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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. From how to plan a family cruise to which cruise lines are best for children, these 12 tips for taking a cruise with kids will help ensure smooth sailing.

Sail away with on a cruise with kids
Sail away on a cruise with kids (Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, Disney)

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 onboard credit or other special amenities for your family.

Get help planning a cruise with kids with our partner, Ciao Bambino

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 working with our partner, Ciao Bambino.

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. 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 Cruise Critic's 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 we fared fine on our Alaskan cruise and a Mediterranean cruise.

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 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 onboard 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)

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. Many cruise lines (even some family-friendly lines) do not offer these items anywhere onboard their ships. If your ship does not offer a tot water area, then 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. Some cruise lines may not allow these or may unplug them, so ask before you go. 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 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.

Be sure to bring along a backpack to stow jackets and snacks on excursions, too.

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 (Photo credit: Jimmy DeFlippo, Disney)

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 embarkation 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, these organized tours 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 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 of different ages.” She recommends Cunard for babies and toddlers, Disney for children under 10, Carnival for tweens, and Royal Caribbean for teens.

Check prices and read more about these recommended cruise lines by clicking the links below.

It's important to choose the right cruise line for your family ~ Tips for taking a cruise with kids
It's important to choose the right cruise line for your family (Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, Disney)

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 the 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. Many ships offer group childcare for children as young as 6 months and/or splash areas for babies and toddlers.

You might see some of your favorite Disney pals on Castaway Cay ~ Dos and Don'ts of Disney's Castaway Cay
Disney's Castaway Cay (Photo credit: Kent Phillips, courtesy of Disney)

Learn more cruise tips.

Considering a Disney Cruise with kids? Take a look at what to expect at Disney's private island in The Bahamas, Castaway Cay.

Kids will go gaga for these Royal Caribbean mocktails!

Good sleep is essential for a successful cruise. Read these expert travel sleep tips for kids before you set sail.

12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids ~

Save these tips for cruising with kids!

Considering a family cruise? Be sure to save these tips for cruising with kids. Just pin the image above to Pinterest for future reference. Go ahead and follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you're at it!

For additional help planning a cruise with kids, reach out to our travel planning partners, Ciao Bambino.

Get help planning a cruise with kids with our partner, Ciao Bambino

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

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.

  1. Kathy Harris says

    We got a suite to have more room and the option of eating in the room. You can also get adjoining rooms with older children. Inside rooms do not have a balcony to worry about for safety. Warn the children about the drill before the cruise. We pack games and toys in a carryon bag juice box and peanut butter with crackers for in room snack. I also carry a fold up cloth bag to put fruit or cereal etc in for the kids to eat for breakfast if we decide to sleep in.We take drink containers for water or tea or make lemonade for the room. We take plugs for our gadgets.

  2. Marie Brooks says

    Any ideas on sterilising bottles – I have now been told that Royal Caribbean don’t provide sterilisers and have said that we can take only a one bottle steriliser – on with us. When asked about microwaves for use of sterilising got a bit of a non descript answer..

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Marie – I never used a bottle sterilizer with either of my kids. At home, I washed the bottles via dishwasher and while traveling, I always just packed a bottle scrub brush and liquid dish soap and then used the hottest water possible to wash the bottles. I did a little bit of research and from what I found, it’s not necessary to sterilize baby bottles after every use. I hope that helps! Enjoy your cruise with your little one!

  3. Cruise Mummy says

    I definitely think that your tip about consulting a travel agent is a good one. It can be really complicated to book your own cruise if you’re not sure what you’re doing.

  4. 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!

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

  6. Barsha mandava says

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

  7. 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!

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

  9. Sapana V says

    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.

  10. Dawn McAlexander says

    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.

  11. 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.

  12. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    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!

  13. 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.

  14. Marcie W. says

    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.

  15. Amanda Love says

    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!

  16. valmg @ Mom Knows It All says

    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.

  17. 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! 🙂

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

  19. 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.

  20. Liz Mays says

    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. 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.

  22. Rachel Ferrucci says

    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!

  23. Jen Rattie says

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

  24. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    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.

  25. Deedee Lewis says

    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.

  26. 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?

  27. Kristen Hewitt says

    Excellent advice!

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. Tricia Lamb says

    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!

  32. Suzan@san francisco bay cruise says

    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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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!

  36. Missi, Porthole Cruise Magazine says

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

  37. Great tips!

  38. 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.

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

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