We've said it before and we'll say it again - cruising makes an excellent family holiday. Fun in the sun, age-appropriate activities galore, no cooking or cleaning for Mum and Dad and a stress-free mode of travel with no unpacking, repacking or constant time-crunch situations. It's a great way to bond and offers a balance of time together and time spent pursuing individual interests.
The trick to the optimal family cruise is to find the most family-friendly cruise line - or at least the one which suits your family the best. To that end, we've put together a guide which we hope will be of help in your endeavours to determine the best line for your needs. These are the most popular lines for cruisers Down Under and how they stack up in the family holiday stakes.
Our family-friendly rating: 4 stars. Babysitting would be nice, but overall P&O Australia is a fantastic family holiday. The affordable fares are great for taking everyone along without breaking the bank!
Minimum Age: 1 year (12 months) is the minimum age for P&O cruises. For short coastal breaks, they allow children as young as 6 months old.
Kids Clubs: P&O offers great kids clubs for four different ages run by trained staff - Turtle Cove for 2-6 year olds, Shark Shack for 7-10 year olds, HQ for 11-14 year olds and HQ+ for 15-17 year olds. All have their own spaces on board each ship with age-appropriate decor, facilities and activities. Children aged younger than three years can attend Turtle Cove if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The four groupings allow P&O to tailor each club to the audience. The little ones will enjoy arts and crafts, movies, pyjama parties and other such things, while in Shark Shack there are versions of the same things but tweaked for older kids - as well as air hockey, table tennis, karaoke and more.
Tweens and teens in HQ and HQ+ will benefit from the more mature activities on offer. These include mocktail parties, late-night movies, talent shows, hip hop classes, and plenty of opportunity to do what teens tend to do best - hang out and play playstation.
Family accommodations: Cots are permitted in all rooms, providing the number of passengers in the room doesn't exceed the maximum capacity: i.e, you can't have four people plus a cot in a room that only takes four people. Cots are recommended for children under the age of three, and rollaway beds can be secured for older kids in certain room categories. Note: if a cot is being used, the beds must be configured as two twins rather than a queen, except in suites or mini-suites.
Quad, triple and interconnecting rooms offer plenty of spaces for families to lay their heads at night. Configurations include quad-quad, twin-quad, triple-triple and twin-twin, but be in quick to book these, especially during family cruising peak time, aka the school holidays.
Babysitting: The Kids Clubs re-open after hours for babysitting from 10:30pm to 1am for $5 per child, ages 3-11 only. There is no in-cabin babysitting.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: High chairs are provided for dinner. Formula is not provided but the line can make provisions to store any baby food brought aboard if you contact customer care when you board. There are no nappies, wipes or prams provided or available onboard so all families with young children should bring enough for the whole cruise.
Pools: Infants who are not toilet trained are not permitted in the pools or spas, even in swim nappies. All children using the pool facilities must be supervised by a parent or guardian at all times.
Our family-friendly rating: 3 stars. No highchairs at dinner and the very broad groupings in the kids club lose Princess some points, but the activities sound like fun, especially for teens.
Minimum Age: 6 months is the minimum age for Princess passengers. For transatlantic and transpacific voyages, it is 1 year.
Kids Clubs: Princess has three separate programs to appeal to broader age groupings. Pelicans is for 3-7 year olds, Shockwaves is for 8-12 year olds, and there is a Teen Lounge for ages 13-17. All are supervised by trained counselors.
Pelicans offers the littlest cruisers fun activities like kids dance parties, movies, cartoons, theme nights, art projects and family fun fairs. Those under 3 may attend if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Shockwaves brings more to the table to keep the older ones happy, with a range of gaming consoles, scavenger hunts, sports tournaments, workshops and more.
The Teen Lounges are more of a clubhouse than a program - once registered, teens can come and go as they please without signing in and out. Their fun lounges include dance parties, sports, DJ workshops, makeovers, hip hop classes and more. Note: The Pacific Princess and Ocean Princess do not have specific facilities for children.
Family accommodations: Princess ships offer triple and quad cabins, as well as some family suites and interconnecting cabins - but these are quite few and far between. Cots are on offer, pending availability. Some rooms and suites will also have sofa beds. Talk to your cruise consultant about the best configuration for your family!
Babysitting: Group childminding for those aged 3-12 years is available in the youth centre for a charge from 10pm-1am. There is no in-cabin babysitting. There are also evening activities including formal dinners organised by the youth centre staff on select evenings during most cruises.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Baby food and formula are available on request, but prams, nappies and highchairs are not provided.
Pools: All children must be supervised by a parent or guardian when using the pool. Infants who are not toilet trained are not allowed in the pool. Some ships have children's pool areas and teen hot tubs.
Our family-friendly rating: 4.5 stars. Carnival is especially great for families Down Under, with the Carnival Legend & Carnival Spirit offering so many accommodation options and the little ones allowed to swim too. The childcare possibilities are excellent too.
Minimum Age: 6 months is the minimum age for Carnival passengers on domestic cruises departing and returning to Australia, while for international cruises the minimum is 12 months.
Kids Clubs: Camp Ocean is Carnival program designed to keep kids entertained while at sea. It caters to those aged 2-11 years, and is split into three groups: Penguins for 2-5, Stingrays for 6-8 and Sharks for 9-11. Activities are run by counselors with education or childcare experience, and include fun games, arts and crafts, sports and more.
Teens and tweens aren't left out. 12-14 year olds can chill and connect at Circle C, a supervised area with a relaxed atmosphere and lots for the young teens to do. Club 02 for 15-17 year olds is a less structured space with lots of socializing, dancing, competitions and activities for those who want to take part - and it runs into the evenings so teens can ditch their parents then too.
Family accommodations: Carnival ships offer various options for families, including quad or triple cabins, family suites and interconnecting cabins. Note: The Australia-based Carnival Legend is especially good for family groups, boasting 53 sets of cabins with connecting doors.
Cribs for the littlest cruisers are available upon request when booking. Be sure to ask about this early on in the process.
Babysitting: Private babysitting is not available on Carnival ships, but supervised activities are offered in the children's areas from 7pm-10pm at no extra cost. Sleepover-style babysitting for kids aged 6 months to 11 years runs from 10pm to 3am and costs $6 per hour for one child, $4 per hour for additional children. On port days, babies from 6 to 23 months can be cared for between 8am and noon. Counsellors will change nappies if they are provided by the parents.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Nappies and wipes are usually available for sale onboard, and prams available for rent. High chairs are available to use in the dining room, just ask for one - but you'll need to bring your own formula and baby food.
Pools: A lot of Carnival ships have great kids pools as well as all-ages pools - and many also have full-on waterparks. On the majority of Carnival ships, non-toilet trained kiddies in swim nappies are not permitted to enter the pools, however on the Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend they may as long as their parents take them for regular toilet breaks.
Our family-friendly rating: 4.5 stars. The many childcare options are a draw for parents, and these ships are set up for fun with kids pools and other facilities for family fun like mini golf. Some ships have the DreamWorks Experience, and My Family Time Dining is a fantastic concept. Just- why no cots, Royal Caribbean?
Minimum Age: The littlest Royal Caribbean passengers are 6 months of age. For transatlantic and transpacific voyages and sailings with more than three consecutive days at sea, 12 months is the minimum age.
Kids Clubs: The youth and teen programs on Royal Caribbean cover ages 3-17, and there is also a Royal Babies and Tots Nursery. Ages 3-5 will enjoy the Aquanauts, 6-8 the Explorers and 9-11 the Voyagers, with fun supervised activities and learning.
The teens get a less structured program which they can opt in and out of as they please, and plenty of great spaces to just hang out and socialise. They are divided into ages 12-14 and 15-17, and can participate in sports, video games, meals, parties and more during the day and night.
It's not part of the children's programs as such, but My Family Time Dining certainly deserves a mention. This options allows families to sit down together, and the kids meals will be served within 40 minutes. Once they have eaten, the Adventure Ocean staff will collect them for fun evening activities, and parents can enjoy the rest of their meal in a leisurely fashion.
Family accommodations: Royal Caribbean ships have a variety of family staterooms which accommodate up to six people with pullout sofas and pullman beds. Most also have a selection of interconnecting cabins. Many ships also have 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom Royal Family Suites for eight people.
Cots are not provided, but complimentary playpens are available for use in cabins.
Babysitting: Along with the nursery mentioned previously, which provides childcare for the younger ones (under 3) at $8 per hour, Royal Caribbean also offers in-room babysitting for up to three children over 12 months of age at $19 per hour, between 8am and 2am. This is available on a first come, first served basis.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: The Babies 2 Go program makes it a little easier to pack. You can order nappies, creams, wipes, formula and baby food to be delivered to your cabin upon embarkation and throughout the cruise. Prams are not provided but highchairs are available on request.
Pools: With facilities like the H20 Zone waterpark as well as the main pools, most Royal Caribbean ships are well set up for water-loving children. Children must be toilet trained to swim in the pools, swim nappies are not allowed. However on Oasis and Freedom class ships, the little ones are allowed in the designated Baby Splash Zone.
Our family friendly rating: 3 stars. The broader age groupings mean activities are less age-targeted, and Holland America doesn't have as many accommodation options as other lines. Although they cost extra, the babysitting and baby supplies being available is nice for parents.
Minimum Age: The minimum age on Holland America cruises is 6 months, and for transpacific and transatlantic voyages it is 12 months.
Kids Clubs: Club HAL provides entertainment for passengers aged 3-17. Kids from 3-7 have a program of treasure hunts, storytelling, crafts and more, while those 8-12 have more age-appropriate activities like XBox tournaments, competitions, races, dances and fun.
Teens can make use of The Loft which includes mocktail mixology classes (get them started on that cruise lifestyle early), sports, hip hop classes, evening dance parties and scavenger hunts. The Culinary Arts Centre also offers hands-on cooking classes for kids and teens 3-7 and 8-15, and parents must register their kids for this separately.
Family accommodations: The options for family cabins on Holland America ships are a little limited, although the new Koningsdam will be better equipped. They have some interconnecting rooms, and some which can sleep three or four, often with the third and fourth bed slightly discounted.
Cots are available on request, recommended for larger cabins only. Bedding for these is not provided.
Babysitting: Club HAL After Hours is open from 10pm to midnight at a cost of $5 per hour per child. This is for children over 3 only. Some in-room babysitting is available at $8 an hour for the first child and $5 per hour for additional.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Nappies, wipes, formula and baby food can be ordered in advance at your own expense. Prams are not provided, but highchairs are available on request.
Pools: Children who are not toilet-trained are not allowed in the ship's pools, even in swim nappies. All children must have adult supervision.
Our family-friendly rating: 3 stars. The children's programs aren't quite as extensive or enthusiastic as they are on some other lines, but they are good nevertheless, and the long opening hours are a bonus. Prams available mean you can take a family stroll on Cunard's traditional promenade decks.
Minimum Age: Cunard's guests must be a minimum of 6 months old, and 12 months old if they are embarking on a transpacific or transatlantic voyage.
Kids Clubs: Cunard has a children's program for ages 2-17, as well as a night nursery. The experienced and qualified Youth team oversee the Play Zone for ages 2-7 (those aged 6 months to two years can participate with parental supervision), the Kids Zone for 8-12 and the Teen Zone for 13 to 17 year olds.
All have appropriate activities, games competitions, crafts and more to keep young ones entertained. 2-12 year olds must be signed in and out of the program by a parent or guardian, but the teens can come and go as they please.
Family accommodations: Some Cunard cabins can accommodate three or four people, and if it's in the budget, the suites are good for bigger groups too.
Babysitting: The Play Zone and Kids Zone are open until 11pm and are complimentary even in the evenings, great for parents who would like an evening out.
The night nursery is open from 6pm to 11pm and available for passengers 6 months to 2 years old. It is designed for sleeping infants only, so parents must settle their children before leaving them. It is a free service and you will be given a pager for contact.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Nappies and food for babies are not provided or available, however you can preorder a pram 14 days in advance for use during the cruise. Highchairs are provided for dinner.
Pools: All children in pools must have adult supervision. Children who are not toilet trained are not permitted in the pools, with or without swim nappies.
Our family-friendly rating: 3.5 stars. Family cruising isn't necessarily Celebrity's niche, but they have it covered- a good range of programs, great options for childcare on port days and over mealtimes, and cabin options.
Minimum Age: Celebrity cruisers must be a minimum of 6 months of age. For long voyages like transpacific, transatlantic and some South America itineraries, as well as any sailings with more than three consecutive days at sea, the minimum age is 12 months.
Kids Clubs: Celebrity has programs for kids of all ages. Toddler Time is aimed at those under three, and has facilities for nappy changing. However, toddlers must be accompanied by parents so this is more of a facility than a service.
Those aged 3-11 can attend the Fun Factory, which is divided into Shipmates (3-5), Cadets (6-8) and Ensigns (9-11), for a range of fun activities supervised by the staff - sports, crafts, games, theme parties and more. On port days, kids can attend lunch parties which mean they eat with the Youth Staff and go straight back into activities. This is available for dinners too.
Teens have the X-Club, a hangout place with gaming consoles, dances, , sports tournaments and more, organised and supervised by Youth Counselors.
Family accommodations: Amongst Celebrity's various classes of cabins are rooms which can accommodate triple or quad occupancy, along with family cabins. The Solstice Class ships have spacious Family Verandah staterooms, a good option for up to six people. There are also suites which are more expensive but offer more space and amenities for larger groups.
Cots are provided if booked in advance.
Babysitting: In-cabin babysitting is available at $19 per hour for up to three children. Children must be at least 12 months old.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Nappies and prams are not available on Celebrity ships, so come prepared. However, baby food (not formula) is available on request up to 30 days before the cruise.
Pools: Children who are not toilet trained and are wearing nappies or swim nappies are not permitted in the pool facilities.
Our family-friendly rating: 1 star. You can take your kids on an Azamara cruise, we'll give them that. However, the ships are not set up for them.
Minimum Age: The minimum is six months, but on some transatlantic, transpacific and South America journeys it lifts to 12 months.
Kids Clubs: Azamara does not run children's programs on any of its ships.
Family accommodations: Some cabins on the Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest have convertible sofa beds or upper berths, so you can fit a few children in. There are also connecting staterooms available.
Cots are available upon request when you book.
Babysitting: There is no babysitting available.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Azamara does not provide nappies, prams, formula, baby food or highchairs.
Pools: Children who are not toilet trained are not permitted in the pools.
Our family-friendly rating: 4 stars. The biggest thing MSC have going for them family-wise is that kids under 13 travel free, paying only port charges! They are also working on their programs for childcare to allow parents a few more options, so stay tuned. However, their passengers and crew are generally a very international group, which can prove difficult when it comes to kids making friends and feeling comfortable with the staff due to language differences.
Minimum Age: MSC passengers must be a minimum of 6 months old.
Kids Clubs: With Mini Club for kids aged 3-6 and Juniors Club for those aged 7-11, the kids will be kept entertained with arts, crafts, games, tech and more.
Teens have Young Club (12-14) and a Teens Club (15-17) where they can come and go, make friends and enjoy fun technology, dance contests, gaming, and evening events.
Family accommodations: MSC ships have cabins equipped with sofa beds and bunk beds for families and groups, as well as interconnecting cabins. There are a limited number of cots available on request.
Babysitting: MSC's new Babycare service in the Mini Club allows parents to drop off children aged 1-3 years when the ship is at sea. It is open from 1-2pm and 6-7pm. The line is also rolling out group dinners and non-stop programs for port days.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Nappies, prams, formula and food are not available, so bring these yourself - but there are a limited number of high chairs available upon request.
Pools: Many MSC ships have children's pools and aquaparks so the little ones can enjoy a watery adventure. The MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa even have the longest single-rider waterslide on the seas.
Children who are not toilet trained are not allowed in any pools, even in swim nappies.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Our family-friendly rating: 4.5 stars. Well done NCL! Apart from a lack of childcare options for under threes and no formula, they tick all the boxes. Kids will love their fun, colourful ships - we'd like to see them in the South Pacific!
Minimum Age: Babies must be at least 6 months of age to travel on an NCL ship.
Kids Clubs: The Splash Academy is NCL's program for kids, and has cool activities that are age-appropriate and educational. The Turtles (aged 3-5), the Seals (aged 6-9) and the Dolphins (aged 10-12) enjoy varying levels of Circus School, arts and crafts, games, competitions and plenty more. Guppies aged 6 months - 3 years can make use of a play facility for up to two hours a day supervised by their parents.
Entourage is the teens program. It is more of a drop-in centre than a program, so they can come and go as they please. It includes supervised activities like movies, art, sports, circus classes, Wii and dances in the evening.
Family accommodations: NCL is well equipped for family groups, with a range of cabins and suites of different sizes and set ups. Many rooms in all categories have drop down beds or convertible sofas, there are suite options with multiple rooms, interconnecting cabins and even one-person studio cabins which could be a great options for a teenaged family member who wants their own space.
Cots are available on some ships, but may not fit in all cabins, so check before you cruise.
Babysitting: There is no in-cabin babysitting, but group sitting is available for kids aged 3-12 on port days and in the evenings. There is a small additional charge for this.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: Nappies and wipes can be purchased in the shop onboard. Formula and prams are not available but highchairs in the dining room are available on request.
Pools: Many NCL ships have great pools and aqua parks for family fun, including some impressive slides especially on the Breakaway Class. Babies and toddlers who are not potty trained are not permitted in the pools, even with swim nappies.
Our family-friendly rating: 3 stars. P&O UK has the best of both worlds: adult-only ships, and ships set up for families. The supplies for babies being provided free of charge when available is great, as is the Night Nursery for peaceful date nights.
Minimum Age: P&O UK's minimum age for passengers is 6 months, but this rises to 12 months on selected sailings.
Kids Clubs: The P&O children program is called The Reef and is open until 11pm on sea days with meal breaks and in the mornings of port days.
Groups include Splashers for 2-4 year olds, Surfers for 5-8 year olds and Scubas for 9-12 year olds, each with fun activities, competitions and games to keep young cruisers entertained.
Teens have"h2o", a program of music, sports, discos and more from which they can come and go as they please.
Family accommodations: Three of P&O UK's ships are adults-only, but the five which allow children onboard offer plenty of cabins options for families. Most twin cabins, both inside and outside, have fold-down or fold-out beds. Some other cabins and mini suites offer sofa beds.
Cots are available in cabins, but not when the upper bunks are in use.
Babysitting: The Night Nursery is on all family-friendly ships and caters to children aged 6 months- 4 years. The complimentary service is first come, first served (spaces are limited) and is open from 6pm to 2am each night. It is intended as a supervised sleeping area so parents will be contacted via a pager if their child awakes.
Nappies, prams and other necessities: There are some nappies and wipes available for purchase but there are no guarantees that the ship will have stock. Similarly, baby food and formula is available free for children 4-12 months but there are no guarantees here either so it is best to bring your own supplies.
Pools: Children who are not toilet trained are not permitted in the pools with or without swim nappies.