Sailing the high seas can be a boatload of fun for parents and kids, particularly if you pick the right cruise. Check out our choices for the eight top family vacations.
Best for an Extended Family
Holland America's Zuiderdam
From Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean: A seven-night cruise starts at $687; third and fourth berths for kids are $357. Youngest age allowed: 12 weeks. (877-724-5425; http://www.hollandamerica.com)
Boat Benefits: This ship has something to wow every member of your family, including two outdoor pools, a full-service spa, a gym, a golf simulator of the world's great courses, and a cybercafe. While Mom and Dad are at the casino or a live show, kids can try candy-bar bingo.
Why Kids Love It: Club Hal's KidZone offers kids ages 5 to 17 their own game room, lounge, and teen dance club. Babysitting is provided for little ones for a small fee. Junior theater buffs can get the inside scoop at an ice-cream party hosted by the ship's performers, who answer questions and give backstage tours. Plus, your children will have a blast at Half Moon Cay, a private island where they can take part in action-packed programs for an extra charge, such as treasure hunts, sand-castle building, swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and more beach fun.
Best for Active Families
From Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Caribbean: A seven-day cruise starts at $649; third and fourth berths for kids are $299. Youngest age allowed: 4 months. (800-227-6482; www.carnival.com)
Boat Benefits: Take a dip in one of four pools, try shuffleboard, or brave the 214-foot water slide. There's also a vast spa and health club, golf academy, jogging track, and more. Grown-ups have 24/7 access to the casino, jazz bar, and dance clubs.
Why Kids Love It: At a whopping 4,200 square feet, the Under the Rainbow playroom will make your child a happy sailor. Kids ages 2 to 15 can fix their own sundaes, do arts-and-crafts projects, play on the computer, watch movies in the screening room, and read in the children's library. At night, kids can dine with counselors by the pool, or parents can use the babysitting program for a small fee.
Best for a Tight Budget
From Los Angeles to Baja, Mexico: A four-day cruise starts at $349; third and fourth berths for kids are $229. Youngest age allowed: 4 months. (800-227-6482; www.carnival.com).
Boat Benefits: Combine a trip to dreamy Catalina Island with another to the Baja Peninsula's jewel, Ensenada, and what do you get? An incredible bargain! Ecstasy lives up to its name with great food, roomy cabins, a 12,000-foot gym and spa run by Steiner's of London, and an entire promenade devoted to entertainment (Vegas-style shows, cabaret acts, piano bars, and discos).
Why Kids Love It: There are supervised poolside dinner parties at night with a special kids' menu. And did we mention one of the finest children's programs afloat at Camp Carnival? Kids ages 2 to 15 can fill their days with finger-painting, karaoke, storytime, jewelry making, and talent shows. Group babysitting is available for a fee.
Best for Families Who Love to Learn
From Vancouver to Anchorage: A seven-night cruise starts at $799; third and fourth berths for kids are $399. Youngest age allowed: 6 months. (800-774-6237; www.princess.com)
Boat Benefits: Who knew relaxation could be so educational? The boat's ScholarShip & Sea program offers adults -- and interested kids -- nearly 20 free courses in cooking, photography, visual arts, and computer technology -- along with special presentations on topics such as nutrition and chess. Facilities include the first-ever pottery and ceramics studio at sea, where parents and kids can create works of art from scratch or paint pottery.
Why Kids Love It: Whether they're watching whales or building and racing sailboats, kids ages 3 to 17 will have a blast hanging out with the ship's certified youth staff and participating in the free, fun-filled activities. Kid camp is broken down by age, so each kid can have their own age-appropriate adventures. Princess Cruise line also recently debuted Discovery at Sea, a program themed around the natural history of the cruise's destinations (think star-gazing from the deck and marine life lessons). Drop off younger children at the youth center for an extra charge.
Best for Disney Fans
From Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Bahamas: A seven-night land/sea cruise starts at $829 for adults; $599 for kids over 12, $399 for kids 3 to 12, and $139 for kids under 3. Youngest age allowed: 12 weeks. (888-325-2500; www.disneycruise.com)
Boat Benefits: Capping off a hectic three-day theme-park stay with a relaxing four-day cruise is a stroke of genius. And your kids won't be bummed about leaving Mickey behind, because he's on board too. There's no casino on the ship, but parents can watch musical productions, swim in the pool for grown-ups, or dine at the adult-only Palo (make reservations early because this fabulous restaurant fills up fast). If you have an infant, this cruise is for you because the nursery accepts babies as young as 12 weeks old for a small fee.
Why Kids Love It: The ship's children and teen programs are so much fun that they can compete with any theme park. Kids can try their hand at karaoke, take part in a family game show at the dance club, or watch their favorite Disney films on the big screen. Shore highlights include a glass-bottom boat tour and a dolphin encounter. On Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, children have their own supervised play area with beach toys, and teens can build rafts or play a game of volleyball.
Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise
Best for Families Who Want the Most for Their Money
From Philadelphia or Norfolk, Virginia, to Bermuda: A seven-night cruise starts at $1,000; $525 for kids. No age requirement. (800-722-5941; www.celebrity.com)
Boat Benefits: Celebrity's claim to fame is top-drawer cruising at moderate prices. Your family is treated to impeccable service, gourmet cuisine, a relaxing spa, a lively casino, and cabaret shows. During two formal nights, the ship's Parents Night Out program gives you some free time while your kids eat and greet at a pizza party.
Why Kids Love It: One of the most innovative children's programs at sea, the Summer Stock Theater teaches your aspiring performer about every aspect of producing a play. Kids ages 3 to 9 star in the show, while older children and teens direct, produce, operate the lights and sound equipment, work on makeup, and design sets. In addition, a professional magician shows kids how to perform tricks. Little ones will have fun in the ship's playroom, where babysitting services are offered for an hourly fee.
Best for First-Time Cruisers
Voyager of the Seas From New York to Canada: A five-night cruise starts at $579; third and fourth berths for kids are $399. Youngest age allowed: 6 months. (800-398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com)
Boat Benefits: An astounding 142,000 tons of fun, this ship is the fleet's biggest and best. Thanks to its Grand Promenade -- which resembles a downtown shopping street with a vintage car parked outside a pub -- you may forget you're on a boat. The first-ever at-sea ice-skating rink offers wonderful shows for the whole family. And if you want to get in on the action yourself, there's a basketball court, climbing wall, miniature golf course, in-line-skating rink, and three pools.
Why Kids Love It: At Adventure Ocean, kids ages 3 to 17 can take part in science, art, and reading programs or hang out on their very own deck. The computer lab and video arcades are also sure to be a hit. Babysitting services are available for an extra charge. And don't miss out on the boatload of child-friendly shore excursions, including lobster bakes and river rafting.
Why We Loved Our Royal Caribbean Cruise
Best for Nature Lovers
From Seattle to Alaska: A seven-day cruise starts at $699, third and fourth berths for kids are $499; and kids under 2 sail free. No age requirement. (800-327-7030; www.ncl.com)
Boat Benefits: Of course you'll find the usual cruise amenities, including a variety of restaurants, pools, a spa, jogging track, and live entertainment. But the real show begins when a U.S. Park Ranger boards the ship and provides commentary as you sail through Alaska's Sawyer Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park. The family-friendly shore excursions are once-in-a-lifetime adventures: Reach out and touch an iceberg, watch totem carvers in an aboriginal village, ride on a dogsled, go whale watching, pan for gold, or spot bears, sea lions, and bald eagles in their natural habitats.
Why Kids Love It: Back on the boat, the Kid's Crew for ages 2 to 17 will keep the younger set entertained with camp-outs, T-shirt painting, games, and more activities. A complimentary chef's hat goes to kids who take fun cooking classes, such as pizza making and cookie baking. The Party Zone offers child care for a small fee.