5 best Royal Caribbean ships for kids

Royal Caribbean is unarguably one of the best cruise lines for kids. But that doesn’t mean all its ships are equally good for kids of all ages and interests.

Every ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet has kid-friendly attractions, such as pools, an outdoor movie screen, a rock-climbing wall and a kids club with age-appropriate activities. The line’s oldest and smallest ships don’t offer much more than that — while the newest and biggest ships in the fleet have many more amusements. These include splash parks and waterslides, ice skating rinks, bumper cars, zip lines, laser tag and fast casual restaurants serving Mexican food and Johnny Rockets burgers and milkshakes.

Royal Caribbean excels at offering something for everyone on its ships. It’s hard to find an age group that wouldn’t find something to love about the line’s newest ships, such as Wonder of the Seas (the current world’s largest ship) or Icon of the Seas (which will steal the title when it debuts in January 2024).

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As a quick guide, the line’s Vision- and Radiance-class ships have the fewest kid-friendly attractions. Voyager- and Freedom-class ships offer a sweet spot of plenty of family fun with a more manageable size. Oasis- and Icon-class ships are giant megaships packed with restaurants, shows and amusements aimed at kids and families, while Quantum-class ships offer a more sophisticated and high-tech approach to big-ship family fun.

But if we absolutely had to choose the best Royal Caribbean ships for kids, here are the ships we’d pick.

Best Royal Caribbean ship for babies and toddlers: Freedom of the Seas

Splashaway Bay on Freedom of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

I cruised with a 1-year-old to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas, one of Royal’s oldest and smallest ships, and it wasn’t my best cruise by a long shot. If you’re planning to cruise with little kids, my advice is to start with a short, warm-weather sailing on a ship that caters to the youngest cruisers.

On Royal Caribbean, that means picking a ship that has both a Royal Babies & Tots nursery and a Baby Splash Zone (because kids in swim diapers are not allowed in the main pool and water play areas). For my money, I’d go with Freedom of the Seas. It has both of those baby staples and plenty of restaurants and activities for the adults to enjoy as well. Your preschooler may enjoy the parades down the Royal Promenade followed by a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. (Freedom is one of six Royal Caribbean ships with their own Ben & Jerry’s outlet.)

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However, Freedom is not as huge as an Oasis-class ship (which have great offerings for the 3-and-under diapered set), so you’ll have less FOMO when you’re stuck in the cabin after early bedtime. And the halls aren’t quite as long when your new walker decides the best activity on the ship is pushing something up and down the cabin hallways. (Yes, I’ve been there, done that.)

Related: The 6 classes of Royal Caribbean cruise ships, explained

Plus, Freedom of the Seas sails mainly short three- and four-night Bahamas cruises to Nassau and Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island. If your kids are like mine, beaches are fascinating places to play, and CocoCay has a calm bay, pirate ship-themed play area, splash park and a shallow-entry pool perfect for babies and toddlers. Plus, conveniently located complimentary barbecues and tram services make it easier for parents to manage a day at the beach with their kiddos.

Best Royal Caribbean ship for little kids (ages 3-7): Icon of the Seas

Surfside neighborhood on Icon of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship Icon of the Seas isn’t debuting until January 2024, but I’m already positive it’s the best in the fleet for younger kids. That’s because Royal Caribbean has built the entire ship to target young families.

The line has created a happy place for parents and kids under the age of 7 or so. It’s called Surfside and is an open-air space located at the back of the ship. It will feature a splash area with junior waterslides for kids and an infinity pool for adults. It will also have a beach-themed carousel, dry playground, arcade, multiple family-friendly restaurants (so you don’t have to go far when hunger strikes) and a mommy-and-me cocktail/mocktail bar.

This Deck 7 neighborhood is also a hop, skip and a jump away from the Adventure Ocean kids club on Deck 6.

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Even better for all those little legs, Surfside will be surrounded by family-themed cabins and suites, many with separate sleeping areas for kids and adults. You won’t have to carry your tuckered-out tyke far when they’re ready for naptime in the cabin.

Because Icon of the Seas is a larger, reimagined version of Royal Caribbean’s beloved Oasis-class ships, families with young children can also enjoy ice skating and acrobatic diving shows, tons of family-friendly dining around the ship and top-deck attractions such as pools and minigolf.

Icon of the Seas will sail family-favorite weeklong itineraries to the Caribbean from the port of Miami. Each cruise also stops at Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Best Royal Caribbean ship for older kids (ages 8-12): Wonder of the Seas

Wonder of the Seas’ Ultimate Abyss and rock climbing wall. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

I took my daughter on Wonder of the Seas for her eighth birthday, and I can attest that Wonder (and its Oasis-class siblings) are ideal for older kids. These megaships have so much going on, your kids will never be bored. Or, as soon as they’re finished with one activity, they have several more to turn to next.

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Some of the Wonder of the Seas activities have age or size limits, which is why littler kids can’t fully appreciate all it has to offer. For example, my daughter could go rock climbing, play in the splash park and multiple pools, ride the waterslides and the 10-decks-long dry slide. But she was just slightly too short and light to boogie board on the FlowRider or try the zip line. The minimum height requirements are usually 48 or 52 inches.

Related: Why Wonder of the Seas is awesome for families

The Studio B ice skating show and original musical “Effectors II” are perfect for older kids. My daughter was especially wowed by the slackliners, aerialists, dancers and divers we saw at the AquaTheater. Kids ages 8 to 12 may also enjoy Wonder’s escape room, sports court, minigolf course, carousel, promenade parades and arcade.

And let’s not forget about the many fast casual dining venues on the ship. My daughter would have dined on hot dogs and milkshakes at Johnny Rockets every day if I were willing to pay for it. She also enjoyed quesadillas at El Loco Fresh near all the fun top-deck attractions, the Campfire Cookie dessert at Playmakers and browsing the selections at the buffet. Other kid-friendly venues that got her thumbs up included the new-on-Wonder Mason Jar southern-themed specialty restaurant and pizza at both the free Sorrento’s and the extra-fee Giovanni’s.

Wonder of the Seas mainly sails seven-night Caribbean cruises, which is a perfect vacation length for this age group. Book those school-vacation weeks early as they’re popular dates.

Best Royal Caribbean ship for tweens and teens: Odyssey of the Seas

Seaplex on Odyssey of the Seas. ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Tweens and teens would certainly enjoy all of the ships already mentioned, but sometimes they’re looking for a vacation that’s a little cooler and perhaps more high-tech. That’s why Odyssey of the Seas is our pick for the best Royal Caribbean cruise ship for middle and high school kids.

Odyssey of the Seas and its Quantum-class sister ships have some cool attractions not found on other Royal Caribbean vessels. Teens will love trying the RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator and bouncing on the Sky Pad VR bungee trampoline. At the ship’s SeaPlex, they can get active with indoor basketball, table tennis and bumper cars, or get their game on at the arcade or virtual-reality play space. If they work up an appetite, they can grab burgers at Playmakers nearby.

The ship also features Two70, a cool hangout by day (grab a bite at the cafe and curl up somewhere away from parents to check your social media feeds) and a high-tech performance venue at night. The NorthStar is a sightseeing pod that rises high above the ship on a mechanical arm; teens can snap a selfie while up there.

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Related: The 5 best cruises for teens

Social 180 is the tween and teen hangout on Odyssey of the Seas, and it’s extra cool given that it has both an indoor lounge and an outdoor patio. Plus, the ship has plenty of teen-friendly Royal Caribbean fan favorites, such as the FlowRider, rock climbing wall, laser tag and outdoor movies.

Tweens and teens may also be ready to appreciate Royal Caribbean’s diverse array of specialty restaurants including sushi at Izumi, steaks at Chops Grille and Italian at Giovanni’s. Plus, they can grab quick bites at El Loco Fresh and Sorrento’s.

Odyssey of the Seas sails a mix of weeklong and longer Caribbean sailings, as well as Greek Islands and Holy Land cruises. This gives families more options for more adventurous travel with teens who are ready to handle longer trips or flights to Europe.

Best Royal Caribbean ship for families heading to Alaska: Quantum of the Seas

North Star sightseeing deployed in Alaska. STEPHEN BURKE/ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Because most of our family picks are for ships sailing to the Caribbean and Bahamas, it seemed like an oversight to leave out Alaska. Alaska is an amazing destination for a family vacation with kids, and Royal Caribbean bases four ships up north every summer. But some are better for families than others.

Our top pick for families sailing to Alaska is Quantum of the Seas (though nearly identical Quantum-class sister ship Ovation of the Seas is a close second). Quantum sails seven-night round-trip cruises from the accessible port of Seattle, perfect for families that can’t take more than a week’s vacation and don’t want to spend the time and money flying to Alaska to board a ship.

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Quantum of the Seas has many of the same amenities as the aforementioned Odyssey of the Seas, which are ideal for Alaska. Indoor activities like kids clubs, the sky diving simulator and SeaPlex will always be usable even if the northern weather gets chilly or rainy. The North Star sightseeing ride is much more appealing when you can take in Alaska’s stunning scenery rather than mere stretches of Caribbean sea. Two70 makes for an equally attractive indoor observation lounge when the ship is cruising through fjords and by glaciers.

Quantum of the Seas get the nod from Ovation because it has two activities Ovation lacks: an escape room and laser tag.

Bottom line

It’s hard to go wrong with any Royal Caribbean cruise ship when you’re planning a family vacation. The bigger the ship, the more amazing kid attractions you’ll find on board. I’d recommend sticking with Voyager class and newer ships when traveling with kids, but even the smaller ships have kids clubs, pools and other family-friendly activities.

So when all is said and done, the best Royal Caribbean ship for kids is likely whichever ship in the fleet your family happens to be on!

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