The 5 best cruises for teens

Traveling with teens who may feel they’ve outgrown family vacations can make any trip a challenge.

High schoolers often want their own space and the ability to explore freely and enjoy time away from their parents or siblings. A cruise can be one of the best ways to allow teens their freedom without completely sacrificing together time with the family.

A cruise ship provides teens space to hang out with their peers in cool venues designed just for them. As teens roam the ship, they can munch on snacks as they please or buy sodas or smoothies with their room key without the need for parental approval.

Whether your teen is outgoing or more reserved, they’ll likely make new friends while on board. Also, thanks to today’s technology, friends can actually keep up with one another after the cruise ends.

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On larger ships, teens can feel like they aren’t constantly watched by their parents, and adults can enjoy peace of mind that their kids are never too far away.

Also, parents will likely appreciate the ease of vacation planning with a set cost for accommodations, food and entertainment, as well as a pre-planned itinerary of exciting ports of call perfect for keeping boredom at bay.

Plenty of cruise lines offer great programming and activities for teenagers, but a few lines go above and beyond. Here, we call out the five best cruises for teens.

Royal Caribbean

The Social 100 Patio is Wonder of the Seas’ teen hangout. MICHEL VERDURE/ROYAL CARIBBEAN

With 26 cruise ships and more on the way, Royal Caribbean lures travelers with its huge ships, including the largest ships in the world, and an overabundance of onboard attractions and entertainment, many of which will appeal to teens.

The fun starts at the teen lounges, which are tricked out with video games, table games and plenty of seating to chat with new friends. A dedicated teen bar dispenses sodas and smoothies.

Teen club counselors run supervised activities, such as themed parties and sports tournaments. These events are great icebreakers for shy teens looking to meet others, with the youth staff on hand to encourage introductions. Older kids are divided into groups by age, 12 to 14 and 15 to 17, which allows for the programming to be more tailored to tweens and teens.

With the teen club’s easy come-and-go policy, teens can stay in the lounge all day or make it a meet-up point for their new friends, then leave to hit the pool deck, sports court and waterslides on their own.

The best Royal Caribbean ships for teens are any in the Oasis class, which are among the world’s largest. This includes Allure, Harmony, Oasis, Symphony and Wonder of the Seas.

On these mega-ships, teens can enjoy onboard activities like mini-golf, plenty of waterslides, a 10-story dry slide called The Ultimate Abyss (on select ships), a FlowRider surf simulator, a zip line, an arcade, ice skating, rock climbing wall and laser tag.

Related: 5 best cruise lines for families

Families will appreciate these ships’ fun-in-the-sun destinations, as well as onboard attractions. For example, Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ship, sets sail from Port Canaveral on seven-night Caribbean sailings. These itineraries include teen-friendly Eastern Caribbean ports of call like St. Maarten and St. Thomas, where sandy beaches and snorkeling are popular, and Western Caribbean ports such as Roatan, Honduras, offering adventures like off-road Jeep rides and zip lining.

Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, will likely keep teens happy with its huge water park, a choice of beaches, water sports and lots of barbecue.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Encore. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian Cruise Line is another great cruise option for teens, due to its club-like hangouts and active onboard attractions.

Most ships in the fleet have a dedicated teen-only space, Entourage. Here, teens have their own space to hang out, play games and participate in counselor-planned activities.

Note that the new Norwegian Prima does not include Entourage. Instead, teens share a club space with Splash Academy, the program for younger children, with supervised teen activities taking place around the ship.

Norwegian’s Breakaway-Plus-class ships are among some of the line’s most teen-friendly vessels. Norwegian Encore, for example, allows teens to zip around a top deck go-kart track, which juts out 13 feet over the side of the ship.

Also outside is Encore’s Atlantis-themed laser tag game, where teens can form teams and play against each other. At the Galaxy Pavilion, they can challenge each other through virtual reality games, or try to break out of the onboard escape room.

Related: Best cruise ships for kids

One downside to any of the Norwegian ships is that many of the activities teens will want to do (like the Galaxy Pavilion and go-kart track) cost extra and aren’t cheap. If that’s an issue for your budget, save a little extra or encourage your teens to pitch in on the cost.

Norwegian Encore sets sail to exciting destinations around the world. This year, the ship sails from Miami to the Caribbean from January through April, spending one day each cruise at its private island, Great Stirrup Cay, before setting sail to Alaska from May through October.

Cruising north can be especially appealing to teens, as wildlife spotting, kayaking and glacier trekking are part of the fun.

Carnival Cruise Line

People riding Bolt rollercoaster above a water park on Mardi Gras cruise ship.
Bolt rollercoaster on Carnival’s Mardi Gras. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

For budget-conscious cruisers with teens, Carnival Cruise Line is ideal.

With plenty of included dining options, free activities and hangout spaces outside of the teen clubs, teens will find much to love — and parents don’t have to worry about breaking the bank to keep everyone happy.

On board, teens can enjoy a plethora of programming at Circle C, the tween club for 12- to 14-year-olds, and Club O2, for 15- to 17-year-olds. Counselors in these spaces plan themed dance parties, sports and video game tournaments, as well as movie nights for young cruisers.

Teens looking for a thrill will enjoy the Excel class of ships, which includes Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration and the upcoming Carnival Jubilee.

On the two current Excel-class ships, teens can hop on the BOLT: Ultimate Sea Coaster, and zoom around the ship’s topmost deck at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.

At Waterworks, thrill seekers can choose from three waterslides, including a tame twister and a heart-pounding drop slide. Teens can prove their fearlessness on the ropes course as they walk a plank hovering high above the sea.

Both Waterworks and the ropes course are included in the overall cruise fare, though BOLT is currently priced at $15 per person, per ride.

Related: Craziest attractions you’ll find on a cruise ship

Teens can also chill at Summer Landing, which is at the back of the ship. Here, they can gather on oversized couches to watch sports on multiple TVs. Table games like foosball and shuffleboard are also here, as are complimentary self-serve ice cream machines.

When ravenous teens get hungry, they can head to one of the many included eateries like BlueIguana Cantina, Big Chicken (created by basketball star Shaquille O’Neal) and Guy’s Burger Joint (by celebrity chef Guy Fieri).

Carnival Celebration and Mardi Gras sail to the Eastern and Western Caribbean from Miami and Port Canaveral, respectively. Cruises on both ships are typically seven nights, though there are both shorter and longer sailings.

In the Eastern Caribbean, teens can explore old forts or sample local cuisine, while in the Western Caribbean port of Cozumel, they may enjoy taking a cooking class or visiting ancient Mayan cities.

Disney Cruise Line

Edge tween club on Disney Wish. AMY SMITH/ DISNEY CRUISE LINE

Even though Disney Cruise Line is known as the cruise line for families with younger kids, don’t rule it out as a vacation option for families with teens. The ships offer spaces specifically designed for older kids, where they never have to see a dressed-up character (or their parents).

Disney ships feature two dedicated spaces for tweens and teens: Edge, which is for cruisers ages 11 to 14, and Vibe, for ages 14 to 17.

Teens will especially love Vibe on Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, where they can play games or hang out with new friends for hours in the pool or at a dedicated outdoor deck with chairs.

Inside, teens have their own bar where they can order smoothies or soda, the latter of which is complimentary for all cruisers on Disney ships.

Edge on Disney Dream and Fantasy looks like a city loft, and wows teens and tweens with video game stations, a lighted dance floor and a cool photo booth. Fun fact: On these two ships, Edge is located inside one of the funnels. (Don’t worry – it’s not an operational funnel!)

Related: How to save money on a Disney cruise

Teens who don’t want to hang out in the teen clubs will still find plenty to do on board. On both Disney Dream and Fantasy, kids can ride around the ship on the AquaDuck, a water coaster that goes out over the side of the ship and through the funnel.

They can also gather their new friends and play Midship Detective Agency. This interactive game takes cruisers around the ship to find clues in the “enchanted” artwork and help solve a mystery. After family dinners, teens can head to the onboard movie theater where first-run flicks from Disney’s portfolio of studios like Marvel and Star Wars are shown.

Currently, Disney Dream and Fantasy depart from Miami and Port Canaveral, respectively. Most sailings on these two ships will stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, where teens can enjoy time on their own at the Teen Hideout, where counselors have an entire day of activities planned.

It’s not a bad deal for parents, either. A short tram ride from the Teen Hideout stop is Serenity Bay, the island’s adults-only beach where Mom and Dad can get some rest and relaxation.

Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expeditions is great for teens interested in nature. DAVID SPIEGEL/LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS/FACEBOOK

Expedition cruises are great for teens who are interested in nature, science and photography. If that sounds like your teen, one of the best options is Lindblad Expeditions, which partners with National Geographic for family-friendly programming called National Geographic Global Explorers.

On every expedition to Alaska, Baja, the Galapagos and Antarctica, teens can participate in such activities as getting their “driver’s license” for a Zodiac, snorkeling among sea lions or kayaking alongside penguins.

National Geographic field educators plan and lead the activities, and can answer just about any questions teens may have in a way that’s relatable and understandable to them. The field educators are also there to encourage teens to go outside of their comfort zone to experience the world around them.

On board, teens can learn how to shoot documentary-level photos and videos from a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor, and use those skills the next time they get off the ship.

Ships offering the National Geographic Global Explorers program include the new National Geographic Islander II, which sets sail to the Galapagos year-round; National Geographic Resolution, which goes to Alaska and Antarctica; and National Geographic Venture, which sails to Baja Mexico.

Families should note that expedition cruises deviate from the typical cruise experience. These expedition ships are small and typically carry fewer than 200 guests. Teens may not find many other kids their age.

On these cruises, the destination is the main attraction, with little entertainment on board. Because these ships sail in more remote areas, the ship’s Wi-Fi signal might not be strong enough for teens who want access to their social media accounts.

Bottom line

The best cruises for teens offer both staffed teen clubs and plenty of ship-wide activities that teens can experience on their own, with their families or with the new friends they meet on board.

But no matter which cruise line you choose, cruising with teens is a great vacation that the whole family can enjoy. Parents can let their teens roam freely around the ship, and teens can feel some independence hanging out with peers.

Plus, after a day spent apart, your family may find a new way to connect by coming together at dinner and sharing the day’s adventures.

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