The time when it was a struggle to find family-friendly cruises is firmly in the past. From creche facilities for tiny cruisers to cookery classes and cool areas for teens, ships are now equipped with a raft of amenities to keep youngsters – and parents – happy.

“One of the exciting features of cruise holidays is the diversity of experiences available that appeal to a wide range of age groups. And with a huge range of family- friendly destinations to choose from, it’s little wonder that families and multi-generational families are so keen to try their first cruise”


Perfect 10

  1. Celebrity Cruises: A camel ride, jeep safari and sandboarding on Abu Dhabi’s sand dunes are part of Celebrity’s latest Great Adventure shore excursion, created in partnership with TV personality Ben Fogle. Celebrity Constellation sails from the United Arab Emirates for the first time this year

  2. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises: This October there are two new family cruises on Europa 2 from New York to Progreso and on to La Guaira. The US east coast itinerary includes the opportunity for children to learn to play golf, make pizza and enjoy their own Zodiac excursions. The Caribbean cruise features music, dance and drama workshops for aspiring young performers

  3. Disney Cruise Line: Youngsters can feel the force following Disney Dream’s recent dry dock. Headlining the ship’s enhancements are two new interactive areas in the Oceaneer Club themed to Star Wars and the Disney Infinity video game. Youngsters are transported to a far-away galaxy in the Millennium Falcon spacecraft, and the Infinity room offers more high-tech fun

  4. P&O Cruises: P&O has teamed up with TV choreographer Claire Greenwood to offer Tappy Toes sessions on 13 sailings in 2016. Available on Azura, Britannia, Oceana and Ventura, there will be two creative dance and movement classes for under-twos on every sea day

  5. Carnival: Marking Carnival’s return to Europe, Carnival Vista is the line’s first new ship for four years. Camp Ocean recreates the fun of a summer camp and activities include suspended cycling SkyRide, the first-ever ship’s IMAX theatre and a raft-riding water slide

  6. Royal Caribbean International: Family-friendly activities include surfing and ice-skating on the world’s largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, which launches on May 20 for a maiden season in Europe. Ultimate Abyss is the first-ever 10-storey slide at sea

  7. Princess Cruises: Regal Princess, which starred in the recent documentary The Cruise, has an enlarged children’s club for talent shows, games, films, video games and hands-on activities. Teenagers can hang out in a dedicated area that includes a DJ booth and sun deck. There are kids-only dinners, with formal nights for teens

  8. Holland America Line: Launched in April and Europe’s first new ship for 2016, Koningsdam features the line’s first purpose-built family cabins that sleep up to five and have two bathrooms. There are also 150 connecting cabins. Koningsdam, the first in HAL’s new Pinnacle Class, will spend the summer season in Europe and sail in the Caribbean this winter

  9. One Ocean Expeditions: The small ship adventure line specialising in the Arctic and Antarctica has introduced a new youth price structure with a 25% discount for young people up to 17% and 20% reduction for 18- to 21-year-olds in full-time education. One Ocean also has two family-friendly Christmas voyages to Antarctica, with wildlife talks and activities aimed at a younger audience

  10. Thomson Cruises: The line’s latest addition Thomson Discovery launches in June. Based in Palma for the summer, it will be the largest ship in the fleet with a range of facilities including a climbing wall and the Hideout teen room with a karaoke booth. The brand-new show Splash Live! will see animated characters come to life to take children on a journey under the sea

Trending towards children

There is a growing trend for family cabins and Carnival Vista, debuting this May, has the new Family Harbour area with cabins sleeping up to five and a dedicated lounge.

MSC Seaside, launching in December 2017, will introduce Super Family Plus – three interconnecting staterooms accommodating up to 10. For 2017/18 the line has also announced ‘All in One’ fares, allowing single parents to pay 60% of the fare for their child, rather than a cabin priced on adult double occupancy.

Disney Cruise Line recently premiered Tangled: The Musical on Disney Magic. The first time the comedy adventure based on the Rapunzel fairytale has been adapted for the stage, it joins other shows performed on every cruise including Disney Dreams… An Enchanted Classic, featuring a new segment from the blockbuster Frozen.

Hands-on, immersive activities are another big draw, and P&O Cruises has introduced children’s cookery classes on its flagship Britannia. With baking and cake decorating for under-eights, bread making for nine- to 12-year-olds and pasta making for 13- to 17-year-olds, the free classes run during half-term and school holidays. Celebrity Cruises offers Family Tour Challenge excursions, such as a treasure hunt in Copenhagen and puzzle-solving race around Cozumel.

New family benefits in balcony cabins overlooking the Boardwalk area on Royal Caribbean’s eagerly awaited Harmony of the Seas, as well as Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, include a meal for four at Johnny Rockets and private time on the ships’ rock climbing walls.

For the smallest sailors, and in a first for Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Escape offers childcare services for children aged six months to three years.

Where to book it

A seven-night Norwegian Fjords round-trip cruise on P&O’s Azura, departing July 3 from Southampton, with the first cruise featuring Tappy Toes sessions, is priced from £1,798 for two adults and a child sharing a cabin.

Hapah-Lloyd Cruises have a 15-night New York to Progreso (Yucatán, Mexico) family cruise on Europa 2, departing September 30. It leads in from £5,920pp, cruise only. Children under 11 travel free and the fare for 12-15-year-olds is £50 per day, sharing a cabin with their parents.

The seven-night Highlights of the Mediterranean cruise on Thomson Discovery from Palma, departing July 23, is priced from £3,898 for a family of four sharing a cabin, including flights from Bournemouth.