By Aaron Saunders

In the old days of cruising, sailing with the kids meant exactly that: dragging the little ones in tow with you every step of the way. Today’s kids, however, are plugged in and turned on – and that requires a little more diversionary creativity. Fortunately, cruising today offers kids all the special features and amenities typically afforded to adults – and then some.


Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival is synonymous with family cruising. While all of their ships feature notable kid-friendly amenities like expansive waterparks and dedicated kids clubs, their new Carnival Breeze paved the way for innovations throughout the fleet.

A specially-designed 3D ‘Thrill Theatre’ takes movie experiences to a new level aboard Carnival Breeze, while notable features like Hasbro, The Game Show allow guests to play giant versions of their favorite Hasbro games (like Connect 4 and Yahtzee) on-stage in a fun, audience-participation competition.

Available now onboard Carnival Breeze, this “Fun Ship 2.0” feature has been such a hit that Carnival is bringing it to Carnival Conquest, Carnival Glory, Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Fascination and Carnival Sunshine, which is perhaps better known as Carnival Destiny until her massive spring 2013 refit.


Crystal Cruises

It might seem like an odd fit, but luxury-line Crystal has gone out of their way to fit some pretty amazing features designed specifically for families aboard their Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Kids receive their own daily newsletter based on their age, and can take part in scavenger hunts, pajama parties, pizza parties, special kid-friendly versions of Crystal’s popular University@Sea, and even take part in tours of the Navigation Bridge and galley.

What’s more, kids 11 and under only pay half of the adult fare, and the line occasionally offers ‘kids sail free’ promotions.


Cunard Line

The line that is perhaps best known for the massive Queen Mary 2 and her legendary transatlantic crossings is no slouch when it comes to kids. Queen Mary 2 now features 3D movies – perfect for teenagers, and kids of all ages can take part in organized activities like pizza parties, team games and special outings to enjoy performances at the Royal Court Theatre.

Kids sailing aboard Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth can experience their own dedicated areas located on Deck 10, and can take in video games, air hockey, discos, karaoke, arts and crafts, and movies shown on dual 42” plasma screens.

Toys, puzzles and computer games round out the entertainment mix for kids on all three Cunarders.


Disney Cruises

Let’s face it: Disney Cruise Line’s four innovative ships are tailor-made for families, but even they have been hard at work out-doing themselves in the feature department. The brand-new Disney Dream, for example, features the Chill Spa, a luxurious escape designed just for teens aged 13 to 17. Here, teens can indulge in unique spa creations, like the Hot Chocolate Wrap or the Ice Cream Manicure and Pedicure.

Kids can also be, well, kids at the onboard Oceaneer Club that allows them to dress as their favourite princess or hero, play videogames, or take in a number of supervised theme activities throughout the day. Kids onboard the Disney Fantasy can take part in a Muppets-themed interactive mystery, while teenagers have their own hip Vibe Lounge to chill out in.

Of course, that’s in addition to the massive waterslides, pool decks, character meet-and-greets, and organized activities for kids of all ages, all of which enables Mom and Dad to take a break for a while. And isn’t that the best feature?


MSC Cruises

There’s a great reason to want to take the kids on an MSC Cruise: if they’re 11 or under, they cruise for free when sailing with two adults in the same stateroom. Kids aged 12 to 17 sail at a reduced rate.

Besides the obvious financial advantage this can offer families, there’s no shortage of activities and features to keep kids enjoying every minute of their cruise. The pool decks aboard MSC’s ships are some of the best in the business, with special themed play areas. Aboard MSC Poesia, which operates Caribbean voyages from Fort Lauderdale between December 2012 and April 2013, there’s a stone age-themed play area, a dedicated Teen’s Club, and even a special kid’s newspaper printed onboard.


Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian has always offered excellent programs and amenities for kids of all ages, but their forthcoming Norwegian Breakaway – which sets sail next spring – raises the bar to new heights. The largest youth facility in the entire fleet, kids will have their own dedicated Aqua Park situated high atop the ship, featuring Nickelodeon figures like SpongeBob Squarepants, a separate kid’s pool, and a kid-sized waterslide.

Circus workshops will also be offered on board, in conjunction with New York-based Hilario Productions. Teens will also get their own dedicated space, known as Entourage, which will feature foosball and air hockey tables along with gaming stations and a video jukebox for nightly dance parties.

Dedicated areas and activities are available for toddlers aged 6 months to 2 years; kids aged 3 to 12; and teens aged 13 to 17. Chances are good that families will find plenty to like about Norwegian Breakaway’s Sports Complex, which includes the largest ropes course at sea, mini-golf, a rock-climbing wall, and even a bungee trampoline.


Princess Cruises

Princess is set to debut some interesting new features that are bound to appeal to kids and families aboard their new Royal Princess, setting sail in spring 2013. In the new Multi-Sports area on Decks 18 and 19, a batting cage, laser shooting range, and even a game lounge featuring Xbox Kinect will be available. That’s in addition to the dedicated kids programs and venues that are available aboard every Princess Cruises ship, including the line’s pioneering Movies Under the Stars.


Royal Caribbean

If you’re sailing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas or Voyager of the Seas, good news: you can take part in the line’s newest creation: the Royal Caribbean DreamWorks Experience. There’s meet-and-greets with characters like the Penguins from the hit animated series, Madagascar, along with dedicated live shows, 3D movies, and even character meals. Think Disneyland, but with different characters (and lawyers).

Royal Caribbean also has its own spa offerings designed just for teens, dubbed Generation YSPA. Of course, kids and families sailing aboard the line’s innovative Oasis and Allure of the Seas will have plenty to choose from, including a zip line, outdoor shows, Flowrider surf simulator, and even a full-blown circus carousel.