Top Cruise Lines for Grandparents Bringing Grandkids to Sea

With so many cruise lines to choose from, you need Grandma Molly’s cruise reviews to decide the right cruise for grandkids. So, for your consideration, I present the best options among major cruise lines that welcome or cater to families. Multi-generational vacations at sea require cabins outfitted for handicapped passengers and, in general, kids’ programs.

The Staubs and their granddaughter embark on a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas.
The Staubs and their granddaughter embark on a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas.

Look for complimentary kids’ programs, although the few which incur a charge may be worthwhile.

Grandma Molly’s Cruise for Grandkids Tips

First, here’s some advice to consider, in addition to those mentioned in my general cruise tips.

Child Security: Some lines supply pagers or wearable devices to adults when kids are enrolled in programs. Others, however, require that youngsters be signed in and out. Some even allow the kids above a certain age (typically 8) to sign themselves in and out. Make sure you’re comfortable with the procedure.

Be prepared for Non-Stop Games: Expect video and computer gaming arcades (for a fee). Most ships offer computer stations for youngsters in their kids’ clubs, with many featuring gaming consoles. Most charge fees for Internet access. These fees can add up very quickly.

Cruise with Grandkids Pricing: Finally, inquire about specials and cruise deals which may include reduced prices for kids and other incentives. Many multigenerational family groups like to book cheaper inside cabins for chlidren and balcony cabins for the adults. Everyone in the family then enjoys the view from an outer stateroom without the additional fees.

Here are my top picks among family friendly cruise lines. You can learn more about them and find out the latest in offerings in our annual Cruise with Kids roundup.

Disney Cruise Line

The Staub family meets Minnie Mouse aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship.
The Staub family meets Minnie Mouse aboard a Disney Cruise Line ship.

The Disney Cruise Line ships offer the most fanciful play areas at sea, and a wide variety of children’s programming. Naturally, Disney characters appear throughout the cruise. Character breakfasts and afternoon tea prolong the dreams.

This line also offers the most forethought for those with physical challenges. For the hearing-impaired, assisted listening devices are available in all theaters and show rooms. Kits that include visual door-knockers, phone alerts, phone amplifiers, bed-shaker notification, strobe light detectors and TTYs are available. This cruise line has ships that dock directly at the line’s private island, Castaway Cay. Therefore, passengers don’t need to transfer to a tender or small boat before going ashore.

My grandson Andrew Freudenberg, then 3, was reluctant about sailing off on the Disney Magic. But he so loved the experience, that when we disembarked a few days later he cried real tears: “But I don’t want to leave the boat,” he said. The love affair was triggered the moment we entered the classy Art Deco-ish terminal, where he studied the ship’s model and was immediately greeted by a life-size Minnie Mouse, whom he hugged gleefully and who hugged him. Yet when I took granddaughter Anna, and Goofy tried to hug her, she cringed. “Too big,” she said. Another passenger suggested she might be more comfortable at eye level and I lifted her up. Everything was fine after that.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line hosts a tremendous numbers of youngsters (more than any other line) and makes great provisions for them, while consistently winning awards for best value. Reduced rates for a third and fourth passenger using bunks in the cabin bring down costs, although connecting cabins on some ships have their devotees.

Note that a gala orientation party on some ships introduces the Camp Carnival counselors and their activities. Get into the act on your cruise for grankids with rousing renditions of “YMCA,” “Celebration” and a long congo line. After the addition of wonderful Dr. Seuss characters at sea, discover even more amusement on Carnival ships at Water Works, an elaborate water spray park/waterslide/family pool space. Even newer, the BOLT roller coasters at sea!

Royal Caribbean International

Young girl with cruise ship model.
The author comments, “My granddaughter is the star of every cruise she sails on.”

Royal Caribbean International claims it’s the leading family cruise line, since its fares are lower than Disney’s. They do cater to every age, providing more recreation facilities than Carnival. Freedom-class and the latest Quantum-class ships, among the most popular for families, offer accommodations at all budget levels, from interiors to Royal Family Suites. Watch for the Icon-class ships coming in 2024.

This line has the most age-specific groups in terms of supervised kids activities. Look for the greatest number of althletic and recreational facilities at sea, from a huge slide and ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, miniature golf courses, the FlowRider onboard surfing park, and an iFly skydiving simulator.

All public spaces are wheelchair accessible including a wheelchair lift for the pool. This is a blessing for wheelchair-bound youngsters and grandparents. Braille signage is available for public rooms across the fleet and for cabins on a majority of the ships, and service dogs for the blind are welcome.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line has spacious and bright, well-outfitted kids’ playrooms on its 15 ships. Imaginative programming includes wacky cooking classes, sand castle competitions on NCL’s private island, and autograph-signing sessions with professional athletes during sports-themed cruises.

NCL offers extremely luxurious digs for those who want some privacy and the latest Prima class ships are no exception. We liked the Courtyard Villas aboard the Norwegian Gem, Jade, Jewel and Pearl which deliver more space, amenities and a courtyard with pool. The Breakaway and Breakaway Plus class ships were even more impressive. The latest ships have separate all suite decks known as The Haven, truly fabulous.

Service dogs are welcome for the blind fleetwide.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises recommends families book their mini-suite featuring upper sleeping for grandparents and pull-out sofabed for grandchildren. Their onboard children’s programs are divided into three age-appropriate groups, 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17, while Adventures Ashore relates to explorations while in ports such as Alaska or the Caribbean. Handicapped-accessible cabins are offered in several categories.

Boy playing on sandy beach.
A Staub grandson sails on Holland America’s Westerdam

Holland America Line

Holland America Line often offers free or reduced rates for passengers under 18, especially during summer. They are known for having some of the best and most educational Alaska programming. Club HAL accommodates youngsters in three groups: ages 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17 and teens enjoy their own delightful areas.

Other favorite Grandparent Friendly Cruise Lines

In the annual FTF Cruise with Kids roundup, read more about my other favorite “C” for Cruise lines: Celebrity, Cunard and Costa.

Some Alternative Cruise Styles

While the following cruiselines lack specific spaces for children’s programs, they do offer some unique incentives for bringing them along.

Windstar Cruises provides no special facilities or programs for children. Yet these sailing vessels (some are motorized yachts) lure their share of youngsters whose families don’t need them entertained electronically. The informality and interesting ports are reason enough. One family aboard a Windstar cruise traveled with two young sons who were very well-behaved. The parents arranged private tours so the kids wouldn’t get bored or tired on excursions geared to older passengers and they wouldn’t impose on other passengers. Very thoughtful.

Lindblad Expeditions – National Geograpic doesn’t supervise youngsters. However, grandparents of young children who love wildlife will be thrilled by family expedition cruises that call on the Galapagos, Alaska, Baja California and Antarctica. Each has a Global Explorers program with naturalists trained as field educators for younger passengers. While expensive, these cruises are known for their excellent guides, and discounted rates for children under 18 are available on most routes.

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