While some upscale cruise lines are angling themselves as adults-only, there’s plenty of fun to be had for families looking to hit the high seas, without leaving luxury back on land. If your clan’s vacation plans call more for time in port, intimate digs, and white-glove service and less for mega-ships sporting whiz-bang features and massive crowds to match, seek out these five luxury cruise lines that not only accept children, but positively cater to them.
While high-end Crystal Cruises offers limited kids’ programming aboard every sailing, it really rolls out the red carpet for young cruisers on its designated family itineraries, operated aboard two recently revamped ocean liners, the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony and 980-guest Crystal Serenity. On these special summer and holiday voyages, kids ages three to 17 can participate in more robust supervised “Junior Activities” programming, with a focus on entertainment and enrichment. Dedicated spaces for both young’uns (ages three to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 17) are outfitted with crafts, gaming consoles, computers, and more; the teen space also boasts a video arcade. Elsewhere on the ship, children can find kid-friendly books and movies in the library or catch flicks—served with popcorn—in the theater.
There’s also a “Junior Cruiser’s” menu featuring favorites such as pizza and hamburgers, plus a dedicated daily kids’ newsletter outlining the day’s adventures, which could include scavenger hunts, pool parties, and teen discos.
Both ships offer an assortment of cabins primed for family accommodation, including third-berth ready cabins and options with connecting staterooms, where in-stateroom babysitting is available for kids one and older for a fee. On every sailing, children 11 and younger get half-price fares when sailing with two fare-paying adults, although the line occasionally runs kids sail free promos, too.
Minimum age to sail: Six months; kids ages 3 and under sail free
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas ships take on a family-friendly air on select summer and holiday voyages (including all of the line’s Alaska itineraries), thanks to its Club Mariner Youth Program, which brings kid-primed programming—helmed by professional youth counselors—on board to entertain children ages five to 17. Planned activities are broken down by age group, for kids ages five to eight (such as cookie decorating, pajama parties, and meet the captain events), nine to 12 (scavenger hunts, dodgeball, dance parties), and 13 to 17 (lounge nights and sports tournaments).
Although the line’s four vessels—with capacity for 450 to 750 passengers—don’t boast dedicated children’s facilities, the card/conference room becomes the makeshift hub for all things kid-related during these special sailings.
Standard kids’ fares for third and fourth berths start at $499, but the line often runs promos where kids sail free. Bonus: Kids’ fares include unlimited shore excursions, too.
Minimum age to sail: 12 months
All three of Cunard’s upscale, Old World–styled ships tout dedicated children’s facilities, including two staff-helmed kids’ zones (for ages two to seven, or eight to 17), as well as a teens-only space, featuring age-appropriate activities such as sports, arts and crafts, and gaming. What really stands out, however, is Cunard’s complimentary night nursery for infants ages six to 23 months (an industry rarity), where wee ones can dream under nannies’ watchful eyes while parents have their turn to play (from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.). The line’s flagship 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2 ups the ante further still with its full-scale planetarium and unique lessons such as fencing and ballroom dancing.
On any ship, youngsters in third and fourth berths sail at half price when traveling with two paying adults.
While there are no dedicated kids-themed sailings or family-focused shore excursions to speak of, Cunard’s 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth will sail to family-friendly Alaska (land of kid favorites such as dog sledding and whale-watching) for the first time in 20 years, with 10-night round-trip voyages out of Vancouver starting in May 2019.
Minimum age to sail: Six to 12 months, depending on the itinerary; infants under two years old sail free
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’s plush 500-passenger Europa 2—ranked as the top ship in the world in the Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships 2019 guide—is wonderfully family-friendly, thanks to its onboard kids’ clubs, family-friendly suites, in-cabin babysitting services, and unexpected extras such as loaner baby monitors.
Tiny cruisers can make way for three different kids’ clubs broken down by age (two to three, four to 10, or 11 to 15), which are hubs for games, pizza-making, or crafts. In addition to the complimentary clubs, parents can hire in-cabin babysitting or sign up for a “sleep-in” service, in which children are whisked off to breakfast while the adults snooze.
Cruisers willing to adopt the more relaxed European approach to parenting can depend on the ship-provided video baby monitors to keep tabs on the wee ones back in the cabin, while they wander. Europa 2’s comfortable family-designed cabins come equipped with changing tables, mini kid-sized bathroom fixtures, and games; diapers and baby foods can be pre-ordered, too.
On holiday and school break sailings, there are even special shore excursions designed just for kids or families. Best of all, there is never a charge on Europa 2 for children 11 and under when sailing within the same cabin of a paying adult.
Minimum age to sail: eight months in Europe; two years old for other locations
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Posh Paul Gauguin Cruises’s 2017-debuted “Stewards of Nature” program, presented in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), welcomes families to explore Tahiti, French Polynesia, and more of the South Pacific during summer and December holiday sailings. While flitting from one fantasy island setting to the next aboard the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin, little cruisers (ages seven to 17) can set out on interactive naturalist-lead excursions to the islands and beaches (try snorkeling or dolphin-watching). Back on board, science activities (think guided telescope viewing sessions), ocean-themed games and crafts, and movie and pizza parties await.
Best of all, passengers 17 and younger sail free when sailing in the same stateroom with two paying adults. The caveat? Cabin capacity maxes out at three, so folks with more than one kid in tow would need to book an additional stateroom. Note that participation in the Stewards of Nature program, which is available on the line’s seven-night Tahiti & the Society Islands itinerary, requires a supplemental fee of $349 per child.
Minimum age to sail: 12 months