Finding Alaskan cruises which appease both adults and kids can be challenging. The best Alaskan cruise for families have kids’ programs and activities to keep your little ones entertained but provide amenities for adults too.
Cruises depart from California, Seattle, and Vancouver. But no matter where you cruise from, there are cruise ships to suit an entire family, depending on your budget and age group of children.
On most cruise lines, infants must be at least six months old when they sail. However, some Alaska cruise and land itineraries have a minimum age of twelve months.
It’s important to know that not all lines offer infant programs or babysitting for children under three. And those three or older must be potty trained.
While a few itineraries are offered from California, you’ll have the most selection by choosing a cruise from Vancouver or Seattle, Washington.
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Family-Friendly Alaska Cruises From California
Given the extra distance ships need to travel, Alaska cruises from California range from 10 to 14-day sailings. San Francisco offers the lion’s share of the sailings, and Carnival Miracle has a few 14-day itineraries in the shoulder season.
For the 2023 and 2024 seasons, only the Ruby Princess, Crown Princess, and Carnival Miracle offer roundtrip sailings to Alaska from California. Of the three, the Carnival Miracle is the better option for a family cruise to Alaska.
While both cruise lines have kids’ programs, babysitting, and mini-golf, the Miracle has family-friendly bonus attractions. These include a video arcade, water slide, and the signature Carnival Waterworks added during the last renovation.
It’s essential to know sailing along the Pacific Coast can be rough. So, if you’re prone to seasickness, pack a motion sickness patch and select a stateroom mid-ship on a lower deck.
Alternatively, you can fly to Vancouver, which offers inside passage cruises for calmer seas.
Young Children Or Older Kids?
If your children are young and you’re seeking a kids club and nothing more, you may opt for a budget-friendly smaller vessel and use the savings on excursions. In Alaska, expect to pay more for those bucket list tours than you spent on the cruise.
However, teens will want something more than a youth program to occupy their time. I’d suggest either Norwegian’s or Royal Caribbean’s larger ships. Be prepared to budget for additional fees for attractions and the arcade.
Which one you choose could come down to cost, itinerary, or royalty to one of those lines. While Norwegian sails to Glacier Bay National Park, Royal Caribbean goes to Endicott Arm.
While it’s hotly debated over which is better, they are both spectacular in their own way. Glacier Bay National Park offers multiple smaller glaciers, and Endicott Arm offers a fjord experience with steep cliffs and cascading waterfalls.
All cruise lines have adjoining cabins, but you’ll need to book early to ensure you can get them. Alternatively, families sometimes book a balcony and an inside across the hall.
Kids Club And Youth Programs
Most mainstream lines like Norwegian, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Princess Cruises cater to children aged 3 to 17.
Larger vessels will have more amenities than older, small ships. Most ships will have outdoor pools, and some will have water slides, mini-golf, and rock climbing walls. However, the water isn’t always heated, so you may not use them in Alaska.
If your children are water babies, select a ship with an indoor pool or one with a retractable roof.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney has one vessel which sails to Alaska, the Disney Wonder. It offers 7 to 9-day (for the 2023 season) roundtrip itineraries from the Vancouver port at Canada Place. Expect to pay significantly more for a Disney cruise than the mainstream lines.
Families are attracted to a Disney cruise, not for its water slide or kids’ programs but because they cruise with Mickey Mouse and his friends!
Since many children have grown up with a love of Mickey and all his friends, it’s no wonder a cruise on a Disney vessel is a bucket list adventure.
While the kids are entertained with endless activities, the adults can relax in the adult-only areas.
Disneyland has been called the “happiest place on earth.” After one cruise on the Wonder, you may consider a Disney cruise the “happiest place at sea.”
While the Wonder isn’t one of the largest ships or the newest, there’s no denying it offers one of the best Alaskan cruises for families with small children.
Also, Disney offers food choices catering to children and those with food allergies. You’ll also have an opportunity to meet your favorite Disney characters.
Staterooms have split bathrooms and privacy curtains between the bed and sitting areas. Split baths consist of two rooms, one with a tub and sink and the other with a sink and toilet. On other cruise lines, you’d have to upgrade to a suite to get a bathtub.
Their cabins are also roomier than the competition. Deluxe insides and oceanviews are 214 sq. feet. However, the deluxe veranda staterooms measure 268 sq. feet.
Everything on a Disney cruise is Disney-themed, from the pirate parties with Mickey himself to dining at Tiana’s Place, inspired by The Princess and the Frog. You’ll also have an opportunity to watch first-run Disney movies without attending a theater to see them.
And who can resist the Character Breakfast with choices like Meeska Mooska Mickey Waffle or Buccaneer Bagel (with salmon and cream cheese)? Disney will cater to their dietary needs if your child is cruising with multiple food allergies.
The Disney Navigator app allows you to message members of your family or traveling group without paying a fee. A nice feature for which most lines charge an additional cost.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Older children or teenagers might prefer sailing with Norwegian Cruise Lines. The Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore are mega-ships offering roundtrip Alaska itineraries from Seattle, Washington.
With a capacity of over 4,000 guests, these large vessels have amenities not seen on other lines. Its two-level go-cart track is a hit with families and a chance to test your driving skills against a family member in a friendly competition.
Laser tag is another family-friendly attraction that’s sure to bring smiles. While both incur an extra fee (USD 20 for go-carts and USD 9.95 for laser tag), your kids will never be bored at sea.
Complimentary amenities include a kids’ aqua park, ocean loops slide, and aqua racer (tandem waterslide).
Norwegian provides complimentary kids programs; Splash Academy for ages 3 to 12 and Entourage for those 13 to 17. Late Night Fun Zone is available from 11 pm to 1 am if you need an adult-only night.
The Encore and Bliss were designed for Alaska with its signature 180-degree Observation Lounges. With a covered area at the ship’s bow, you can enjoy the Alaskan landscape regardless of the weather.
Its Haven suites have lots to brag about. The two-bedroom Haven Family Villa Suite allows families to stay in the same cabin in a spacious layout. They also benefit from having access to the Haven Lounge, Haven pool, and an exclusive restaurant.
Since most families book when the kids are out of school, you can expect higher prices when cruising in July and August on an Alaska cruise.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean International has two mega-ships sailing to Alaska. The Quantum of the Sea and the Ovation, both Quantum-class vessels, offer countless activities onboard for children (and adults) of all ages.
They are larger than the Norwegian ships, holding up to 5,000 guests. Like the Bliss and Encore, they sail from the Seattle cruise terminal.
Its SeaPlex is an innovative indoor space with multi-purpose use. Sometimes it’s used for bumper cars, which are fun for all ages but expect a crowd on sea days.
When the cars are charging, Royal Caribbean uses the arena for roller skating, basketball, pickleball, or volleyball.
Upstairs in the SeaPlex, the fun continues with Foosball, ping pong, air hockey, and Xbox games. Plus, there’s an arcade near the SeaPlex with more thrilling games.
Kids and adults can take advantage of rock climbing and learning to surf on the FlowRider simulator. Kids must be at least six years old and 52″ to try the FlowRider, a complimentary activity.
The massive rock-climbing wall has three courses with varying degrees of difficulty. It’s open for climbing every day if conditions allow.
Next to the surf simulator, RipCord by iFly allows guests to try skydiving in a wind tunnel. My husband and I tried the RipCord by iFly and thought it was a blast!
Unique to the Quantum-class ships, the NorthStar allows you to enjoy the majestic views of Alaska from 300 feet above the ocean. If you want to ride thebe NorthStar near a glacier, be prepared to pay USD 70 per person.
Splash Away Bay is a massive hit on the Lido deck for the little ones. The indoor pools are a big bonus of the Quantum-class vessels over Norwegian’s Breakaway-class.
Since it can often be cool in Alaska, the Royal Caribbean ships have an indoor pool and an adult-only Solarium, ideal when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Princess Cruises mini-suites have bathtubs, ideal for babies and toddlers. If you have a smaller cabin and need a bathtub, Princess provides shower bins upon request.
Their Discovery program welcomes little ones as young as six months when accompanied by an adult. The Treehouse caters to kids 3 to 7, The Lodge 8 to 12, and 13 to 17-year-olds have a group called The Beach House.
The activities such as scavenger hunts, sports tournaments, and fun parties are created for the age group. Some of them, like the “Wild Alaska Festival,” are themed towards your exciting destination.
Princess Cruises and Animal Planet offer unique shore excursions to elevate your family vacation.
They include a Coastal Wildlife Cruise in Ketchikan, an underground mine tour in Juneau, and a Chilkoot Hike and Float Excursion in Skagway. Some of these tours are exclusive and can’t be found through port operators.
Unique to Princess, the line hosts “Puppies in the Piazza,” a chance to see the newest sled dog champions in the making. Kids will enjoy holding the pups, while parents can meet their handlers.
They also host “North to Alaska” events that allow guests to meet Alaskan locals both on the ship and in ports.
These include mountaineers who have conquered Denali, and the first woman to win the Iditarod race, Libby Riddles. You can also learn tips on capturing amazing images of Alaska’s landscape from photographers Daryl Pederson, Kim Heacox, and Mark Kelly.
In port, on the Bering Sea Crab Boat Tour in Ketchikan, you can get a review of life aboard the Aleutian Ballad from Captain David Lethin and his dedicated crew.
They will recount their thrilling and often dangerous jobs of trying to catch king crabs in the Bering Sea.
All Princess’s vessels are Medallion Class, which has some handy features. For families, you can find a family member using the Ocean Compass Shipmates and message them using a chat feature.
Kids might enjoy making their own Tagalong sea creature, which randomly appears on large TV screens.
Whether your kids are into science, crafts, or video games, Celebrity Cruises caters to their needs with its Camp at Sea program. Their Camp at Sea programs opens daily from 9 am to 10 pm and offers slumber parties on selected nights from 10 pm to 1 am.
If you choose to explore a port without your children, the kids’ program is open at various times while docked. Outside of those hours, there’s a small fee.
The Camp at Sea divides the children into four age groups; Shipmates 3 to 5, Cadets 6 to 9, Captains 10 to 12, and 13 to 17.
Celebrity also welcomes kids and adults with autism by providing autism-friendly activities, movies, and a toy-lending program.
For the 2023 Alaska cruises season, all three ships (Solstice, Eclipse, and Millennium) have covered swimming pools if the weather isn’t nice.
For the 2024 season, the Summit replaces the Millennium, and the revolutionary Celebrity Edge offers 7-day roundtrip Alaska cruises from Seattle, Washington.
In port, Celebrity offers family-friendly excursions. Choose from whale watching in Juneau, zip lining in Icy Strait Point, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway in Skagway, or one of many other tempting tours.
Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line offer cruise and land tours to Denali National Park.
Carnival Cruises have marketed itself as the “fun ship,” and its fun is suitable for all ages. Guests know them as a budget-friendly line, so if you’re sailing with a family of four to six, this may be a good choice.
Carnival has three vessels cruising to Alaska. The Miracle sails from California, and the Spirit and Luminosa set sail from Seattle. There are no options to sail on a Carnival vessel from Vancouver, British Columbia.
If you choose to cruise in the shoulder season, you’ll benefit from swimming pools with retractable roofs. On the Lido decks, the kids will enjoy the signature Carnival Waterworks.
Families will benefit from larger staterooms if you’re sharing. Even the insides are roomy at 185 sq. feet and have the same footprint as a balcony cabin.
Like the other mainstream lines, Carnival entices families with its kids’ program called Camp Ocean. It caters to children 2 to 17 years of age.
Its Seuss at Sea brings the fun and silliness of the Cat in the Hat to life. With storytime, Seuss-a-palooza Parade, and Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast, adults can relive their childhood with their kids.
Keep those binoculars handy; you might see one fish, two fish, red fish, or blue fish during your cruise!
Cruise Lines To Avoid
When planning your family cruise, it’s good to know that not all cruise lines offer kids’ clubs, and some that do, have very few children onboard.
It’s no secret that luxury lines like Silversea, Regent, Windstar, Viking, and Oceania cater to adults. So, you’ll want to avoid these lines with young children.
I took a cruise to Alaska on Cunard Queen Elizabeth, and while it had a kids’ club catering to those aged two and up, there was only a handful of children on the ship.
If your children are hoping to meet new friends, it won’t happen on ships with only a few little ones.
Holland America Line is another company that provides kid facilities, but its Alaska cruises attract much older guests.
Kid-Friendly Shore Excursions
If you have older kids, allowing them to be part of the planning can add to the excitement. Part of the decision is the ship, but the ports of call and excursions can play a significant part too.
An Alaska family cruise has lots of activities onboard, but also include a port-intensive itinerary. While choosing a cruise line, you’ll also want to factor in times spent in each port. With 10 to 12 hours, you can participate in several excursions.
Bucket list family activities include dog sledding and whale watching. While dog sledding on a glacier will set you back more than your cruise at USD 600 pp, you can enjoy a dog mushing camp at a fraction of the price.
Since summer dog sleds run on cars with wheels, you won’t need an expensive helicopter ride to reach the camp.
Gold panning is budget-friendly activity and fun for the whole family. Also, whatever you pan, you keep in a miniature bottle. Kids will have the coolest “show and tell” of gold they panned themselves.
In Sitka, you can view bald eagles and other birds of prey at the Alaska Raptor Center. The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates injured birds and returns them to the wild where possible.
Also, in Sitka, the Fortress of the Bear rescue saves orphaned bears. It’s a chance for your family to see black bears and coastal brown bears up close.
Wrap It Up
Traditionally, cruisers favor smaller ships to Alaska for their intimacy and ability to navigate in fjords. However, larger vessels provide more activities for older children and teenagers.
The big favorites, the Norwegian Encore and Bliss, and Royal Caribbean Quantum and Ovation of the Seas are hard to beat, along with the Disney Wonder. So, if you’re planning an cruise vacation to Alaska with kids, you have lots of choices.
But ships are only part of the decision. You’ll need to factor in ports of call and time spent in each port. No matter who you sail with, you’ll create wonderful family memories and fulfill a bucket list vacation!