Best Cruises for Toddlers

noblige/iStock/GettyImages

Tots on the High Seas: The Best Cruise Lines for Sailing with a Toddler

Cruising is a great way to vacation as a family, with many cruise lines offering special pricing for families as well as activities and day-care programs just for kids. Book your high-seas journey where kid-friendly facilities accommodate even the littlest members of the family, sometimes at no charge at all.

MSC Cruises

Cost: $0 for kids under 12

What's in it for you: MSC offers one of the best deals on cruises for families with kids. Children 11 years and under are free when sharing a stateroom with two full-fare-paying adults. You'll still need to pay any applicable port duties or taxes, transfer fees and airfare. Family cruises have baby-care service for kids ages 1 through 3 years and special baby laundry service using gentle detergents and a sanitizing process.

What's in it for kids: MSC's tot-friendly Mini Club lets them play with kids their age from all around the world. Kids can explore the world with modern educational toys by Chicco. Toys include bilingual learning, music and mini-Olympic games. A special onboard children's menu lets little ones explore healthy eating options, and there's a pizza bar open 20 hours per day.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Cost: $0 for kids

What's in it for you: Norwegian Cruise Lines lets up to six kids stay free in a stateroom when the first two adults pay full fare. Drop off tots 6 months to 3 years at the Guppies Nursery on the Norwegian Escape, and you'll get a phone so staff can easily get in touch with you should your child need your assistance. Freestyle dining lets you enjoy buffet items like hot pizza whenever your little one is hungry.

What's in it for kids: A Guppies playroom gives you a kid-friendly space to spend time with your busy little one and offers daily activities for parents and tots. The Escape rolls out a single-level tot-size ropes course and mini-golf as well as beginner slides in the Kids Aqua Park for potty-trained little ones.

Disney Cruise Line

Cost: Child rate for ages 3 to 12 varies by cruise; kids 0 to 2 pay half of child rate.

What's in it for you: Disney supplies everything you might need for your youngster, including diaper disposal units, cribs, strollers and bottle warmers. A cruise to Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, includes complimentary wagons that make it easy to roll over sandy beaches with your tot and gear. Everything from formula to diapers is available to buy at the onboard stores, and an It's a Small World-themed nursery engages your little one while you enjoy some time to yourself.

What's in it for kids: A Disney cruise is sure to be every toddler's dream. Disney magic translates into toddler play areas such as Nemo's Reef, Dory's Reef and Nephews' Splash Zone. Family-friendly port excursions let even the littlest family members accompany the rest of your crew.

Carnival Cruise Line

Cost: Discount fares when sharing a room with two full-fare adults

What's in it for you: Child care is available in four three-hour blocks from 10 a.m. through 1 a.m., allowing you to plan adults-only activities day or night. Kid-friendly menu choices in the dining room include a daily junior special in addition to standard kid-friendly fare like chicken nuggets, spaghetti and macaroni and cheese.

What's in it for kids: Kids ages 2 to 5 can participate in the Camp Carnival or Camp Ocean programs, depending on which ship you're on, for guided activities. A children-only dinner at Camp Carnival lets little ones sup with their peers in the Lido Restaurant while enjoying a feast of hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and other kid-friendly fare.

Royal Caribbean International

Cost: Possible discounted fare when sharing a room with two full-fare adults

What's in it for you: Enjoy a day activity or evening out while little ones take their nap or bed down for the night in the familiar surroundings of your stateroom. In-stateroom babysitting is available for up to three children for the same hourly rate between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m.

What's in it for kids: Kids get to meet DreamWorks characters from their favorite movies like "How to Train Your Dragon," "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda." Stream the movies in your stateroom. Some cruises have special DreamWorks events like the Madagascar Aqua Show on the Allure of the Seas or character parades.