ships are still better for infants than others, and ditto for teens. Not all itineraries are created equal, either. (Alaska and the Caribbean are destinations that tend to be kid-friendly.) To make decisions even trickier, ships vary greatly, not just from line to line but within fleets, making some better than others in terms of onboard activities. We tend to recommend cruise lines' newer ships because the facilities were designed for families from the outset, not just adapted.
Onboard programs and facilities for families continue to expand. Here are a few interesting evolutions:
More attention and space for teens and tweens. While many lines previously grouped all teens (ages 13 to 17) together, most new ships are giving tweens (ages 12 to 14) their own facilities. Teens-only programs incorporate a range of shipwide options, from spa treatments to shore excursions, and most programs allow them to come and go freely.
Ships are catering to multigenerational families. In addition to creating better spaces just for kids, lines are paying more attention to adults-only and quiet areas in an effort to woo extended families. There's a good reason for that. Multigenerational cruising continues to be a major draw, and lines can't do enough to keep up.
Family staterooms and suites are within reach of more families. Many cruise lines building new ships have designed their vessels to incorporate more family accommodations. Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney all have cabins that sleep five or six passengers.