Best for: Families with kids 3 and up
Snapshot: Royal Caribbean’s never-a-dull-moment atmosphere makes this cruise line a particularly good choice for families with ‘tweens and teens who love sports and high-adrenaline thrills. The newest ships are packed to the gills with bells and whistles, including top-deck water parks and surfing simulators, zip lines, ice rinks, straight-from-Broadway shows, and a wide variety of dining options that include Johnny Rockets diners.
Kid stuff: Royal Caribbean offers terrific, supervised children’s programming for kids ages 3 to 17 years. The Adventure Ocean program separates kids into five groups: Aquanauts for ages 3 to 5; Explorers for ages 6 to 8; Voyagers for ages 9 to 11; and two teen groups for ages 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. Each group has its own space and programmed activities. The ships also offer top-deck H2O Zones with splash pads, pools, and water slides, as well as arcades, and sports decks where kids can go rock-climbing, play mini golf or basketball, go ice skating or zip lining, and even catch a wave on the FlowRider surf simulator.
Conceived from a partnership with DreamWorks Animation, the DreamWorks Experience delivers ample opportunity to rub shoulders with favorite characters from “Shrek,” “Madagascar,” and “Kung Fu Panda” in meet-and-greets, meals, live shows, as well as watching 3-D films. The DreamWorks Experience is available on the following ships: Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, and Mariner of the Seas.
Babies and toddlers can attend 45-minute Royal Babies (for ages 6 to 18 months) and Royal Tots (for ages 19 to 35 months) play sessions with their parents that incorporate stimulating activities like baby gymnastics and music play. There is also a Royal Babies nursery with supervised group babysitting for children ages 6 to 35 months. Private in-room babysitting is offered for children at least 12 months old.
Best ships: The new Oasis-class ships are loaded with first-at-sea experiences, including Tony Award-winning performances of Chicago and Hairspray, as well as an 82-foot zip line, handcrafted carousel, the Rising Tide elevating bar, the AquaTheater high-diving venue and Central Park, an incredible urban-like green space with more than 12,000 live trees and plants.
In February 2014, the revamped Navigator of the Seas is making her big Texas debut, and will sail year-round from Galveston to the Caribbean. She is the newest and most advanced ship to homeport in Galveston and Texas region. New features include the cruise line’s signature FlowRider surf simulator, expanded dining offerings, and the industry’s first virtual balcony staterooms and floor-to-ceiling, panoramic-view staterooms.
Best bargains: The newer Freedom- and Oasis-class ships may get all the buzz, but Royal Caribbean’s older ships are also beautiful vessels and offer the same great kids’ programming at significantly lower prices. If you are flexible with dates, last-minute sailings (within two months of booking) can often be had for a song.
Good to know: For many families, bigger isn’t always better. Oversized ships can mean bigger crowds at the pools, longer lines at some restaurants, and a less relaxing overall experience. For these reasons, families taking their first cruise or those with young kids might want to pass on the 5,400-passenger megaships Allure of the Sea and Oasis of the Seas. Royal Caribbean offers plenty of for-fee dining options, which are also opportunities to blow the vacation budget.
New in 2014: This year, they’re putting more Caribbean in Royal Caribbean. In 2014, the cruise line is sailing 16 of its 21 vessels–including the world’s largest ships, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas–in the Caribbean, with itineraries that include the cruise line’s private destinations–Labadee, Haiti and CocoCay in the Bahamas. Good news for budget-minded travelers: Caribbean cruises will set sail from a wide array of homeports: Baltimore, Cape Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, Galveston, Miami, New Orleans, the New York area and Tampa.
Looking ahead: In November 2014, Royal Caribbean will debut Quantum of the Seas, the first ship in its much-anticipated Quantum class, which will sail from the New York area and introduce a number of “firsts at sea,” such as a RipCord by iFly skydiving experience, a North Star observation pod, bumper cars, and virtual balconies. As part of Royal Caribbean’s Broadway at Sea offerings, Quantum of the Seas will feature a Tony Award-winning performance of "Mamma Mia!"–the smash hit musical based on the songs of Swedish pop sensation ABBA.
Every cruise line has its own personality and signature features. Is Royal Caribbean the right fit for your family? Read about the best kid-friendly cruise lines to find out which is the best match for your family's vacation style.
Last update: Feb. 9, 2014