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Set Sail: Best Cruises for New Jersey Families

We bet your “must-have” list for family vacations reads something like this: warm weather, great beaches, lots of R+R, a few date nights, fun stuff for the kids, economical. Are we close? Few trips match this list better than a cruise, and with so many ships porting in NJ and NY these days,


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We bet your “must-have” list for family vacations reads something like this: warm weather, great beaches, lots of R+R, a few date nights, fun stuff for the kids, economical. Are we close? Few trips match this list better than a cruise, and with so many ships porting in NJ and NY these days, finding inexpensive options is a breeze (no airfare!). Here are four of the best family ships afloat.

Royal Caribbean, Anthem of the Seas

Departs out of: Bayonne, NJ
Goes to:
The Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, Grand Cayman, Mexico, Honduras, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, Barbados, Martinique, and St. Maarten
Prices start at $734*
royalcaribbean.com

This enormous ship calls  Bayonne home and is filled with all manner of upscale dining options, like Jamie's Italian, a restaurant from Jamie Oliver and Wonderland, with an insanely delicious molecular gastronomy inspired menu. You'll love the Bionic Bar (where robots pour, shake and stir  your adult beverages) and the kids will love Seaplex, chock full of X-Box stations, bumper cars, basketball courts, DJs, rollerskating, a full arcade, trapeze school and more.  Teens have their own  cool area where they can chill out (far away from their parents) with their newfound friends. Try as a family to find your way out of one of their Puzzle Rooms (you've got to solve the game in order to escape), and enjoy the host of pools and lounge areas. Don’t miss  Ripcord by iFly, which lets you skydive without jumping out of a plane, or surfing (and wiping out) on the Flowrider.

The Best Part: The North Star viewing capsule, which takes passengers 300 feet above the ship in a glass "bubble" offering  360 degree views of the ship, ocean and islands around you.

Norweigan Cruise Line, Norwegian Breakaway

Departs out of: New York City
Goes to: The Bahamas
Prices start at $769*
ncl.com

The Breakaway is the largest cruise ship ever to claim New York City as its year-round home port, and it pays homage to the Big Apple in every way, from its top-tier restaurants to its psychedelic hull design by Brooklyn artist Peter Max. New York Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian launched his first floating restaurant, Ocean Blue, here, and Buddy Valastro from Carlos’ Bakery in Hoboken has an at-sea version of his bakery here, too. Burn off what you ate at dinner on the largest ropes course at sea or race the kids on one of five multi-story water slides. Later, drop the brood off at the ship’s awesome kids’ club and hit the super swanky Ice Bar, where you’ll be surrounded by ice sculptures of New York City icons, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building. The Best Part: The (environmentally-friendly) fireworks show, blasted off the ship, just for you.

Celebrity, Summit

Departs out of: Bayonne, NJ
Goes to: Canada, New England and The Caribbean
Prices start at $749
celebritycruises.com

Pick your itinerary—a week in the Caribbean, the Bahamas or a northern journey to New England and Canada—this ship goes everywhere. Since there’s no drop-off camp option for kids under 3, Summit is best suited for families with slightly older kids. The 3 to 11 set will love the “fun factory,” where they’ll do ship-wide treasure hunts and art projects. Creative teens can grab a GoPro and shoot footage for their next Oscar contender under the auspices of iTake, a video program designed just for them. At night, check out Qsine, Summit’s flagship restaurant, where you order on iPads and feast on dishes like sushi lollipops and lobster escargot—creations right out of Alice in Wonderland. The Best Part: The varied itineraries—including a great seven-day, one-way Caribbean itinerary that begins in NJ and ends in San Juan, Puerto Rico (so you hit as many islands as possible).

Royal Caribbean, Quantum of the Seas

Departs out of: Bayonne, NJ
Goes to: The Bahamas
Prices start at $1,499
royalcaribbean.com

Cruise on the new Quantum of the Seas and your itinerary is kind of secondary—there’s so much to do on this enormous ship you won’t ever want to disembark. Royal Caribbean has partnered with Dreamworks, which means your kids will be partying it up (at lunch, in the kids’ club, at the pool, at the the first-ever roller-rink at sea) with the likes of Shrek, the Penguins of Madagascar and King Julian. Date nights are easy, too: There’s a great kids’ club, of course, but if the little guys are at least 12 months old, a sitter can come right to your stateroom at night, which means you aren’t stuck there when the kids go to bed. In May, Quantum leaves New Jersey, but will be replaced by the Anthem of the Seas in November, which has similar features and itineraries. The Best Part: Feel what it’s like to jump out of an airplane without ever actually having to jump out of an airplane in Quantum’s super safe RipCord skydiving simulator.

Disney, Fantasy

Departs out of: Port Canaveral, FL
Goes to: Eastern Caribbean
Prices start at $1,295
disneycruise.disney.go.com

Did the kids love Disney World? This is the perfect next vacation. (You do have to get to Florida, but the extra cost is worth it.) Characters appear at every turn here and magical surprises are built into each experience (paintings come alive, cupcakes appear when it’s your birthday, Crush materializes on the wall at dinner to chat you up). Pixie Hollow, Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World are all inspirations for the best-in-class kids’ club, and a highlight of Carribean itineraries is a day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island covered in a spectacularly beautiful sandy coastline, hyper-attentive lifeguards and piña colada-wielding beach waiters. Plus, no need to lug your strollers out— sand-traversing ones await you once you hit the beach. The Best Part: The best family vacations include a little alone time for mom and dad and Fantasy ‘s adults-only Europa district makes this possible. Dinner sans kids at restaurant Palo was one of the best meals we’ve had at sea.

*Prices per person based on April/May departure.

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