Five ingredients for the perfect family cruise

Family Travel,

Finding the ideal family holiday can be a tricky business. Deciding on where to go and what to do becomes a lot harder when there are more than just the two of you to consider, with many different likes and dislikes having to be taken into account.

Fortunately, the Carnival Cruise Line has a fleet of ships which are designed to cater for absolutely everybody’s favourite holiday pursuits, as well as travelling to many of the world’s best-loved destinations throughout the year.

Carnival Dream

Whether you and your family are seeking fun, sun, relaxation, thrills or great food, a Carnival cruise will keep both parents and the little ones happy for the whole trip – the only arguments might be about what to do first!

We also spoke to a number of family holiday experts from the UK and beyond to find out which ingredients they think are most important for creating the perfect child-friendly getaway. We hope you will find some inspiration in what they had to say, along with our own tips for enjoying a cruise with Carnival.


Strawberry cocktail

It’s a bit of an obvious statement to say that everyone likes having fun but, of course, everyone’s definition of ‘fun’ is different. Fortunately, every ship in the extensive Carnival fleet is jam-packed with entertainment options which really will provide something for everyone.

From top-rated comedy shows and multi-sensory experiences to a range of relaxing yet exciting themed bars, you will find that the fun never stops on a Carnival cruise, whichever ship or destination you choose.

One of the family travel experts we spoke to, Stacey at One Small Human, agreed that keeping the kids happy with plenty of things to do on holiday is of prime importance: “For me and my family, I would say [the most important thing is] a toss-up between entertainment and outdoor adventure. With two young boys, there's no time for sitting still. So it's absolutely vital for me on any sort of family holiday that they are well occupied. And frankly, while I'd love sunshine and relaxation, they're just as happy stomping in puddles while it throws down!”

If you are in the same boat (no pun intended) as Stacey, enjoying both indoor and outdoor family fun, you’ll be happy to know that Carnival caters for you, whatever the weather. Along with a great variety of both adult and child-friendly rainy day activities - such as mixology competitions, a sing-along piano bar, interactive versions of popular board games, and even a murder mystery adventure – there are plenty of more physically active options out on the deck to choose from. We’ll tell you more about these later!


Sunset over ocean

As much as we love being at home, it’s hard to argue that one of the very best things about visiting foreign shores is the change in the weather! If you are someone who loves soaking up the sun, you’re in luck – Carnival visit a range of wonderfully sun-drenched destinations, including the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cuba and Hawaii.

As always with Carnival, there is as much to be enjoyed on-board as there is on your shore excursions when it comes to making the most of the great weather you are sure to experience. Every ship has an extensive poolside area, which is also served by a number of great bars and outdoor dining options. Some of our recommended choices include Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ, where you will be able to indulge for free in all of your favourite grilled treats – sausages, chicken, pulled pork and more – along with the fantastic BlueIguana Tequila Bar, which serves up ice-cold Mexican beer, cocktails and, you guessed, it tequila. The perfect place to chill out and cool down, BlueIguana is a brilliantly tropical poolside paradise.

A quick note for anyone who prefers cooler temperatures to tropical sunshine – Carnival have thought of you too! Regular cruises to places like Alaska and Canada ensure that, even if sunbathing isn’t your idea of fun, you will still be able to enjoy the holiday of your dreams.


Woman relaxing in water

With so much fun and excitement to be had on-board, it can sometimes seem difficult finding the time to just sit back and do the very thing most of us book our holidays for in the first place – relaxing!

You’ll be pleased to learn, however, that Carnival have once again covered this aspect of your next cruise. Their ships all feature the marvellous Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, which gives guests a truly blissful break from the non-stop excitement that comes as standard with one of the world’s most family-friendly cruise lines. There is not a great deal to do at Serenity, but that’s exactly the point – pretty much all you will find are hammocks, sun-loungers, whirlpools and, crucially, a well-stocked bar.

There are so many excellent kids’ clubs on board Carnival’s ships, catering for children from the ages of 2 to 17, that parents have no need to worry about what the little ones will be up to whilst they are enjoying some much-deserved time together.

As this is the case, why not crank the relaxation factor up further by booking a session at one of the top-notch spas available on board? There is much to be said for getting away from it all in the midst of your busy holiday with a hot-stone massage, aromatherapy session or full-body wrap. Your body and mind will definitely thank you for the time-out!

We also could not talk about relaxing without mentioning the most serene Carnival experience of all – the highly-regarded Cloud 9 Spa, currently available on six of the cruise line’s ships. This ultimate spa experience offers guests a range of pampering highlights including climate-controlled thermal suites and, on certain ships, the extraordinary thalassotherapy pool, which allows you to bathe in nourishing seawater. And, for the ultimate in indulgence, you can upgrade to a Cloud 9 Spa Stateroom, which features private spa access, free fitness classes, discounted treatments and much more.


Man playing basketball

As any parent will know, however, lying back and relaxing 24/7 – even on holiday – just isn’t practical. Choosing a holiday where there are plenty of options for the kids to let off steam is vital, as Katy from the family travel blog Otis and Us explained: “When it comes to enjoying a holiday with the family, we always choose one with opportunities for outdoor adventure. We love a swimming pool, a bike ride, or an afternoon trip on a kayak. Years ago we used to love the tranquil retreats in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a sun lounger and good book, but since we have had our children, outdoor adventure and access to family friendly activities wins every time.”

Fortunately, Carnival is best known as a haven for family enjoyment, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than through the unbelievable selection of outdoor thrills waiting to be enjoyed on every ship.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of the Carnival fleet is its unique WaterWorks parks, which can be found on the decks of every ship. Featuring legendary rides like the Twister Waterslide, Speedway Splash, DrainPipe and PowerDrencher – as well as unmissable side-by-side waterslide racing on some ships – there’s enough here to keep everyone entertained all day long.

If you’d rather spend a day out on deck without getting soaked, meanwhile, there’s still plenty for even the most active family members to get stuck into. You may not have thought that a cruise ship would be such a great sports centre, but that’s exactly what every Carnival vessel is. Whether you want to play mini-golf, basketball, volleyball, pool, ping-pong or even dodgeball, you and your family can keep fit whilst having fun at SportSquare; this is also a great place for you and your kids to meet likeminded families whom you can share a little friendly competition with.

Finally, the amazing SkyCourse and SkyRide attractions present you with possibly the most adrenaline-fuelled fun you will ever have on a family holiday – and certainly the most excitement available on a cruise ship! These two highlights of the Carnival fleet really have to be seen to be believed, but if you like the sound of crossing rope bridges, swinging steps and beams or pedalling around a two-lane course, all whilst suspended high above the sea, these are the rides for you.


Pepperoni and olive pizza

We couldn’t talk about what makes a great family cruise holiday without going into a little more detail about the exquisite food available on every single Carnival cruise ship. Eating in fine restaurants is one of the greatest pleasures that taking a family break has to offer, and Carnival’s dining options are so varied that, whatever your party’s likes and dislikes, you will be able to find somewhere new to eat every evening (and during the day) which will hit the spot for all.

A few highlights of what’s on offer include the wonderful Italian menu served up at Cucina del Capitano, the classic Asian flavours of Bonsai Teppanyaki (coming soon to the brand new Carnival Horizon ship) and Guy’s Burger Joint – a classic, all-American eating extravaganza created by the celebrity chef Guy Fieri, where diners are encouraged to build their own delicious burgers. From the casual to the elegant, your every appetite will be catered for throughout the many restaurants, cafes and poolside grills available on Carnival’s ships.

Family-friendly food certainly came near the top of the list of priorities for the experts we spoke to, including Nikki from the family travel blog Yorkshire Wonders. Here’s what Nikki had to say: “When we take a family holiday a big priority for us is good food. We are a big foodie family and love to try new dishes and flavours. Our children love seafood, which I am really glad about, as unfortunately I don’t like it at all. If there is a big selection of seafood the children love it as they get to try lots of new things that I have to admit to not cooking at home! I like fine dining where I am waited on and treated with reverence; the children love a good all-you-can-eat buffet where they can help themselves (particularly to dessert!). So a holiday that combines both possibilities is ideal!”

This view was also shared by Katie, who runs There We Go, another great resource for family travel ideas and experiences: “I'd go for good food, every time. I love trying new food and introducing my kids to new tastes while we're away - eating out at restaurants and dining together as a family is the highlight of our holidays, as it's often hard to find the time to do it at home with work, school and everything else going on. If we're travelling somewhere new, I'll always seek out the hidden-gem restaurant or the little cafe the locals rave about, and the food pages are always the first ones I turn to in the guide book.”

Some final thoughts

Carnival cruise ship deck

Finally, we thought we would talk to a global family travel expert who has been on a number of these voyages before and has plenty of useful advice for anyone who may be thinking of booking such a trip for the first time.

Natalie Tanner, from The Educational Tourist, helps plan family holidays by publishing travel tips and guide books for children, which allows the kids to get prepared for the exciting journeys ahead of them. Here’s what Natalie had to say about this wonderful way of spending some quality family time together:

“Cruising is a great option for a family vacation. Traveling on a floating city of a cruise ship gives everyone time to spread out, enjoy the sun and all the amenities like shows, wonderful dining, and swimming. Additionally, often classes and activities are planned for the kids and teens giving parents some free time, too! We love cruising with our kids and enjoy unpacking only once while still getting to see new destinations when we are in port.

“Like with any other vacation with kids, planning is key. If it is the first cruise with your children, be sure to prepare them by explaining the daily routine. Discuss food options, sleeping arrangements and show them photos of your ship. Pack bedtime stories and a stuffed animal if that will help the little ones with sleep. A big part of the fun for kids is water play so pools will be a big hit. One important tip for cruising families is to bring a small bag with you when you board. Inside this bag include swimming suits, goggles, and sunscreen so you can hit the pool BEFORE your bags get delivered. The lines are usually very short during the boarding process.

“The TOP reason to cruise with the kids is all the moments you'll share and all the memories you'll make!” 

Image Credit: Roderick Eime, Jens Theeß, Jez Timms, Haley Phelps, Filip Mroz, Carissa Gan, Connie