Cruising is one of the best ways to travel with kids! We like the balance of family time, travel, and being able to get a much needed break. Here are some of our best tips for cruising with kids that we have learned over the years.
Use the Main Dining Room
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but going to the main dining room with kids can be less stressful than eating at the buffet. This can be especially true in the morning if you are trying to make an excursion. In the dining room, you have people to bring you drinks, silverware, or whatever you may need. At the buffet getting what you need is up to you. This means more running around and more time. A main dining room that has a buffet option is the best of both worlds! In this situation you can get food quickly and have staff that can assist with fetching drinks and other items. Our kids loved going to the main dining room on our last cruise and termed it “the place with the donuts.”
While for dinner the main dining room can be a little difficult, for breakfast and lunch if available when the service is quicker, it can definitely reduce some stress.
Avoid Public Restrooms
On a cruise ship, there are lots of people. Some of these people are unfortunately sick. Sickness spreads fast when you are in close quarters of a ship. Add in the extra factor of children who may be potty training and are not necessarily the best at washing their hands all the time, and you have a recipe for disaster. Take my advice, and use the bathroom in your cabin whenever possible! It truly helps avoid anyone in your family getting sick.
We went on a cruise with some very good friends and their newly potty trained son. Their son got the stomach flu on day 2, and by day 4, they were all out of commission. They were quarantined in their room, and it was sadly not the fun vacation that they were hoping for. Our son was still in diapers at the time, but you can believe that was a learning experience for us all.
To say that cruise cabins are small is an understatement! Packing light helps you not have extra stuff in a very small space that you don’t absolutely need! Packing light is also one of the top ways to reduce stress when traveling with kids. I’ve written some of my best packing tips here, but one tip in particular that is particularly important when cruising is to ditch the big stroller if possible. I know sometimes it is not, but if you can make it through with a umbrella stroller to even your preferred method of baby wearing, it will make managing narrow hallways and doors so much easier. Dealing with a large stroller when navigating buses or other types of public transportation can also be difficult. Bringing the lightest stroller possible will make your cruise so much easier and free up a ton of space in your room.
Children are not allowed in the pool with diapers on. PERIOD. On some ships there are places for young kids to play in water with swim diapers, but in general they are not very big. Honestly, they never kept my children entertained for very long, although these spaces are improving. However, ships with a baby splash zone are few and far between.
Please, don’t shoot the messenger. So what can you do? There are a few options. The first is to put your kiddo in the nursery while you have some pool time with the rest of your family. We did this when our daughter was little. We would schedule her in the nursery during her nap time. Then we would take our son to the pool and enjoyed the water while she rested. It was a win for everyone! The other option is to divide and conquer. Ramon is not a pool person, and would prefer to do literally anything else on the ship. I love being by the pool! This ended up being a match made in heaven before Lucy was potty trained. I would take Zack to the pool, and Ramon would go to trivia or other events around the ship with Lucy. It worked wonderfully for our family. One final option is to bring a blow up kiddie pool and fill it with water. We never did this as our kids would get bored pretty fast with a kiddie pool, but we have seen many little ones in a blow up pool. Knowing the rules and planning accordingly can prevent disappointment while on vacation.
Choose Excursions Wisely
It is easy to over plan when you are looking at all of the awesome things to do in your ports of call. If you are like us, you want to see and do everything! This is not an option with kids. Parents know their kids best, and are the best judge of what they can handle and what they can not. For us, we have found that exploring on our own is far preferable to joining a group tour. It allows us to pick an attraction that we want to see and be able to spend however much time we want there. It also allows us to take breaks when needed. We went to Greece when our two children were 5 years old and 13 months. We took an independent car to tour the city, and it was awesome.
We got to eat at some delicious local greek places, see several of the major sites, and were able to drive around the coast while our daughter napped.
Exploring independently can be a double-edged sword. Some activities are cheaper through the ship since children are usually free until a particular age and also because the ship can get a group rate for attractions. The other thing to consider is that if you explore independently, the ship can and will leave you behind if you are not back on time. Mishaps happen, you just have to be careful that they don’t stop you from getting back to the ship on time. When we went to Jordan we were scheduled to see Petra and Wadi Rum Desert on an independent tour.
Our car got a flat tire, which took about 45 min to repair. After the tire was fixed, our kids were hungry and cranky, so we stopped for lunch before our scheduled lunch break. After lunch, we were caught in an awful traffic jam. While we were able to see Petra, because we were running so late due to all the delays we made the difficult decision to skip the Wadi Rum Desert and head back to the ship to ensure we would not miss our boat.
If you choose a tour, definitely consider length of tour, frequency of stops, amount of physical exertion, along with food and restroom availability. When a toddler has to go, they have to go NOW! If there is no restroom immediately available, which is often the case when on a tour you could definitely be in a bit of trouble. Always try and learn as much about the tour as possible before booking one, so you can be ready with the logistics.
Hopefully these tips can help make your cruise a little easier. If you enjoyed these tips, feel free to read our other travel tip articles here.