12 Essential Tips for Cruising with Kids

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)

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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.

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 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 ~ TravelMamas.com

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!

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  1. 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. 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..

    1. 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. 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!!

    1. 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. 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!