Looking for what your kids can do while you cruise as a family? If there’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, it’s hearing the words “I’m bored!” while you sail.
Not every cruise ship is the same, but when it comes to the large lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC, they design ships to have something for everyone. So whether you are 8 years old or 80, there will be areas that you can enjoy.
And because families are a big market for cruising, that means cruise lines go out of their way to make sure kids have plenty to do on the ship. There are dedicated spaces for kids from toddlers to teens, lots of activities across the ship, and plenty of outdoor sports and things to do so that kids aren’t stuck inside all day.
If you’re taking a cruise with children, you likely don’t want to spend the entire trip having to entertain them while you are trying to relax. And you also don’t want to have to come up with idea after idea of what for them to do.
That’s why we’ve outlined dozens of things for kids to do on a cruise. With this list, they should never get bored, making your vacation better for everyone.
Head to the Ship’s Arcade
Every major cruise ship will have an arcade for kids. You may have to check out the ship’s map for its location — on some ship’s it’s easily found and on others it can be somewhat hidden away.
Arcades have a variety of games. You’ll find everything from shooting games to racing to skill cranes and air hockey.
Don’t worry about packing a roll of quarters. Like everything else on the ship, the arcades are paid for with your shipboard account. Just be sure that your kids know and can stick to a budget. It can be easy to overspend when playing a game is as easy as a swipe of a card.
Hang Out Poolside
What kid doesn’t love a pool? Cruise ships don’t disappoint. The pool deck is one of the most popular spots on the ship and you’ll find lots of kids enjoying the water.
The pool area will depend on your ship. Some ships have multiple pools in different areas, while other vessels (usually older ships), will just have one. There are also hot tubs available.
Most cruise lines have lifeguards on duty, but it’s always a good idea to keep your eye on kids while swimming. There are also life jackets available for free if you want some added protection with children who aren’t great swimmers just yet.
Kids Clubs Are a Second Home
Every major cruise ship has a place that’s great for kids and a miracle for parents — the kids clubs. These dedicated areas are just for children, and they are multiple areas depending on age. Here, you can drop off the kids and they can have a blast (while supervised) and Mom and Dad can have some time on their own.
Think of it as daycare on the ship, except it’s somewhere that kids should definitely enjoy hanging out. There are plenty of things for them to do, they can meet others on the ship, and the staff will even take them to meals. For instance, smaller kids have tons of toys to play with and staff-led activities. Older kids might have video games to play.
Play Games on the Sports Court
Another popular place for kids is the ship’s sport court. Typically located at the back of the ship, the court is primarily a basketball court but can also have soccer goals or volleyball nets setup for other games.
Here, you can check out sports equipment and play some games in the sun as the ship sails. During days at sea it’s a popular place for kids and teens and you’ll likely find other people there shooting hoops. If your kid is looking to meet other kids on the ship, it’s a good spot to break the ice playing sports.
Climb Up the Rock Wall
Rock walls have become a popular feature on some ships — most notably Royal Caribbean. Towering about 25-30 feet above the top deck of the ship, the top of the wall will give whoever climbs it one of the best views possible. But the real fun is navigating the wall to get to the top. There will be staff there to help anyone safely climb, whether your kid has done plenty of climbing before or never put on a harness.
It’s also a great way for kids who might be afraid of heights to overcome their fear. It’s a safe environment with plenty of safety gear in place. Just be sure that whoever is climbing remembers to wear closed-toe shoes.
Catch a Movie by the Pool
There are movies… and then there are movies at sea. These days cruise ships have big screen televisions that tower over the pool area. During the day it will show all sorts of programming, but in the evenings at sea, the cruise line puts on new release movies.
Kids can hang out in the pool, hot tub, or just lay in a lounge chair and watch in the open air. It’s one of the most unique places to watch a film, and sometimes the crew even hands out fresh popcorn while kids watch.
Try New Foods
Is your kid an adventurous eater? Or maybe they are picky and only like burgers and dogs? Either way, cruise ships are a great place to try new and different foods.
First, outside of specialty restaurants, the food is free. If your child tries something and doesn’t like it, there is no harm and they certainly won’t go hungry. You won’t have to worry that you’ll waste money on something that doesn’t get eaten.
As well, cruise lines do a good job of mixing up classics that everyone loves with more unique dishes that you likely don’t serve at home. Think cuisine that covers everything from Asian to Italian to steaks, lobster, and more. You never know if your kid might go on a cruise and come back with a new favorite food.
Learn Some Independence on the Ship
If you have teenagers, then you know firsthand how many times they want nothing to do with their parents. At that age, it’s all about establishing independence. On a regular vacation to a foreign place, you might keep an eagle-eye on kids. On a cruise, it can be a bit different.
Cruise ships are relatively safe and self-contained. Kids can’t go too far and there are plenty of things for them to do that can keep them entertained instead of getting into trouble. Of course you don’t simply want to take the reins off and let them run wild, but if you have a teen that is eager for independence, then a cruise ship offers a good spot to let them have a bit more freedom than normal.
Enter a Contest Against Other Passengers
On a cruise ship, there are contests for everything from trivia to free-throw shooting. And these contests are open to all ages.
Have a kid that has a knack for 90’s music trivia or is an expert ping-pong player? Check the ship’s daily calendar to see if there is a contest they can enter. They are free to play and if they win, they get bragging rights and maybe a small trophy.
Experience Different Cultures in Port
We will be the first to admit that the experience on a cruise ship is decidedly American. Most cruise lines cater to American passengers, so the feel onboard can be just like staying a resort in the United States.
But that doesn’t mean your kids can’t be exposed to different cultures and parts of the world. While the port area where the ship docks are very touristy, shore excursions give the chance to get to see a more genuine side of a country. For instance, trips to historical ruins like Altun-Ha in Belize are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you just can’t get back home.
Dance Parties With Other Kids
Dancing in the evening is a big part of cruising. For adults there are theme parties like ’80s night and the white-out parties where everyone dresses head to toe in white outfits to dance and have fun on deck. Kids are usually allowed to attend these parties, although they might feel out of place as the parties are intended for adults.
The good news is that there are often dance parties held in the kids club (or teen nightclub) so that they can have a similar experience with others that are their own age.
Rainy Day? Check Out the Board Games
Rainy days do happen on cruises, sending people indoors. While there is still lots to do inside the ship, sometimes a board game is a great way to kill some time. Even if it’s not raining, sometimes it’s nice just to spend some time out of the sun, relaxing and playing a game.
Visit the ship’s library or game room to see what’s offered. Usually it is the basics like decks of cards, chess, and checkers. You can also bring your own games or cards. If your ship has a game room, there are tables setup that you can use to play and spend some quality time together as a family on the cruise.
Get Soaked in the Splash Pad
Pools are great on cruise ships, but due to the weight of the water, they can’t be that big. Instead, some ships have put in splash pads. These areas are much bigger than just a pool, but don’t hold much water. Instead, they have all sorts of water features, allowing kids to play and get soaked. It’s also great if you have a kid who can’t swim just yet.
Royal Caribbean is the clear leader with their Splashaway Bay areas on ships, but other lines are putting these areas in place.
One other nice feature is that if you have a small child who isn’t potty-trained yet, there are sometimes areas of the splash pads for them. Normally kids that aren’t potty-trained aren’t allowed in public pool/water areas.
Burn Rubber on the Go-Karts
If you are sailing on a newer Norwegian ship like the Joy or Encore, then you are sailing on the only ships at sea that have a go-kart track on board.
Norwegian has pioneered this feature. Hop in one of the cars and you’ll feel like a race driver as you swing left and right around the curvy, double-decker track. If you’re an adult, you’ll want to take a ride. If you’re a kid, then it’s something you have to do.
There is a fee, but for the experience of racing against others on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, it’s a small price to pay for something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Relax With Their Favorite Shows
Watching TV on a cruise? With long days in port — often in the sun and the heat — having some relaxation time in the cool cabin isn’t just a nice thing for parents, but a need for kids as well.
Internet is getting better on cruise ships and some will let you stream videos if you sign up for the package. But the highest-end packages needed for streaming are expensive, and sometimes the connection can be spotty depending on where you are at sea.
That is why it is a good idea to download shows ahead of time to your tablet, phone, or laptop. Then the kids can relax, watch a show, and catch their second wind before heading out to enjoy themselves during the evening.
Become an Expert at Shuffleboard
There’s nothing as classic on a cruise than shuffleboard, but don’t think it’s just for the old folks. It’s a relaxing and fun game that’s simple to learn, but tough to master. You’ll find courts painted on the ship, often on lower promenade decks that give you a view of the ocean as you play.
Using the long poles, take turns pushing the discs onto the opposite board. The key is to put your disc on the numbered areas, while also pushing your opponent’s pucks out of the way. Because of its simplicity, kids can quickly learn and have a blast playing against each other or their parents.
Play a Round (or Three) of Mini-Golf
Putt-putt courses are on just about every cruise ship and a great way for kids to spend some time. It’s free to play and the course is open around the clock. No matter if they want to play first thing the morning or late at night, kids can head to the course whenever the mood strikes.
Don’t expect anything too crazy with the course. The holes are normally straightforward with just a few obstacles here and there. That makes it good for all ages, but it can get a little boring after you’ve played the course a couple of times. Still, it’s a fun way to spend some time on the ship in the sunshine and warm breeze.
Compete in a Game of Ping Pong
Ping pong is a favorite of any kid, and it’s also a classic staple of any cruise ship. You’ll find multiple tables on the ship, along with paddles and balls.
Now playing ping pong against any opponent is already tough enough, but kids will also have to battle the elements. Tables are setup outside and while there are wind blocks put in place to cut down the breeze, it can still cause issues. No matter, playing a game or two is a great way for kids to spend some time and get the competitive juices flowing.
Take the Kids to a Comedy Show
Many (though not all) ships will have a comedian that performs during the cruise. Often the comedian will have a couple of different shows — one for families and one that is adults only. Check your ship’s schedule for performance times, but the family-friendly performances can be a lot of fun for older kids. It’s a chance for them to feel a bit more adult (even though the comedians are family friendly, it may not be PG-rated), and do something that they likely don’t get to enjoy back home.
Have a Professional Family Photo Done
Ok, maybe the kids won’t want to sit still for a family photo, or think it’s cheesy. No matter, parents will want to get a photo to remember the trip and the time that all the family was together to have a great time.
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to have your photo taken. There is traditionally one as you board, and then you’ll find photographers around the ship in full force on formal nights. You can pose for the photo with your kid for free. You only pay if you decide to buy the photo.
Surf… on a Cruise Ship
If you are sailing a Royal Caribbean ship, then the Flowrider is a must-do for kids. At the back of the ship is the Flowrider, where a thin layer of water is pushed over a padded incline. The result is a wave that you can boogie board on, and if you’re good enough, you could actually surf.
Now before you can ride, kids will have to wait in line and it can be fairly long. However, it moves relatively quickly as each ride is usually just a minute or two. One tip — if your kid has never done the standing wave before, suggest they use that time in line to watch others, and get a better idea of how to ride so that they don’t instantly wipe out when it’s their turn.
Cruise Down the Waterslides
Cruise ship waterslides have come a long way from meandering back and forth chutes. Now they are almost just like you’d see at a waterpark. With spins and loops — even some slides that jut out over the water with clear plastic so you can see how high you are — the slides on cruise ships are tons of fun for both kids and adults.
The slides are free to use, so kids can ride over and over again until they are sick of it. There are some height limits, but all but the smallest kids should be good to ride. If it’s a day at sea, then taking a trip down the waterslides on the ship is a must-do.
Gorge on Burgers, Dogs, and Pizza
If there is anything that children love, it’s the big three — hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza. And on a cruise, they can eat them for every meal.
All three are always available at the buffet (lunch and dinner), as well as room service. And many ships have dedicated burger or pizza restaurants, such as Guy’s Burger Joint and Pizzeria del Capitano on Carnival.
Should a kid eat burgers and pizza for every meal? There are certainly healthier diets, but it’s hard to beat having a fussy eater scarf down a dinner they are excited about.
Watch the Captain and Crew Steer the Ship
Cruise ships are unique engineering marvels. Where else do you see an entire hotel resort put out on the water with five thousand people onboard? There is nothing quite like a cruise ship.
What’s unique as well is that many ships give everyone a chance to look over the shoulder of the captain and crew. Head to the front of the ship and you might find a viewing area that gives you a bird’s-eye view. You can see the team navigating and using computers to drive the ship. No matter if you are a kid or adult, it’s an extremely cool thing to watch the team that maneuvers a ship that’s more than 1,000 feet long.
Let Kids Explore the Ship
It’s hard to put into words just how large modern cruise ships really are these days. The newest and biggest ships come in more than 1,000 feet, can have 20 decks, and weigh upwards of 180,000 gross tons. With all that space comes a lot to explore. While most of your time will be spent in a few places like the cabin, restaurants, and pool area, ships have a lot of places to see.
Whether you want to let them practice some independence and explore on the own or go with them, checking out the ship deck by deck can help you find things that you and your kid would otherwise not see.
One thing you can hunt for is the ship’s coin if you are sailing Carnival. Every Carnival ship has a coin that’s put in place to commemorate its construction. It makes for a fun hunt to try and find it.
Have Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences on Port Excursions
We will be the first to admit that port excursions through the cruise line can be expensive. Be prepared to spend $100 per person for many things to do (although there are definitely cheaper ones available). Even so, the excursions can provide things to do that you simply can’t do anywhere else.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a guided tour of a port. Kids will especially like the more active excursions like snorkeling tours or boat trips.
Bottom line, excursions give you and your kid an opportunity to do something unique and memorable that neither of you will forget.