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Cruise ships are generally great for families, but not all ships are created equal when it comes to catering to their needs. Some ships go to great lengths to meet and exceed the needs of the youngest cruisers, while others just do the basics.

Kids’ programs on today’s large cruise ships are staffed by counselors who have been carefully screened and chosen for their ability to relate to children; most have a background in education or early-childhood development, and most ships organize their programs by age group.

Some ships cater to parents with smaller kids and babies, but most do not. Infants or toddlers who aren’t toilet trained generally will not be accepted by children’s programs. Even on ships with nurseries, counselors will rarely change diapers or assist children with their bathroom needs, due to health and legal constraints.

Possibly the pickiest passengers on any ship are those in the 13 to 17 age group. Facilities vary, but most ships have at least a video game area and computers. The newest ships have discreetly chaperoned activity centers and discos designed specifically for teens, yet with an adult flavor; vessels without them usually allow teens to dance in the adult disco until about 11pm. And some teen programs are as extensive and rich as those for younger kids.

The number of children on aboard any cruise depends a lot on the time of year: peak periods for family cruises are during school holidays and summer vacations.

These cruise ships offer the best options for families.

Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line
  • Sails To Europe

Why It’s Wonderful

Designed from the keel up with family fun in mind, Disney Magic delivers all the entertainment and age-appropriate activities and facilities.

Disney Fantasy

Disney Cruise Line
  • Sails To Caribbean

Why It’s Wonderful

Designed from the keel up with family fun in mind, Disney Fantasy delivers all the entertainment and age-appropriate activities and facilities.

Independence of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International
  • Sails To Caribbean, Europe

Why It’s Wonderful

Well-conceived areas for children and teens, plus sports facilities that invite family members to play together, are bonuses for parents who want to spend quality family time with the kids.

Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Sails To Caribbean, Europe

Why It’s Wonderful

Facilities for teens and tots have to be seen to be believed. Pools, playrooms, and discos are elaborate, and even picky kids should find the active programs enticing.

Disney Wonder

Disney Cruise Line
  • Sails To Alaska

Why It’s Wonderful

Designed from the keel up with family fun in mind, Disney Wonder delivers fun for all with entertainment and age-appropriate activities and facilities.

Radiance of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International
  • Sails To Alaska

Why It’s Wonderful

Well-conceived areas for children and teens, plus facilities that invite family members to play together, are bonuses for parents who want to spend quality family time with the kids.

Carnival Miracle

Carnival Cruise Line
  • Sails To Alaska

Why It’s Wonderful

Facilities for teens and tots have to be seen to be believed. Pools and the disco are elaborate, and even picky kids should find the active programs enticing.