Taking the Kids: The whole gang on a cruise, but not necessarily a big ship
Are you beach-lovers? Then the Caribbean is for you. Kids, 11 and under, cruise free on select sailings of MSC Cruises when they share a cabin with two adults. In low and mid-season, kids, 12 to 17, who share a stateroom with two paying adults don't have to pay the cruise fare. Guests rave about Disney Cruise Line's private island, which offers watersports, separate areas for teens and adults and supervised kids' activities (think character meet and greats and "Star Wars" and Marvel day at sea) and offers cruises from ports, including New York, Galveston and San Diego.
Do you want to be the first on your block to experience a new ship? Some 27 new ocean, river and specialty ships will debut this year. They include the 394-passenger Carnival Horizon, which debuts with Mediterranean cruises in April and sailings to Bermuda and the Caribbean from New York all summer before moving to Miami. The ship boasts the first Dr. Seuss WaterWorks aqua park, IMAX theater, a SkiRide and onboard brewhouse, among other entertainments
Is food important? While most lines have upped their dining game (and cruises are a great bet for kids to expand their palates at no extra cost), Norwegian offers freestyle dining -- no fixed dining times or pre-assigned seating, as well as complimentary options that include Asian fusion, made-to-order pasta and carving stations in the buffets and a range of specialty dining options from a steakhouse to French bistro, Italian and more. (They come with an extra surcharge, but some deals include specialty dining.)
Is exploring new cultures key? Then river cruises are for you. CroisiEurope and Uniworld are among those with special family sailings in Europe with special activities and reduced prices for kids; on some CroisiEurope cruises, kids up to 16 sail free. AMA Waterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney and for especially active families, including those with grown or nearly grown kids, there's Backroads. Here is what I wrote about our AMA-Backroads experience. Tauck also offers special Bridges family river cruises.
Many families suggest that cruising -- whatever ship you choose -- is a great way to "sample" destinations, helping you to decide where you want to spend more time next trip.