We have sailed with our daughter since she was 6 months old. On many ships, this is the minimum age for cruising. By 4 years old she has accompanied us on at least 7 cruises. Sailing with a young child is a completely different experience from a couples trip or girls trip. Cruising with young kids requires additional planning and patience. Here are some things you should know as you prepare to cruise with your young kids:
Ships have cribs and high chairs- just ask.
Do not worry about bringing your pack and play, infant bed, or travel high chair. Upon arrival in your state room, ask your room steward for a crib and he/she will deliver to your room promptly. Similarly, at meal time ask a waiter or crew for a high chair. They are located at all eating areas throughout the ship and someone will happily deliver to your table. This is true on all major cruise lines.
What you will want to bring is your (smallest) stroller (not your jogging stroller). Staterooms are SMALL and you will want to fold them up and tuck them away at night and while you’re around the ship. A small stroller will be great for you if you’re planning any walking at ports and your child still relies on a stroller for distance.
You can always find milk and food.
Food will not be an issue on your cruise. In fact, you will probably eat more during your cruise than you could ever imagine. Most cruise lines have 24-hour food stations
(sandwich bars, pizza stations, ice cream, and room service), which will hold you over in between your 5 course breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. If you need milk (or anything special for your child), ask a crew member on the Lido deck (at any hour) or call your room steward. You will never have a problem finding milk, juice, or child friendly food. Even the pickiest kids (and adults) or those with dietary restrictions will be FINE. If you or your child have dietary restrictions, inform your dinner waiter in the dining room on your first night. Special menus and meals that are vegetarian, low-cholesterol, low-fat, low carb, low-sugar, and gluten free are available.
All ships have kids activities…
And these activities are typically separated by age group. For instance, Princess cruise lines groups together ages 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17. On Carnival ships, Camp Carnival separates age groups for 2-5 year olds, 6-8 year olds, and 9-11 year olds. They also have “Circle C” for 12-14 year olds and “Club O2” for 15-17 year olds, each with their special, age appropriate meeting locations. Upon arrival, you will receive a schedule of kids activities and times. In my experience, both as a kid when I was younger, and with kids now, the activities are a blast and loved by all. Age appropriate activities like: singing, dancing, arts, crafts, movies, “kids night clubs”, and video games (age appropriate) will be going on during these meet ups.
On board family activities
While there are times your kids may want to participate in kids activities, there are other times you will have the opportunity to do activities as a family. The pools, water slides, mini golf courses, theaters, entertainment shows, and even family-friendly comedy can be enjoyed by all. It will be noted in the daily cruise itinerary if an activity is not for children (for instance late night comedy shows may be “R” rated, but are typically preceded by family-friendly comedy shows). Carnival has a fun “Hasbro the Game Show” that is a blast with families, and incorporates all your favorites from family game night (think Operation, Yahtzee, Connect 4, but in life size versions). They also have an on-board “build-a-bear” that we end up doing as well, for an additional fee.
If you can take an extra set of hands, you should!
While my husband and I have taken our daughter cruising, we always prefer to bring her if we are making it a true “family cruise” so that my parents and family can come. This allows us an extra set of hands to help with young kids! You may also want to consider bringing your sitter if your budget allows it. You can get him/her their own room and they can be a huge help with nap time so that you can have an adult break on your vacation!
Excursions with Kids
Some excursions are not for young children (or pregnant women). Look through the excursion guide carefully before booking and note the minimum age for the activity. There are several family friendly excursions that will be available (beach days, pool resorts, shopping tours, etc.). For more, see I’ve booked my Cruise! Now what are excursions?
Be realistic with your kids
Everything you worry about on land with your child, you should worry about on a ship too. If you don’t want your 5-year-old hanging out with a 13 year old on land you may not want them to do so on a ship either. Set boundaries and meeting places for your older children. You (most likely) won’t be using your cell phones on international waters. Thus, planning meeting times and locations will be a must with your teens. I’ve seen walkie talkies used on several cruises for traveling families. This may be something you want to look into with your older kids.
Traveling with infants (age 2 and under)
While children 2 and under will be too young for most cruise lines’ children’s activities, there are some that offer babysitting at night for an hourly fee (Carnival and Royal Caribbean do, for example). We’ve utilized these services on Carnival and have really enjoyed some “night time” without the baby. It worked well for us because she slept the whole time and they had cribs available in the kids area. They will issue you a (free) cell phone so that they can call you or you can call them to check in on your little one. *If your child still takes bottles, make sure to bring a bottle brush and bottle soap. These are things we’ve forgotten on our travels with a baby!
Cruising with your young kids really makes for one of the best memorable family vacations. Now that you know there is so much to do with kids, check out The Ultimate Guide to Booking a Caribbean Cruise. I went growing up with my family, and my husband and I have loved taking our daughter with us as we’ve traveled. It is wonderful to have different activities for each family member, as well as several shows, games, and activities that you can do as a family.