3 best family cruises

Not all cruise ships are created equal, especially when it comes to travelling with kids. Here are eight vessels that get it right.

1. Norwegian Getaway

Norwegian’s “freestyle” approach offers something for everyone, from scream-worthy waterslides to Broadway musicals. The Miami-based Norwegian Getaway, which launched in 2014 and is nearly identical to the New York–based Norwegian Breakaway, holds 3,963 passengers and attracts active cruisers.

Best for: Can’t-sit-still kids who love to slip, slide and splash.

Coolest itinerary: Seven nights round trip from Miami to the Western Caribbean (runs November to April), with calls on Harvest Caye, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico, offering ancient Mayan culture and jungle-meets-beach adventure. Price: from $787 per person.

Why it’s great: Boredom isn’t an option: Getaway’s 14 passenger decks feature 26 dining spots and tons of activities, such as rock climbing, minigolf, comedy shows, video games and bowling.

Your kids will love: The action-packed AquaPark, with its two pools and five waterslides—including Free Fall (the fastest drop at sea), as well as the pirate-themed Kid’s Aqua Park for the littlest ones. The three-deck Sports Complex has a massive ropes course (a mini one, too) and the Spider Web climbing cage; daredevils can even walk The Plank, which extends eight feet over the side of the ship!

Kids’ club: Norwegian’s Splash Academy. The name sounds active, and this club is, dividing kids into Turtles (3–5), who’ll participate in arts and crafts and treasure hunts; Seals (6–9), who’ll learn circus skills; and Dolphins (10–12), who’ll enjoy scavenger hunts and theme nights. A Guppies Nursery (6–36 months) is available on Norwegian Escape, $20USD for two hours per day for the first child (plus $16USD for a sibling) and $24 USD for two hours at night for the first kid (plus $20USD for a sibling).

You’ll love: The Waterfront, a nearly half-kilometre promenade lined with lounges, restaurants and boutiques, and the Illusionarium, a magic-themed dinner-theatre experience.

Family-friendly excursions: Enjoy a pre- or post-cruise Florida Everglades airboat ride, interact with monkeys at Roatan’s Gumbalimba Park preserve and animal sanctuary, and mix culture and adventure at Chacchoben Mayan Ruins and Maya Lost Mayan Kingdom water park in Costa Maya.

Insider tip: Getaway’s volume seems to be permanently set on loud—especially in 678 Ocean Place, the three-deck central atrium—so avoid mid-ship cabins on decks 5 and 9 if you’re noise sensitive. If your budget is generous, book The Haven, Norwegian’s ship-within-a-ship.

2. Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas

Royal Caribbean is known for its big ships­—with the launch of Ovation of the Seas it now has eight of the biggest in the world— and its emphasis on entertainment. Anthem of the Seas, which accommodates up to 4,905 passengers, has cool features and interior design that creates a true resort at sea.

Best for: Families with active kids seeking fun in the sun.

Coolest itinerary: Seven nights round trip from Cape Liberty, NJ, to the Bahamas (runs October to April), offering three sea days to enjoy Anthem’s amenities—including the two-deck Adventure Ocean kids’ club—while ports provide access to Kennedy Space Center near Port Canaveral, Fla.; sunny Nassau; and the calm waters of CocoCay, Bahamas (Royal Caribbean’s private island).

Why it’s great: There are lots of thrills (from RipCord by iFly’s simulated skydiving to the 300-foot-tall North Star capsule’s panoramic views) and plenty of spots to chill (including three family pools, one with a retractable roof and kid-sized deck chairs for the littles). Anthem also has 18 restaurants, among them Jamie’s Italian by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Your kids will love: Interacting with Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar characters at the DreamWorks Experience and playing in the SeaPlex, with its skating rink, bumper cars, circus school, ball courts, DJ booth and Xbox lounge.

Kids’ club: Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean. Your kids will have an on-board adventure as Aquanauts (3–5), doing cool experiments and becoming “Certified Junior Adventure Scientists”; Explorers (6–8), enjoying themed parties and science activities; or Voyagers (9–11), trying karaoke and adventure challenges. At the Royal Babies (6–18months) and Royal Tots (18–36 months) nurseries, children can be watched for US$6USD/hr (day) and $8USD/hr (evening).

You’ll love: The serene tiered pools in the adults-only Solarium and the cover bands playing in the Music Hall. Michael’s Genuine Pub also serves sinful thick-cut potato chips.

Family-friendly excursions: Options in Nassau include access to the slides, tubing rivers and aquarium at Atlantis resort’s water park and a chance to interact with dolphins on the Blue Lagoon Dolphin Experience. In Port Canaveral, head for Kennedy Space Center, where the shuttle Atlantis is on display and the simulated liftoff is a blast.

Insider tip: Check the daily schedule you’ll receive in your room for age-specific onboard activities like scavenger hunts and theme parties.

3. Disney Wonder

Since making a splash in 1998 with the first of its four family-friendly vessels, Disney has been earning kudos in the premium cruise ship category. Disney Wonder, which debuted in 1999 and holds 2,700 passengers, is painted in Mickey Mouse hues of black, red and yellow—and its horn toots the first seven notes to “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Best for: Disney-obsessed kids who love character interaction, musical productions and movies.

Coolest itinerary: Seven nights round trip from Vancouver to Alaska (runs May to September), convenient for families looking to spy on glaciers, whales and grizzlies with calls in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Price: from $1,685 per person.

Why it’s great: It’s magical from aft to stern. Disney ships command a premium, but they deliver in all the right ways. Sail Away Celebrations and Deck Parties feature beloved animated characters and fireworks, pools are comfortably heated, and most cabins are designed with a half-bath plus a full bath with a tub—a cruise-ship rarity—and feature two portable Wave Phones so you can call or text while on board.

Your kids will love: That their favourite characters are along for the ride—among them, Anna and Elsa, as “Frozen, a Musical Spectacular” is aboard select Alaskan itineraries in 2017—that kids’ meals are served on Mickey Mouse plates and that they can experience a prin­cess makeover in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Kids’ club: Disney’s Oceaneer Club. Disney fantasy springs to life here as character-driven performances, dress-up parties, crafts and movies keep kids aged 3–12 entertained for hours—including at lunch and dinner if parents want to eat on their own. The It’s a Small World and Flounder’s Reef nurseries will watch little ones aged six months to three years for a $9USD hourly fee.

You’ll love: Quiet Cove Pool and Vista Spa—two serene adults-only spaces to escape to while your little ones are in the Oceaneer Club.

Family-friendly excursions: Pan for gold in Juneau, whale- (or bear-) watch in Ketchikan and shout “mush!” while dogsledding in Skagway.

Insider tip: Book as far in advance as you can (a year ahead, if possible) for savings, and reserve character meet-and-greets and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique visits ASAP after boarding.

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