(Updated May 10, 2018)
When many people first consider taking their family on a fun cruise, a Disney Cruise probably pops to mind. For years, Disney has set the platinum standard for quality family entertainment. And, Disney particularly excels when it comes to young children. But, for many folks, a quick visit to the Disney Cruise website may deliver painful sticker shock. Disney often lists its cruises at prices nearly double those of many other major cruise lines. (For a price comparison snap shot see here). No doubt about it: A Disney Cruise has lots of bells and whistles with its outstanding facilities, top-notch family accommodations and high quality programs. But, those bells and whistles come with a premium price tag.
If a Disney Cruise isn’t quite in your budget right now, don’t despair. You can still sail on a fun cruise with your family. The more budget-friendly options listed below have lots of wow factors and kid appeal that you can consider instead. Granted, they won’t have Mickey and Minnie (or all of the princesses). But, they still offer a wide variety of things to keep your family happily entertained.
Fun Cruise No. 1: RC Harmony of the Seas
Harmony of the Seas is the newest ship from Royal Caribbean. It currently holds the title as the world’s largest cruise ship sailing. Of all of the cruises that are colorable alternatives to a Disney cruise, this fun cruise rests at the top of the list. Like Disney, it features numerous characters from family movies that children love. Through Royal Caribbean’s partnership with DreamWorks studios, it offers numerous character experiences with characters from movies such as Shrek, Madagascar, and Trolls. (On some ships, Royal Caribbean has also featured characters from Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and Home (coming soon).) Similar to the Disney Cruise line-up, activities include character dining, live shows, character parades, 3D movies and special activities in the kids’ clubs. Families may also join numerous photo opportunities throughout the cruise.
Child-focused activities on Harmony
Also like Disney, Harmony of the Seas features childcare options for infants and toddlers as young as 6 months old. The Royal Babies & Tots Nursery provides drop off care for infants and toddlers ages 6 to 36 months. Fees apply. Harmony also offers in-room babysitting for children 12 months and older.
For the older kids, Harmony offers the Adventure Ocean Youth Program for children ages 3 to 11. The Program groups children as follows: Aquanauts (ages 3-5); Explorers (ages 6-8); Voyagers (ages 9 to 11). Each group has a large, professionally staffed dedicated play area filled with up-to-date age appropriate games and activities. The Adventure Ocean space also includes a large un-staffed playroom stocked with toys for open play, a science lab, and a theatre. The theater hosts movies and other performances such as children’s talent shows.
Harmony’s Menu of Family Activities
Outside of the kids’ club facilities, Harmony hosts a wide range of entertainment and activities so that your entire family can enjoy a fun cruise. The ship features numerous water attractions that include multiple water slides for big kids and adults. It also features a separate interactive aqua splash park for smaller children. The large colorful splash zone area has its own water slide appropriately sized for the preschool crowd.
As with the other members of the Oasis class, Harmony of the Seas has seven themed neighborhoods. The open air Boardwalk area features a carousel, an arcade, a children’s climbing area and, at the rear of the ship, the large Aqua Theater where there are aquatic acrobat performances.
In addition to the water slides, Harmony boasts the largest dry slide at sea: The Ultimate Abyss. This thrilling slide tumbles you down a long, twisting 10-story dark tunnel. Blasts of neon lights occasionally punctuate the pitch black tunnel.
Other family-oriented activities and entertainment include a rock climbing wall, a zip line, a very large sports deck area, mini-golf, a surfing simulator, a sky diving simulator, and ice skating. There are also several different production shows in addition to the aquatic acrobats that are suitable for families. The production line-up includes a staging of the musical Grease, but that particular show discourages attendance from small children.
Fun Cruise No. 2: Carnival Vista
Carnival Vista offers a variety of fun amenities and programs for kids and families.
Vista’s Key Attractions for Children
Carnival offers its own version of character experiences based on Dr. Seuss stories. Through Seuss at Sea, families have the opportunity to experience the fantastical world of Dr. Seuss come to life. The Program includes well known characters such as the Cat in the Hat, Horton, and Thing 1 and Thing 1. Typical activities include character parades interactive story time arts and crafts activities, and a character breakfast.
Vista does not host a drop-in baby nursery. It does, however, offer several childcare options for its infant and toddler passengers. First, the regular kids’ club starts at age 2. Camp Ocean provides traditional age appropriate programming for kids between ages 2 to 12 structured across three age brackets, as well as tween and teen clubs.
Second, children under the age of two may use the Camp Ocean facilities during designated periods. Generally, on sea days, camp facilities are available from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Parents may drop off their little ones at that time for an hourly fee. Alternatively, parents can stay with their children and use the facilities at no charge.
On Port Days, parents may drop off infants starting 15 minutes before the first tour commences until noon (or from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. for ships arriving in the afternoon). The same hourly fee applies. Finally, at nighttime, the ship provides a fee-based group babysitting option for infants and toddlers aged 6 months and older.
Vista’s Family-Oriented Activities
Vista offers many other family attractions that make for an exciting and fun cruise. One of Vista’s signature attractions is the SkyRide. Passengers ride a pedal-powered go-mobile on an elevated two-lane suspended course. Vista also features the cruise industry’s first IMAX Theatre at sea. The IMAX theatre contains a triple-deck high screen. The ship also features Thrill Theater, a multi-dimensional experience where viewers become part of the action. The seats move back and forth, side to side, and are occasionally sprayed with water and bubbles.
Vista hosts exciting water attractions. Attractions include a multi-sensory, 455-foot-long water tube slide called Kaleid-O-Slide, and an aqua spray park with a 300-gallon tipping bucket. The spray park also contains a variety of other slides, soakers, and sprayers.
Other family friendly activities include a suspended 270-foot-long ropes course, a high speed Twister slide, Dive-In Movies, and Mini Golf. Vista also continues the Carnival tradition and family-favorite Hasbro, The Game Show. This giant life-sized live action game show incorporates popular Hasbro games into an onstage competition.
Fun Cruise No. 3: The Norwegian Escape
The Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship –Escape – offers many exciting features that can provide a fun, affordable alternative to a Disney Cruise experience.
Escape’s Youth Program
Like Disney, Escape features a fully staffed nursery that offers drop-off care for children 6 months to 3 years. Escape also offers traditional kids’ club programming through its Splash Academy for children ages 3-12. The children are divided into three age groups: Turtles are 3-5; Seals are 6-9 and Dolphins are 10-12. Vista also teaches circus skills through Norwegian’s Circus School program.
Escape’s Family Activities
Although Escape does not currently offer character experiences, it offers an abundance of exceptional water attractions and other exciting family activities that create a fun cruise experience. Escape hosts an extensive water park and sports complex. The multi–story Aqua Park features four main water slides, two pools, and four hot tubs. Two of the water slides run parallel to each other and offer guests what is essentially a multi–story free fall. Smaller children will enjoy their own expansive Kids’ Aqua Park that includes water cannons, soaking buckets, a rope bridge and more.
Escape’s Sports Complex features an area billed as the largest ropes course at sea. The multi-story ropes course includes five Sky Rails zip tracks. One track swings you out over the ocean. Also, two photo-opportunity planks extend several feet out from the ship. The course includes dozens of other challenges to traverse, such as tightropes, balance beams and rope bridges. Smaller children can share in this fun as well. Escape offers a scaled down ropes course for children under 48 inches.
The Escape’s Sports Complex also features a nine–hole miniature golf course, a basketball court, and facilities and equipment for many other games like Ping–Pong and bocce ball. Families sailing on Escape can also enjoy other family oriented activities such as bowling, game shows, sports challenges, pizza making and trivia contests.
A Bonus Addition for 2018!
MSC Cruises now has a new ship that should also be considered if you are looking for less expensive but super-fun options. Find out more details in Our Top 10 Reasons MSC Seaside Rocks Family Cruising.
Disney unquestionably holds a special position within the world of family vacations. But, it doesn’t hold a monopoly on family fun. Your family can have a more budget-friendly fun cruise that still provides a wide range of exciting activities.
Has your family taken a fun cruise that you think offers as much excitement as Disney? Please share your story in the comments.
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