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12 Tips for Cruising with Kids

Cruising with kids makes a great choice for a family vacation. Many new cruise ships are like floating resorts with seemingly endless options to keep all ages entertained. Meanwhile your family is transported from destination to destination, while unpacking just once. Like any vacation, though, a cruise can go very wrong without proper planning and preparation. These 12 tips will help ensure your family cruise sails as smoothly as possible.

12 Tips for Cruising with Kids

This story originally posted in September 2014 and was updated and reposted in November 2015.

1. Reseach, research, research!

Research your cruise options thoroughly before booking your vacation. Weigh the pros and cons of each cruise line including childcare options, family activities, meal options, stateroom size and layout, and, of course, price. When choosing an itinerary, consider the number of at sea days, the ports of call, and shore excursions. If traveling with a baby or toddler, keep in mind not all cruise ships offer bath tubs and kids clubs vary in terms of age requirements. (See #9 “Know cruise babysitting options” below for a description of kids club age requirements by cruise line.) Also, non-potty trained children may not swim in cruise ship pools but Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean offer splash areas on select ships with special filtration for diapered tots.

Playing in a Disney Cruise Line splash pad for non-potty-trained kids

Playing in a Disney Cruise Line splash pad for non-potty-trained kids

2. Consult a cruise expert.

I organize and book all of our travel myself—except when planning a cruise. A good travel agent that specializes in cruises can make the entire process seamless. The agent will have a greater knowledge of individual ships and cabins, may have access to better deals than you, and may be able to obtain an on board credit or other special amenities for your family. The agent will also complete most of the online registration for you and make certain that all of the paperwork is completed and that luggage tags are delivered to make boarding your ship easy. An agent is also there to help you should anything go wrong in the process. None of this extra service costs you a penny, either, because their compensation comes from the cruise lines.

princess cays-cabana

My teen enjoying the beach at Princess Cays in The Bahamas

3. Get kids involved in planning your family cruise.

Kids, especially tweens and teens, will want to be part of choosing where your family should cruise and which activities are best. Incorporating some of their wishes will make the cruise a better experience for all family members. To build pre-vacation excitement, try to find age-appropriate books for your children to read about your cruise destinations.

4. Check cruise message boards.

CruiseCritic.com maintains message boards packed with a wealth of information about ports of call, cruise lines and specific ships. It’s especially fun to connect before leaving home with other cruisers who will be sailing with you. Check their Rolls Calls and then a do a search to find your cruise line and sailing dates. If you can’t find your specific cruise, you can start the thread yourself. These groups often have meet-ups during cruises so that you can meet face-to-face with your cruise buddies, if you so choose.

One of the biggest advantages of participating in a roll call is that you might find other families ahead of time who will be on your cruise. This saved the day on my family’s Mediterranean cruise when my teenager was having trouble meeting anyone on board. We were able to connect with a family that I had met on the roll call with a daughter of the same age. The teens hung out together for the balance of the cruise and my stress levels went way down.

denmark-copenhagen-tivoli gardens

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark before a Baltic cruise

5. Arrive at least one day before you set sail.

I can’t even imagine the stress of flying on the same day that my family’s cruise departs. I would worry nonstop about a flight delay or luggage going astray. There’s no need to start a vacation with anxiety levels like that. If you are able to fly in the day before (or earlier), then do it. If you are flying a great distance, then consider arriving a few days before you set sail. This will give the family time to adjust to the time zone pre-cruise and explore the embarkation port.

6. Avoid motion sickness and other illnesses.

Book a room that is mid-ship where there is less motion to help reduce the likelihood of developing the nausea caused by movement. Sailing the open ocean has caused issues for both of my daughters and me, whereas itineraries that hugged the coastline in Alaska and Europe were fine. Before leaving home, you may want to discuss motion sickness prevention options with your doctor. Even if your family is not prone to motion sickness, consider bringing along some Dramamine…just in case!

Washing hands often and using antibacterial gel or baby wipes to cleanse hands can help keep your family stay healthy while cruising. Read What to Do When You Get Sick on a Cruise to learn more about preventing and treating illness aboard a cruise ship.

alaska-juneau-cruise ship

Cruise ship anchored in Juneau, Alaska

7. Discuss cruise expectations.

Before leaving home, discuss rules about safety and guidelines regarding on board behavior with your children. With older kids, set clear rules about the degree of freedom they will have during the cruise and family commitment expectations. For example, if you would like all family members to eat dinner together every evening, make this clear before boarding the ship.

8. Pack properly for cruising with kids.

Once you have checked in and boarded the ship it could be several hours before you have access to your room and luggage has been delivered. Be sure to keep a carry-on bag with you filled with anything you might need that first day, such as identification, cruise documents, swimsuits, and sunscreen.

If traveling with a baby or toddler, you will want to pack plenty of diapers, baby food, wipes, and formula since many cruise lines (even some family-friendly lines) do not offer these items anywhere on board their ships. If your ship does not offer a tot water area, bring along an inflatable pool to let your little one get in on the splash-time fun.

Power outlets can be scarce in cruise cabins, so you might want to pack a multi-outlet power strip to charge up electronic devices. Cell phone coverage can be non-existent or expensive at sea. Instead, pack walkie-talkies to keep in touch with your travel mates.

disney magic-mickey's pool

Mickey’s Pool on Disney Magic

9. Know cruise ship babysitting options.

Cruise lines make it easy to plan some Mom and Dad time while the kids enjoy the youth facilities. Whether it’s an afternoon couple’s massage, dinner for two in a specialty restaurant, or a stroll around the deck at sunset—take advantage of the opportunity to have couple time.

Be sure to ask about childcare options before booking your cruise since hours and availability can vary depending on the ship and cruise date. Disney Cruise Line offers childcare for babies as young as 6 months (12 months for cruises 10 nights+), and Cunard accepts children starting at 1 year. Some Royal Caribbean Ships now offer nursery care for children ages 6 months – 3 years. Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian accept youngsters aged 2 and older, while Celebrity, and Princess require children to be at least 3 to participate in the kids clubs. Many ships also offer tween and teen clubs with video games, music and dance parties. Most lines only offer group childcare in lieu of in-cabin babysitting. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, however, offer private babysitting in staterooms at an hourly fee.

disney magic-oceaneer lab-baking cookies

Making cookies in the Oceaneer Lab kids club aboard Disney Magic

10. Visit the kids club on embarkation day.

Even if you don’t think your child will have any interest in attending the ship’s kids club, bring your child to the club on the first day. Most cruise lines host a kids camp orientation party on boarding day. This allows parents to check out the facilities and gives kids a chance to make friends. Kids start making friendships that first night and it can be hard for shy children to join in a day or two later once friendships have already been established.

crown princess-formal night

Enjoying Formal Night on the Crown Princess

11. Embrace formal night.

Some cruisers dread formal night. Instead of poo-pooing the formal night tradition, embrace it. I love formal night because it’s a rare opportunity for us to get dressed up and pose for a professional family photo. Don’t worry too much about what you or the kids wear either; ball gowns and tuxedos aren’t the norm. You will see a wide range of outfits on formal night on the mainstream lines. Just get everyone spiffed up and feeling good about how they look…and have fun!

Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia

Outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia with our private guide, Anna

12. Tour the ports of call your way.

Many people shy away from cruises because they like their independence when traveling. Just because cruises offer plenty of shore excursions, it doesn’t mean you can’t explore on your own. Shore excursions can be expensive and often aren’t particularly kid-friendly. On the other hand, cruise line shore excursions are convenient and can provide access to interesting attractions and activities. There are three options for touring the ports of call: book a shore excursion with your cruise line; book a private tour; or just get off the ship and go it alone. There is no one right way!

Let us know in the comments below if you have more tips to add or if you have any question about cruising with kids!

All photos by Lisa Goodmurphy.

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

Comments

  1. Hi Lisa, a really great blog on cruises with the family. I have put up a link to it on Facebook for you.

  2. Julia Carlson says:

    I think your tip about consulting an expert is a great tip! I am about to leave on a cruise, and I wouldn’t have been able to book the right trip without a cruise travel agent. I have three kids that all enjoy different things. Even with their differences they’ll be able to have a good time on the cruise we’ve chosen.

  3. Great tips!

  4. This is such an amazing post!! So many perfect ideas!

  5. Great tips! I concidered myself a thoughtful mom but you gave some nice tips! I really liked the 5th, cause last time we went on a trip to trans-Syberian tour it was so stresfull.. It’s not the same as going to East coast and departing, we went to Russia, which has different culture and procedures. We stuck at the customs for way longer than we expected and made the train just in time. Good thing that guys from Travel all Russia agency told us to get there earlier than we planned, then we would’t have made it.

    Can’t wait for our next cruise in a few months, I’ll definitely use your tips!

  6. Monica Taylor says:

    Great article. Thank you for your great tips.Actually i am planning to take my kids on a cruise soon. I found your article on right time. I have finalized on blount small ship adventures for a small ship cruise from newyork to Montreal. Hope that my kids will have a great time on cruise.

  7. It is good but needs updating. Especially point 9. Kids can no longer travel until they are 6 months old for USA trips and 12 months for transcontinental. Also, some Royal Caribbean ships now have a nursery that charges an hourly fee for babysitting.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Katie – Thanks so much for the updates! I’ve made the changes to the post accordingly.

  8. Beautiful pictures! I am planning cruising with my family my kids and my husband on the Christmas break and it will be our first ever cruise. We have really been wanting to do a cruise, preferably a Disney cruise while our kids are still young.

  9. Great article! I am going on a cruise with my 7 years old son. I packed a very big personal health kit. I am not really sure if there will be any on the cruise. Best regards!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Tricia – So glad you found the cruising tips helpful. You are smart to pack a health kit. Cruise gift shops and infirmary do offer some medications, but you’re better off bringing your own so you have what you want, when you want it. Have a great cruise!

  10. Just in case it’s not clear…children who are not completely potty-trained are not allowed in any cruise ship pool or hot tub, including the “family” or “kid” pools/hot tubs. SOME ships have special “splash zones” for kids in diapers but these just have a couple of inches of water. It will be difficult to monitor an older child in the family pool and a diapered child in the splash zone at the same time, IF your ship has a splash zone. Swim diapers are considered diapers and are specifically NOT allowed. This is a USPH/CDC policy and not specific to any one line or ship. Cruise ship pools and hot tubs are cleaned and filtered differently than those on land and environmental regulations also affect these rules.

  11. Totally agree on using professional help here. Especially for longer cruises. They are just too complex and if your not a professional traveling agency there a high chance that you’ll miss something. At the very least, It’ll save you decades of time, like it says in the article.

  12. I just saw this article and I have to say I cannot agree more. It’s one of the reasons I got into the travel agency business because as an early childhood educator, I understand that families are a different clientele. I can count off half the things mentioned in this article that I take care of for my clients (research, pre/post hotel stays, cruise ship info, tours, packing lists, etc.) and they are so so grateful. I know how hard it is to save up money and find the time to take the whole family on vacation, and not every all vacations are made equal when you have a child.

    Preparation and finding the right travel agent is really key in ensuring your vacation does not become a nightmare. Thanks for the great tips, Lisa.

  13. Excellent advice!

  14. sarabibi says:

    i wanna know about kids policy regarding charges that upto the age of which are free….E.g 5 years or 10 years kids are free?

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