By Emily Beerhalter
As a mom of two young children, I know planning a family vacation can be complicated. Recently we were looking for a vacation our whole family could enjoy that wouldn’t break the bank. When we began considering a cruise I discovered there are some aspects of a cruise vacation that are somewhat unique versus staying at a resort. Cruising is a great choice for the whole family, but like most vacations, getting the right information up-front is key to enjoying your trip.
Here is a summary of what I’ve learned about cruising with babies and toddlers. I hope this helps you plan your next cruise!
- Don’t expect your cabin to have a bathtub. Unless you’re on a Disney cruise ship or a have a suite or higher cabin type, don’t expect your cabin on a cruise ship to have a bathtub like a hotel room. Our kids are both under 3, so this made us nervous at first. We decided among these options: upgrade to a suite, accept taking a shower with your child (which my 2½-year-old LOVES), or just don’t bathe your baby for a few days. She will probably swim in the ocean, and you can always do some spot cleaning/sponge baths with washcloths and towels. Don’t stress about it –- you’re on vacation!
- Do check the minimum age requirements for your cruise line. I am definitely not the kind of person who is anxious to tackle a new adventure with my 3-month old in tow, but I know people who are. Many cruise lines require infants be at least 6 months old prior your sail date. Even more important to remember is that most cruise lines don’t allow pregnant women to cruise if they are past their 24th week.
- Don’t expect your kid to be able to swim on the ship if your baby isn’t potty-trained. Most cruise lines don’t allow "swimmy diapers" in the on-board pools. A few have kid areas that involve fountain-type water areas, but for sanitary reasons if your baby can’t use the potty by himself, he can’t use the pool on your ship. Never fear, though — your water baby is free to enjoy the swimming at the beach in your port of call.
- Do pack your beach bag like you would your diaper bag. For a successful
trip, long or short, we always pack plenty of snacks, food, extra
clothing and diapers, etc. To that point, if your child uses a certain
formula, baby food, or is in diapers, make sure to pack plenty for your
trip. Most cruise lines do carry these types of items for purchase on
board, but don’t expect them to have the exact size and/or brand that
you prefer. Like anything related to your kids, if they are picky
about it, you need to make sure you bring it yourself. Now that we
have kids, one extra suitcase is the difference between a total
toddler meltdown and a dinner happily chomping on my daughter’s
Don’t expect your baby’s trip to be free. Their fare is usually
cheaper, but hardly ever free. Depending on the cruise line and the age
of your child, you may only have to pay port taxes and fees.
Cruise lines recognize that your small child probably won’t eat a lot or
enjoy the dancing and drinks at the club, but usually every person
aboard the ship has to pay the local government the dock fees and
taxes. Also, the staff onboard the ship expects to get paid the same
amount for all PEOPLE aboard the ship, regardless how small those
people are. In most cases, the crew will go out of their way to help
out with your small kids, so they might be MORE deserving of tips than
they would from an adult. Of course gratuities are always optional for
all cruise lines, but just like waiters and waitresses, tips are the
majority of how the crew is compensated, and my family thinks it’s
extremely good karma to take care of the staff if they have been
helpful to you.
Do bring lots of sunscreen and use it regularly. Overexposure to sun
as a child can lead to cancer (and wrinkles!) as a grown-up, so we make
sure our kids are well coated with sun block. We also pack hats,
sunglasses and clothing that blocks UV rays.
Don’t expect the ship to provide babysitters and programs for your very
small children. Not all cruise lines have programs for very young/non-potty-trained children. Sometimes cruise lines (like Carnival and
Royal Caribbean) provide times for families with kids under 2 years old
to enjoy some of the children’s activities, but you may not have the
option of dropping your child off. I think on our next cruise Grandma
and Grandpa will be joining us, so we can not only spend time with
them, but also have built-in child care.
Do enjoy the time as a family, and don’t push the schedule too far out
of whack -– everyone will enjoy the trip more if you have a somewhat
well-rested kid. I know once my kids miss a few naps, everyone
Don’t be scared of the balconies/railing. Maybe no one else worries
about this kind of stuff, but in my mind I had a picture of balconies
(in our room and around the ship) with dangerously wide railings. I
could just picture my little nugget pulling up on a railing when my
head is turned for one second and having her plunge off the side of the
still-moving ship. Needless to say, cruise lines have made sure their
ships are VERY safe for kids of all ages. In most cases the balconies
in the rooms are plexiglass or have a wall that is too tall for anyone
(adult or kid) to accidentally fall over.
Luckily, today there are lots of great cruise lines that are happy to
support all the members of your family. A cruise vacation is a great
way to relax with your kids, so plan ahead, pack extra snacks and
enjoy your trip!
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Emily Beerhalter enjoys spending time with her husband, 2½-year-old daughter, and 4-month-old son, but also takes part in the occasional "Mom’s Night Out" in her ongoing attempt to balance work, family and self.