Consumer Reviews Reveal 20 Most Popular “WOW” Cruise Ships for Families

Enjoying the Flowrider on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, voted one of the 20 most popular ships for families © 2014 Karen Rubin/

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas and Celebrity Eclipse top the list of the 20 most popular cruise ships for families.

The list is based on reviews from thousands of cruise travelers gathered between January and June 2014 by CruiseCompete, an aggregator of cruise bookings. (Read the actual ship reviews on CruiseCompete.)

  1. Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
  2. Celebrity Eclipse
  3. Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas
  4. Holland America Eurodam
  5. Princess Cruises Island Princess
  6. Celebrity Solstice
  7. Holland America Ryndam
  8. Norwegian Epic
  9. Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
  10. Princess Cruises Ruby Princess
  11. Holland America Rotterdam
  12. Disney Fantasy
  13. Princess Cruises Crown Princess
  14. Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas
  15. Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas
  16. Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
  17. Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
  18. Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess
  19. Celebrity Summit
  20. Carnival Conquest

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Cosmonaut training in Russia? Cruise Lines Offer New Surprises for Adventure Seekers

Crystal Cruises is featuring a Baltic cruise which includes a visit to Star City, Russia’s NASA and the opportunity to experience an actual Russian Cosmonaut Training course on advanced space equipment: the centrifuge, zero-gravity flight, or hydro-space program.

The trend toward offering travelers more intensive, authentic experiences that engage and enrich is moving through the entire industry.

Cruisegoers, for example, are increasingly opting for active, engaging experiences when they hit the seas or the rivers of the world.

In response, cruise lines are offering more ports of call in exotic locations, ships that feature an extraordinary range of action activities, and shore excursions that are original, exclusive and often impossible to organize on one’s own.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, offers a sampling of unconventional experiences that can be found on a cruise:

Alaskan Wilderness Family Expedition: An extreme 5-7 mile glacier hike may not be for every family, but adventure seekers who want an up-close view of Alaska’s wilderness, waterfalls and wildlife can take an extreme 5-7 mile glacier hike, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Laughton Glacier Hike does just that. Adults and children (ages 9 and up) are led by an expert guide on an Alaskan wilderness trek, complete with a scenic train ride and a traditional Alaskan meal.

Exploring One of the World’s Most Remote and Coldest Islands in the World: Hurtigruten, specialists in Arctic and Antarctic cruises, is the only cruise line that visits Jan Mayen, one of the most isolated islands in the world and home to a large population of polar bears. Excursion activities include learning Arctic winter survival skills or bush craft, including how to make a fire, fish, and throw a lasso in the harsh climate.

Traditional Junk Overnight in Vietnam: AmaWaterways’ cruise-and-land guests on the “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itinerary spend the night aboard a contemporary junk sailing UNESCO World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The most distinctive feature of junks, which were developed during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and used throughout Asia for extensive ocean voyages, is their broad, fully battened sails. Guests enjoy dinner and breakfast onboard taking in the bay’s scenery including dramatic limestone cliffs and rock formations during this exclusive offering.

SCUBA Training and Certification in French Polynesia: For treasures underneath the sea, Paul Gauguin Cruisesm/s Paul Gauguin is the only luxury ship in the French Polynesian islands offering PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification onboard. Programs that are offered include the Discover SCUBA Diving class, or resort certification, and PADI Open-Water Diver certification. Children 10 years and older can apply for Junior Open-Water Diver Certification.

Saving the Coral Reefs of Bonaire: To help save and protect precious coral reefs that delight divers and snorkelers, Cunard has a new volunteer-excursion for 2014-2015 the Coral Restoration Dive Experience. The program (only for PADI certified divers) connects passengers with the Coral Restoration Foundation in Bonaire where they receive hands-on instruction on basic coral reef preservation.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dracula: Oceania Cruises’ itinerary in the Greek Islands and Eastern Mediterranean includes a stop in Constanta, Romania, featuring a day trip to “Dracula’s Haunts and Best of Bucharest” in Transylvania, with a drive through the bucolic Prahova Valley and then on to Bran Castle, where the legend of Dracula was born.

Russian Cosmonaut Training: Guests looking to set their sights on space can do so sailing on a Crystal Cruises Baltic cruise to St. Petersburg, with a flight to Moscow and an overnight in Star City, the Russian equivalent of NASA headquarters during the 20th century “Space Race” – home to the largest centrifuge in the world. The excursion includes experiencing one of three actual Russian Cosmonaut Training courses on advanced space equipment: the centrifuge, zero-gravity flight, or hydro-space program.

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Cruising is Ideal for Family Reunions, Multigenerational Vacations – Here are Some Tips

Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas at its private island, Labadee. Cruises are ideal for multi-generational vacations and family reunions © 2014 Karen Rubin/

For the same reason that cruises are fabulous for multi-generational vacations, they are ideal venues for family reunions and celebrations of a special birthday, retirement, graduation.

The ships provide a floating resort that keeps people within proximity, makes it easy to have meals together without someone having to shop and cook, provides entertainment, and interesting places to visit, and family focused activities. Not to mention, a cruise means stress-free planning.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise association, recommends these tips when planning a multigenerational family reunion:

Think Bang for Your Buck: The inclusive nature of a cruise helps keep families on a budget. There are no worries about who is going to pay for this dinner or that activity as almost all meals, entertainment and activities are included in the rate. Extras, such as specialty restaurants, can be decided ahead of time. Kids even sail for free on select Crystal Cruises (ages 17 and under) and MSC Cruises (ages 11 and under, plus kids 17 and under sail at a reduced rate.)

Work with a Qualified Travel Agent: CLIA member certified agents are the best resource for ship, itinerary selection and cruise planning based on the specialized CLIA training they undergo and their knowledge of the cruise industry. They can also coordinate group and family reunion arrangements directly with the cruise lines, take advantage of group discounts for multiple cabins, and use their purchasing clout to get upgrades and value-added features. Visit CLIA’s website,, to find an expert cruise counselor.

Kid’s Programming: For parents who may want a break from their children – and vice versa – most cruise ships offer structured and supervised recreation programs and facilities. Carnival Cruise Lines, in addition to its Seuss at Sea program, has added Camp Ocean, a new themed children’s program on all of its ships. Kids can also run into such “characters” as SpongeBob SquarePants and other Nickelodeon friends on Norwegian Cruise Line ships and the Marvel characters recently joined their Disney pals on Disney Cruise Line.

Teens have their own cool spaces and activities just for them too, such as mocktail mixology classes, teen yoga, tech classes and teen only night club events on Holland America Line ships. Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess features Remix, a lounge area with foosball and video games, plus an outdoor trendy teen lounge area. Teens can enjoy a little financial independence with MSC Cruises’ Teen Card, a prepaid card designed for small onboard purchases – such as refreshments. On Celebrity Cruises, teens can be film directors with iTake, where they get to take videos from storyboard to filming to editing, with the project ending with a film festival and award ceremony.

Adults-Only Time: Many CLIA lines have adults-only areas where they can enjoy a mini-escape while the kids are at play. The Sanctuary on Princess Cruises is an adults-only outdoor spa-inspired space for relaxing and pampering. The Serenity adults-only retreat on Carnival Cruise Line’s ships offer a tranquil space with whirlpools, lounge chairs and bar service for grown-up relaxation. Most cruise ships also offer spas, adults-only pools, casinos, and programs such as lectures.

Adults also should set aside at least one guilt-free night to enjoy a specialty restaurant that caters to adult tastes. Palo and Remy are both adult-only restaurants on Disney Cruise Line ships, offering Italian and French cuisine respectively, as well as sea views.

And even if the families want to have evening meals together, My Family Time Dining on Royal Caribbean International ships has kids complete their dinner within 45 minutes and be escorted to the kids club by youth program counselors, freeing the adults to enjoy the rest of their meal on their own. During Parents Night Out on Costa Cruises, kids spend the evening at a fun themed dinner, while parents have their own special time alone.

The More the Merrier: The minimum number of staterooms to benefit from a group rate differs with each cruise line. Many lines offer group discounts and points for onboard group amenities. Usually the bigger the group, the more extras they can enjoy. The Crystal Family Memories Program, for example, starts with benefits, such as a shipboard credit, with only six full-fare, full-payment guests.

If your group is large enough, it’s possible to charter an entire ship for a customized cruise on such CLIA lines as SeaDream Yacht Club and Paul Gauguin Cruises. Plus, cruise lines are offering more choice in staterooms to accommodate families. On select MSC Cruises’ ships, parents can have their own private stateroom with family accommodations in an adjacent stateroom with a connecting door. Norwegian Cruise Line features a number of family staterooms with more space and privacy for mom, dad and the kids.

Take Advantage of Home Ports: CLIA member cruise lines leave from numerous ports throughout the U.S., such as New York City, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, Galveston, Texas and more. Families can save time and money on airfare and drive to their closest home embarkation and disembarkation port.

Do Your Own Thing: Families are full of diverse people and a cruise lets everyone find their own fun and then share it later. Part of that fun is new experiences. Adrenaline seekers will get their rush rock climbing or zip lining on many of the ships on Royal Caribbean International’s fleet, or walking The Plank that extends eight feet over the side of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ newest ships, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 boasts a planetarium for out-of-this-world exploration. And, foodies can enjoy a wine or culinary class in Holland America Line’s Culinary Arts Center or Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Cooking School, where there are also classes for young aspiring chefs.

Together Time: Family members should do what interests them, but remember they are on vacation to bond and spend time together. CLIA advises that reservations for specialty restaurants be made at the time of the cruise booking, since they fill up fast.  For larger groups, a pre-dinner reception in one of the ship’s bars can be arranged. Many CLIA member cruise lines offer Broadway-caliber entertainment and big shows, and most of them are kid-friendly such as Disney Cruise Line’s Aladdin and Royal Caribbean International’s Hairspray.

While in port, groups can explore together on family-friendly shore excursions. Paul Gauguin Cruises encourages parents to join their children on eco-excursions to the natural wonders of French Polynesia as part of the line’s youth program, created by explorer and environmentalist Jean Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Future Society. Celebrity Cruises offers Customized Shore Excursions, so families can truly have alone time together. Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offer specific European river cruise departures designed especially for families, with shore excursions tailored for shared adventures.

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