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How to Choose the Right Cruise for Your Family

Traveling with kids in tow is no small feat: You’ll face plenty of challenges—no matter what the ages of your children. With babies and toddlers, the biggest chore seems to be all of the varied gear and supplies you need to cart around on vacation, from the diaper bag to the snacks to the “just in case” medications. Having teens isn’t all that much easier, though, since adolescents have very specific ideas about what is cool and fun, so the vacation you plan better have enough activities to keep them engaged. For all these reasons and more, vacations at sea have become extremely popular with families. Cruises offer a little something to keep everyone happy, so there’s no doubt that you can find the perfect ship for your family.

Start by looking for a vessel that offers exactly what your family wants and needs. First and foremost, you want a ship that caters to the age group of your children. Is there a kids' club? Is there a kids-only pool? What about a water slide? Does the ship have a gaming arcade, movie theater, or rock-climbing wall? Are there activities for the teens? And what about the parents? Are you hoping to steal away to the spa for a few hours? Be sure the ship you book has all of the amenities you seek.

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Here are a few important factors to consider:

Kids' Clubs

Many cruise lines offer fantastic programs for kids of all ages. Staffed by trained child care professionals, these kids' clubs offer everything from structured group activities to sports and games to group babysitting.

Disney Cruise Line is a leader in the field and offers Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab for kids ages 3 to 12. In addition to traditional activities, there are meet-and-greets with Disney characters ever day. For more independent activities, Disney’s Edge and Vibe lounges are available for 11- to 12-year-olds and 14- to 17-year-olds, respectively. The lounges offer a place for kids to get together to listen to music, watch movies, and play video games with counselors standing by. DLC also offers group babysitting for little ones between 12 weeks and three years old.

Splash Academy is the kids' program found on Norwegian Cruise Line ships, and it offers special activities for children from six months to 12 years old. For older kids, there are several exciting programs like Cirque Du Jour, where they can learn to juggle and tumble and do all manner of circus tricks. There are also a variety of interactive arts-and-crafts and educational programs, plus time for age-appropriate Wii games and movies. Teens ages 13 to 17 enroll in Entourage, where they have access to their own lounge with flat-screen TVs, Wii U, air hockey, foosball, and more. Kids who like to play sports can join a basketball team or play Ultimate Frisbee. Themed events, like vampire movie night and pool parties, round out the offerings.

Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean youth program for 3- to 11-year-olds incorporates themes from some of the line’s partners, like Fisher-Price and Barbie. On some ships, your kids can meet DreamWorks characters from Madagascar, Puss in Boots, and other films. Older kids 12 to 17 can visit the spa, play games in the arcade, hit the pool, or get active with rock-climbing and dodge ball competitions. For babies up to 36 months, there’s a dedicated Royal Babies & Tots nursery with both daytime and nighttime hours.

Carnival also comes to the table with a full complement of child care services. Camp Carnival segments its offerings in three different age groups: 2 to 5, 6 to 8, and 9 to 11. Teens ages 12 to 14 can visit Circle “C” for dance parties, games, outdoor movies, and more. Older teens (15 to 17) enjoy the same sort of activities at Club 02.

Princess’ youth and teen programs focus on “edutainment” and offer interesting options like Jr. CHEF@sea, a hands-on cooking workshop for kids and teens. Supervised activities are segmented by age group: Princess Pelicans for those ages 3 to 7, the pre-teen Shockwaves group for 8- to 12-year-olds, and Remix for kids ages 13 to 17. Planned activities include movies, sports and games, scavenger hunts, karaoke, and more.

Waterparks and Waterslides

Many of today’s newest cruise ships offer full-blown waterparks on the top deck, complete with one or more water slides. AquaDuck aboard Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the DrainPipe on Carnival Dream, Epic Plunge on Norwegian Epic, and FreeFall on Norwegian Breakaway are especially popular with families.

Cabin or Cabins?

Once you’ve locked in a ship, it’s time to decide if one cabin can accommodate your entire family or if you need adjoining cabins or even a larger suite. Some cruise lines, like Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line, offer cabins tailor-made for families, complete with a partition separating the sleeping area from the living area. Check deck plans and cabin descriptions to see which options are best for you. Then compare prices. Sometimes a large suite is cheaper than booking two standard adjoining cabins.

Once those decisions have been made, it’s time to select your itinerary and book your cruise. Your family will be glad you did!

Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for and writes for a variety of outlets, including her website Luxury Travel Mavens. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.

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