One of the most wonderful aspects of traveling with children is the way you will see the world through their eyes. Who could forget spotting their first sea turtle on a snorkeling trip, or setting foot on a glacier in Iceland?
A cruise is one of the best settings for a family adventure. A cruise ship can take you to extraordinary places, from the snow-capped mountains and dense forests of Alaska to the sun-soaked beaches of the Greek Islands.
And beyond being a shared experience for the whole family, travel is the ultimate education. It combines history, geography, politics, geology, and marine biology, sometimes in the space of a single trip.
Sure, you’ll want to build in downtime for unwinding on a beach, or sampling the local ice cream, but your kids will always thank you for taking them deeper into a destination and coming away with the sense of another culture, or at the very least, thrilling adventures that will make them the envy of Instagram.
Here are 10 destinations that play a starring role in the world’s best cruises for kids.
While Mykonos is probably best known as a cosmopolitan playground for adults, it’s actually a wonderful family destination, not least thanks to its necklace of sandy beaches. Most are accessible from pretty Mykonos Town, the chic little capital, as a day trip by bus or boat.
Choose carefully if you’ve got children in tow as some of the beaches in Mykonos are more liberal than others. Kalafatis, on the east coast, is a great bet for families, a sweep of pale gold fringed by scrubby hills.
You’ll experience some of the best things to do in Mykonos here, from windsurfing to snorkeling over the rocks on the lookout for sea stars and octopuses. There are waterfront tavernas, too; no visit to Greece is complete without a lunch of souvlaki, a chicken or pork skewer, and a fresh tomato salad.
Back in town, head for Little Venice, the old fishing quarter, now a string of hipster cocktail bars along the water’s edge. Kids will enjoy looking out for the island’s three resident pelicans. The birds are long-standing Mykonos mascots and will stroll casually into the fish tavernas for snacks. They are particularly photogenic, although they’re best not approached for selfies.
Laid-back Grand Cayman combines a number of activities that make it the perfect destination on the best cruises for kids—and for adults, too. Youngsters love Stingray City, a shallow sandbar on which you can stand and wait for southern rays to glide gracefully past you. There’s even a chance to feed them, and the experience is perfectly safe.
Grand Cayman is also a wonderful introduction to the underwater world. Novice snorkelers will adore the Coral Gardens, rainbow-hued coral beds teeming with fish, just feet below the surface. Head for Spotts Beach, east of George Town, and look out for sea turtles drifting through the shallows, munching on the seagrass beds.
And for simply lazing on the sand, or taking out a sea kayak or a paddleboard, the vast sweep of Seven Mile Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the Caribbean.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos really is the ultimate family adventure and one of the best cruises for kids you’ll ever do. This is a chance to combine history with geography, conservation, and some thrilling wildlife encounters in one incredible vacation.
You’ll hike on volcanic trails, looking out for prehistoric-looking land iguanas, and watch blue-footed boobies performing their curious courtship dance.
Snorkel the deep, clear water with Galapagos penguins zipping around below you like bullets and sea turtles gliding through the blue. You may even spot black-tipped reef sharks cruising the seafloor. Kids will love watching pelicans dive for fish, and spotting the giant, slow-moving Galapagos tortoise in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.
Every day brings a new adventure when you’re visiting the Galapagos with kids, whether you’re learning about Charles Darwin or studying ancient lava flows.
What children really love about the Galapagos is the fact that the animals have no fear of humans, so you can get as close as national park rules permit. If there were ever a place to encourage a young photographer, this is it.
Kids will be awe-struck by Santorini for the sheer fact that it’s an actual volcano, where sugar-cube houses spill over vertiginous black cliffs that plunge into the deep sapphire sea.
Cruising is the best way to see the Greek Islands, and there’s a lot to do here. Take a trip to Oia, possibly the most scenic of the island’s villages, with blue-domed churches and winding alleys offering tantalizing glimpses of the Aegean far below. Oia is an Instagrammer’s dream, which teens will love.
For a more educational day out, head for Akrotiri, a thrillingly presented excavation of an ancient town that was abandoned by the Minoans in 1650 BC, just before Santorini was devastated by a volcanic eruption. The glimpses into the Minoans’ lifestyle are fascinating; ancient wall paintings show you what the men and women wore, the sports they played, and the food they ate.
Active families might want to consider a trip to Nea Kameni, the island at the center of the caldera. You can hike up here to the crater, which oozes sulphuric gases, and afterward, take a dip in water that’s curiously warm, bubbles streaming up from the sea bed which give it an effervescent feel.
Iceland’s compact capital is the gateway to unimaginable adventure and is ranked highly as a highlight of the ultimate kids’ cruise. Cascading waterfalls, volcanic fissures, a jagged, black lunar landscape, creaking glaciers, and some of the best hot springs in the world are all within a day trip of the city.
Head for Gullfoss, one of the most dramatic waterfalls in Iceland, a 100-foot wall of water, rainbows shimmering in the spray. Or Strokkur, a magnificent geyser that shoots a plume of boiling water 120 feet into the air every few minutes.
For a real treat, and a rare chance for budding geographers to discover glaciation in action, one of the best things to do in Reykjavik is to take a trip to Langjökull Glacier for an adventure that kids will never forget. Rugged 4WD vehicles bump across the ice, delivering you to an entrance that leads you into an ice tunnel, running deep inside the glacier. The realization that you’re actually inside a moving river of ice is extraordinary. You’ll encounter tumbling waterfalls in the darkness and rushing underground rivers.
Kids will also love the famous Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool near Reykjavik, where you can wallow in the hot water and plaster yourself with health-giving mud, the perfect opportunity for selfies.
Copenhagen is a handsome, easily walkable city with some fine attractions. Stroll along Strøget, known for its extremely stylish shops, or join the locals in the cafes and restaurants lining colorful Nyhavn, a hip place to sit by the boats in the harbor, eat, and watch life go by.
Kids of all ages will love Tivoli Gardens, a 19th-century amusement park at the center of the city with such charm that you’re never too old to enjoy it. The roller coasters, ghost trains, ferris wheel, and other rides lie in an enchanting setting of ornamental gardens around a lake, with picnic areas, food stalls and restaurants. You’ll find outdoor theatre, live music, and on summer evenings, fireworks.
Read: One Day in Copenhagen
The medieval center of Tallinn is straight out of a fairytale, with its crooked houses, cobbled alleys, and sturdy ramparts. There’s plenty to see here. You could, for example, climb Fat Margaret, one of the best preserved of the city’s 45 stone defensive towers. Fat Margaret was once a prison and gunpowder stores, and today houses a branch of the Estonian Maritime Museum, showcasing an ancient wreck and Stone Age fishing gear.
There’s more maritime interest at Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour, another branch of the museum, housed in a Russian-built aircraft hangar. Kids will be intrigued by the Lembit, a British-built submarine dating to the 1930s.
Older children who have studied the Cold War will love the ironic Soviet-era tours, which take place in a rickety bus and trundle past some of the city’s grimmest sights from Soviet times, including hideous apartment blocks and a jail. Tour leaders play along with the mood of the era, offering service with a snarl, much to the amusement of passengers.
One of the best things to do in Tallinn is to visit the KGB Museum in Hotel Viru. This former radio center is hidden in a secret room on the mysterious 23rd floor, from where the guest rooms and restaurant were bugged by Russian spies.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
The steamy cloud forests and lush national parks of Costa Rica are the perfect spot for an active family adventure. In Carara National Park, named after the dazzling scarlet macaws that soar between the treetops, you can hike the forest trails with an eagle-eyed guide, looking out for more than 400 species of bird and keeping an eye out for giant crocodiles basking on muddy riverbanks.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is another wonderful family place to experience Costa Rica’s nature, with walking trails criss-crossing a vast, protected forest, an ethereal mist hanging over the treetops, the atmosphere creating astonishing biodiversity. Look out for emerald-green tree frogs, cheeky capuchin monkeys, and maybe even the elusive jaguar, one of six species of wild cat that inhabit the park.
Activities here, hiking aside, include thrill-packed ziplining, bouncing over hanging bridges, horseback riding, and even coffee tasting at one of the plantations. The park is a perfect contrast to Costa Rica’s golden beaches; no visit here would be complete without doing both.
Alaska is all about pristine nature and wildlife encounters and is the perfect setting to encourage kids to turn away from their phones and to look at their surroundings instead. Spot bears foraging on beaches, or bald eagles perched in the trees.
Sightings of humpback whales, orcas and playful dolphins are common, and everybody loves the teddy bear-like faces of sea otters, bobbing on their backs. From Seward, the sled dog kennels at Seavey Homestead are a wonderful family activity; some of the dogs bred here are Iditarod champions.
Take the family on an unforgettable Alaskan kayaking excursion, or a forest hike, with guides who will point out all the wildlife. Brave the high-speed ZipRider at Icy Strait Point. Embark on a whale-watching trip, and board the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad in Skagway. The dazzling scenery aside, of tumbling waterfalls and rushing rivers, kids will love learning about the heady days of the Gold Rush and the risks prospectors were prepared to take to make their fortune.
St. Maarten packs plenty into a small space, including two cultural influences, Dutch and French, as well as superb beaches and a surprisingly lush interior.
On the French side, visit Loterie Farm, a former plantation that’s been turned into a nature reserve. You’ll find rainforest trails and a treetop canopy tour of high ropes and zip lines, from which you might see basking iguanas and green monkeys scampering through the treetops. Teens will most likely love the “extreme” version of the Fly Zone, FZX, while parents can bask by a spring-fed pool and leave them to let off steam.
An unusual attraction on St. Maarten is Maho Beach, a broad, white sand beach that happens to be at the end of the airport runway. Maho has achieved cult status among airplane spotters, and you’ll find a great atmosphere here as airplanes roar overhead, almost impossibly low, to cheers and waves from observers in the water and on the sand.
Flight arrivals for the day are chalked onto a surfboard so you know when the excitement is going to start building. Maho isn’t the romantic ideal of peace and quiet, but teens love it, and it’s one of the most fun beaches on St. Maarten.
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