Updated February 20, 2018
Why do parents love taking their kids to Disney parks so much? While the rides and scenery are fun, one of the greatest pleasures parents have is watching their kid's eyes light up when she meets her favorite Princess for the first time or he gets to hug Mickey Mouse. Kids -- of all ages -- can have that same experience at sea, whether it's with Disney or another cruise line that has brought a beloved TV or storybook character -- like Po from "Kung Fu Panda" or Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat -- to its ships.
To help you find the character cruises that will most appeal to your child (or your inner child), Cruise Critic has tracked down all the cruises with characters onboard. (Note: This roundup only includes cruises with character representations on them. If you want to sail with the actual actors who played various characters, check out our list of Film & TV theme cruises.)
It's probably obvious, but you'll find many of Disney's beloved characters, as well as princesses -- and a few princes -- on Disney's four ships. It wouldn't really be Disney without 'em, would it? Every day there are a slew of scheduled photo opps with someone like Cinderella, Ariel or Mickey Mouse, while other characters make random appearances throughout the day. Other meet-and-greet opportunities include the Disney Character breakfasts during which Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy make the rounds and the Royal Court Royal Tea, during which princesses tell stories, sign autographs and pose for photos. (An occasional Disney Junior character breakfast will feature Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Jake of "Jake and the Never Land Pirates.") There's also a once-per-cruise Mickey-led deck party and sing-along called "Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean."
Which Disney ships have Disney characters?
You'll find Disney characters on all four Disney ships, though you won't find the Disney character breakfast on Disney Dream.
Want to hang out with the Cat in the Hat or Thing 1 and Thing 2? Then you'll want to book a cruise on a Carnival Cruise Line ship that features the line's Seuss at Sea program. Kids (and the young at heart) can march through the ships with some of Dr. Seuss' favorite creations during the Seuss-a-palooza Parade (which culminates in Seuss-a-palooza Story Time) or pose for pics with their chosen character at the once-per-sailing Green Eggs and Ham breakfast.
Which Carnival ships have Seuss at Sea?
Dr. Seuss character cruise experiences can be had on all Carnival ships except the Australia-based Carnival Spirit.
Fans of DreamWorks' animated films can meet Fiona and Shrek from "Shrek," King Julien from "Madagascar," Po from "Kung Fu Panda," and other DreamWorks character favorites on select Royal Caribbean ships featuring the DreamWorks Experience. The characters make regular appearances throughout the sailings, pose for pictures and hit the Promenade Deck for character parades on some ships. Kids also get the chance to interact with the characters at the extra-fee DreamWorks breakfast.
Which Royal Caribbean ships have DreamWorks?
Royal Caribbean cruises with DreamWorks characters are available on Anthem of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas.
We'll forgive you if you didn't know there were Lego characters out there (we didn't!), but as it turns out you can find one of them -- Sailor Walk About -- on all MSC Cruises sailings. He's always hanging around on LEGO Experience Day, participating in a stage show and parade and helping to hand out Junior LEGO Master Builder diplomas to kids. He also puts in appearances throughout the cruise at the onboard family talent show and does meet-and-greets with photo opps for kids. Keeping Sailor Walk About company is the line's own bigger-than-life mascot Doremi (pronounced Do-ray-me), an oversized star who hangs out with his sister Mila, brother Dorebro and baby brother Dorebaby, offering cooking classes, discos, fairy tale storytelling and more. While all of the characters will pose for pictures, Doremi is the only character that gives autographs.
Which MSC ships have Lego Sailor Walk About?
All MSC ships have a Sailor Walk About, as well as Doremi and family onboard, offering multiple opportunities to interact throughout each cruise.
If you've got kids who love Iron Man and Captain America, you'll want to get on a Disney ship with Marvel-themed kids clubs. During the day, the above-named heroes, along with Black Widow, make an appearance in the Marvel Super Hero Academy, often to help out with a scheduled "mission." Adults who want to mingle with the heroes should check out the line's Marvel Days at Sea, which take place on select sailings each year and feature full-day activities centered around the Marvel Universe, including photo opps with super heroes and villains.
Which Disney ships have Marvel?
You'll find Marvel-themed kids clubs with character appearances on Disney Fantasy and Disney Wonder. Marvel Days at Sea are available on select sailings of Disney Magic.
Mr. Men and Little Miss
Brits looking to relive a little piece of their childhood or introduce their kids or grandkids to a childhood favorite can sail on select family-friendly P&O Cruises ships for a chance to meet with Mr. Bump from the Mr. Men series of books and Little Miss Sunshine from the Little Miss books.
Which P&O Cruises ships have Mr. Men and Little Miss?
P&O Cruises ships on which the Mr. Men and Little Miss characters are available are Aurora, Azura, Britannia, Oceana and Ventura.
Nickelodeon cruises on Royal Caribbean were replaced by Nickelodeon-themed family activities on Norwegian Cruise Line -- including character interactions, interactive games and pajama breakfasts -- until that partnership ended in 2015. American travelers can no longer cruise with Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, but Australian travelers are in luck. A new collaboration between Nickelodeon and P&O Cruises Australia brings Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. television channels to in-cabin and kids club TVs and Nickelodeon movie night to the giant outdoor movie screens on the ships' top decks. Nick favorite Dora the Explorer even served as the godmother to christen Pacific Explorer in summer 2017.
Which P&O Cruises Australia ships have Nickelodeon?
All P&O Australia cruises will feature Nickelodeon cruise programming onboard.
If you've got a Peppa Pig-loving toddler, you might want to look into booking a Costa cruise as the delightful British piglet makes appearances several times throughout each cruise, starting on embarkation day when every child between the ages of 3 and 6 are invited to meet and pose for pictures with her. Kids can also head to the disco to dance with Peppa and her Squok Club friends, or have lunch with Peppa Pig at a special character meal.
Which Costa ships have Peppa Pig?
The Peppa Pig character experience is on 10 Costa cruise ships: Costa Diadema, Costa Fascinosa, Costa Favolosa, Costa Luminosa, Costa Deliziosa, Costa Pacifica, Costa Magica, Costa Mediterranea, Costa neoClassica and Costa neoRiviera.
You don't need to go to a galaxy far, far away to meet some of your favorite characters from the Star Wars universe. Instead book yourself on one of Disney's select Star Wars Day at Sea sailings each year and have your picture taken with Darth Vader himself. Other characters make appearances throughout the sailing, plus kids can take part in Jedi lightsaber training and try out their new skills against Darth Vader. Two Disney ships also have Star Wars-themed kids play areas, but the only characters to put in an appearance are stormtroopers.
Which Disney ships have Star Wars?
You'll find cruises with Star Wars characters on those ships that have Star Wars-themed kids spaces -- namely Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. The line's popular Star Wars Days at Sea are available on select Caribbean sailings of Disney Fantasy.