1. Home
  2. Cruise Styles
  3. Family Cruises
  4. Best Shore Excursions for Kids
Mother and daughter in Castaway Cay (Photo: Disney Cruise Line)

Best Shore Excursions for Kids

When planning your day in port, remember this important rule of family vacations: If the kids are happy, adults will be happy, too. Dragging a reluctant child shopping or on an all-day tour of historic sites is a sure way to turn your epic adventure into an epic fail. Find an activity that kids and adults will both love, and you'll get loads of positive feedback -- or at least a grudging acknowledgement from your hard-to-please teen.

Appropriate shore excursions can vary by age and interest, so we've broken out our favorite types of kid-friendly cruise activities by age group. Many of these excursions can be booked directly through your ship, but plenty of them can be arranged on your own, sometimes saving you money. Some require nothing more than a walk or quick cab ride to a local beach, zoo or attraction.

Updated September 12, 2018

Kids Ages 7 and Under

Coki Beach on St. Thomas

Beach Day

You just want to relax, but your toddler has no such plans. A kid-friendly beach with chairs, clean toilets and some shade is your thing. You can chase them through the waves and even find time to lie back, drink in hand, toes in the sand, while the kids spend hours playing just a few feet away. In this case, paradise comes cheap. A day at the beach is probably the least expensive shore excursion if you can walk, shuttle or cab to a nearby sandy strip.

Kid-Friendly Sightseeing

No, you can't take your kindergartner on most museum tours, but there are ways to see the sights while minimizing meltdowns and maximizing good times in port. A short horse-and-carriage, tourist train or boat ride will let adults see the highlights while kids marvel about their stylish transport. Or, look for family-focused sightseeing tours with activities for kids, such as Disney's "Highlights of Rome for Families," which allows you to explore Vatican City and the Colosseum with a puppet show in between to entertain the littles.

Aquariums and Zoos

A visit to a local aquarium or zoo is fun for the family, while providing information about local wildlife. Plus, you'll see some of the port city or town on the drive over, or can choose a tour that includes an additional sightseeing stop or two. Some popular options include the Cayman Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman, the cage-free Singapore Zoo and the Maui Ocean Center in the Hawaiian Islands.

Glass-Bottom Boats & Submarine Rides

Little ones not quite ready for snorkeling can explore the ocean on one of the many glass-bottom boat rides or dive deeper aboard a submarine ride, operated in ports throughout the Caribbean and Hawaii. Read reviews first because these tours can offer incredible views of underwater sea life -- or offer limited visibility due to murky waters, which can lead to bored and whiny children.


Kids Ages 8–11

Kids at the aquarium

Snorkeling

Older elementary school kids who are comfortable in the water are old enough to try snorkeling, either from shore or from a boat. It's best to start somewhere with calm water. Tours typically provide equipment, or you can rent it for the day in port (or back home, if you want the kids to get comfortable with the mask and snorkel before your trip.) Even if your child is a confident swimmer, it's a good idea to have them wear a flotation device since groups can get spread out in the water.

Interactive Historic Locations

Parents search for "teachable moments," while kids would rather take a pass. Fun-filled excursions to explorable destinations -- forts, castles, aircraft carriers or aviation museums (think Pearl Harbor) or re-created historic or native villages -- will ensure a history lesson isn't a snooze. Education is more fun when you can climb, touch and run around. And everyone loves an old cannon. If you're going on your own, rather than with a structured tour, look for special events, such as a dance or music performance or some type of demonstration, that will attract their attention.

Amusement Parks

An amusement or water park might top your must-do list, but letting your kids burn off their energy on roller coasters and water slides might also lead to their favorite vacation day ever. Choices range from braving Disney World or Universal Orlando on a cruise that stops at Port Canaveral to exploring the quintessentially Danish Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen or getting wet at a water park in Cozumel. If you're lucky, all the action means that everyone will crash out for an afternoon nap back onboard, giving parents some peace and quiet.

Kid-Friendly Museums

Some children enjoy art and history museums, but others need to be coaxed with more kid-friendly attractions. Do a little online research, and you'll find some creative museums that will engage your brood for at least an hour. For example, the Miraflores Visitor Center by the Panama Canal offers a 3D movie and viewing terraces over the Miraflores Locks, while the Vasa Museum in Stockholm displays a restored 17th-century warship. Or perhaps your kids would prefer the Pirates of Nassau museum in the Bahamas or the Salem Witch Museum in Massachusetts.

Animal Attractions

Wildlife encounters are great way for the whole family to enjoy the outdoors. And in places like Alaska, wildlife is so plentiful that some tour operators guarantee sightings. It's nice to know you won't be wasting your hard-earned dollars. Whale watching trips are available in many cruise ports, including in Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Australia. Other fun tours include swimming with sting rays or dogsledding (or just playing with baby sled dogs).

Resort Days With Water Sports

Many Caribbean resorts allow cruise passengers to buy passes offering all-day access to resort amenities like pools, lounge chairs and water sports equipment. These are great for slightly older kids who want a variety of water- and sand-based fun. The most well-known resort for this is Atlantis, close to Nassau in the Bahamas. You'll find pools, water slides, river rides and aquariums. For much less money, look for a local resort that offers day passes with access to water toys like kayaks, pedal boats or water bikes.


Teens Ages 12–17

A kid scuba diving

Scuba and Snuba

Even if you aren't certified, some excursions allow you and your kids (ages 12 and older -- check at the time of booking) to try an introductory dive with an instructor. A few cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, will even arrange for you to get PADI certified on a cruise.

Water-loving tweens and teens not yet ready for real dives can try snuba instead. Part scuba diving, part snorkeling, this underwater sport involves hooking your mask to an oxygen tank that floats above you, so you're never far from the surface. Snuba is offered at plenty of warm-weather ports in the Caribbean and Pacific. (Age minimums vary should a younger sibling want to join the fun.)

Surfing and Standup Paddle-boarding

A surf lesson can be fun for the whole family with older kids if you're cruising to a beach destination with big waves, such as Hawaii or Australia. You'll have more success and more fun if you've got an experienced instructor helping you out. For calmer waters, or teens not quite as daring, standup paddle-boarding is a fun alternative to other water sports and is offered in a variety of ports worldwide.

Cooking Classes

For teens and tweens who love to cook, kid-friendly cooking classes and culinary tours can be a winning recipe for a good time. They've also got the necessary ingredients for a delicious multigenerational excursion that gives you a taste of the local culture. Options might include making chocolate in the Bahamas or pasta in Italy.

Eco-Adventures and Ziplines

Nature-based excursions with an adrenaline-charged bent are a great way for teens to enjoy the outdoors while burning off excess energy. Ziplines are a popular choice, available in ports across the world. These fast-paced cable ride excursions last from a few minutes to a few hours, and the best parks have multiple ziplines and other treetop challenges, such as swinging bridges or ropes course-style traverses.

Other options include hiking (anywhere from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to Pulpit Rock in Norway) and climbing the cascading waterfalls of Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica.

Helicopter/Flightseeing Tours

Imagine boarding a helicopter or small plane and landing on a fjord or glacier. No one will be plugged into their iPods or checking their phones on this ride. These excursions are not cheap, but if you're looking for an extreme adventure, this is it.

Visits to Movie Settings

The filming locations or backdrops for popular movies often become major tourist attractions, and many are accessible by cruise. Your movie-obsessed teen might get a thrill of setting foot where their favorite movies took place. You can tour the filming locations of "Lord of the Rings" on New Zealand's South Island, "Mamma Mia!" on the Greek island of Skiathos and "The Sound of Music" in Austria (on a river cruise), to name a few.

Biking

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. Some tours have age or height/weight requirements, so make sure your kids (especially younger or smaller tweens) meet the criteria before you book. The best tours stick to bike paths or less trafficked countryside destinations; biking in a city can be a bit dicey with kids.


Find a Cruise

Adults Only

We've helped identify the great-for-kids options. Now let us warn you away from shore adventures (beyond the obvious brewery tours and wine tastings) that generally don't appeal to small fry.

Sunset or "Fun" Cruises

Any description that includes the words "unlimited free rum punch" or the equivalent is a tipoff that the outing wasn't designed with children in mind. If a sailing excursion or pleasure cruise does not emphasize activities like sightseeing or snorkeling, chances are that drinking is the main event. These fun cruises are typically suited to adults who want to mingle and party hard.

Shopping Excursions

To most children, being dragged through Nassau's Straw Market or St. Thomas' jewelry shops for hours is not going to make Mom and Dad popular. Save it for when the children are in the kids' club -- or for another cruise.

Motor Coach Sightseeing

Even children who like lighthouses and museums are going to balk at hours of stops and starts on a motor coach, especially if they're zipping by sandy beaches and inviting blue waves. If you really want to sightsee, consider an excursion that tacks a few stops -- at, say, a botanical garden or a shipwreck museum -- onto an activity-based outing on a boat or beach.

Popular on Cruise Critic

Cruise Packing 101
There once was a not-so-savvy seafarer who didn't feel right unless she took two steamer trunks crammed with outfits on every cruise. This, she learned, was not a good idea. Besides incurring the wrath of her male traveling companion, who pointed out that he would have to wrestle with excess baggage through airport terminals and beyond, she quickly tired of cramming her belongings into tiny closets and bureaus. The now savvy seafarer follows her own packing 101 rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself. Following that advice is getting easier these days because, for the most part, cruising has become a much more casual vacation -- even on luxury and traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags and imposing extra fees for overweight luggage), it's just plain economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.
11 Best Luxury Cruise Ships
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
6 Cruise Ship Cabins to Avoid
You might expect loud noises, close quarters and crazy maneuvers in the dance club onboard your cruise ship -- but not in your cabin. Even if you don't plan to spend much time there, it should be a restful and private place so you can maintain that much-needed vacation stamina. To help you do so, we've compiled a list of cabins you'll want to avoid booking if closet-like dimensions or scraping chair sounds overhead aren't appealing to you. Heed our advice, and you might be feeling a bit less claustrophobic and a tad more refreshed come disembarkation.