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12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

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Cruising with kids is a convenient and fun way to explore the world. 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 for cruising with kids will help your family enjoy a smooth sailing.

12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

(Photo credit:Diana Zalucky, Disney photographer)

Want the best price on your cruise vacation? Of course you do! Find the best deals on cruises when you book through Get Away Today. They also offer discounted theme park tickets and reduced hotel rates, which means you can create the perfect land and sea vacation.

1. Research, 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. Keep in mind that amenities for children vary among cruise lines. Plus kids clubs vary in terms of age requirements. 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 ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Disney Cruise Line offers a splash pad for non-potty-trained kids (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

2. Consult a travel agent.

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. Additionally, an agency may have access to better deals than you or may be able to obtain an on board credit or other special amenities for your family. The agent will complete most of the online registration for you and make certain that all of the paperwork is completed. A cruise expert will make boarding your ship easy by ensuring ensure luggage tags are delivered properly. 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 travel agency compensation comes from the cruise lines. For your next cruise vacation, I recommend Get Away Today.

Princess Cays in The Bahamas ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

My teen enjoyed the beach at Princess Cays in The Bahamas (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

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.

Carnival Cruise ship docked in Zihuatanejo, Mexico ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Cruise lines like Carnival offer fun for kids both on and off the ship (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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 Roll Calls to 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 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.

Arrive a day or two early to explore the embarkation port and avoid travel stress ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark before a Baltic cruise (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

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, then do it. When flying a great distance, consider arriving a few days before you set sail. This will give your family time to adjust to the time zone pre-cruise and explore the embarkation port.

Waterslide fun on Carnival Liberty ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Some ships, like Carnival Liberty, offer waterslides at sea (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)

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 seasickness. 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 nausea while traveling, 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.

Discuss cruise expectations and rules with teens and kids before setting sail ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Discuss cruise expectations and rules with teens and kids before setting sail (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye

7. Discuss expectations before cruising with kids.

Before cruising with kids, 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.

Pack comfortable cruise wear for exploring ports + something fancier for formal night

Comfortable cruise wear is a must for exploring ports (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason, from her story on Cruise Wear for Girls)

8. Pack properly for your family cruise.

Once you have checked in and boarded the ship it could be several hours before you have access to your room or luggage. Be sure to keep a carry-on bag with you filled with anything you might need that first day. Examples include 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.

You want to be sure to pack versatile cruise wear plus comfortable shoes for port days. Breathable clothing is essential for steamy summertime weather. For chillier destinations, like Alaska, be sure to pack gloves, hats and jackets. Layers are a good idea, no matter where you're cruising with kids. Bring along a backpack to stow jackets and snacks on excursions.

A Celebrity ship in Alaska ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Be sure to pack the right clothing for your cruise's weather (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

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 may 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. Meanwhile Celebrity and Princess require children to be at least 3 to participate in their 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.

Visit the kids club on the day of embarkation when cruising with kids

Kids can explore Andy's Room from “Toy Story” in Disney Cruise Line's kids club (Jimmy DeFlippo, Disney photographer)

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.

Embrace formal night when cruising with kids

Embrace formal night when cruising with kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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 cruise wear on formal night. Just get everyone spiffed up and feeling good about how they look…and have fun!

You may want to hire a private tour guide to explore a port during your cruise ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

You may want to hire a private tour guide to explore a port during your cruise (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

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 provide access to interesting attractions and activities. For the best shore excursions for kids, Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic says, “Disney Cruise Line offers the best shore excursions for families in the land.” 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!

Bumper cars at sea on Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas ~ 12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

Bumper cars on Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas keep kids and parents entertained on at sea days (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Best cruise lines for cruising with kids

The most family-friendly cruise lines offer fun activities for children (like bumper cars!), kids clubs, age appropriate shore excursions, and children's menus. Spencer Brown of Cruise Critic says, “Certain cruise lines are better for kids with different ages.” She recommends Cunard for babies and toddlers, Disney for children under 10, Carnival for tweens, and Royal Caribbean for teens. Check pricing and read more about these recommended cruise lines by clicking the links below.

Choose the right cruise for your family based on age,
destination and preferences (Photo credit: Diana Zalucky, Disney photographer)

Cunard – Luxury cruise line offering childcare at 1 year+ and special splash areas for diapered children on some ships. Good pick for traveling with toddlers.

Disney Cruise Line – Disney-themed ships that offer bathtubs to easily bathe little ones, splash areas for non-potty trained tots, childcare for children 6 months+, and best shore excursions for kids. Bonus: privacy curtains between children's area of stateroom and parents' bed.

Carnival Cruise Line – A more affordable cruise line that is especially recommended for tweens, with childcare for kids 2+, and some ships that offer splash areas for non-potty trained children.

Royal Caribbean – Great option for teens with extensive at sea entertainment and clubs. Private stateroom babysitting is available for a fee. Some ships offer group childcare as young as 6 months and/or splash areas for babies and toddlers.

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

For cruise deals and expert cruise advice, book with Get Away Today. Their cruise department will help you find the best cruise for your family and offer extras like onboard credit and goodies when you mention Travel Mamas sent you. Give them a call at 855-GET-AWAY or browse their cruises online.

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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?

  15. I really like your tip about discussing rules about safety and guidelines regarding on board behavior with your children before you leave for your cruise. My sister and her young family went on a cruise last summer and talked about the rules for being on a boat before they left and it helped a lot with the trip. I will definitely keep these tips in mind for a future cruise with my own family.

  16. Great tips. The first one is the most important. Do your research, and then do some more so you have every single duck in a row.

  17. I love these tips. I took the easy way out and just never went on a cruise until the kids were older. LOL

  18. These are all great tips. I’m not a cruiser and I think I can use some for me. I didn’t know about the interior cabins and I would love to dress up and go to dinner on formal night!

  19. robin rue says:

    My kids are going on their first cruise in September with their dad. I KNOW they won’t like it, but he’s insisting….hopefully I am wrong.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I hope you’re wrong too, Robin! My kids love cruising so maybe yours will too.

  20. This is good advice! I wish I would have taken my kids on a cruise for one of their vacations. I think we’d probably go with a Disney Cruise.

  21. Pam Wattenbarger says:

    We have been thinking of going on a cruise next year with our granddaughter. We have seen some really kid friendly cruises.

  22. We really want to go cruising one day. I will have to savw these tips for when we get our chance.

  23. I think research is key! I have friends going on their first cruise in October and they’ve been researching every detail as much as possible so they’re prepared.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Supposedly we often enjoy the research portion of traveling more than the vacation itself. Your friends must be having a ball! 🙂

  24. You have some great suggestions. I have been wanting to go on a cruise for years now. One thing I’d want to have questions about is childcare for children with special needs.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Good question. I would check with each specific cruise line you are considering and ask them how they work with families who have kids with special needs.

  25. I just went on a Disney cruise with my youngest and all was great. I guess I just got used to traveling with her that’s why it seems so easy these days. These are great tips though.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Traveling with kids definitely gets easier as they get older and we parents get more comfortable and know how to prepare!

  26. These are some excellent suggestions to keep in mind! I can see our family having an amazing time on a cruise, but proper planning is key.

  27. Our Family World says:

    These are all great tips. We all want to maximize our cruise vacation so it is just imperative that we make plans, especially if you have kids with you. I agree with hiring/consulting a travel agent.

  28. I like your layout here – the way you box up the summary beforehand list is cool.

    Andy’s Room looks great – bet the kids love that.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Thanks, Seattle Travel Blogger! I think I may have geeked out more about Andy’s Room than the kids!

  29. Katrina gehman says:

    we hope to go on a cruise later this year with our kids. will keep this in mind for sure. great tips.

  30. The biggest issue I have had with cruising is packing. With or without kids, I always want to over pack. I love cruising, but I need to learn to get my packing under control.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I tend to be an over-packer too but I’ve never had a problem finding a place to stash all my stuff when cruising. I unpack and then store the suitcases under the beds.

  31. Really awesome tips for parents. I hate that motion sickness else the overall cruise experience was nice.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Some cruises are less motion-sickness inducing than others. Stick to sailings in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, or inside Alaska Passage rather than a cruise in the open ocean.

  32. This is so fun, I have always wanted to go on a cruise with my kiddos!

  33. This is super timely for me! We are planning to go on a cruise as a family next month. Cruises are so much fun, we haven’t taken the kids on one yet, but it looks fun for them too! These are great tips to help with the little ones! Thank you for posting this informative article. Kudos for you!

  34. After seeing this blog, I definitely like to go on cruise ship!! as a solo

  35. We love Disney Cruise Lines. They are so family friendly. The kids clubs are the best!

  36. We will be going on our first Disney cruise in 2018. I’m not sure if I want to spend the money and get passports for our 7 and 6 year old. Not sure besides this cruise if they will get used again before they expire. What are your thoughts on this? Thank You!!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Passports for children are only $40 apiece. You are spending so much on a Disney Cruise, what’s a little bit more for passports? Plus, having passports will enable you to take other foreign vacations with your kids. I’d say, go for it! Enjoy your Disney cruise!

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