Cruising is the ultimate family experience, with excellent facilities and activities on ships for both kids and parents. Although there's plenty to keep everyone entertained while onboard, shore excursions are another story.
The first rule when travelling as a family and planning things to do in ports is that if the children are happy, so are mum and dad. For instance, although you might be keen to visit that museum with the priceless pieces of art, your toddler (and the curator) would most likely prefer you didn't. And while your tween may want to swim with dolphins, your teen might prefer to zipline through the trees.
Juggling everyone's individual needs and wants can be a challenge, so we've compiled a roundup of some of the best kid-friendly, age-appropriate shore excursions to be found in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
FOR AGES 7 AND YOUNGER
You just want to relax by the sea, but toddlers aren't really programmed to chill and, if you aren't prepared, are likely to make the whole experience feel akin to herding cats. A kid-friendly beach with clean facilities and plenty of shade is what you need. That way, you can kick back with your toes in the sand while the kids do their thing, safely within reach. A simple day at the beach is not only one of the most enjoyable shore excursions, but generally one of the least expensive on any ship.
Kid-friendly beaches to add to your family bucket (and spade) list include:
Moreton Island: Stretches of white sandy beach line lovely Moreton Island. Our pick is the 8.5km Bulwer Beach, which offers something for everyone -- from wrecks to crystal-clear blue waters and white-sand beaches. The calm waters are perfect for younger children with safe areas for play and a low tide frontage of about 100m.
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South Bank Parklands, Brisbane, Queensland: Visitors to Brisbane might be surprised to discover a sandy beach in the heart of the city. The man-made Streets Beach, located in the South Bank Parklands, offers pristine white sand, an aqua play area and a beautifully calm swimming lagoon with depths to suit younger swimmers. There are lifeguards on duty and you'll find restaurants, cafes, barbecues, sheltered tables and amenities nearby.
Green Island, Cairns: Take a shore excursion to shady Green Island, just a short catamaran ride across the Coral Sea. Surrounded by beaches, coral gardens and abundant marine life, its calm waters make it perfect for introducing your kids to the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Pull up a stretch of sand, relax and let your day unfold in a tropical paradise. There's also a shaded swimming pool, rainforest walks, restaurants and, most importantly for the littlies, an ice cream shop. All the ingredients for family beachside bliss.
Rottnest Island, Western Australia: Frequently named as Australia's best beach, The Basin is located on Rottnest Island, just off the coast of Perth. The protected bay is a favourite swimming spot for both locals and tourists: its crystal-clear vivid blue seas, soft-white sand and shallow colourful reefs filled with schools of fish make it a top spot for novice snorkelers and young swimmers.
Ile des Pins, New Caledonia: Ile des Pines is a pretty Pacific island that is part of New Caledonia. It's 14km wide and 18km long and a popular stop with all the major cruise lines because it is surrounded by white-sand beaches, retina-searing blue seas, swaying palms and towering Araucaria pines that grow up to 60m high. Take a short walk to the calm waters of the Kanumera Bay to swim and snorkel around its sacred rock with tropical fish and majestic turtles. You may even find yourself accompanied by the friendly local kids who come here to play.
Efate, Vanuatu: Located on the eastern coast of Efate, around half an hour from Port Vila, is the dazzling Eton Beach, a family-friendly haven boasting soft-white sand, critter-filled rock pools, a small freshwater river inlet, and safe swimming in a crystal-clear aquamarine ocean. There's easy snorkelling for little ones and undercover tables that are perfect for a picnic.
Long hikes and little kids are not a match made in heaven, but there are plenty of gentle excursion options for little wilderness warriors.
Mt Field National Park, Tasmania: This shore excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mt Field National Park is a great entry-level wilderness walk, with an easy 20-minute walk to spectacular Russell Falls on a well-trodden trail through some of the world's tallest hardwood trees. Add a little native wildlife at popular animal sanctuary Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and the kids will go wild.
Kuranda, Queensland: Embrace the nature, wildlife and indigenous people of Australia's north on a journey through rainforest villages and into the world of Aboriginal culture. Kids will especially love Kuranda Scenic Railway, which winds along tracks carved through the forested hillside by early settlers.
Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory: Litchfield National Park, only 90 minutes' drive from Darwin, is one of the Northern Territory's great natural treasures. Smaller and more manageable than Kakadu, the park is home to incredible termite mounds, shady monsoon forests and ancient gorges filled with native birds. But the highlight for kids is a dip in one of the safe, clear, croc-free swimming holes fed by stunning waterfalls such as the famously fabulous Florence Falls.
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand: The UNESCO-listed Fiordland National Park is one of New Zealand's premier natural attractions. Located on the southwest corner of the South Island, the protected reserve boasts some of the country's most spectacular scenery, including the jaw-dropping Milford Sound where you'll enjoy stunning views of enormous waterfalls and the soaring Mitre Peak. Kids will especially love spotting the wildlife that calls the reserve home including dolphins, seals, kakapos and kiwis.
Taieri Gorge, Dunedin: Explore spectacular rugged scenery by Train from Dunedin to Middlemarch on the Taieri Gorge Railway. The family-friendly train journey takes a coastal route out of the city before heading inland and along the rugged and rampaging Taieri River. The route weaves through 10 dark tunnels, across stone bridges and viaducts, passing ever-changing scenery from expansive plains to the jaw-dropping depths of Taieri Gorge.
Get a taste of the local history and culture, while minimising meltdowns and maximising fun in port.
The Tchou Tchou Train, New Caledonia: Climb aboard the Tchou Tchou Train for a tour of Noumea the littlies will love. Taking in a little history and a whole lot of natural beauty, the Tchou Tchou Train travels throughout the city centre past the old colonial homes of Le Faubourg Blanchot, and on to the Notre Dame de Pacific and Ouen Toro lookouts for breathtaking views.
Mystery Island, Vanuatu: This little island off Vanuatu can only be reached by cruise ship but there's plenty for families to see and do. Kids will enjoy exploring Mystery Island, watching traditional performances, swimming, heading on a guided snorkelling safari in crystal-clear waters and snapping Insta-worthy selfies with island warriors in an oversized cannibal soup pot, which nods to the island's history of practising cannabilism.
Round Island Safari, Vila, Vanuatu: There is so much to see on the island of Port Vila and the easiest way to do this is on a round-island safari. Visit a cultural village where you'll be met, in the most dramatic way, by Melanesian warriors ready to share with visitors their customs and traditional way of life. Take a dip at Banana Bay before a picnic lunch and then move on to spectacular Havana Harbour or breathtaking Mele Cascades.
Dunedin, New Zealand: Larnach Castle, located up a wild and windy road high on the Otago Peninsula, is New Zealand's only castle and its enchanting garden, amazing views, grand architecture and suitably scandalous history will have children and parents equally enthralled. While parents will love the historical aspects of a guided tour of the neo-Gothic estate, kids will enjoy running up and down the castle's creaking stairs in a bid to solve a castle treasure hunt, indulging in decadent platters of sweet delights at afternoon tea and cartwheeling across the manicured lawns.
TranzAlpine Express Railway, North Island, New Zealand: Train-loving tots will love experiencing the South Island onboard the TranzApline, regarded as one of the world's great train rides. The inland rail journey traverses the Canterbury Plains, passes through tunnels, crosses deep gorges and mountain peaks, and edges along ravines and rainforests to arrive at New Zealand's Southern Alps in style. Board a motor coach at Arthur's Pass National Park for the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve and historic Homebush Station, a beautiful Victorian farm where the kids will love watching sheep shearing and sheepdogs working the flock.
Visit LOTR Film Locations, Wellington, New Zealand: The big screen comes to life in New Zealand's South Island where much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. If you've got a fantasy-loving tween or teen, say hello to the hobbits, elves, dwarves and trolls that inhabit the Middle Earth world of J.R.R. Tolkien during a Wellington LOTR Tour.
What little kid doesn't love a wildlife attraction? Wildlife visits can be combined with other sights and often provide a fun 'edutainment' component while delivering plenty of excitement for critter-loving littlies.
Dolphin Discovery, Tangalooma, Queensland: Learn about Tangalooma's history of dolphin feeding at the Tangalooma Resort Marine Education Centre, cruise along wildlife-rich waterways that are home to 700 bottlenose dolphins and learn about their habitat, diet and behaviour. The highlight here is joining the island's most popular residents in the water to experience the thrill of feeding wild dolphins.
Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast, Queensland: Enjoy the ultimate wildlife destination at Australia Zoo, where visitors can get hands-on with koalas, wombats, snakes, kangaroos and baby alligators. Attend dozens of free wildlife shows daily, venture to the African Safari enclosures, and join the Wildlife Warriors in their fight to save sick and injured animals at the world-famous Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
WILD LIFE Park Keeper Tour, Hamilton Island, Queensland: Get up close and personal to native Australian animals on a guided tour with a keeper at WILD LIFE Hamilton Island. This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to see and learn about Australian native animals such as wombats, wallabies, crocodiles and snakes. Highlights include getting cuddly with a koala and a chat with Freddie, the talking cockatoo.
Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World, Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland's Sea Life Kelly Tarlton Aquarium is the place not only for lovers of all things fishy, but for those fascinated by Antarctica. Along with seeing sharks, rays, jellyfish and thousands of tropical fish, visitors can visit the centre's self-sustaining colony of king and gentoo penguins on a simulated snowcat ride through the Antarctic Encounter.
The Royal Albatross Centre, Dunedin, New Zealand: Located at the foot of rugged Taiaroa Head is the world's only mainland albatross colony. Spotting the northern royal albatross and its magnificent three-metre wingspans is just part of the attraction; littlies will also love the little blue penguin-viewing tour at dusk. Keep your eyes peeled from the purpose-built viewing platform as the adorable penguins leap out of the ocean and waddle tentatively up the beach into their little burrows.
FOR TWEENS (AGES 8-11)
Under the Sea
Bring Finding Nemo to life by exploring the underwater world with snorkelling adventures. Kids who are less keen on the water can still explore the ocean on one of the glass-bottom boat rides or tourist submarine rides, operated in ports throughout Australia and The Pacific.
Mermaid Tours, Busselton, Western Australia: Busselton is renowned as the gateway to the Margaret River wine region. But it is also a great place for families to explore. Take a guided tour of the Heritage-listed Busselton Jetty, extending almost two kilometres out into Geographe Bay, or simply take the train along its length to the Underwater Observatory. Follow the spiral staircase under the sea to the giant reverse fishbowl to view tropical and sub-tropical corals and some of the many 300 marine species that call the waters home. Littlies will love the Mermaid Tours, where local 'mermaids' swim past the windows of the observatory.
Glass Bottom Boat, Port Vila, Vanuatu: Take advantage of the opportunity to see Port Vila's colourful and abundant marine life without getting wet through the viewing panes of a glass-bottomed boat over Iririki Island's coral reefs, where you can stop for a snorkel amid schools of stunning tropical fish that call the warm waters home.
See the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Queensland: Embark on an adventure to the Outer Barrier Reef by boat or seaplane. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth and the largest reef system in the world. Snorkel amid rainbow-coloured fish, giant clams, starfish, sea cucumbers, anemones, sponges, eels, rays and turtles in the colourful corals, or choose a guided coral viewing from a semi-submersible boat.
Visit Turtle Bay and Brush Island Adventure, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia: Join a local guide on a scenic boat adventure around the bays and islets of the Isle of Pines. Spot loggerhead and green turtles at pristine Turtle Bay and, if they're feeling friendly, you may be able to join them for a swim. Spot stingrays, manta rays, sharks and dolphins as you motor across to uninhabited Brush Island where you can take a dip, grab a snorkel or build castles in the sand.
Many parents these days are looking for 'teachable moments' while they travel, but the kids are probably looking for the next chance to hit the waterslide or pool. Happily, there are plenty of fun cruise tours that provide a great opportunity to teach your kids about the history of a destination in short enough bursts that they'll be eager to learn.
Dalgety House Museum and Don Rhodes Open-Air Mining Museum, Port Hedland, Western Australia: Take the kids back in time at Port Hedland with a tour of the historic West End, where large-scale street art meets colourful markets. Trace the pioneering heritage of Port Hedland on an exclusive tour of the Dalgety House Museum and get an insight into the mining equipment and rolling stock used in years past at the Don Rhodes Open-Air Mining Museum.
The Rocks, Sydney: Hear tales of convict life during a one-hour private guided walking tour of the historic Rocks district, with its cobblestone houses, quaint terraces, pubs and churches. You can also learn about the local Aboriginal people who called Sydney home and their spiritual connection to the adjoining waterways and foreshores during a leisurely Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour.
Ekasup Cultural Village, Port Vila, Vanuatu: Experience a dramatic welcome by the chief and villagers before entering a ni-Vanuatu village to learn about their traditional way of life. Visitors will discover secrets about traditional medicines, food preservation, hunting, weaving and more during this Vanuatu village experience.
Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania: Learn about the convict history of Tasmania at the Port Arthur Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The brutal, yet hauntingly beautiful Port Arthur penal settlement began life as a punishment-oriented timber station in 1830. During its operation, Port Arthur Historic Site housed career criminals as well as petty criminals -- including children -- who were sent to the penal colony from the slums of Britain's bigger cities for crimes as trivial as stealing a handkerchief.
Puffing Billy Train, Melbourne: Train lovers will enjoy being on the tourist track travelling through the lush fern gullies of Melbourne while riding on the Puffing Billy Train, one of the finest preserved steam railways in the world. As the oldest steam railway operating in Australia, and the only surviving narrow gauge locomotive, the train chugs its way over wooden bridges, through cool-climate rainforest and towering eucalyptus forests along the Puffing Billy Railway corridor.
While some children appreciate art and history museums, others need to be coaxed along with more kid-friendly attractions.
The Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, Australia: This sprawling indoor-outdoor museum houses Australia s biggest collection of ships, historical vessels and nautical memorabilia. The hands-on interactive exhibits and excellent children's programs make it a must-see for families visiting Sydney.
MONA, Hobart, Tasmania: The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is one of Hobart's biggest drawcards. A tour of this controversial collection of modern art and antiquities will keep every member of the family entertained. Although some of the content is adult-themed, there's a map to advise where parental discretion is required. Most families make a beeline for awesome interactive exhibits such as the stinky Cloaca 'poop machine' and musical trampoline, both huge hits with littlies.
Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea, New Caledonia: Discover fascinating architecture while you learn the about the history and culture of the native Kanak people of New Caledonia in this wonderful museum. The iconic cultural centre is modelled on a traditional Kanak village, with its pavilions inspired by traditional Kanak huts.
The National Museum and Art Gallery, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Visitors can learn about traditional methods of hunting, early agricultural techniques, and view extraordinary native artwork, masks and costumes at The National Museum and Art Gallery. The museum in Port Moresby houses an enormous collection of fascinating anthropological, archaeological and natural science items from around Papua New Guinea.
Otago Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand: A tour of this modern museum will be a big hit with little visitors. The incredible museum boasts a living tropical butterfly forest, planetarium and hands-on science exhibit, Tuhura, as well as more traditional cultural and natural displays including the Animal Attic, which is stuffed with taxidermied animals.
International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand: Take a tour to Christchurch's International Antarctic Centre for a taste of the South Pole; ride the Hagglund snowcat; see live penguins and experience a range of interactive displays so that you can literally see, touch and feel what it takes to survive the South Pole.
Let kids burn off their energy on rides that range from carousels to rollercoasters.
Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Queensland: Visit Dreamworld in Australia's theme park capital to tackle extreme thrill rides -- including Pandemonium, the BuzzSaw and Cyclone Rollercoaster -- along with water rides, live interactive entertainment, Dreamworks Central, Tiger Island and The Australian Wildlife Experience.
Rainbow's End, Auckland, New Zealand: Rainbow's End is the largest theme park in New Zealand. Located in Manukau, Auckland, the theme park is packed with more than 20 thrilling rides boasting impressively terrifying monikers such as The Invader, Power Surge, Corkscrew Coaster and the Stratosphere. A specially-designed area called Kidz Kingdom ensures there's fun to be had for kids of all ages.****
Luna Park, Melbourne, Australia: Luna Park is a Melbourne icon that's been keeping families entertained for more than a century. You'll find gentle rides for littlies along with a host of jaw-dropping, eye-popping thrill rides for older kids, teens and mum and dad at this beachside theme park in funky St Kilda.
Wildlife attractions are a great way for the whole family to soak up the outdoors with weird and wonderful creatures across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.
Whale Shark Swim, Exmouth, Western Australia: Take a boat ride around Ningaloo Reef and enjoy an unforgettable underwater encounter with a whale shark on a tour with an experienced guide. The gentle giants cruise just below the surface in the clear waters, allowing snorkellers to swim safely right alongside them.
Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise, Darwin, Northern Territory: Encounter crocodiles in the wild on a guided riverboat cruise along the Adelaide River with Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise company. Kids will be in awe at the sight of the ferocious reptiles hunting their prey in the wildlife-filled wetlands.
Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Quoin Island, Gladstone, Queensland: Enjoy the guided Turtle Rehabilitation Centre tour at Quoin Island Retreat in Gladstone with up-close-and-personal encounters with Australian wildlife featuring turtles, wombats, pretty face wallabies, snakes, lizards and sugar gliders. Dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of ill and injured sea turtles, this place is a must for animal lovers.
Swim with Dolphins, Akaroa Harbour, New Zealand: Got a dolphin-lover in the family? Cross swimming with a dolphin off the bucket list at Akaroa Harbour. The Hector's or New Zealand dolphin is one of the world's smallest rarest dolphins, and the main attraction on these tours sanctioned by the Department of Conservation. Jump in the water to swim with these friendly, inquisitive marine mammals accompanied by experts. All equipment is provided including wetsuits, mask and snorkel.
On Your Bikes
Let the good times roll by renting a bike in port or go on a guided tour. It's a great compromise between a sightseeing excursion and a more physical activity.
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Grab the family and get on your bikes to explore mighty Melbourne in all its cosmopolitan, artistic, dynamic and historic glory. Join a fun-packed half-day cycling tour with an experienced guide and you will receive a local's perspective on all things Melbourne.
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: What better way is there to get acquainted with beautiful Brisbane than by bicycle with a local guide? Tours by Locals is an easy-paced excursion for families to enjoy a local's perspective of Brisbane, which is a very rideable city. The tour wends its way around parks and gardens, soaking up the sights around the inner-city and stopping at art galleries and museums to learn about the city and its people.
Noumea, New Caledonia: Noumea's coastal pathways offer spectacular views and are relatively flat, perfect for bike riding. Children aged 10 and over can rent a bike with mum and dad to cycle the bays and beaches of Noumea on a scenic adventure along the mostly flat bays that curve around the city. Most cruise lines offer a cycle excursion, or you can hire bikes in town.
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia: Go off-road on a fully guided mountain bike ride from the panoramic top of majestic Mt Wellington to the magnificent alpine forest at the bottom. This is a great way for active families to experience and explore Hobart and the natural beauty of its surrounds.
FOR TEENS (AGES 12-17)
Wild water fun
Scuba: Some excursions will allow you and your kids (ages 12 and older -- check at the time of booking) to try an introductory dive with an instructor. Good cruise ports to try diving include Port Vila, Vanuatu, where you can explore Konanda Reef or the Twin Bommies, or Papeete, Tahiti. Some cruise lines can even arrange PADI certification, such as Royal Caribbean's PADI Open Water Dive Course, available on select Caribbean cruises.
SNUBA: Snuba is the love child of scuba and snorkelling -- a shallow water diving system where you can explore depths of up to three metres underwater. It offers a gentler introduction to diving for kids as young as eight. Swimmers use swim fins, a diving mask, weights, and a diving regulator as in scuba diving, but with an oxygen tank that floats above. SNUBA (also known as ocean walking) is available at Green Island, just a short boat ride from Cairns, and at Port Vila in Vanuatu. Dive instructors accompany the small group to assist you.
Surf's Up: Encourage your kids to make waves with a surfing lesson. Moreton Island Surf School offers single day lessons and group trips with all equipment supplies. On the Gold Coast, an hour's drive south of Brisbane, the beaches are plentiful, as are kid-friendly surf schools. And in Sydney, you'll find kid-friendly surf lessons on tours of iconic Manly and Bondi Beach.
Stand-Up Paddleboarding: Here are just a few of the places you can SUP on a cruise shore excursion: Victoria's Mornington Peninsula; Queensland's Mooloolaba and Moreton Island; New Zealand's Auckland Harbour and the Otago Coast; Vanuatu's Mystery Island; Papua New Guinea's Conflict Islands; New Caledonia's Isle of Pines; plus Kuendu Beach and Amedee Island in Noumea,
Let your teen go wild on one of these exciting eco excursions.
Kila Eco Trek, Suva, Fiji: Let your teens take a hike along lush jungle paths, past majestic waterfalls, and the colourful flora in Fiji's only linear botanic garden at Kila Eco Adventure Park. Children can enjoy the high rope and low rope courses, the Leap of Faith, Flying Fijian, Killer Giant swing, Thriller Zipline and more.
River Drift Snorkelling, Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia: For an adrenaline-charged activity, experience a faster style of snorkelling where you pinball down the Mossman River with a guide, exploring the crystal-clear waters, spotting turtles and possibly the elusive platypus along the way.
Seal Bay Conservation Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia: Join a guided tour of Seal Bay Conservation Park to observe endangered Australian sea lions in their natural environment. The Seal Bay guided tour also explores the coastal vegetation, dunes and beaches with tour costs contributing to ongoing research and conservation.
Waisali Rainforest Reserve, Savusavu, Fiji: Witness the beauty of Vanua Levu on a half-day trip to Waisali Rainforest Reserve, the last unspoiled rainforest on the island. The 120-hectare reserve is home to many species of fauna and flora, some of which are used in local traditional medicines.
Glow Worm Kayaking, Tauranga, New Zealand: Paddle a kayak into the incredible glow worm cave near Tauranga to enjoy the magic of the enchanting glow worms as they light up the cave, followed by a relaxing visit to the Manupirua Hot Springs, which are only accessible by water.
From ziplines and luges to jetboats and amphibious vehicles, adventurous teens love a bit of adrenalin-charged action while on holiday.
Skyline Rotorua, Tauranga, New Zealand: Board an eight-passenger gondola to scale the slopes of Mount Ngongotaha, which has magnificent views over Lake Rotorua. You can then hurtle down the hill on one of three thrilling luge rides that wind through the magnificent forest.
Jet Boating, Cairns, Queensland, Australia or Auckland, New Zealand: Grab a lifejacket and strap yourself in for some high-speed fun on a wet-and-wild jet-boating ride off the coast of Cairns. These tours combine thrills and sightseeing on jet boats designed for stunts, speed and agile performance.
Port Vila Zipline Canopy Tours, Port Vila, Vanuatu: Embrace the spirit of Tarzan as you zip platform to platform through the jungle canopy and over canyons, while marvelling at the incredible views over Mele Bay, Vanuatu. There are six ziplines and two suspension bridges offering thrills for all ages.
Forest Flying Fox Adventure, Suva, Fiji: Fly from tree to tree and platform to platform on a network of pulleys and horizontal cables mounted as high as 30m above the forest floor, conducted with the assistance of experienced guides.
Auckland Adventure Duck, Auckland, New Zealand: Hit the road and plunge into Auckland Harbour in the first and only amphibious vehicle in Auckland. Part bus, part boat, the Auckland Adventure Duck will show you some of Auckland's best sights while travelling at up to five knots per hour in the water.