So you want to go on a cruise, but you have children. Some people automatically think it can’t be done or the stress will outweigh the benefits. But cruises can be a great vacation option for families. You just have to do your research and plan ahead.
Cruises can actually be even more fun with your kids in tow! After all, you get to avoid the stress of driving from place to place. On a cruise, everything is conveniently located right on the ship ready for you and even better, you only have to unpack once. It’s all about relaxing, being entertained, and spending quality time together.
Many cruise lines focus on providing a family vacation experience, and others simply offer kid-friendly options. You need to figure out exactly what you hope to experience, what you can afford, and what locations are most appealing.
To get your planning started off on the right foot, here are some tips to help you navigate the world of planning a cruise.
1. Booking Your Trip
There are several cruise lines that offer trips specifically for families. These include Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International. Other cruise lines offer kid-friendly amenities but aren’t necessarily focused on catering to families.
In order to get the best deal, you will need to consider multiple factors. First, you need to decide what is most important to you. Do you need the newest and flashiest? Or are you just content to travel the sea? The newest ships also tend to be the most expensive, whereas the older ships tend to offer deeper discounts. Many of the older ships have been renovated and include many equally-fun amenities.
You also should consider value. Some ships offer all-inclusive packages that make your upfront cost worth it. Investigate what is included in a trip package. You might find that the cheaper ticket doesn’t cover expensive costs such as meals or entertainment. This could be a smart opportunity to consult a travel agent, as well. They often can work in value-added deals without adding any extra costs to you. Always plan your trips well ahead of time, since booking cruises any sooner than 6 months out will result in steep prices. Select tickets 12 to 18 months ahead of time for the very best rates.
One of the most challenging aspects of traveling with kids is making sure that you bring exactly what you’ll need without bringing too much stuff. Since you will be stuck on a boat for much of your travels, this is one trip that you really need to plan for with a packing list. A few months out, start crafting a list to refine over time. Consult online forums (such as CruiseCritic.com) and guides for tips on what you might need while on a ship with children. Don’t assume that the ship will offer items such as diapers or children’s toothpaste.
Always plan for issues that might crop up, as well. Just in case, bring along items that will make a bad situation better. Always pack a first aid kit, any prescription medicine that your family members might need, and over-the-counter items that will help in case of sickness. Pack Dramamine for the possible occurrence of sea sickness. Look into other families’ stories of their cruise experiences to gain insight of what else you might need to bring.
One of the best parts of taking a cruise for your family vacation is that you only have to unpack once. Settling into your ship cabin can be a great experience, as long as you do your research. Most cabins will accommodate a small family. Ask ahead of time for a travel crib or rollaway cot for the tiny members of your family. If you have grandma and grandpa or a couple of teenagers along, you can reserve two side-by-side cabins that have adjoining doors.
When it comes to choosing rooms in different areas of the ship, the balcony and window-view cabins tend to be the most pricey. They also tend to produce the most sea sickness in passengers. For a deal or to prevent feeling like you’ve got wobbly legs, look into reserving a cabin in the center of the ship. When traveling with kids, you really just need a cozy space to unwind at the end of the day. There are so many great activities aboard the ship, you probably won’t spend a lot of time in your rooms anyway.
Speaking of activities, many cruises offer excellent entertainment for youngsters and their parents. From character-themed cruises to mini amusement parks aboard, your little ones will be constantly entertained. Most ships offer a swimming pool and many also have a full waterpark, complete with a toddler splash pool. You can watch fun, family friendly movies in the evenings together. Or ride a zipline and ascend a rock climbing wall with your bigger kids. Many cruise lines offer fun day camps for kids that are broken up by age groups. These can feature all kinds of fun that goes beyond glorified babysitting. Now you can quietly lounge by the pool, knowing that your kids are off having a blast together. Bring along laptops, portable gaming devices, and toys for in-room entertainment.
Don’t forget onshore excursions. When the ship docks for the day, you can have exciting family bonding activities pre-planned. Be careful about costs, however, as some cruise lines will charge extra to book tickets and tours for you. Consult local guides to find out just how you can have the most fun without breaking the bank. Some ships will offer on-ship childcare for couples who would like an adult-only adventure ashore. But not all lines will allow this, so ask questions ahead of time if this is important to you.
One of the best parts of going on a cruise is the food! Thankfully, most cruises offer plenty of kid-friendly options like mac and cheese, pizza, and hot dogs. Kid-focused cruises will offer all kinds of great options for even the pickiest eater. If your child has food allergies or is on a special diet, make sure to let the kitchen staff know ahead of time so they can prepare a meal made just for them. Always bring your kids’ favorite snacks for those times in the day when they are hungry between meals.
Eating in the dining room might be hard for a wiggly toddler or preschooler, especially since cruise dinners tend to last an hour or longer. You can order your meals ahead of time to be delivered to your room, where you can all eat in peace. If you would prefer to eat with the rest of the guests, try bringing along a handheld device for games or some quiet activities that kids can do at the table.
6. Other Considerations
- Most cruise lines won’t accept infants under 6 months old, so be certain to check their age guidelines before booking.
- Many cruises will offer great deals or even free tickets for children 11 years and younger.
- Always ask questions if you have a concern or need some kind of special accommodation.
- Spring for deals when you see them, but always read the fine print to make sure that it also has great value.
- Join an online forum where you can talk to other families who have gone on cruises – you might find friends to spend time with on your trip!
- Consider hiring a travel agent to ensure that you are getting the best deal and the best value.
- Remember to relax and enjoy this time with your kids – don’t try to fit every activity into the trip and risk making everyone overextended.
Cruises aren’t just for adults. Many lines focus specifically on children and offer dream vacations that any family would enjoy. While it can be more expensive to bring children along, with enough research and planning you can find great deals on family packages. Children’s activities are plentiful on most cruise lines, offering parents the rest and relaxation they need during the trip.
So go do your research, make your lists, and block out the days on your calendar. There are so many cruises to choose from, amazing places to explore, and beautiful weather to soak up. You all deserve a memorable adventure, traveling the high seas and enjoying days of quality bonding time together!