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Ice Cream, a Pool, and Crafts Galore: What More Could a Kid Want?

Our 4-year-old's feet, relaxing on our room's balcony aboard the Norwegian Gem.

So as I recently mentioned, I was really surprised by how family-friendly our recent Norwegian Cruise vacation was. Sure, it’s stereotyping, but I honestly thought of cruises as more vacation options for the older crowd or for the partying types. Not for us.

But as far as family-friendly goes, it’s hard to beat a cruise. Here’s why:

1. They have a kids’ club.

Similar to a day camp, Norwegian Cruise Line offers an all-day kids’ program for ages 2 to 17 (for the younger kids, it’s called Splash Academy; the teen program is called Entourage). You can check them in and out throughout the day, and it’s staffed by some of the nicest young adults you’ll find around. Our kids loved it.

The circus performance! My daughter is the blonde up front, wearing purple.

So yep… You’ve got on-site, as-needed babysitting all week long. Included in your price. And it’s not like the kids will be missing out on your vacation fun—they’re having a blast preparing for a circus performance at the end of the week while you’re sipping wine in a French restaurant a few floors below.

Something good to know: there’s no childcare for kids under two. This was a bit of a surprise to us, especially since Finn turns two in just a week—they weren’t able to take him at all. But we figured out a good plan for us: we’d have Finn skip his nap, and feed him dinner earlier with his older siblings. Then when they were in the kids’ club, he’d sit with us during our nicer dinner, and he’d eventually fall asleep.

Ultimately, we made it work, but I’d recommend waiting until your kiddo is two years old, or taking the cruise with family or friends, where you could swap babysitting for dates on the ship.

2. The staff is incredibly kid-friendly.

Every single staff member on our ship—from the waiters to the room service attendants to the lifeguards—was amazing with our kids. I’m sure it would be this way if the boat were completely staffed by North Americans, too, but in our experience, there’s something pretty great about the family friendliness of other cultures. So many countries where we’ve traveled love children and are very forgiving when they act as such.

I was really surprised how international our ship was, and it wasn’t just the guests. Norwegian Cruise Line had staff from all over—the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, India, Colombia, Nicaragua, Romania, the Czech Republic, and the UK, just to name a few. In fact, I saw very few American flags on their name tags!

Chatting with the staff members was a true highlight for us, and it reminded us how much we miss living abroad. And I loved that our kids were surrounded by so many accents and colors.

3. There’s plenty of food.

Dinner at the Grand Pacific restaurant, complete with a wine list AND kids' menus.

I’m new to cruising, so I’m not sure how new a concept this is, but Norwegian has a thing called Freestyle Crusing. When it comes to food, this means you can eat anywhere, at any time, wearing almost anything.

Our kids loved the buffet restaurant, where they could get their own food—it had everything from stir-fry to pizza to grilled burgers, and just about everything in between. A pasta bar. Lots of salad. Fresh fruit. And of course, desserts.

We let our seven-year-old get her own food, so long as it had a salad or vegetable on it. If she ate a good meal, she could go get her own dessert. Her favorite was the ice cream bar, of course.

Our kids did really well in the other restaurants, too, actually—each one had a kids’ menu, and they were allowed in their shorts and t-shirts. No stuffiness at all.

4. It moves. And you don’t have to wear seatbelts.

Just the nature of a cruise is pretty kid-friendly, when you think about it. You’re going somewhere, but you don’t have to stay in your seat and be still. Inching towards the beach while you move about the cabin making crafts, swimming in the pool, or sleeping… pretty great.

Our boat, the Norwegian Gem, as we relaxed on Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.

All in all, we found that a cruise made for a great family vacation, and our kids loved it. On the days at sea, we’d spend the morning at the pool as a family, then after lunch, our older kids would go to the kids’ club. Kyle and I would either take turns watching Finn while the other one did something solo (massage at the spa, taking a nap, or reading a book on the deck), or we’d do our best to entertain him while we chatted and walked around. Or we’d let him nap and the two of us would hang out together on our balcony.

We’d gather the older kids for dinner, and then afterwards we’d either let them go back to the kids’ club (our oldest begged to), or we’d have family time again by the pool.

During our two days in the Bahamas, we spent all morning and afternoon on the beach together, and the kids went to their club after dinner, when we got back on the boat. We chose to simply stay on the ship during our day in Orlando, and the kids were perfectly happy—a pool, crafts, and ice cream? Not much more is needed.

Soon, I’ll share what to pack (and what to leave home) when you go on a cruise with kids, how to save money (we now know what we’d spend extra money on and what we’d skip!), and how to make a cruise work for different families.

If you could go anywhere on a cruise, where would you go?

A big thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Read more from Tsh at Simple Mom, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

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