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Best Cruise Lines For Families (Tried & Tested, Pros & Cons!)

Cruising with a family can be expensive. I’m often asked which cruise lines I’d recommend for families so I decided to put together this guide.

I have personally been on all of the cruise lines mentioned and I have been cruising since I was 11 years old.

As well as talking a little about my experiences with the cruise lines I have also put together a ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ style analysis for each cruise line so you can find the one which fits your family best.

Emma Hawaii 2005
Me in Hawaii 2005, I cruised onboard Norwegian Spirit

From Cheapest to Most Expensive… (ish)

Best Cruise Lines For Families

Costa Cruises

If you are looking for a truly budget cruise Costa Cruises are probably the cheapest cruises that you will find. 

Costa Cruise Line is an Italian cruise line owned by the Carnival Corporation.

Costa cruises provide brilliant value for money with it regularly being possible to cruise for less than £50 per person per night.

There are currently fifteen ships in the Costa Cruises fleet, these vary in amenities and size but all have one thing in common, they are colourful, lively and always full of music.

Costa Smeralda

Onboard Cruise Experience

Costa Cruises provides a truly Italian cruise.

The food, entertainment and onboard experience is geared towards Italians with the main language spoken onboard also being Italian.

On Costa It is not unusual to find ten+ languages spoken onboard at any one time. All staff onboard do speak English – probably better than they speak Italian!

There is an English-speaking representative on all Costa cruises who is there to make sure that the English-speaking guests are happy and answer any questions they may have.

The English-speaking representative is a brilliant idea, I had no idea that there would be one before my first Costa cruise.

To find out what other things I learnt on my first Costa cruise make sure you check out this post:

My First Costa Cruise, 11 Surprises!

The Costa brand attracts families and young cruisers who love the lively atmosphere onboard. It is common for large family/friendship groups to cruise together, with family members often spanning multiple generations.

When I sailed onboard Costa Smeralda I was surprised to see the corridors outside the cabins lined with pushchairs! Italian families ate and partied far later into the night than me….

Find out about that great value cruise here:

Why Are Costa Cruises Good For Kids?

The atmosphere onboard is so relaxed, fun and colourful.

Costa Cruises have lots of activities aimed at children onboard and specifically designed children’s areas like baby pools and play areas.

Due to the number of languages spoken onboard the entertainment for the children can be different from what you’d find on a British or American cruise line – that said the activities offered are varied and include things like sports, pool parties, treasure hunts, dance and karaoke competitions.

costa smeralda dome pool
Costa Smeralda Dome pool – their White Night parties in here started at 11 pm and carried on late into the night!

Possible Cons

  • The ships are loud and lively which may not be to everybody’s taste.
  • There isn’t much included in the cruise fare.

Due to the extremely low base price of Costa cruises, not as much is included in the cruise fare.

Water is not provided free with meals which can take some non-Italian cruisers by surprise.

Food in the main dining room and the buffet is included, however the buffet isn’t open as often as buffets on an American/British cruises are normally are.

  • The food also may not be to the taste of cruisers used to British/American dining (but some people love it)! To be honest, for the price of a Costa Cruise I’m impressed any food is included.
  • Entertainment being in multiple languages can make it difficult to participate/understand.
Costa Cruises Buffet Food Included
Afternoon Snacks in the Costa Smeralda buffet

MSC Cruise Line

I have been on many MSC cruises to date, one was over Christmas and I spent Christmas day in Italy, it was INCREDIBLE.

I booked the same ship and cruise again a year later and decided to take some first-time cruiser friends with me. 

In my opinion, MSC provides some of the best value cruises on the market.

They are an Italian cruise line which is reflected in the food and entertainment onboard. Passengers onboard speak a variety of languages and onboard announcements reflect this.

MSC Cruises

I've been on 5 MSC cruises in Europe and the US. Cruising with friends and family, I've always had a great time!

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Onboard Cruise Experience

MSC are popular with families and have been voted as ‘Best Family Cruise Line’ on a number of occasions.

There are often ‘Kids Sail Free’ promotions on MSC – or if not, very cheap places for children are often available.

Many of the ships also include kid’s clubs, aqua parks and ‘kids corner’ sections of the buffet.

I took a really cheap last-minute cruise to the Caribbean on MSC Seaview. It was a beautiful ship, and we certainly got good value for money!

Flexible Itineraries

MSC Cruises often don’t have a fixed start and end point, passengers are free to embark and disembark wherever best suits them.

It is possible to disembark the ship in a different location to your embarkation point, or complete the full loop and return to where the cruise began.

Muster drills take place throughout the cruise for new guests which can be confusing for first-time cruisers (you only have to do one muster drill per cruise.)

All ships in the MSC fleet are elegantly designed and look very modern. Newer ships feature an internal promenade which forms a central street filled with shops, restaurants and bars.

Some ships have Ropes Courses and Aqua parks that are free to use. Many other things are free on MSC too, read the article below to find out more:

12 Free Things You Have to Try on MSC Cruises (Tried and Tested!)

msc meraviglia ropes course and waterslides
Me trying out the MSC Meraviglias ropes course!

Why Are MSC Cruise Line Good For Kids?

Many of MSC’s cruise ships feel as though they were designed with children in mind.

On the newer ships children can enjoy ropes courses, waterslides, splash parks, sports courts, arcades and loads more.

MSC has a partnership with Lego and there are lots of Lego-themed activities and Lego decorations around some ships. There are kids clubs available for babies – right up to those aged seventeen.

Possible Cons

  • Upselling

Due to the low base price of MSC cruises, guests should be prepared for attempts to upsell products such as drinks packages and speciality dining.

  • The food may not be to the taste of cruisers used to cruising with American/British cruise lines.

Personally, I have always enjoyed the food on my MSC cruises and my friends and family who have cruised MSC with me have never had any complaints.

The food is more ‘Mediterranean’ in style than British or American – think pasta, cheese, and vegetables.

There are always lots of options though and if you want something simple like chicken or a burger these are available too.

For examples of MSC food, check out this article:

MSC Cruise Review – in Europe (Food, Service, Entertainment and More)

  • For first-time cruisers, MSC Cruises can be confusing.

Because of the number of languages spoken onboard, it can be confusing for first-time cruisers.

That said as long as you do your research (you’re already here doing it) you’ll be fine.

Other Things To Consider

If you book from the UK, gratuities are included in the fare, making MSC even better value for money.

It is worth noting that MSC has a ‘Status Match’ program which allows cruisers with loyalty statuses on other cruise lines to ‘match’ their status with MSC.

This unlocks perks normally gained by progressing through MSC’s loyalty program. All statuses matched entitle cruisers to 5% off ALL MSC Cruises – so the process is well worth doing.

To learn more about this process check out this post which details why you should apply and how:

MSC Status Match.

msc meraviglia in Malta
MSC Meraviglia in Valetta, Malta

To learn more about MSC Cruises check out this post about what is included in the MSC cruise fare:

MSC Cruises, your guide to what is included. 

If you are debating taking a cruise with Costa or MSC and would like to know about the differences this video should help.

I filmed it after coming back from my first Costa cruise having previously cruised with MSC.

Marella Cruises

Marella Cruises are a British cruise line owned by Tui UK. They were formerly known as ‘Thomson’ and rebranded in 2017.

Marella attracts families and cruisers of all ages with friendly, straightforward, British cruising.

They aim to bring cruising to the mass market and focus heavily on encouraging new cruisers to try cruising. They are one of my favourite cruise lines.

If you book a Marella cruise from the UK, flights and transfers are included, making it a very easy, stress free option.

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marella discovery

Onboard Cruise Experience

All cruises with Marella are ‘All inclusive’. The fare advertised includes all gratuities/tips and hundreds of drinks.

Marella are widely regarded as being one of the best value-for-money cruise lines in the cruise industry and they are one of my personal favourites.

The entertainment with Marella Cruises is some of the best that I have ever seen at sea.

Shows are diverse and consistently of high quality. The daily schedule onboard is varied and includes a variety of activities from early in the morning until late at night.

The last cruise I took with Marella was straight after the Covid Pandemic. The amount of testing and paperwork needed made the planning an preparation very stressful!

Once we were onboard, we had a wonderful time. Find out about that cruise here:

Why Are Marella Cruises Good For Kids?

Everything about a Marella cruise is simple, friendly and laid back.

They do have ‘Dress to Impress’ nights but these aren’t really very formal.

Possible Cons

  • Secondhand ships

Marella Cruises do not build their own ships, but instead buy ships from other cruise lines.

Find out all about their ships, including the newest one to join the fleet “Marella Voyager” here:

Marella Cruises, Ships by Size – Photo Guide and Reviews

All Marella ships have been refurbished to a really high standard. Despite the fact that some ships are relatively old, they are in better shape than some newer ships with other cruise lines.

Other Things To Consider

Marella Cruises have an App which allows cruisers to check their onboard account, book speciality dining and view activities happening around the ship.

You don’t have to buy the ships Wi-Fi to use cruise ships Apps – find out why here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

Marella Family Cruise

To learn more about Marella Cruises check out this post about what the ‘All inclusive’ cruise fare includes:

Marella Cruises, what does ‘all inclusive’ include? 

P&O Cruises

P&O Cruises is a British cruise line owned and operated by Carnival Ltd.

If you are from the UK you have probably seen TV advertisements for P&O cruises – as they advertise heavily to attract the British market. That said, passengers from other parts of the world are always welcome.

P&O Cruises also have a sister company called P&O Australia although the experiences on the Australian ships and British ships differ a lot.

p&o britannia kids

Onboard Cruise Experience

The British origins of P&O Cruises are evident across all areas of the ships and in day to day ship life.

You’ll find UK plug sockets in the cabins of the newer ships, kettles, afternoon tea and Yorkshire puddings with dinner.

The majority of guests cruising from the UK on P&O cruises are British and all entertainment/announcements onboard are in English only.

The quality of food onboard P&O ships is generally regarded as being of a high standard.

On the smaller, older ships dinner is a formal affair with multiple formal nights taking place on most cruises.

P&O operates and enforces dress codes on these formal nights. many guests embrace the dress code and wear tuxedos/long gowns although being quite this formal isn’t a requirement.

P&O’s newer larger ships Iona and Arvia are less formal and traditional if you want a more relaxed, family-friendly cruise.

They have many things onboard to keep children entertained.

I compare P&O’s older ships to the larger newer ones in the video below:

Why Are P&O Cruises Good For Kids?

P&O often offer ‘kids cruise for £1 offers’ and has many cabins that are capable of housing families of 3 or 4.

They have kids clubs for kids aged 2 – 17 which are split into 4 age groups.

P&O have children’s menus in the main restaurants and loads of grab-and-go food in the buffets.

Possible Cons

  • Variety in ship design

The facilities and size of P&O ships vary.

Only Iona and Arvia have waterslides, splash parks or other areas specifically designed for kids other than the kid’s clubs.

This as it means each person onboard the older ships has more usable deckspace. All too often ships are filled up with gimmicks which leave little room for sunbathing or lounging around.

  • Formal dress/nights

Okay okay,  I know some people LOVE formal nights but some people also really hate it.

The formal nights on P&O’s older ships are quite formal – and might not be to everybody’s taste.

Other Things To Consider

Two of P&O’s older ships are adult-only – these are Aurora and Arcadia.

Iona and Arvia have the most facilities and activities for children onboard.

Getting a little more expensive now…

I’m sure a lot of people would count these as ‘budget’ but I personally wouldn’t, I’d count these as ‘mainstream’ cruise lines.

These are some of the bigger brands that you’ve probably heard of – absolutely brilliant cruise lines if you can afford them.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line are one of the biggest and most popular cruise lines.

They’re popular with younger cruisers, families, people that cruise solo – and me! Norwegian Cruise Line have some of the best solo cruise facilities at sea, not only providing solo cabins but also solo lounges and activities for passengers cruising alone.

This is great if you’re travelling as a group and maybe need an extra cabin for Grandma or a single member of your family.

Onboard Cruise Experience

The cruise line focuses heavily on freestyle dining and freedom of choice.

There are no dress codes or formal nights on any of Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships. Passengers are free to eat when, and where they want without having to dress up or table share.

On some ships, food is available 24 hours a day!

On Norwegian, the atmosphere onboard is always relaxed and fun, there are plenty of activities taking place each day.

One of my favourite things about cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line is being able to walk through the ship at any point of the day, or night, and find an event going on somewhere.

Norwegian Spirit Emma Cruises Le Teace
Me (right) and my cousin Libby in front of the Norwegian Spirit, my first-ever cruise ship!

Why Are Norwegian Cruise Line Good For Kids?

I cruised with Norwegian Cruise Line throughout my childhood and teenage years, it was AMAZING and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

The ships are often big and exciting. They have lots of activities onboard dedicated to kids including kids and teen clubs.

I remember as a child playing video games in the kid’s clubs and going to pool parties with the friends I made in the teen club.

For me, my favourite thing about cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line as a child was the flexible dining and lack of dress codes.

Being able to eat where and when I wanted was absolutely incredible. I loved being able to get a slice of pizza from the buffet when my parents went to the main dining room.

Watch my tour of Norwegian Prima below to find out all the exciting things going on onboard their newer ships:

Possible Cons

  • Not all ships are the same

The ships in the fleet were not all designed specifically for Norwegian Cruise Line.

This means that there is quite a lot of variety in the facilities available.

The newer, and larger ships feature things like Go-Karts and waterslides but some of the older, smaller ships do not.

If you are interested in adrenaline-filled activities like ropes courses it’s important to make sure you choose the right ship to avoid disappointment.

That said, the smaller ships are some of my favourites.

  • Larger ships can be busy

The larger ships carry a lot of passengers so it is important to remember that you may have to line up for things and prebook theatre shows/speciality dining ahead of time.

Other Things To Consider

Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships are incredibly well designed so you won’t notice the number of passengers onboard most of the time.

The waterfront area is a favourite feature of mine, it’s a stretch of bars and restaurants on the promenade deck where you can sit and watch the world go by.

The waterfront is particularly nice if you have an inside cabin, as this space can become your own big balcony.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean is one of the largest cruise lines in the world, they’re widely recognised even by those who do not cruise.

Their distinctive ships and ever more exciting additions to the fleet keep the public interested in cruising and the news with cruise related stories.

Royal Caribbean Flowrider Activities
Me trying out the Flowrider onboard Independence of the Seas

Onboard Cruise Experience

The line currently has twenty-six ships including four of the largest cruise ships in the world.

Many of the ships feature internal ‘streets’ or ‘neighbourhoods’ which have pushed the boundaries of ship design.

Each neighbourhood contains a variety of bars, restaurants and shops and is often used for street parties or other similar activities.

Royal Caribbean focuses heavily on the family market and are also popular with young cruisers.

The ships are filled with exciting adrenaline-filled activities including sky diving simulators, zip lines, rock climbing walls, aqua parks and surf simulators. The entertainment onboard Royal Caribbean ships is widely regarded to be some of the best at sea.

The productions onboard range from Broadway-style musicals to ice skating and diving performances.

Find out all about my cruise on one of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships, Symphony of the Seas here:

Why Are Royal Caribbean Good For Kids?

There is SO much for children to do on Royal Caribbean cruises.

The ships are exciting and have lots of adrenaline-filled activities. It is almost impossible for anybody to ever be bored while on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Royal Caribbean have kids clubs from six months up until 17. For babies from 7-36 months, Royal Caribbean run interactive playgroups where you can bring your child and play with them.

They also have a babysitting service for a fee. Children 3-11 have kids clubs which are split into age groups and teenagers from age 12-17 have teen clubs which they can attend.

Possible Cons

  • Busy Ships!

Many of the ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet can hold upwards of 6000 passengers. Due to this passengers should expect to have to prebook certain elements of their cruise and may have to wait in line at times.

The atmosphere onboard is generally speaking pretty relaxed but can be busy when passengers convene for events particularly if travelling during school holidays.

  • Big ships

If you don’t like/aren’t able to walk long distances some of the larger ships might not be for you. They are HUGE.

  • More expensive

In my opinion, Royal Caribbean cruises can be expensive. They rarely have ‘free child places’ offers or sales on children’s prices.

That said, Royal Caribbean are able to charge more because of supply and demand, so many people are loyal to Royal and wouldn’t consider another line.

Sometimes you have to pay more to get more, and that isn’t always a bad thing.

Other Things To Consider

Royal Caribbean ships often have a lot of cabins which sleep 3 or 4 and some which sleep more.

They offer a lot of ‘interconnected’ cabins so that families can cruise in different cabins but still be together. The cabins feature Pullman beds, sofa beds and bunk beds.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend sharing a cabin with 3 or 4 other people for too long. I have done it in the past and it’s fine for a few days but anything over a week and it does get a bit tricky.

The video below was filmed on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas.

Which Cruise Line Is The Best For Families?

If the price is your main priority and/or you don’t mind multiple languages being spoken on your cruise I’d recommend Costa or MSC.

If you’d prefer a British feel and like to be looked after I’d pick Marella or P&O. Both cruise lines make cruising really simple and easy.

If you have a little more money to spend and would like exciting new, big ships, Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean would be my recommendation.

Other Options

The below cruise lines are cruise lines also come highly recommended by families cruising with children.

  • Carnival
    • Carnival’s slogan is ‘choose fun’. They offer relaxed cruises where the emphasis is always on having a good time.
    • Carnival sail extensively from the USA, but rarely have ships in British waters
    • They offer good value for money.
  • Disney
    • Disney Cruise Line is consistently one of the highest rated cruise lines for children and adults alike
    • They’re also one of the most expensive cruiselines, so unless you and your children really love Disney, it probably isn’t worth paying the premium.
    • Like Carnival, they sail extensively from the USA, but rarely in UK waters.

I did take a short cruise on the Disney Magic. It was and experience that i will never forget! Find out why here:

Before You Go

We stayed in three different cabins on P&O’s largest ships, Iona and Arvia. Find out what we thought of them here:

We Stayed in 3 Different Balcony Cabins (P&O’s Arvia and Iona) – Comparison

If you are thinking of booking an MSC cruise, read the article below for money saving tips that I always use:

19 Essential MSC Cruise Tips That I Use Everytime (Freebies, Money Saving & More)

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.

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Saturday 17th of October 2020

[…] MSC Cruises are consistently winning awards as a family cruise line. They offer great value cruises and now include gratuities in the cruise fare. MSC are popular with young cruisers, families and groups. To learn more about cruising with MSC make sure you check out our recommend cruise line page: Recommended Cruise Lines. […]

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