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updated 5/19/2006 2:54:50 PM ET 2006-05-19T18:54:50

Cruising with young children is one situation where "less is more" does not apply. As most new parents learn, traveling with kids does require more ... much more -- more luggage, more paraphernalia, and a definite need for more spacious accommodations.

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While many cruise lines already have created innovative programs, facilities and even shore activities, less attention has been paid to staterooms. Standard cabins, which are typically smaller than their hotel room counterparts, can sleep four to a room with the aid of a convertible sofa bed or bunk beds that fold out from the wall. Still, that scenario can leave some families feeling cramped, with little room to store all those extras -- especially if beds are left set up during the day for afternoon naps.

The existing option of booking two connecting cabins has long been the best fallback, and is still a good choice, particularly if you want more privacy from the kids, but even that can provide a challenge these days. Now that cruisers are able to select their own cabins on the Internet, on some lines many are booking one-half of a pair of connecting cabins, leaving the other half useless for families who really want them. Sure, a nice presidential suite would solve everything, but what about folks who need family-friendly accommodations at a decent price?

Disney pioneered the concept of family-friendly accommodations when it launched "deluxe family staterooms" aboard Disney Magic and Disney Wonder in the late 1990s. The layout remains superb to this day, because of something as simple as a curtain that sections off the main bedroom area from the living room area (and which comes with a twin sofa bed and fold-out bed above it). This allows parents to change or read in bed without bothering the kids. The bath-and-a-half system -- also unique at the time (and still pretty rare today) -- offers one bathroom with a sink and small tub, and another with a sink and toilet.

It may have taken years for other cruise lines to follow, but they finally did. Others have now begun to create distinctive family-oriented spaces with features like privacy partitions, small kids bedrooms, clever bed layouts that don't take up much floor space, and, in general, offering more overall space to relax and comfortably spend down time in your cabin. And the best part is you don't have to be a CEO to afford them.

Beyond that, when booking a cabin for your own brood, consider these tips:

  • Balconies are a terrific option, especially for those with nap-takers, as they create a quiet (and pleasant) place in which parents or supervisors can relax without waking kids up.
  • At the same time folks should make sure that balconies are kid-safe -- those that don't have spaces wide enough for the little tykes to slip through. Also ask about locks on the balcony door -- they should be too high for a young child to reach.
  • Since some of the lines offer connecting cabins, it's prudent to compare the price of purchasing two connecting cabins versus the price of a family stateroom or suite for the line you are interested in. Be sure to factor in the price of your third, fourth and fifth passengers, etc. While you'll most likely have to pay the higher first- and second-passenger rates on each of the connecting cabins, it is possible that you could save money (and have a better bed configuration for your family) when you're comparing connecting staterooms to a family suite option that has high third- and fourth-passenger rates.
  • In most cases (with the exception of Disney and some of Royal Caribbean's middle-age vessels) the best family accommodations can be found on the newest ships in cruise lines' fleets.
    We took a look at lines that really do make an effort to offer comfortable accommodations for families. Here are our six best picks.

Whichever family-friendly cabins you decide are best, make sure you book them as far in advance as possible, particularly if you are traveling during school vacations. Family-friendly cabins are limited on all ships, and sell out early on popular cruises.

Carnival Cruise Lines

  • Why? We love the 230-square-foot Family Staterooms with floor-to-ceiling windows on its Conquest-class vessels (Carnival Conquest, Carnival Glory, Carnival Valor and Carnival Liberty) -- you get the square footage that would typically be allocated to a balcony right in your stateroom.
  • Other positives: Carnival has some of the largest standard cabins in the industry, with interior staterooms to 185 square feet and ocean-view rooms to 190 square feet. These staterooms can accommodate up to five people with two lower beds that convert to a king (on most other lines the smaller-than-normal twins only double to queen size), two upper beds that fold out form the wall, and a rollaway.

    If you have very young children, you might want to consider the outside stateroom with veranda instead of the family stateroom, which basically allocates 40 of the 230 square feet to a balcony, leaving less interior space. This way you can have a place to sit, talk and have a light on when children are asleep.
  • Nice touches: Carnival's nightly turndown service -- which includes towel animals and chocolate chip cookies on select nights -- and the Cartoon Channel, which is available on in-room TVs. All cabins on Spirit- and Conquest-class ships feature refrigerators; all ocean-view cabins come with bathrobes.
  • Caveat emptor: When requesting fold-out beds, be sure to inquire where they will be located as some are placed directly above the lower beds instead of at the other end of the cabin (which would give you more privacy and distance from potential snorers).
  • Details: Visit www.carnival.com for floor plans and photos.

Celebrity Cruises

  • Why? The line's 271-square-foot Family Ocean View Staterooms (available on Constellation, Millennium and Infinity) include a 242-square-foot veranda that gives you your own little backyard at sea. There are 12 to 15 of these staterooms per ship, and each includes two lower beds that convert to a queen; floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors; a sitting area with two sofa beds that convert to full-size beds; and a privacy partition between the two sleeping areas.
  • Other positives: The Sky Suite category (which ranges in size from 244 to 251 square feet, with verandas that range from 57 to 179 square feet) varies considerably by ship, but is your next best bet for spacious accommodations. The Sky Suites feature two lower beds that convert to a queen, an entertainment center with TV/VCR, and a sitting area with sofa bed that can sleep two and a lounge chair. In addition, these suites come with butler service that includes a few perks for parents, such as priority luggage delivery after boarding, a pillow menu, a private portrait sitting and a daily fruit selection.
  • Nice touches: Celebrity caters to its youngest passengers by offering cribs, in-suite refrigerators, children's menus and even freshly mashed baby food.
  • Caveat emptor: Celebrity's pre-Millennium-class ships (with the exception of Zenith) also offer Family Ocean View Staterooms with the much appreciated partition; however, sizes vary, and some do not come with a veranda. Also note: There are no privacy partitions in Celebrity's Sky Suites.
  • Details: Visit www.celebrity.com for floor plans and photos.

Disney Cruise Line

  • Why? As already noted, Disney Magic and Wonder each have 304-square-foot Deluxe Family Staterooms with Verandas that sleep four to five people. A privacy curtain separates the main sleeping area from the sitting room/sleeping area so you can switch on a light without waking your children. Disney's cabins include a split bathroom design -- one side with a toilet and sink, the other with a sink and shower/tub combination. While space is a bit tight in each, the tub is a big plus for bathing little ones.
  • Other positives: Disney also has three different types of one- or two-bedroom suites that can sleep five to eight people and the 268-square-foot Deluxe Oceanview Staterooms with Veranda are ideal for families of three to four people. A privacy curtain in these staterooms also separates the converted king bed from sleeping children on the other side. Also, unlike many cruise line sofas that take up precious floor space when they convert to a full-size bed, Disney's converts to a twin with a pull-down bed above, making a bunk-bed set up that can comfortably be left set up all day. This makes it easier for children to take a midday rest, yet still have ample floor space to move around.
  • Nice touches: Staterooms include dressers that are designed to look like trunks from classic ocean liners and clocks with a nautical motif, plus the Disney Channel is available on stateroom TVs. Suites include children's robes in pink or blue, and turndown service includes towel creations that incorporate things left inside the stateroom like children's sunglasses or slippers.

    In addition, Disney provides portable cribs, Diaper Genies, bottle warmers and bumper rails for the bunk beds, plus room service menus that include several children's specialties, from macaroni and cheese to fresh cut fruits and veggies. And, last but not least, families traveling with babies are given priority cabin service so that little ones can nap undisturbed in the afternoon.
  • Caveat emptor: The TV is typically located on the bunk bed side of the privacy curtain, so viewing after the kids go to bed can be tricky.
  • Details: Visit www.disneycruise.com for floor plans and photos.

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Why? On Norwegian Jewel, and NCL America's Pride of America and Pride of Hawaii, ship designers have created 30 to 33 stateroom categories -- including several suites and junior suites that can interconnect with other staterooms to create two-, three-, four- or five-bedroom configurations suitable for families small and large. In particular, we love the 335-square-foot Family Suites (though only found on Pride of America). Here you get a spacious private balcony, living room with double sofa bed and entertainment center, separate (and cozy) den with a single sofa bed, and a private bedroom with two twin beds that convert to a queen. There are also two televisions -- which is a nice plus.
  • Other positives: Four additional 360-square-foot Family Suites feature two interconnecting cabins that sleep up to eight people and include two separate bathrooms. The larger cabin has two single beds that convert to a queen and a sitting room with a full-size sofa bed. The connected cabin features two lower single beds and two pull-out upper single beds. Up for a splurge? The 572-square-foot Courtyard Villas feature a bedroom with queen-size bed, separate children's bedroom, and one bedroom with a luxury bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower.
  • Nice touches: Family-friendly amenities include cribs, in-room refrigerators and towel animals at turndown; the Cartoon Channel is available on stateroom TVs.
  • Caveat emptor: NCL's cabin categories can be much harder to decipher given the various combinations and connecting cabins. Be sure to ask for floor plans for each type of cabin that you are purchasing so that you can determine the best configuration for your family.
  • Details: Visit www.ncl.com for photos and some floor plans.

Princess Cruises

  • Why? Princess's larger ships (Grand, Golden, Star, Diamond, Sapphire and Caribbean Princess carry over 2,000 passengers) offer 500- to 600-square-foot Family Suites that can accommodate six to eight passengers in a dream layout.
  • Other positives: Each suite is actually two self-contained staterooms interconnecting through a large living room that leads to an oversized private balcony. Typically, at least one of the bathrooms includes a bathtub.
  • Nice touches: Princess provides cribs upon request, in-stateroom refrigerators, and chocolates as part of the turndown service. In addition, Boomerang and Cartoon Network are available in staterooms, although availability varies by ship.
  • Caveat emptor: Staterooms that can accommodate four passengers are scattered throughout Princess's various inside and ocean view categories and limited in number. For example, roughly only 14 percent of Diamond Princesses cabins can accommodate quads.

    Also, there is very limited availability of Family Suites -- just two per ship. Finally, Princess is unusual in that the vast majority of its 323- to 354-square-foot Mini Suites with Balconies accommodate a maximum of three people.
  • Details: Visit www.princess.com for floor plans and photos.

Royal Caribbean

  • Why? Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is offering the most innovative family staterooms we've seen in a long time. First of all, they're available in six different categories from a 600-square-ft. Royal Family Suite to a 330-square-ft. Inside Family Stateroom. With the exception of the suite, all family staterooms feature a curtained-off sleeping alcove and a sleeper sofa. We also love that families of six can choose from four 335-square-ft. Promenade Family Staterooms, featuring a curtained-off sleeping alcove with bunk beds, a sleeper sofa, a bathtub and window seats overlooking the Royal Promenade; eight 495-square-foot Family Oceanview Staterooms; or two Inside Family Staterooms with sleeper sofa and walk-in closet.
  • Other positives: If you're in the mood to splurge, each of Freedom's four 600-square-foot Royal Family Suites has two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with tub), a living area with a sectional sofa, an entertainment center with a 30-inch flat-panel TV, and a large balcony with an al fresco dining table for eight. And while Freedom of the Seas will trump all other ships in the fleet for family-related accommodations, Royal Caribbean's Voyager- and Radiance-class ships (as well as Vision, Rhapsody and Enchantment of the Seas) offer 265- to 328-square-foot Family Oceanview Staterooms. These can accommodate up to six guests and typically include two twin beds, which can convert into a queen-size bed; bunk beds in a separate enclosed area; sitting area with sofa bed; and mini bar. Grand and Junior Suites also offer significantly more room and can sleep three to four guests (but without a privacy curtain, there is less personal space).
  • Nice touches: Borrow one of several children's books available in the library to take back for bedtime reading in your cabin. Other family features include in-stateroom refrigerators, cribs and child-friendly fare from room service including freshly mashed baby food; the Cartoon Network is available on stateroom TV's.
  • Caveat emptor: Family staterooms and suites on Royal Caribbean's non-Freedom ships vary in size and layout; be sure to check online and with your travel agent for detailed information on bed configurations.
  • Details: Visit www.royalcaribbean.com for wonderfully detailed floor plans and photos by ship and category.

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