If it's high time you hit the high seas, you have many options. We help you narrow it down to these six cruise lines that travel experts told Parents are the most family-friendly. Read on to find the lines that best match your family's vacation style then consult our map on page 32 for ones with ports closest to where you live. If you're craving even more info, head to websites like expedia.com and tripadvisor.com and directly compare various lines. You can also scan the real-people reviews for any ship at cruisecritic.com. From there, it should be smooth sailing!
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES (24 ships)
Jesse Burke / Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines
best for If you want a lot of couple time--knowing the kids are happy and cared for--Carnival is a great choice. "It offers the most comprehensive camp and babysitting programs," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com. When you do want to hang together, all of the ships have great pools for families, but the Carnival Sunshine, which debuted in May, is home to the largest water park at sea, including racing slides, a tipping bucket, and 40 interactive water toys.
for kids All of the ships boast an enormous drop-off indoor play area divided into three sections--for kids 2 to 5, 6 to 8, and 9 to 11. It's one of the few cruise lines with a free supervised program for 2-year-olds, even if they aren't potty trained yet. "My almost 3-year-old was leery about going to Camp Carnival, but she enjoyed playing with kids her age," says Stacy Hughey, of Wichita, Kansas. Among the activities: arts and crafts, climbing mazes, and scavenger hunts.
for you Twenty-two of the ships feature Serenity, a kid-free haven that offers whirlpools and comfy lounge chairs. You can use it at no cost. All ships, especially the Carnival Magic, Carnival Liberty, and Carnival Sunshine, provide tons of nightlife to check out. Don't miss the comedy club.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE (4 ships)
Courtesy of Disney
best for If your kid is dying to high-five Mickey and the gang but you're looking for a more relaxing trip or simply something different from the theme parks, test the waters on a Disney ship. Character meet-and-greets on board are a shorter wait than those in the park. "My daughter saw four princesses in 20 minutes," says Jeanenne Tornatore, a senior editor at Orbitz.com, who recently sailed on the Disney Dream. The characters also appear in shows every evening; have your child sit next to the aisle and she might get some special attention from performers exiting and entering the stage.
for kids All the ships offer two giant themed kids' areas, Disney's Oceaneer Club and Disney's Oceaneer Lab, stocked with art supplies, games, pretend-play gear, and much more, for children ages 3 to 12; they're typically open for 15 hours a day when the ship isn't at port. (Bonus: The newly refurnished Disney Magic now features Marvel characters in the kids' club too.) Children ages 3 months to 3 years can be dropped off in the It's a Small World Nursery for an extra charge of $6 per hour; kids ages 11 to 14 have Edge, their own digs complete with a dance floor and a sound station. On all of the ships except Disney Wonder, water features include a splash zone with pop-up jets for young kids. The Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream feature a crazy-fun AquaDuck "water coaster" for children 42 inches and taller, while the Disney Magic offers the more thrilling AquaDunk for kids 48 inches or taller. Download an example of the "Personal Navigator" (Disney's onboard newsletter with activities and hours) from past cruises at disneycruiselineblog.com for an idea of what's offered.
for you Take advantage of the adults-only pool, nightclubs, and, for an extra fee, spa and one or two upscale restaurants that don't allow anyone under 18. "First-timers are surprised by how tastefully the ship is decorated," says Amber Blecker, a travel agent with CruiseOne in Denver.