Are you thinking about taking a cruise with a toddler this year? Top cruise blogger Elaine Warren from the Family Cruise Companion details the best cruises for toddlers you should consider. Scroll to get all the inside information!
This best cruises for toddlers post was co-written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Guest post by Elaine Warren of the Family Cruise Companion
You start planning that family cruise, and then all the questions set in. What are the best cruises for toddlers? Will my older children have things to do? What kind of amenities do family cruises offer?
In this post, an avid family cruise blogger will share 7 top cruises to the Caribbean and Alaska that cater to families with younger children. Get all your answers below!
FAQ about Family-Friendly Cruise Lines
Is it a good idea to take a child on a cruise?
Yes! A family cruise is a wonderful option for children of all ages. Just keep in mind that the minimum age to sail domestically is 6 months old. And check with your cruise line before booking, because transoceanic sailings usually require children at be at least 1 year old.
What is the best length of cruise for younger kids?
I suggest a 7-night cruise for your first family cruise. This way, everyone has time to adjust and have fun! After your first or second cruise, you’ll know if your kids can handle shorter stays.
Is a cruise worth it for a 3-year-old?
If you want a cruise that truly caters to families, go with Disney Cruise Line. The kids clubs are top-notch and there are water attractions for every age. You get all the Disney magic you’d expect, but on the water! It’s one of the best cruises for babies and toddlers.
How to Choose the Right Cruise for Babies and Toddlers
Planning a cruise with a toddler can be nerve-wracking! The ship you choose can mean the different between a fabulous cruise vacation or one filled with stress and regrets.
Families planning cruises now have dozens of options from which to choose. But not every family-friendly cruise ship will be the best fit for families with toddlers.
Is Your Child Potty-Trained?
And if you have a toddler who isn’t quite yet fully potty-trained, that can really narrow down your options. Many ships will have limitations or restrictions on the activities that are available for kids in diapers.
For instance, you’ll find many restrictions on swim diapers on cruise ships. And some ships may have restrictions on staff in the kids’ club changing diapers.
Look at the Minimum Sailing Age
Also, families cruising with toddlers may have special concerns about choosing the right itinerary.
Cruises to the Caribbean and Alaska tend to offer the best options for families cruising with toddlers. You’re less likely to run into minimum age restrictions.
And the logistics of getting to embarkation ports for these cruises sailing can be much easier than one sailing from Europe or other parts of the world.
Focus on 7 Major Cruise Lines
I’ve identified ships from 7 major cruise lines that offer the best cruises for toddlers. All of the cruise ships on this list will have at least some activities that are open to toddlers in diapers.
In no particular order, they are:
- Disney Cruises
- Royal Caribbean
- MSC Seaside
- Norwegian Escape
- Carnival Horizon
- Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
- Hapag Lloyd Cruises
And these cruise ships that have a variety of excellent features for families with younger kids. This post focuses on ships that sail Caribbean or Alaska itineraries for at least part of the year. Keep reading for the best cruise lines for your family cruise!
My Pick for the 7 Best Cruises for Toddlers
1. Disney Cruises
Of the Disney ships available this year, the best cruises for toddlers are Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. And, if you are interested in sailing Alaska, then add Disney Wonder to the list as well.
When it comes to sailing with toddlers, Disney offers some of the best possible toddler amenities.
First, Disney offers a wide range of complimentary baby gear for families cruising with toddlers. These include diaper disposal units, bottle warmers, bottle sterilizers, complimentary pack n plays and cribs, and strollers.
Furthermore, for a modest fee, Disney also offers childcare for infants and toddlers in the It’s a Small World Nursery. The nursery provides drop-off care for children ages 6 months to 3 years. The nursery includes a separate quiet nap area complete with cribs.
And Disney is also one of the few remaining cruise lines that offers character experiences! These are opportunities to meet and interact with a variety of your favorite characters from numerous Disney films.
Some of the structured experiences include photo ops with favorite characters and designated meet and greet locations for specific characters, and character breakfasts. From time to time, some characters will also visit the kids’ club areas, including the nursery.
Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy
Both Dream and Fantasy offer some of the more extensive water-based activities available in the Disney fleet. Not all of these upgraded water facilities will be suitable for all toddlers, but they do enhance the overall program activities for the entire family.
These facilities include:
- Nemo’s Reef – an elaborate water play area designed for kids ages 8 and under. Nemo’s Reef contains equipment and activities based on characters and events from the movie Finding Nemo. It consists of a 1,500 square foot splash deck that includes fountains, bubblers, pop jets, and a small water slide.
- Mickey’s Pool – A swimming pool shaped like Mickey Mouse that includes Mickey’s Slide. A one deck slide that starts one deck above the pool and winds down below to a shallow pool.
- Funnel Puddle – a family wading pool. This area caters to families who are not necessarily in the mood for the full pool experience. Families can lounge around a shallow wading pool that features a central water play fountain.
Notably, all Disney ships have some water attractions that are open to toddlers who aren’t quite yet potty trained so long as they wear swim diapers.
Each ship also features its own live production show based on a favorite Disney film. Dream has a live production of Beauty and the Beast and Fantasy has a live show based on Aladdin!
This year, Disney Wonder will be sailing Alaska itineraries during the Alaska cruise season (May to September). The Disney Wonder has all of the same toddler amenities as its sister ships described above.
But it also features attractions not found on other ships: the live musical Frozen and the Marvel Superhero Academy!
At the Marvel Super Hero Academy, kids can interact with Captain America, Spider-man, and the Black Widow to solve various missions. And, among the various themed rooms, kids will find the Frozen Adventures theme room with games and props based on the movie Frozen. They’ll also enjoy guest character appearances from Elsa and Anna.
Although not as extensive as those found on Fantasy and Dream, the Disney Wonder also has a wide range of fun family-oriented water attractions including:
- A splash zone for kids 3 and under based on the movie Finding Dory
- The double loop Twist n Spout water slide. (Minimum height of 38 inches)
- An 1,800 square foot recreation space themed around Donald Duck’s nephews that includes a series of pop jets, geysers and bubblers, pouring paint cans, raining shower heads, and other fun surprises.
- Two pools for kids: Goofy’s family pool and Mickey’s children’s pool.
2. Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean has dozens of delightful family-friendly ships. But I’ve identified 6 that are the best ones for families cruising with toddlers.
These include all four of the Oasis class ships and two quantum class ships.
The Oasis-Class Ships
Royal Caribbean’s 4 Oasis Class ships hit all the bells and whistles that Royal Caribbean has to offer when it comes to toddlers. These 4 ships include Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, and Allure of the Seas.
Families cruising with toddlers on these Royal Caribbean ships can find drop off care at the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, which provides care for infants and toddlers ages 6 to 36 months.
Two of the biggest attractions on the Oasis-class ships are the trio of water slides known as the Perfect Storm and a 10-story dry slide, The Abyss. While these attractions may appeal to your older kids and adults, they have height restrictions that exclude almost all toddlers.
However, these ships also boast a deluxe splash park area known as Splashaway Bay. This splash park features sprayers and an oversized tipping bucket. It also features its own set of scaled down water slides that are perfect for the little kids! And Splashaway Bay is open to toddlers wearing swim diapers.
The Oasis class ships are known for having large multi-story climbing walls at the back of the ship with a panoramic view of the ocean. But those walls soar more than 30 feet and are obviously not suitable for toddlers.
However, both Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas also feature a scaled down climbing wall which is surrounded by safety netting for small kids.
You’ll find the kids’ climbing area on the Boardwalk, which is an open-air promenade, one of the hallmark features of all the Oasis class ships. This area definitely provides many fun activities for the toddler set.
There are also lots of fun, free activities such as a carousel, strolling entertainers, balloon animals and face painting. For a fee, you can also indulge in cupcakes, candy. There’s also the Build-A-Bear workshop.
Perfect Day (for Toddlers) at Coco Cay
Each of these ships will also have some Caribbean sailings that stop at Royal Caribbean’s new private island experience, Perfect Day at Coco Cay.
Note that kiddos in swim diapers can swim in all of the many pools on Coco Cay, and also in the ocean at all beaches.
Toddlers will have a great time at Captain Jill’s Galleon, a pirate themed splash park and a deluxe edition of Splashaway Bay. The galleon features interactive water cannons, slides, a splash pad and more.
And this expanded Splashaway Bay boasts fountains, sprinklers, geysers, 5 water slides and 2 massive drench buckets. There’s also adjacent seating for parents who want to watch the fun.
And toddlers can also indulge in the island’s waterpark. While most toddlers will be too small for the slides (minimum height ranges from 42 – 48 inches), the waterpark also features the largest wave pool in the Caribbean. It’s open to kids under 42 inches provided they wear a swim vest.
The Quantum Class Ships
While slightly smaller than ships found in the Oasis Class, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class also features some of the line’s newest ships with many innovative bells and whistles.
Two ships from this class would make particularly good choices for families cruising with toddlers. Ovation of the Seas which will be sailing Alaska itineraries this year. And Odyssey of the Seas will sail Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale.
The Quantum class ships offer the dedicated Royal Babies & Tots Nursery for drop-off care. And there’s also a dedicated open play area for toddlers that’s stocked with a range of age-appropriate toys where families can visit at their leisure. These ships also have Splashaway Bay.
The distinctive features found on the Quantum class ships can largely be found in an extremely large indoor activity space known as the Sea-Plex.
Activities include a trapeze school, roller rink, full-size basketball court, and real bumper cars. Note that for roller skating, kids under 6 must be accompanied by a grown up at all times. And, for bumper cars, kids must be at least 42 inches tall to drive alone. The Sea-Plex fun also includes a pool table and a wall of large screen Xbox One stations.
Other featured attractions include rock climbing, the FlowRider surfing simulator, a skydiving simulator (iFly), and the North Star observation pod that ascends 300 feet above sea level and out over the ocean (weather permitting).
3. MSC Seaside
MSC Seaside is one of the newest ship from the Italian cruise line, MSC Cruises. It sails Caribbean itineraries year-round out of Miami.
MSC Seaside has many features that will appeal to families cruising with toddlers. First, babies and toddlers have their own large play space in the Kids’ club section of the ship.
This room features developmentally appropriate toys and activities from Chicco. The space is very large, spacious, colorful and designed to appeal to babies and toddlers.
The use of the space alternates between “Baby Time” and “Baby Care.” During “Baby Time,” parents or caregivers can bring their kids under age 3 to come play with the toys or participate in special organized activities. And “Baby Care” is when drop-care is offered, and parents are not permitted.
Generally, the drop off option opens for about 2 hours in the late morning/early afternoon and about 3 hours in the evening.
MSC offers numerous products for families traveling with infants. These include on-board bottle warmers, strollers, bouncy chairs and “Caddy Knapsack child carriers.”
Also, for families traveling with babies, MSC Seaside offers a special baby laundry service. This service washes baby and toddler clothes separately from all other clothes in specialized machine with special detergents.
Water Facilities & Other Family Activities on MSC Seaside
For water activities, MSC Seaside features its Aquaventure Park. This is an extensive set of multi-story water play facilities, including a fantastic area open to toddlers.
It includes a large children’s splash park area and kiddie pool. The splash area includes various sprayers, a climbing structure and a big dumping bucket. It also has a couple of smaller water slides.
Seaside has many fun options geared toward older children, as well as activities for the whole family. For instance, MSC Cruises also has an extensive partnership with the LEGO Group.
Thus, Seaside has an extensive amount of LEGO bricks, including DUPLO bricks, throughout the play areas. And the ship hosts many LEGO-themed activities, including a LEGO Family Fun Night.
In addition to the LEGO Night, the ship offers a roster of activities targeting families. These include events such as a Talent Show,a family movie night, and family sports competitions at the outdoor pool.
Also,MSC Cruises has its own set of proprietary characters that are part of the DOREMI Family. They generally resemble walking sun stars.
The Family includes Doremi, his sister Mila, his brother Dorebro and their baby brother, Dorebaby. They roam the ship presiding over a range of family activities such as a cooking class, talent shows, a disco, and costume parade. They also have scheduled photo opportunities.
The Ocean Cay Marine Reserve
In 2019, MSC Cruises opened its new private island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay. The Ocean Cay Marine Reserve has 64 square miles of protected waters around it. Guests can enjoy 8 world-class beaches, numerous bars, an iconic lighthouse, shops and a Bahamian village.
Ocean Cay is a family-friendly island with designated family areas such as Seakers Family Cove and the Family Lagoon Beach.
4. Norwegian Escape
The Norwegian Escape offers a variety of youth programs. For children 6 months to 3 years, families can participate in guided toddler-friendly activities through the Guppies Hosted Activities program.
Norwegian’s primary kids’ club, Splash Academy, offers programs for children ages 3-12. Notably, kids who are in diapers or pull-ups can still participate in the regular youth club. A parent will be a given pager and must report within 15 minutes to make any necessary changes.
If child is in diapers, one parent must remain on board when ship in port to respond to pages. Failure to respond to pages within the required time frame will result in monetary penalties and dismissal from the program.
The Escape features a 2-story version of Norwegian’s Splash Academy with high-tech games, a small movie theatre, arts and crafts, Nintendo Wii competitions, and a circus school where kids can learn to juggle and other circus tricks.
And kids have the opportunity to display their new circus skills in a show staged in one of the ship’s performance spaces.
Water Facilities & Other Family Activities on Norwegian Escape
The Escape features a nice selection of water activities that will appeal to a range of family members. Guests will find 2 main pools that are open to all guests (and a third open only to folks staying in the exclusive Haven suites). One main pool and a second with a waterfall feature is designed to attract kids.
Escape also features a robust water park, Aqua Park, with a separate children’s section called Kids’ Aqua Park.
The interactive Kids’ Aqua Park features a tube water slide, tipping buckets, a climbing section, water cannons, and other splash activities.
The main section of the Aqua Park features several multi-story waterslides including:
- The Aqua Racer — a tandem water slide where competitors can race side by side on tubes. A clear portion extends over the side of the ship.
- The Free Fall Slides — two plunge-style slides where the riders climb into a seating area, a bottom drops out, and they plunge very fast down a twisty path.
- The Family Slide — a low-key open air water slide with traditional twists.
Per NCL rules, children must be toilet-trained to ride the waterslides. Guests must be at least 42 inches tall to ride the Aqua Racer or Family Slide, and at least 48 inches for Free Fall.
Other fun activities on the Escape include a mini-golf course, sports area and an extensive multi-story ropes course. The ropes course includes a section for toddlers and smaller kids. Kids under 48 inches must have a chaperone on ropes course.
Norwegian Escape sails Caribbean itineraries.
Special NOte: If Sailing Alaska, Consider Norwegian Bliss
Families interested in sailing Alaska should consider Norwegian Bliss. The Bliss has an elaborate dedicated Guppies Playroom for toddlers that features a variety of toys and games.
And throughout the day, staff host organized activities for the Guppies and their grown-ups. These included a variety of art projects, building projects, games and story time.
Norwegian Bliss also features the best versions of many of the family activities found on Escape. Plus, there’s a circus-themed escape room, Go-karts, and outdoor laser tag.
5. Carnival Horizon
If you are cruising with older potty-trained toddlers, then Carnival Horizon might be the perfect choice for your family. Notably, Carnival’s basic youth club starts at age 2. So, toddlers in the 2-year-old category can attend on their own at no additional charge.
And, unlike most other cruise lines, kids who aren’t fully potty-trained can still participate in regular youth program activities. However, parents must provide their own diapers and supplies.
Staff won’t change children over the age of 3. If necessary, staff will provide parents with a cell phone, and they will be called to come and make the change.
Carnival also offers some limited programming options for kids under the age of 2. There are specific times on board each ship when children under 2 are permitted to use the youth club facilities. Hours vary based on itinerary.
Generally, on sea days, children under 2 can use the facilities during a designated “Under-2” period. During this period, parents can stay with their children and use the facilities at no charge. Or they may drop off their child for an hourly fee.
On port days, parents may drop off infants for an hourly fee, but ‘Under 2′ care will not be provided during mealtimes, so parents must return from port at that time.
Carnival also offers a fee-based nighttime option for younger infants and toddlers. The night owl group babysitting starts at age 6 months. Pillows, blankets, and cribs will be provided as needed. The program runs each evening from 10 PM until 3:00 PM.
Water Facilities & Other Family Activities on Carnival Horizon
Carnival offers several character experiences featuring characters from several beloved Dr. Seuss books. These include Cat in Hat, Fish Red and Blue, and Thing 1 & Thing 2.
Some of the available activities include a character parade, interactive story time, arts & crafts activities, and a Green Eggs and Ham character breakfast.
Carnival has kicked up its fleetwide Seuss at Sea program a notch or three with Carnival Horizon. In addition to the typical Suess-themed programming found on its other ships, the Horizon also features the amazing Dr. Seuss WaterWorks. This Seuss-themed water park features:
- The Cat in the Hat Slide — guests enter the slide through the famous red and white striped hat and ride an enclosed raft slide for more than 450 feet of thrilling twists and turns.
- The Fun Things Slide — Based on Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2, features a 213 feet enclosed body slide.
- A Seuss-themed splash park featuring a 150-gallon tipping bucket, shaped like the famous Cat’s hat, and a variety of water toys.
Note that no swim diapers are permitted in any of Carnival’s water facilities including its spray parks.
Other notable family-friendly attractions on Horizon include Carnival’s iconic bike-ride-in-the-sky attraction called SkyRide, an IMAX Theatre and an outdoor recreation area with a suspended ropes course.
Also, families have the option to book extra-large staterooms in Family Harbor. These rooms include access to a family lounge area with large screen TVs, board games, complimentary breakfast, and other snacks.
6. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
Have you ever wondered what it would be like sail on a ship like the Titanic (without the iceberg and the steerage quarters)? Then the Queen Elizabeth may be just right for you!
This year, Cunard is sailing its Queen Elizabeth ship on Alaska itineraries with 7-, 10-, and 12-night round trips sailings from Vancouver. And, Cunard will continue to sail a full Alaska season from June through September.
And while the Queen Elizabeth may be steeped in tradition, it has much to offer families cruising with toddlers.
The Cunard youth program provides supervised activities for children ages 2 to 17. The age group categories include:
- The Play Zone for ages 2 to 7 — includes an outdoor play area, arts and craft station, carpeted indoor play area with blocks and toys, and tables for puzzles and games.
- The Kids’ Zone for ages 8 to 12 — gaming consoles, sports competitions, arts and crafts, karaoke.
- The Teen Zone for ages 13 to 17 — table tennis tournaments, sport deck, dancing/discos.
Cunard’s youth program has free group supervision in the evening. That includes a free Night Nursery available for children ages 6 months to 23 months from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM.
You will not find contemporary high adrenaline activities on this ship. No water slides. No skating, surfing, race cars or sky diving. But Queen Elizabeth has a fun Games Deck featuring paddle tennis, boules, and croquet.
You will also find traditional shuffleboard and a card room with a library of board games. And the ship offers lots of educational and enrichment activities such as watercolor classes, different styles of dancing lessons, and fencing classes.
7. Hapag Lloyd Cruises
Note: MS Europa 2 sails exotic itineraries all over the world, but its schedule does include several Caribbean sailings.
What about upscale luxury cruise options for families cruising with toddlers?
While true luxury cruise lines seldom cater to families sailing with kids, Hapag Lloyd is a notable exception. This German cruise line has a ship that targets the English-speaking market, Europa 2, and also caters to families sailing with small children.
The Europa 2 is a 516 passenger all suites ship with dedicated facilities for children across 3 different age groups. There’s the Knopf Club for ages 2-3, the Kids’ Club for ages 4 to 10, and the Teens’ Club for ages 11 to 15.
These different facilities provide a range of age-appropriate activities such as a ball pit and sensory wall, creative studio workshop, science lab, climbing wall, gaming consoles, karaoke, and a teen lounge.
The ship offers a “late riser service for parents” on sea days where kids are picked up from their suite and whisked away so that parents can sleep in.
Book One of the Best Cruises for Toddlers
So, that’s a grand total of 15 ships that offer great options for families cruising with toddlers! This may be the best year yet for taking your little ones on a cruise.
Elaine M. Warren has sailed many cruises with her kids when they were toddlers, as well as the toddlers of other friends and family. She is the author of the Amazon best-selling travel book The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide To Cruising With Kids, and she writes about cruising at The Family Cruise Companion blog.