By Eileen Ogintz

What’s on your bucket travel list? It’s time for you to think about a family cruise. After more than two years of limited or no travel, the options are amazing.

Do you want to gather the extended family? Do you want to cruise the Mediterranean, stopping to see ancient sites? Maybe you’ve always wanted to go to Alaska. Or Hawaii. Or the Caribbean — with always-smiling crew catering to every need-and whim.

If you’re nodding YES! — then your next vacation should be a cruise. And with two dozen ports in the United States to choose from—everywhere from Galveston , TX to Boston; San Diego to Seattle, you may well be able to find a cruise port that’s a drivable distance from home. In fact, 35 per cent of those just surveyed by say they will be looking for drive-to ports to avoid the hassle of flying.

Royal Princess at Sea
Royal Princess at Sea

Other good news: The CDC has removed COVID-19 warnings for cruise ship travelers and has now relaxed a key pandemic cruise regulation. This will allow more kids—and unvaccinated children—to sail on “highly vaccinated” ships. For ships to be considered highly vaccinated, 90 per cent of passengers five and older must be vaccinated, rather than 95 per cent. (Children under five not eligible for vaccines yet aren’t counted.) Crew vaccination requirements remain at 95 per cent.

The Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) said this latest change recognizes protective measures the industry has taken and will allow more families with unvaccinated children to cruise.

Kayaking from the aft of a Seabourn Yacht
Kayaking from the aft of a Seabourn Yacht

The change came just days after the Carnival Spirit experienced Covid cases during a 16-day Panama Canal sailing, though the numbers were smaller than what the CDC defines as an outbreak but there were no serious illnesses or hospitalizations. “There will be cases, even with full vaccinations and testing, just as there are on land, but they are typically very mild and often asymptomatic,” a Carnival Corporation spokesman said.

“Our enhanced health and safety protocols have proven to be extremely effective. In fact, the number are cases on land are vastly more than what occurs on a cruise ship where vaccines and testing are required, along with other protocols,” he added.

While the CDC recommends all those over 2 mask up on public transportation, such as cruise terminals, the Federal Mask Mandate is no longer in effect.

The cruise industry has developed a multi-layer approach to health and safety including proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding; regular testing of crew; an environment where every eligible person is vaccinated; ongoing sanitation of all public spaces and guest/crew rooms;  social distancing, enhanced air ventilation, and other measures that public health experts around the world have endorsed.

Holland America Koningsdam in Venice Italy
Holland America Koningsdam in Venice Italy

That’s why even families whose children are under five and not yet eligible to be vaccinated believe a cruise is one of the safest vacations they can take. “Safer than going to the grocery store,” one mom told me aboard the Carnival Mardi Gras.

Multi-generational families love cruises because there are activities—on and off the ship—for all ages. There’s no arguing over where to go or what to do as families can split up during the day, gathering for dinner to talk over their adventures. Adults get time together as there are terrific on-board programs for kids and teens. And the youngest foodies in the crowd appreciate they can eat whatever and whenever they want without any extra cost. No worries either if someone needs a special diet. Vegan, gluten free, vegetarian, sugar-free—can be arranged without any muss or fuss.

Cunard's Queen Mark has a kennel onboard for your trans-Atlantic crossing
Cunard’s Queen Mark has a kennel and petsitting onboard for your trans-Atlantic crossing

There is a cruise for every style traveler and within their budget, from small ships that focus on outdoor adventures to those offering every luxury and others, like Mardi Gras, upping the fun quotient for families with bumper cars, water slides and even an on-board roller coaster.

Cabins are designed for families too. Some Princess suites even have bathtubs for those traveling with young children; The MS Koningsdam has dedicated family staterooms that accommodate up to five guests. Some Carnival ships have “Family Harbor” specialty staterooms with a special Family Harbor Lounge with breakfast, snacks, board games and more. Other family-friendly cabins are designed to sleep five—and an extra bathroom.

And you likely will find plenty of deals-everything from upgrades to on-board credits, free Wi-Fi , specialty dining and drink packages.

Whether your gang are picky eaters or we’ll-try-anything types, they can’t help but be satisfied—from bountiful buffets serving dishes from around the world to freshly baked pizzas to sushi, steaks, street food and more. Carnival’s Mardi Gras even has a restaurant that features an entire Mexican and a Chinese menu; Shaq O’Neal’s Big Chicken is a huge hit on Carnival ships with chicken sandwiches, fried chicken baskets and biscuits and plenty of sides.

Mardi Gras is the first cruise ship with a roller coaster
Carnival’s Mardi Gras is the first cruise ship with a roller coaster

Because of the bewildering array of choices, this is a time to work with a travel advisor who is a cruise expert. They can not only talk you through your options, but guarantee you get the best deal—including a few extra perks.

Consider the experience you want. Carnival Cruise Line carries more children than any other and can be the most budget friendly. Opt for a luxury experience aboard Cunard’ and sail across the Atlantic from New York to Southampton. . Combine ultra-luxury with expedition style aboard Seabourn’s all-inclusive small ships. An onboard expedition team includes a marine biologist, ornithologist, geologist, historian, photographer and wildlife experts. Soak up local culture and enjoy fine dining aboard Holland America and Princess—enjoy street tacos in Mexico or the seafood you caught in Alaska, craft bespoke cocktails and amazing, sweet treats.

Holland America and Princess are the biggest players in Alaska with six ships each, including Holland America’s MS Konigsburg, sailing from Vancouver for the first time, and Princess’ newest Medallion class ship. The 3,660-passanger Discovery Princess sailing from Seattle.

Cruisers love the Princess wearable disc medallions that enable them to check in on line, check in with their kids on board, make reservations, have food delivered wherever they are and even open their stateroom doors—contact-less to a new degree!

Holland America fans love the culturally immersive activities wherever the cruise is going. This season is Holland America’s 75th in Alaska and they are pulling out all the stops– exclusive FOOD & WINE shore excursions during which guests can chow down at a crab feast or sample Anchorage’s craft beer. On board EXC talks focus on history and culture—perhaps stories of native Alaskans while naturalists will help you spot wildlife from the deck.

On Board Princess, there are unique Discovery at Sea activities for kids and teens and special family Discovery shore excursions.

All ages rave about Carnival’s onboard fun and games—everything from Dr. Seuss for the youngest cruisers to teen dance parties to SkyRide and WaterWorks water slides and play areas, karaoke, cooking demonstrations, fitness classes and unique spa treatments.

Mardi Gras even boasts Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea. There’s the SkyCourse ropes course-two levels of challenge—a SportsSquare with mini-golf, basketball, soccer and volleyball, foosball and ping pong.

So which cruise will let you check off the bucket list trip?

This post is sponsored by Carnival Corporation & PLC