Oh, the places you’ll go and the experiences you’ll have when you cruise with your kids. Even hard-to-please teens won’t be bored. There’s too much to do onshore and on the ship. With so many different itineraries—the Mediterranean, Europe, Scandinavia, Alaska, the Caribbean—cruising with kids gives them a world of wonders to explore.
Cruising is one of the best vacations for a family. Onboard and ashore, you and your children enjoy quality time together and apart. For smooth sailing, include your kids when deciding the destinations to visit, daily life on the ship, and activities to do in port. Having a say engages your kids in the experience and fosters cooperation and excitement.
Here’s a guide to making the most of cruising with your kids.
Choose a Destination That Suits Your Family
To find the best cruise with your kids, ask them about the destinations and activities of their dreams. Do your kids envision spotting humpback whales, flightseeing over glaciers, and hiking through a rainforest of towering trees? Then choose Alaska.
On a Galapagos cruise with kids, wildlife enthusiasts get up close to blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and pink flamingos.
Do your history and art-minded teens imagine touring centuries-old castles and palaces, seeing masterworks by renowned painters and sculptors, and browsing the shops along iconic boulevards? Then, think Mediterranean, European, and Scandinavian voyages.
If swimming and sunning are high on your kids’ wish lists, consider Hawaii, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas for their glorious beaches and turquoise waters. Enjoy snorkeling, surfing, paddleboarding, windsurfing, and kayaking with your kids.
Book Dates When Many Young People Sail
The more kids on board, the merrier for pre-teens and teens. After all, you need a quorum to make scavenger hunts fun. The traditional school holidays—Christmas, winter and spring breaks, and summer attract the most families.
Arrive Early or Stay Later
Add even more adventures to your family cruise by arriving early and staying later at the departure and disembarkation ports. With an extra day in Amsterdam, there’s more time to visit the flower markets, tour museums, cycle through the city, and cruise the canals in the evening.
With a night or two in Venice, you can see more museums, discover the bright colors of Burano, and even try a kayaking tour along the quieter canals.
An extra few days for an Alaskan cruise departing from Seattle allows you to visit the Museum of Pop Culture and take an underground tour before boarding the ferry to the San Juan Islands for several days of orca spotting and rainforest hikes.
Set a Trip Allowance
Before you leave home, agree on how much money you will contribute toward extras such as teen spa treatments, souvenir T-shirts, and gifts for friends back home.
Then, let your teens spend their own money on that carved walking stick in Jamaica, cool sunglasses in St. Maarten, and a second onboard manicure. Such pre-planning does away with constant haggling.
Set Stateroom Rules
Most cruise ship staterooms easily accommodate a family of four in comfort. Teens are wonderful people, but can be trying roommates. Bunking with them under any circumstances is an art best supported by a few good rules.
Toss dirty socks in the laundry bag, not on the floor, hang up clothes, and take quick showers unless no one else is waiting. You can always ask your stateroom attendant for extra towels and clothes hangers if you need them.
Make use of all the storage in the stateroom, too; you’ll find accommodation on cruise ships are cleverly designed to maximize the space.
Consider Booking a Suite
In a suite, your progeny can easily stake out their own territory so they won’t dump their cell phones, computers, and half-eaten sandwiches on your bed.
Alternatively, consider separate staterooms for your teens. That’s a gift of privacy for you and them. Their stateroom doesn’t need to be as spacious as yours, just near it; a balcony for adults and an inside cabin across the corridor for teens works.
It’s wise to obtain a keycard for your teens’ room. That way, you won’t have to pound on the door to wake them up for shore excursions or curfew bed checks.
Encourage Participation in the Children’s and Teens’ Programs
The best way for children to find friends fast on a cruise is by participating in the children and teens’ programs. Persuade your junior sailors to show up for the first few sessions, even if it feels awkward.
Small bribes are okay; a teen spa gift card, for example. After a few introductory group sessions at the teen club, your kids will have found the buddies they want to roll with. You may then find that you barely see them for the rest of the voyage.
Read: What Are Cruises Like?
Stay in Touch
Part of the fun of a cruise for older kids is the freedom to explore the ship with newfound friends. However, it’s essential to keep tabs on your teen sailors.
Use the high-speed onboard internet and good, old-fashioned dictums—meet me at 1 pm at the pool grill for lunch (great place for burgers)—to keep in touch.
Establish Rules for Expected Behavior
Remind your kids that good manners and common sense count. No running and shouting in the hallways and on the stairs, and showing respect for other guests on board.
Buttress your stance by showing your teens the cruise line’s conduct policy. If your kids follow the expected behavior, they and you will enjoy a vacation you remember for all the right reasons.
Book Specialty Dining Packages
No one goes hungry on a cruise, least of all kids. They browse the buffet, order salads from the café, pasta from the Italian eatery, and platefuls from the main dining room.
Although that’s more than enough good fare for anyone, don’t count your teens out when sampling the specialty restaurants. Use your shipboard time to acquaint your teens with sophisticated food that they may not otherwise try in fine shoreside restaurants. Your budding foodies will thank you.
Schedule Family Time on the Ship
It’s wise to schedule onboard family time with so many things for your kids to do with their shipmates, like discos, culinary classes, video games, and hanging out. Plan to eat at least one meal a day with your kids; lunch or dinner is best since most teens don’t want to see daylight before noon.
Take advantage of the ship’s services and activities to enjoy mother/daughter or father/son massages, yoga classes, archery, musical shows, outdoor movies, and more.
Let Kids Choose Shore Excursions
On your cruise with kids, let them select some of the family shore excursions you experience together. Instead of an all-day exploration of an ancient site, your teens may prefer an outing that combines Mayan ruins in the morning with afternoon beach time.
Connect with active, sports-minded teens by snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, and paddleboarding in Hawaii, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean with them. You can bike through Key West or Amsterdam, hike a rainforest in Costa Rica, and raft in Alaska.
For your kids who crave culture and art, share visits to museums in Venice, Florence, London, and Paris, tour centuries-old palaces, and catch the flavor of a city by strolling its parks and squares.
You’ll foster cooperation and create bonds by booking shore excursions your kids choose, and you’ll enjoy seeing their excitement.
Find Your Family’s Rhythm for Exploring the Destinations
Figure out your shore excursion rhythms. Do you prefer morning excursions so that you and the kids can explore a bit on your own before returning to the ship for naps (yours) and snacks (for everyone)?
Do you prefer sleeping in, lunching on the ship, and then boarding the bus for a tour? Some of this, of course, depends on when the cruise schedules the activities.
Consider the destination’s weather. No matter how much you dislike waking up early on vacation to go on an outing, it’s wise to do so in summer in a hot locale such as the Caribbean, Greece, and Turkey where temperatures can reach 90-plus before noon. By arriving early at historical sites and museums, you also avoid the busiest times and free up some pool or beach time for later.
Sometimes, especially in Europe, the must-see sites are a considerable drive from the dock. To limit the eye-rolling on the bus, explain the situation to your kids and request they pack supplies for the long rides: iPads, headphones, pillows, snacks, and water. You and your kids can doze en route.
Take Advantage of In-Room Breakfast
Room service breakfast is a blessing on a cruise with kids, especially when you must rouse a grumpy teen at 6.30 a.m. for a 7.15 a.m. shore excursion departure. Ordering in reduces the time required for Sleepy to get from feet in the bed to feet on the bus.
Although your child may be too tired to eat upon awakening, he or she is likely to appreciate the breakfast rolls and cereal packets you put in his or her backpack.
Pack Your Shore Bag the Night Before
It’s hard enough to get some teens (and adults) organized in the morning. Ease the task by asking each member of your family, kids included, to get ready for the next day’s outing the night before.
Before bed, you and your explorers should lay out tomorrow’s clothes and stuff backpacks or totes with necessary items: key card, passport, water, sun hat, fully charged phone, sunscreen if it’s warm, and money, both U.S. and local.
While many destinations accept U.S. dollars, some don’t. Even in areas that do, local currency gets you a coffee and pastry at an out-of-the-way, charming café without the hassle of figuring out exchange rates.
It’s also wise to carry some local coins. You might need them for lockers at museums, as well as soda machines and bathrooms at historic sites.
Ask Tech-Savvy Teens to Document Your Cruise
Harness your teens’ technological savvy by inviting them to document your trip digitally. It’s something they’re doing anyway. What teen goes across the street, let alone across an ocean on a spectacular cruise, without posting on Instagram and creating TikTok videos? So it’s not a big ask.
Your kids just have to include their parents, and if applicable, grandparents and other family members, plus add some Instagram-worthy ship and shore tour scenery.
The shots of all of you in front of the Eiffel Tower, your teens on surfboards in Hawaii, and gramps and the gang masked up for snorkel trips in the Caribbean combined with family videos and interviews create the perfect family souvenir.
The ship’s professional photographs, especially those taken on nights when you and your kids dress up, become instant classics as well.
Cruising with kids is a vacation you and your family will remember forever. Browse worldwide itineraries on our website and check out the many family amenities and services on board.