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The 4 best family friendly cruise lines of 2018

With winter break officially over, back-to-work parents are longing for something exciting to light up the long, dark days. It’s not too early to plan for sunshine and fun in 2018 — maybe a cruise on one of the following 4 family-friendly lines is just what you need to enliven your winter doldrums and make those bonding moments with family.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Parents like: Carnival’s Dream ships and Vista offer terrific cabin choices for families, including the Vista’s Family Harbor, staterooms that can accommodate up to 5 and come with all sorts of extras, including free meals for kids at restaurants, access to an exclusive family lounge, a free after-hours group babysitting session. The family staterooms even come with kid-sized bathrooms. Parents also love Carnival’s top-of-the-line kids’ clubs, which offer sing-alongs for toddlers, competitions for tweens, and teens-only shore excursions for cruisers age 12 to 17.

Kids like: Carnival’s WaterWorks aqua park, with its dizzying variety of water slides and sprayers, keep young cruisers busy while parents relax on deck. SportSquare, an outdoor activity area with mini-golf, basketball, and foosball is another draw — and kids will beg parents to head to Carnival’s movie theaters, including IMAX and the Thrill Theater, which amps up the action onscreen with effects like moving seats and splashing water.

Try this deal: The 7 Day Exotic Southern Caribbean itinerary on the Carnival Vista sails from Miami to Grand Turk, La Romana, Curacao and Aruba starting at $724 for an interior cabin ($924 for oceanview).

Disney Cruise Line

Parents like: Disney’s strength is catering to both families with kids age 2 to 11, and parents will appreciate features intended to give them time off, like the adults-only pool, relaxing spas, nightclubs, romantic restaurants, and after-hours lounges such as the popular Champagne bar Pink on the Disney Dream. Select off-ship outings are reserved for adults, such as a Bacardi rum tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Castaway Cay, Disney’s pristine private island in the Bahamas, a portion of the beach is reserved for cruisers aged 18 and up, too. One more parent-beloved feature: many cabins are equipped with both a full and half-bath, so parents can relax in the shower while kids are able to use the toilet in a separate space.

Kids like: Ship features are customized for Disney park lovers: Disney’s Dream, Fantasy and Magic ships offer the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, with princess, pirate, knight, or sea captain makeovers. Disney’s Fantasy will be holding Star Wars Day at Sea through 2018, with roving Star Wars characters, Jedi training sessions, a deck party with fireworks and a Star Wars menu — the ship’s horn even plays the franchise’s “Imperial March.”

Try this deal: The 7-night Western Caribbean Cruise on the Disney Fantasy includes a Star Wars Day at Sea and sails from Orlando’s Port Canaveral to Cozumel, George Town in the Cayman Islands, Falmouth, and Castaway Cay starting at $1821 interior ($1886 oceanview).

Royal Caribbean International

Parents like: Royal Caribbean has some of the best kids’ clubs in the business, with plenty to keep parents busy while the kids are away: adults-only solariums, Broadway-style evening shows, dining options that appeal to the older set. With after-hours kids club options and in-cabin babysitting, parents can keep the small ones occupied night and day. RCL offers many different types of cabins to accommodate families large and small, and multi-generational groups if the grandparents want to come along. And when parents want to actually hang out with their kids, there’s an impressive selection of family-friendly entertainment: pools, hot tubs, rock-climbing walls, the FlowRider surf simulator, and an ice skating rink.

Kids like: Royal Caribbean has seriously beefed up its gee-whiz entertainment options in recent years, with ships like Anthem of the Seas featuring the North Star, a London Eye-like ride that swoops passengers 300 feet above the sea, and SeaPlex, an on-board carnival midway with bumper cars, roller skating, circus training, and video games. Kids age 3 to 17 can hang out at the kids’ clubs, which offer karaoke competitions, climbing lessons, a science lab, and a video arcade. And tweens and teens will appreciate loft-style staterooms, which gives them a private space to hang out when they’re not at the Fuel teen club, the DJ Academy, or the coffeehouse-like Living Room.

Try this deal: Royal Caribbean’s 5 Night Bermuda Cruise on the Anthem of the Seas sails from Bayonne, New Jersey to Bermuda King’s Wharf starting at $799 for an interior cabin ($1099 oceanview).

Norwegian Cruise Line

Parents like: Staterooms are custom-made for families that want a little room to spread out: two-bedroom family villas that sleep up to six people, and mini-suites with bathtubs and a separate sitting area. For families with small children, NCL offers parent-and-child play areas and activities, with drop-off childcare for kids aged 6 months and up in the Guppies nursery for an extra fee. Norwegian takes a casual approach to scheduling too — if families don’t want to be in the dining room at 6, they can eat when and where they want. If parents have evening plans, they can drop kids off in the Late Night Fun Zone from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Kids like: Norwegian’s Escape, Breakaway and Getaway all boast the Splash Academy, vast children’s spaces with a movie theater, high-tech video games, circus classes, parades, treasure hunts, and sports competitions. Teens aged 13 to 17 have their own spaces called Entourage: video games, flat-screen TVs, air hockey, and cushy couches for gossiping; at night, the space transforms into a teens-only nightclub. Norwegian ships also offer state-of-the-art family activity centers: the Epic has a 303-foot-long corkscrew tube and the Drainpipe, a 104-foot drop tube that empties into a giant funnel. Breakaway and Getaway have multistory water slides, as well as The Plank, a not-for-the-faint-of-heart 8-foot walk that extends off the edge of the ship and out over the sea.

Try this deal: The 7-night Western Caribbean itinerary on the Norwegian Getaway sails from Miami to Roatan, Belize’s Harvest Caye, Costa Maya, and Cozumel starting at $599 interior ($799 oceanview).