Planning to book a family cruise? When researching what different cruise lines have to offer, don't forget to think about cabins.
It used to be that the whole crew had to crowd into one tiny cabin and staterooms rarely slept more than four people. These days, cruise ships are onboard with the needs and preferences of modern families, and today's cruisers have more options. From separate sleeping areas for kids and parents to split bathroom designs and connecting rooms, the cruise lines have come up with creative configurations and amenities to accommodate all kinds of family groups. Let's face it -- as much you love your family and want to bond on holiday, everyone needs a little elbow room.
Generally, the newer the ship, the more likely you're going to find larger suites and more connecting rooms to accommodate whoever's coming along. The following tips should steer you in the right direction, ensuring smooth sailing for the entire family. (For more help, check out our favourite family-friendly cruise ship cabins.)
If you want to save money, go for the squeeze.
If you're looking for a budget-friendly cruise, you can squeeze three to four people in a regular inside, outside or balcony cabin. Just make sure your brood's good with tight quarters and bunk beds. Some cruise ships offer a simple yet sweet amenity -- the room partition. When the kids need some rest, but Mum and Dad want to read or chat over a couple of drinks, they can pull a curtain shut and -- voila! -- two distinct spaces. It makes tight quarters much more livable.
While it is possible to cruise as a family in an inside or outside cabin, balconies are a worthwhile luxury, particularly for those travelling with junior cruisers. Having a nice place to relax during naptime or after the kids go to bed is worth the extra spend, particularly if you’re travelling on a line that doesn’t offer in-room babysitting. If you're concerned about safety, especially when traveling with little ones, ask about childproof locks on the door and whether railings have gaps.
Four family members sharing a bathroom can get ugly, so look for lines with more accommodating bathroom designs. Norwegian Cruise Line's ships have a split bathroom with a toilet in one room and a shower in another so two people can use the facilities at the same time.
For a little more space, book two and connect.
Maybe you're travelling with extended family, or can't fit your family of five into one standard cabin? Cruise lines are making it easier for families to travel together via a variety of connecting room configurations. You can book two cabins of the same type with an interior door connecting the two (and, in some cases, open the divider between the balconies) to create more space and easy access for a large family cruising together. Another good option is booking a cabin with a balcony for Mum and Dad, and putting the kids across the hall in a less expensive interior cabin. (Just check with your cruise line about any age or room location restrictions to booking kids in a separate cabin.)
Some lines get more creative and offer suites connected to standard cabins or even to other suites to make enclaves with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and hangout spaces. For example, aboard Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas, the Family Connected Junior Suites connects three cabins, a junior suite, a studio cabin (meant for one but that can sleep two) and a regular balcony stateroom.
Look for designated family accommodations.
To fit everyone in one cabin, book early for a choice of family-sized rooms. Cruise lines are offering more suites that fit five, six or more people -- occasionally with a second bathroom, living area or a separate sleeping area for kids. Holland America's Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam feature Family Ocean View Staterooms with two bathrooms (one with a bath, one with a shower), two twin beds that convert to a queen, a Pullman-style bed, and a double sofa bed. Aboard Carnival, the affordable Family Ocean View Staterooms have two twin beds, two upper bunk beds and a sofa bed to fit five. All of Royal Caribbean's Family Staterooms accommodate up to six people.
For the ultimate splurge, consider a family suite.
If you're looking to relax and spend time in your room, rather than just sleep and change clothes there, it's worth investing in these bigger spaces. In addition, families can benefit from additional suite amenities, like butler service and priority check-in and tendering.
Norwegian Cruise Line's exclusive-access Haven area has several luxurious cabins that sleep large families of up to eight and come with their own private concierge who will do everything from book your nightly entertainment and dining reservations aboard the ship to schedule your offshore excursions. The Haven also has its own private pool area and dining room. Just keep in mind that Haven suites come at a premium price, costing far more than standard cabins.
Royal Caribbean's Loft Suites are among the biggest in the cruise industry. The line's Oasis- and Quantum-class ships feature two-storey loft suites, sleeping up to six. Bedrooms are upstairs, with a sitting area downstairs, allowing adults or teens to hang out in the first-level living spaces or on the balcony after younger kids go to bed. Symphony of the Seas' Ultimate Family Suite features its own 3D cinema, air hockey table, floor-to-ceiling Lego wall, a slide from the kids-only bedroom to the living room, and a huge balcony with a climbing wall and kid-friendly pool table.
For something different, book a cabin in a "family zone."
Carnival Cruise Line has broken ground on a brand new cruise line concept -- the dedicated family zone. Not yet available on Australia-based ships, the Family Harbor was recently introduced on younger ships in the fleet, Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon. It's a space exclusively for families, with a mix of layouts and a lounge room reserved for passengers staying in these family cabins.
Family Harbor cabins sleep up to five. The suites and some outside cabins will have a family-friendly split bathroom setup, with a regular bathroom featuring a toilet, sink and shower, and a second bathroom with another sink and a shower/tub combo. The lounge is designed as the ultimate family hangout with large-screen TVs, games and complimentary breakfast and snacks. A special family concierge will assist family cabin passengers in planning excursions and making reservations both onboard and ashore.
Whatever you do, book early.
Ships offer a limited number of larger family cabins. If you're looking for quads, quints, connecting or neighbouring cabins, you should book early to ensure cabin comfort for your whole crew. That's especially true if you're travelling during high-season school holidays.