Taking to the high seas with your kids can be an unforgettable way to vacation. Check out five of the most fun, affordable, and family-focused ships setting sail this year. Bon voyage!
Go Wet 'n' Wild
Royal Caribbean's 7-night Oasis of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise
This massive new ship is the largest in the world. So big, in fact, that it's divided into seven different neighborhoods, including the nature-infused Central Park and the bustling Boardwalk. Royal Caribbean has teamed up with Fisher-Price to create unique play sessions -- baby gymnastics, musical inspiration, and more -- for infants and toddlers.
Fun for First Mates: Your child will want to camp out in the Youth Zone neighborhood, where he'll have a blast at the arcade and indoor playground. But there's lots more -- from making discoveries at the Adventure Science Lab to taking part in a talent show or hip-hop class at the Adventure Ocean Theater. His other popular hangout will be the H2O Zone kids' aqua park, which features swimming pools and a larger-than-life octopus whose tentacles double as water slides. For supervised activities, head to one of three age appropriate Adventure Ocean Clubs (3 to 5; 6 to 8, and 9 to 11) for scavenger hunts, ice-cream parties, and more.
Cruise Care: In-room babysitters are offered on a first-come, first-served basis for kids 1 and up (the fee starts at $10 per hour). Kids from 6 to 36 months can stay at the Royal Babies and Tots nursery ($8 per hour).
Ocean Eats: With 24 food and snack joints (a café and pizzeria are open 24/7), you'll find something for everyone. The ship offers a neat "My Family Time Dining" option -- when kids (3 to 11) are done eating, a staffer escorts them to the kids' club so parents can have a leisurely meal. Sign up during booking.
Port Report: After the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, Royal Caribbean Cruises provided immediate relief and committed more than $1 million to the humanitarian effort. The ship will continue to visit its private island, Labadee, off Haiti, where your dollars will help contribute to the country's recovery. Other stops: Cozumel, Mexico, and Falmouth, Jamaica.
Rates: Start at $829 per person for 7 nights for an interior stateroom.
Why We Loved Our Royal Caribbean Cruise
Meet Mickey and the Gang
Disney Wonder's 5-night Bahamian Cruise with 2 days on Disney's private island
Get lost at sea with some of your child's favorite Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Cinderella. While the ten-deck, designed-for-families ship is jam-packed with one themed activity after another to keep little (and big) fans happy, there's also exclusive access to Disney's private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay. To top it off, you can book a special park package to Walt Disney World, Orlando, before or after the cruise.
Fun for First Mates: Head straight for one of the two kid-friendly pools, one complete with a twisting slide. There's even a Splash Zone play area for little ones still in swim diapers. You can also drop your child o at one of the kids' clubs for a mix of cool programs that range from an animation class to a Snow White dance lesson to Ratatouille-style cooking (ages 3 to 7 or 8 to 12; day and evening sessions offered). Save time for seeing a stage show -- kids will love Toy Story: The Musical. Cruise Care No in-room babysitting is available, but kids as young as 3 months are welcome in The Little Mermaid-esque Flounder's Reef Nursery ($5 to $6 per hour). The two-room area has baby swings, toys, cribs, and storytime.
Tip: You can reserve a time for your child up to ten days in advance -- take advantage of this because slots fill up fast.
Ocean Eats: The ship has three main restaurants, but the Animator's Palate -- which shows Disney movie clips on the walls and overhead -- is extra fun. There are also indoor and outdoor quick-service places where you can grab pizza, burgers, and snacks 24 hours a day.
Port Report: A shore excursion to Nassau will give you a chance to explore the city's colonial charm, but the highlight will surely be the two stops at Castaway Cay. Don't miss: the snorkel lagoon and the new Pelican Plunge, a 2,400-square-foot platform that floats just off shore.
Rates: Staterooms start at $899 per person (5 nights).
Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise
Sample European Style
Norwegian Epic's 7-day Eastern Caribbean Cruise
Families love the flexibility of the Epic's "Freestyle Cruising" philosophy: no preset dinnertimes or dress codes and plenty of entertainment choices. The "Freestyle Free Play" program lets kids of all ages socialize and have fun together for designated time slots throughout the day (at other times, kids are assigned to groups based on age).
Fun for First Mates: The Epic Plunge tube slide -- it does a major drop into a splash pool -- is a thrill, though there are two milder ones in the Aqua Park, which also has a children's Splash and Play Zone with pools, sprayers, water sculptures, and a kiddie slide. Kids can try out the bungee trampoline or bowling lanes and play Wii on a jaw-dropping two-story screen. At Kid's Crew, a supervised program, children as young as 2 can run around in an outer space -- themed play area, dance on a light-up floor, or watch a movie in the cinema.
Cruise Care: There isn't a traditional nursery or private babysitting on board. But the ship offers two group-care services for 2- to 12-year-olds: "Late Night Fun Zone" (nightly from 10:30 P.M. to 1:30 A.M.; $6 per hour) and "Port Play" (when the ship is in port, from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; $6 per hour).
Ocean Eats: The ship has two main restaurants, but you can choose to dine at 18 others as well, including a family-style Italian place and a neighborhood grill open 24/7. There's also 24-hour room service.
Port Report: Introduce your kid to European style at the Dutch- and French-influenced island of St. Maarten. In St. Thomas, explore the ocean at Coral World's underwater observation tower. Take a day trip to Atlantis Resort's awesome Aquaventure water park in Nassau.
Rates: Start at $879 per person for 7 days in an inside room.
Get Close to Nature
Carnival Dream's 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise
This new Carnival "Fun Ship" is not only affordable, it's larger and has more space dedicated to families than any other in its fleet. Yes, the ship is big, but the friendly staff is all about the small details: Each night, your child returns to the room to find a towel shaped, origami-style, into a swan, a monkey, a pig, or another cute creature.
Fun for First Mates: The Camp Carnival kids' clubs (ages 2 to 11) are focused on making memories -- and souvenirs. Sessions teach art, music, and all about the ports you'll visit on the trip, plus children can design their own custom T-shirts and plush toys. Over in the WaterWorks area, your kid can spend the day at one of the most elaborate (and largest) aqua parks at sea, which includes a four-deck-high twister water slide, squirting fountains, and splash zones.
Cruise Care: There is no in-room babysitting service available, but kids can be dropped off nightly between 10 P.M. and 3 A.M. for group care at the Camp Carnival center (cribs are available; $4 to $6 per hour).
Ocean Eats: The steak house or sushi bar might be calling your name (the main dining rooms offer extensive children's menus), but kids will get a kick out of The Gathering, a poolside restaurant that serves pizza and ice cream 'round the clock. The whole family will love the "Dining Under the Stars" program that lets kids (2 to 17) eat together with the camp counselors while you and your partner have a romantic dinner for two.
Port Report: The Carnival Dream ups the number of stops to four, including two in Mexico (Cozumel and Costa Maya). But the ports get more exotic from there, with a shore excursion to Isla Roatan (off Honduras) and another in Belize. Little nature lovers will dig all the animal encounters in Isla Roatan, from swimming with dolphins to spotting local wildlife: parrots, monkeys, and Jesus lizards (they "walk" on water). In Belize, you and the kids can explore the ancient ruins and jungle by guided boat, horseback, bike, or foot tours.
Rates: Start at $649 per person for 7 days in a standard room. Suites and a deluxe family stateroom are also available.
Sail Like a Star
Celebrity Solstice's 7-night Eastern Caribbean Cruise
Every guest is a VIP on this ship, which is designed -- from the roomy accommodations down to the helpful staff -- to introduce all of its guests to the "Celebrity Life." If you're a culinary whiz, show off your skills at the "Star Chefs" cooking competition. Spoil yourself with savory food from wonderfully innovative chefs, stroll through an onboard art gallery, or spend a leisurely afternoon at The Lawn Club, a country club-like area with real, growing grass, where you can try your hand at lawn bowling or sip a cup of gourmet coffee on the deck.
Fun for First Mates: Kids also get the star treatment, thanks to an exclusive partnership with LeapFrog. At the drop-off Fun Factory kids' club (ages 3 to 11), there's an open house on the first day to walk your child through all the educational games, crafts, music, themed parties, talent shows, and LeapFrog equipment offered. For kids under 3, there are special tot-parent sessions where you can interact with other kids and their families or play with age-appropriate toys. The club is open from 9 A.M. until 10 each night to keep kids entertained. But parents are encouraged to get in on the fun too with family disco, karaoke, bingo, and more.
Cruise Care: A slumber party is offered each night at the Fun Factory from 10 P.M. to 1 A.M. ($6 per hour) for kids 3 to 12.
Ocean Eats: The main European-style restaurant offers swanky food and service for you, with an extended kids' menu for your child. There are also cafés, bistros, and other eateries for meals, sandwiches, or just a snack.
Port Report: Excursions in Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten are led by Celebrity's own guides. Check out the Spanish colonial outpost in Puerto Rico and the Cupecoy Beach cliff s on St. Maarten.
Rates: Start at $699 per person for 7 nights in an inside room.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.