The very best thing about cruising with your family (or in general) is that you don’t leave feeling as though you need a vacation from your vacation (or your family). There’s something for everyone, there’s opportunities to be together as a family, and plenty of opportunities for kids to get away from their parents (safely!) and do their own thing. That being said, there’s a few things I wish I would have known before my first cruise and a few things I’ve learned along the way from cruising with my own kid.
Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to consider when booking a cruise with young children in tow.
Look into Childcare Options 1 of 8
While some cruise lines may be deceptively more family friendly than others, it's worth looking into their individual children's programs to see which will best suit your family. For example — childcare is free for ages 2 and up on Carnival, while there is a charge for any child under 3 on Disney, whereas late night childcare on Disney Cruise Line is complimentary, while Carnival has a charge for theirs.
Know Your Sleeping Arrangements 2 of 8
Some kids think bunk beds are AWESOME and have no problem sleeping in them, however if you're traveling with two smaller children, a bunk bed may not be the best option as a 4th bed (it's a long way down.) Make sure the room you choose can accommodate the children you're traveling with (some offer pull-out sofas or Murphy beds.)
Choosing Your Dinner Reservation 3 of 8
If you are a West Coast family traveling on an EST cruise, you are probably not going to want the early seating option for dinner (unless you like eating at 2 pm your time.) Know that the earlier seating time is generally busier and can sometimes begin while the ship is still in port, while the later dining time is a little less hectic. If your cruise line offers an "anytime" dining option, it's a good thing to consider, but know that your service may be less personal as you will most likely have a different server each night.
Some cruise lines (Disney and Royal Caribbean that I know of) will have the childcare staff come into the later dinner seating about halfway through and take kids back to the kids club so the adults can enjoy the rest of their meal without worrying about the little people getting restless.
If you care about the shows on board, the later shows are generally much busier than the earlier shows presented for the later dinner seating, and if you can't make it to dinner for whatever reason? There is ALWAYS something to eat somewhere on a cruise.
Timing is Everything 4 of 8
Obviously months and weeks that children are out of school will be busier than those in the middle of the school year, if you have young children who are not yet in school, consider booking your cruise during the school year when parents are less likely to pull their kids out of school for a vacation. Not only will the prices be lower, the ships will be less full (of children).
Look into Available Amenities 5 of 8
Some cruise lines will stock your room with diapers, wipes, and other baby necessities before you arrive (for a fee). Make sure the cruise line you choose has the availability of high chairs and cribs before you book if they are something you will be needing for your trip.
Choose Your Room Wisely 6 of 8
Connecting rooms can be a blessing or a curse depending on your situation. If you're traveling with a larger family and need connecting staterooms, they are available, however if you're traveling with light sleepers those connecting doors aren't very thick and you may end up with noisy neighbors. Also, take into consideration what is above your room when booking, a room right under a busy dining room, nightclub, or the galley can be murder to getting a good night's sleep.
Interior staterooms are great in theory (and on the budget) if you plan on being in your room as little as possible, they can be a prison if you have a child who still needs to nap.
Check the Pool Rules 7 of 8
Chances are, a lot of your family's time will be spent in or around the pool, but know this, many times children who are not toilet trained are not allowed in pools for safety reasons. Some cruise lines will offer a toddler and baby area while others have a strict "no diapers at all" rule in place. Know before you go if you're dealing with diapers or you may have a very bored baby sitting on the sidelines.
To Passport or Not to Passport? 8 of 8
Children technically *can* travel with just their birth certificate on cruises, a passport is only required for children when flying in or out of the country. Passports for children are good for 5 years if you are the type who likes to play it safe — a passport for each of them is a good idea, but not required.
Allow 4-6 weeks from the time you send off your application to receive your passports. (Also, your child's birth certificate and passport will be mailed back to you separately for safety reasons).
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.