Cruising with kids is a great way to travel as a family. After all, meals and rooms are taken care of as part of your booking. There’s no schlepping suitcases and bags from hotel to hotel, and you can visit as many ports of call as you wish on your itinerary.
Whether you have babies or toddlers, tweens or teenagers, a cruise vacation can meet the needs of kids of all ages, and keep travelling parents happier and more relaxed. Cruising is equally great for multigenerational family trips, as various family members can keep as busy and together, or as quiet and independent as they wish. Some things to keep in mind if you’re planning a family cruise.
How to Cruise with Kids of All Ages
Choosing a Cruise Line
There’s no right or wrong way to choose which cruise line will be good for you. They all have their pros and cons. The important choice is which line suits your family’s travel style, as well as the age and interest of your children.
If your kids adore the House of Mouse in any shape or form, you’ll earn major parental bonus points by booking a Disney Cruise. If you enjoy a more refined experience with fantastic dining and top drawer service, Celebrity is a great choice. For spring break fun, you can’t go wrong with the ‘fun ships‘ of the Carnival Line. There’s a cruise trip style for everyone, at every price.
Part of the decision will be influenced by your destination and time of year. A Caribbean cruise at spring break will be filled with families and college students. There will be partying, but you don’t have to boogie down if that’s not your scene. An Alaskan cruise is light on the poolside time and heavy with nature, wildlife and amazing excursions. Talk to your kids ahead of time about what they’d like to do, on-board and in port. If they’re very young, pick a cruise that will cater to their needs and leave you time to enjoy yourself as well.
Minimum Age Requirements for Travel
Some cruise lines have age minimums for travel. Disney Cruise Lines allows babies as young as 12 weeks on-board, while for other lines it’s six months. Always check with a travel agent or cruise provider before booking to ensure your wee one can come aboard and sail away with you. If you need childcare for that a romantic evening in the formal dining room, book nursery or baby-sitting time as early as possible. Cruise lines may also restrict non-potty-trained kids from using pool facilities on-ship. Several cruise lines such as Disney and Royal Caribbean have splash pad areas on select ships for the diaper-clad crowd. Click here for more great tips on travelling with kids.
Your cruise destination may dictate your suitcase packing style – flip-flops (Bahamas) or walking shoes (Alaska). In addition to what you’d normally pack for the kids, or ensure they include in their own packing routine, plan for extra SPF-coated bathing suits, sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses and hats.
If you’re heading to Alaska or crossing the Atlantic, jackets, long pants, warm hats and mittens should find their way into your bags. For port days, make sure your diaper bag or day-bag/backpack includes refillable water bottles, antibac wet-wipes, tissues (that can double for toilet paper), sunscreen and hard snacks that won’t melt and that your kids will enjoy. And of course, your camera, smartphone and selfie stick.
Sign Up for the Kids Camps
Even if your child is shy or hesitant about being away from you, check out the kid camp orientation session upon embarkation. These camps, which are included in your cruise fare, are a great way for kids to make new friends and enjoy fun activities on the ship. On-board kids camps may have a minimum age, such as Carnival Line’s Camp Carnival, which accepts kids as young as 2 years old. The clubs keep kids busy with arts & crafts, movies, dances, contests, toy-time and good-old-fashioned hanging out, like at Carnival’s Teen Club 02, or Disney’s Edge Club. Older kids can come and go as they please, while parents need to sign out their younger children for security reasons.
Choosing a Cabin
There are cabins to suit every size of family and budget. Spend some time online or with a cruise-specialist travel agent to pick a cabin that suits your family’s needs. If you have a large family, you may prefer a family statement or adjoining cabins. If travelling with two young kids (under ten), you can get by easily in one room that can accommodate four people.
If you have older teenagers, consider booking an adjoining or separate room. They will enjoy their independence to come and go as they please, and you’ll enjoy the privacy, relaxation, and space of your own parental stateroom. We did this on our most recent cruise, and it was one of the best travel decisions we’ve made.
And don’t forget about the bathrooms. Most cabin bathrooms are shower-only. If having a tub is important to you, make sure to book a cabin that is outfitted with one.
Everyone has to undergo the Muster Station drill before the ship sets sail on your cruise holiday. This is when ship’s personnel review the emergency procedures for each cruise line. Take some additional time to go over your own ‘cabin rules’ with your kids after that orientation. Depending on their age and maturity level, it may be as simple as agreeing to ‘meet for dinner every evening’, or ensuring that they know never to stray from your sight unless singed into a Kids Camp or other sanctioned activity.
When booking your cruise and stateroom, play attention to the room’s location on the ship. Book midship to avoid excess motion if you or your kids are prone to nausea. Talk to your family doctor or pharmacist about vaccinations or motion sickness patches, those little dots placed behind the ear. Buy them before departure as you may not find them for sale onboard. And pack some gravol or dramamine, just in case.
During your cruise, make use of the antibacterial gel dispensers found throughout the ship and wash your hands frequently. I always pack disinfectant wipes and clean off every surface in our stateroom before unpacking. Sanitizing the taps, tv remote and door handles puts me at ease.
If you or a family member become ill, contact ship’s doctor or medical staff. They will want to ensure that you’re not contagious. If you are, staff may enforce room confinement to protect the health of other passengers. If anyone in your travel party has serious, pre-existing health conditions, ensure you have solid travel insurance, including emergency ship’s evacuation. (This can be an extremely expensive bill to pay post-holiday if you are not fully covered.)
You’ve likely picked a cruise based on its ports of call. A big part of the excitement of cruising is visiting new destinations for a day, whether it’s just hanging out at Castaway Cay, enjoying a food tour in the old town Puerto Vallarta, or ziplining in the US Virgin Islands.
Sign up for excursions via the cruise line, do your own research and book your own private tour guide or activity, or just walk off on your own adventure. We’ve done all three types of port visits, and they’ve turned out equally well over the years. In fact, after feeling the ‘herd-like’ aspects of cruise life, it’s quite liberating to discover places like old San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Charlotte Amalie (USVI) entirely on your own.
Note: If you book excursions through the cruise line and they get cancelled due to weather, as happened on our recent visit to Cabo San Lucas, those monies will be automatically credited back to you. This may not be the case with private tours, so be sure to check a company’s cancellation policies.
Whether you choose to be active during your port visits, or stay on the ship for some quiet time (that’s okay too!), be flexible, and know your family and its limits. Make your cruise holiday your own.
In addition to your chosen cruise line’s own website (which is usually excellent), check out CruiseCritic. It has amazing and up-to-date information to answer any cruise question you could possible come up with. Plus, their community boards have loads of invaluable tips, tricks and advice from other cruisers just like you.
We’ve used the boards to help determine which stateroom would be more quiet than another (hint: away from elevators and entertainment areas). You can also locate or start a Roll Call to find and chat with other passengers travelling on the same cruise ship as your family. It’s a great way to search for other families or people travelling from your own hometown.
Before You Weigh Anchor
Have fun! Relax, enjoy each others company, make some great family travel memories. Happy Sailing!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Photo Credits: C Laroye. Feature image: Shutterstock
Have you cruised with your family? Share your tips, do’s and don’ts in the comments!