Whether you’re a frequent cruiser or entirely new to cruise vacations, there’s really nothing else in the world quite like a vacation at sea. For some families, the days at sea are a time to relax and soak up the sun. For others, sea days are a time to experience the biggest and best onboard attractions that their cruise ship has to offer.
And in recent years, those onboard attractions have advanced leaps and bounds beyond simple cruise ship water parks and splash zones (though most cruise lines still offer those as well). The onboard entertainment trend these days is toward over-the-top rides and attractions, especially on family-friendly cruise lines looking to entice kids and parents to set sail.
The kid-friendly cruise lines offering the most thrilling new attractions are Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney Cruise Line and Carnival. If onboard entertainment and attractions are a major factor when deciding between cruises for your family vacation, here’s what you need to know about the latest offerings from each cruise line.
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1. Royal Caribbean
A cruise line with some of the largest cruise ships in the world, Royal Caribbean dazzles passengers with the sheer variety of onboard activities available – many of which are baked into the price of your cruise without any additional fees.
On Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Wonder of the Seas, those complementary activities include zip lining across the middle of the ship, plummeting through a darkened tunnel on a 10-story dry slide known as Ultimate Abyss, engaging in an epic laser tag battle and racing friends down the twin water slides Typhoon and Cyclone.
2. Norwegian Cruise Line
The go-kart track on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ships (Norwegian Prima, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Encore) is a highlight for most families, especially those with competitive kids (or parents) always up for a race to see who can come in first. Also available on Norwegian’s newest kid-friendly cruise ships is a virtual reality arcade area called The Galaxy Pavilion, where teens can enjoy spending time with new friends while dancing, racing, or flying in augmented reality.
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What makes Norwegian a little less budget-friendly than other family cruise lines, however, is that most of the enticing onboard activities come at an additional cost beyond the cruise’s base price. For example, on Norwegian Prima, the speedway is $15 per person per session (or you can buy an unlimited ride package for $199 per person). Similarly, The Galaxy Pavilion has an unlimited play package for $199 per person, while a single-day unlimited play package costs $49 per person.
3. Disney Cruise Line
The 2022 debut of Disney Cruise Line’s fifth ship, Disney Wish, heralded the arrival of the Walt Disney Company’s first “attraction at sea,” a water coaster called AquaMouse. What makes this water slide experience stand out compared to the water slides on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy? AquaMouse kicks off with an animated Mickey Mouse short cartoon that includes show lighting and water effects in the lift tunnel before you zip around the top deck of the Disney Wish on a water coaster.
The up-front cost of a Disney cruise tends to be more expensive compared to other cruise lines, but on Disney Cruises many costs are included in the base price. That’s true of the AquaMouse and another new onboard experience called Disney Uncharted Adventure, which is an augmented reality game you can enjoy in different areas around the Disney Wish.
4. Carnival Cruise Line
Both of Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ships, Carnival Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration, have an actual honest-to-goodness roller coaster onboard. Called BOLT, this “ultimate sea coaster” can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour over an 800-foot track. And that’s not all you’ll find onboard Carnival’s newest ships, either. There are water slides and a ropes course with panoramic ocean views too. The ropes course has multiple obstacles, but don’t worry if you slip off – you’re strapped into a harness the whole time.
While the ropes course is included in the cost of sailing on Carnival, BOLT is only available for an additional fee. Each ride on the new coaster costs $15 per person, which can add up quickly if you’re cruising with kids who may want to ride again and again.
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FamilyVacationist.com covers family vacation ideas; family vacation spots; all-inclusive family resorts; and must-have travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.