A cruise is a great choice for a family vacation. Understandably, when travelling with young children you have more questions and concerns. We have put together some information and a list of top tips for cruising with toddlers to help make your cruise vacation a little more stress free for the whole family.
The first time we cruised with our children, one was 9 months, and the other was 2 years old. We cruised the Mexican Riviera on Norwegian Cruise Lines. It was a great experience that the entire family enjoyed. Those memories are still ones we cherish.
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Are cruises suitable for toddlers?
Yes, they sure are. Most cruise lines allow babies 6 months and older to cruise. Some will have restrictions on itineraries but for the most part you will find a cruise vacation that works for your family. These important tips for cruising with toddlers will help make your family cruise vacation more enjoyable for everyone.
Reasons a cruise is a great choice when travelling with young kids.
- Family friendly activities – enjoy quality family time
- Delicious food – food options for even the pickiest of eaters. And the best part – you don’t have to cook.
- Kids’ clubs – more on this below
- Explore beautiful destinations
Here are some of the best tips for cruising with toddlers.
Top tips for cruising with toddlers.
1. Pick the right cruise line
Some cruise lines are more family orientated than others. Here are the ones I’d suggest you check out.
Some things to look for are the ages of their kids’ clubs (see below #11) and the babysitting options.
Family-friendly cruise lines:
- Royal Caribbean
- Carnival Cruise Lines
- Disney Cruise Line
- Norwegian Cruise Line
2. Pick the right ship
Now that you have picked a cruise line, picking the cruise ship is even more important. Cruise ships are like hotels in that the style and amenities can vary greatly.
Choose a family-friendly ship that has several age-appropriate play spaces and splash areas. Ones that have the splash area separate from the main waterslide area are even better.
The newer ships will have more amenities than the older ships.
3. Consider the itinerary
When cruising with younger children, consider a shorter itinerary for their first cruise. A 3, 4 or 5 day itinerary might be better than a longer cruise. This will allow you to test how well they travel and how they do with the ship’s motion.
Consider choosing a cruise that departs from the closest port to you. This cuts down on either your drive time or your flight time and number of flight changes.
4. Consider a balcony cabin
Balcony cabins are a great option if it’s in you budget. A balcony cabin is especially great if your child naps in the day and goes to bed early. It allows you to relax outside with a book and a beverage rather than sitting quietly in the room while they sleep. This allows you to enjoy your vacation even more.
If a balcony cabin isn’t in your budget, don’t worry, when we first cruised with our 9 month and our 2-year-old, all we could afford was an inside cabin (no window). We made do and still had a wonderful time. One benefit to the inside cabin is that it is dark and makes for great sleeping conditions.
5. Choose your cabin (stateroom) location wisely.
With room location there are a few important things to consider.
Rooms in the middle of the ship tend to have less movement, as well as staterooms on a mid level deck.
#2 Convenient Location
Choose a stateroom location you feel will be most convenient to access the areas you will visit the most with your young children.
To do this, check out the cruise ship’s deck plan. You will find this on the cruise line’s website.
For example, if the kids club and splash area are located on deck 12 near the back of the ship (aft), then don’t choose a cabin on deck 5 forward on the ship.
The ships are big, you don’t want to tire your little ones out just walking back and forth to your room. It is also a pain if you forget something in your room and must make the trek back.
Tips for cruising with toddlers
6. Take a mini box of Cheerios with you to your cabin.
Most cruise lines will have the small cereal boxes available at the buffet breakfast. We would grab an extra box to take back to our room or throw in our tote bag daily.
This makes for a great toddler approved snack later in the day by the pool or in your room.
This is a great tip for cruising with toddlers.
7. Bring a foldable umbrella stroller
An umbrella stroller is a life saver for both around the ship and in port.
If you have two toddlers don’t bring a dual side by side stroller, you will find this too wide for around the ship. Instead bring either 2 umbrella strollers or a front-back style.
8. Most cruise lines don’t allow diapers even swim diapers in the cruise ship pools
Most cruise lines do not allow children who are not toilet trained in any of their water facilities, in accordance with the United States Public Health Services. Even if they are wearing swim diapers. This includes swimming pool, hot tubs, and water slides.
This is an important consideration if your toddler is not yet potty trained.
Check the cruise line’s website for the most up to date policy, but at the time of writing….
Carnival cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line says no non-toilet trained, diapers, or swim diapers allowed in the pools, hot tubs, water slides or even the splash areas.
There are Baby Splash areas on select Royal Caribbean ships that are only for only those in diapers.
Disney Cruise Line has select water play areas on certain ships that little ones can play at wearing a swim diaper.
It is important to do your research regarding both the cruise line and the ships.
9. Pack medication and first aid supplies
The ships do have onboard shops; however you don’t want to rely on these. They may not have children’s strength, the shops have limited hours, and are usually more money.
Think through different situations when you are packing. If they had a cold, what would you give them? What about for a fever? Sore throat? Upset stomach? If they fell and scraped their knee, what would you want on hand?
Be sure to pack both children and adult strength of each of the medicines.
10. Bring small toys.
While there are tons of activities around the ship and at the kids’ club, those have set hours.
Small toys and books will be helpful to keep your child occupied in your room while you are getting ready for dinner and at times when the kids club is closed.
It is a great idea to pack a couple in your carry-on bag to keep them entertained while you wait to board the ship.
Don’t forget to pack activities for the older kids too.
More must read tips for cruising with toddlers
11. The kids club has a minimum age
Although most cruise lines allow kids as young as 6 months to cruise, many don’t have organized programs for kids this young.
When cruising with kids, I think the most important consideration when choosing a cruise line are the ages for the kids’ clubs. For many cruise lines, the minimum age for their organized fun activities is 2 or 3. Some do have programs for the younger ones, check with your travel agent or on the different cruise lines website for all the details.
Also note, some cruise lines require the child to be toilet trained to participate in their kids club.
12. Group babysitting comes with a fee
Outside the hours of the kids clubs, most cruise lines offer a group babysitting service for an extra charge. Many cruise lines offer this service for kids as young as 6 months. Check with the cruise line for ages, times, and rates.
This is a great option to allow the parents some adult time. This creates a great opportunity for a perfect date night with dinner and a show while the kids are having fun with new friends.
13. Scope out the kids’ areas early
On embarkation day (the first day of your cruise) scope out the kids’ areas. Locate and register for the kids’ club if you haven’t done so online (online is recommended) and attend the meet and greet or open house. Find the kids splash and play areas as well as quieter areas to relax with your small children.
Your cruise ship will have several dining options available that will appeal to all family members.
The buffet is a good option for little kids. There will be lots of variety and a casual atmosphere.
Main dining room
The main dining room will have a kids menu as well as booster seats on most cruise lines.
Most cruise lines offer you the choice of early dining, late dining, or anytime dining. Each cruise line calls it something different (anytime, Mytime, Freestyle dining, etc).
I would suggest choosing the anytime dining option as it allows you to eat in the main dining room during a wide time range (ex/ 5:30pm – 9:00pm) rather than having to be there for you set time (ex 5:30). Making a set time can be more difficult with a toddler.
If you plan on attending the formal night be sure to pack a cute dress up outfit for both your toddler and older children.
Room service, while there is a fee on some cruise lines, it is another food option available. You will definitely find some kid approved options here.
The ships will have other food venues, some included in your cruise cost and some with an extra fee. Some are more casual options serving pizza or burgers and some will be fancier restaurants. Often with toddlers, the more casual options are the way to go.
15. Establish a bedtime routine
Just like at home, having a bedtime routine on vacation can help make evenings more enjoyable for everyone.
16. Download shows or movies at home
While you don’t want your young child stuck to a screen on vacation, or anytime for that matter, having a few shows or movies downloaded before travelling can be a sanity saver.
If you have a Netflix or Disney+ account download some kid friendly options before leaving home. You don’t want the data expense when onboard.
This is especially useful for the drive or flight to your departure point.
Their days will be filled with excitement and experiencing new things, help the unwind at night with consistency.
17. Choose family friendly shore excursions
When researching your shore excursions, choose ones that are family friendly, require minimal walking, and is something the kids will enjoy.
Choose ones that don’t require driving, that way you don’t have to worry about car seats.
If your toddler is potty trained and can participate in the splash park and water slides, consider staying on the ship while it is in one of the ports. The ship will feel almost empty and allow you some family fun without the crowds.
18. Don’t forget the essentials
Aside from clothes and the medicine and toys already mentioned, here are some essentials you may not have thought to bring.
A nightlight is especially useful if you are staying in an inside cabin as there is no window and very dark at night.
Their own backpack
Consider putting a strap on their sunglasses, this will decrease the chance of them getting lost.
Zip Loc Bags
Packing a few Zip Loc bags of different sizes is a great cruise packing tip. You will find so any uses for them including putting wet bathing suits in them rather than in your beach bag, saving left over room service, and leak proofing valuables or liquid containers.
19. Most staterooms have a shower only
This is something just to be aware of, most cruise staterooms have a shower only, unless you are cruising in certain suites. You may want to prepare your chid for this ahead of time if they are used to only bathing.
20. Decorate your stateroom door
A fun idea that your kids will love is to decorate your cruise door. Cruise magnets are the best way to do this. This is especially popular on Disney Cruises. I have read that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) does NOT allow door decorations.
I found an awesome little shop that has a great selection of cruise magnets that can be personalized as well as excellent reviews. Check out CruiseDesignsBB
Here are some of the designs. You can click any of the pictures to check prices.
21. Cruise ducks
Hopefully these tips for cruising with toddlers will help you with your planning process. Kids grow up in what seems like a blink of an eye. My best advise is to travel with them while you can and as often as you can. You will never regret it. Family travel creates priceless memories.
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