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Cruising with Kids (and Babies)

Cruising with Kids (and Babies)
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Do you remember my long-winded post about the week leading up to our “vacation” – the week where everyone got sick and we had to fly to California for a five-day cruise with our family (and two sick kids)?

Well, now that a couple of weeks have passed and I’ve had some time to reflect, I’ve put some tips together that might help you, should you find yourself stuck on a cruise ship with small children in a foreign country wondering what you’re going to do all day (because I can tell you, wandering a city you don’t know with crabby little children and a giant diaper bag isn’t…fun).

Our cruise was with Carnival.  Carnival is known for being family-friendly, and the ship we traveled on had the amenities to prove it: two water slides, a splash park, an arcade, miniature golf, several pools and even Camp Carnival – an entire program dedicated to kids.

That said…many of these activities were directed towards children a little bit older than our own (Jack being three, Claire being nine months).  If our kids were just a couple of years older, I think everything would be easier.

And so with that in mind, you can take this advice with a grain of salt.

Here are some things to keep in mind when booking (and packing for!) your trip.

Sleeping Arrangements

Carnival provided us with a small crib, free of charge (which Claire never actually slept in, and which we mostly used as a playpen).  They did not have crib sheets, but rather wrapped a regular sheet around the mattress in such a way that it was nice and snug.

Jack slept in a twin-size bed, and we ended up pushing the crib up against his bed to use as a bed rail (because the last thing we needed on this trip was for Jack to fall out of bed in the middle of the night).

Be sure to find out what kind of sleeping arrangements will be available so you can plan accordingly.

In-Room Entertainment

I assumed (and if there’s one thing I know, it’s never assume anything!) that we’d have TV on the boat.  And we did.  Kind of.  But, we mostly had grown-up channels.  Yeah, we had Cartoon Network – but it was the Mexican version (meaning that in between random cartoons we had never seen before, masked wrestlers would appear on-screen and scare my kids, lol).

Rather than movies on-demand and child-suitable programming, we were stuck flipping back and forth and back and forth between a very select few channels.

My recommendation would be to bring your own entertainment (small DVD player or iPad with some movies loaded on it, maybe) if there will be a need to plop a child down in front of the TV (you’d think that on a cruise ship TV would be the last thing you’d want to waste your time with, but it would have been nice to have on the airplane…ow when we were at the Urgent Care…or when Jack was sick and we were stuck in our stateroom…or when it was bedtime and we were so exhausted it was all we could do to turn on the TV and hope it would lull him to sleep…).

Bathing

One of the things I actually worried about, and with good reason, was how I was going to bathe these kids on the ship.  We didn’t have a bathtub, and babies are slippery little buggers and not at all fun to shower with, and Jack is terrified of the shower.

So the first night, I think, “No problem! I’ll stick Claire in the sink!”  It looked big enough.

Well, that didn’t go so well.  The sink didn’t have a flat spot to sit in, so as soon as I sat her down – she freaked out.  And sent water flying ev-er-y-where.

Our solution was just to have dirty kids (no, really…it was).  We did attempt a few half-hearted sponge baths, but it’s safe to say the nightly bath was not part of our bedtime-routine-at-sea.  AND we had wet toilet paper that first night thanks to Claire’s shenanigans.

Next time, I would bring some sort of inflatable tub (like those ducky ones I’ve seen) – this could sit on the floor of the shower for the baby, and then I could fill it up with water for the big kid to take a “real” sponge bath.

Eating

One good thing about cruise ships?  There is plenty of food.  All kinds, and for all tastes.

It was no trouble to round up a hotdog and some french fries, or order a PB&J from Room Service.  And for those with healthy eating on their minds, fruit was unlimited and veggies were bountiful.

If you eat dinner in the more formal dining room, you might take a drink with your for your child (in a sippy cup)…or, you could let your three-year-old sip lemonade from a wine glass, like we did.

On-Board Entertainment

There is plenty to do on-board…be sure to read the daily newsletters you receive to find kid-friendly activities.  For example, the ship’s comedian made balloon animals (and swords!) for all of the kids who wanted one on our last day at sea.  This is the kind of thing I wish we had been able to participate in the first few days, it would have killed some time and engaged the kids.

We found that the less time we spent in our room, the better off we all felt.  Sometimes this meant forcing ourselves to brave the windy top deck for a round of mini golf, or venturing into the buffet with both kids rather than calling Room Service.

Find out what activities are available for young kids, and partake.

Getting Around On-Board

I brought my trusty Ergo baby carrier.  A cruise ship is a big place, and kids get heavy.  I saw many parents with strollers.  While I think bringing my whole stroller set-up from home might be a bit of overkill, I would definitely bring an umbrella stroller next time as a supplement to the Ergo (which I truly do not think we could have survived without!).

When Jack was begging to be held – AGAIN – it would have been nice to have a stroller to stick him in.

Excursions

It turns out that most excursions have minimum age requirements…also, turns out our kids were too young to meet most of these requirements.  So, we were left with but a handful of excursion choices.  All of which were expensive and required being bused to another location, and not being able to return to the ship when we wanted to.  So – we bypassed the excursions and decided to go it alone (just like we would have done pre-kids).

This kind of sucked.

We thought we’d just be able to go hang out at the beach for a couple of hours, but it wasn’t that simple at all.  We had to take a boat from the ship to land…then another boat to the beach…and then after staying for an hour, a boat back to the dock…and then another boat back to our ship.

My advice is to research the ports you’ll be visiting.  If there aren’t any appropriate excursions, or if your kids are too young, HAVE A PLAN.  Because wandering around the touristy part of Cabo San Lucas, like we did the first day, with two bored little ones, is just not fun.

This was our first attempt at visiting Cabo.  It didn’t go well.
Our second attempt was better.  One good thing (I guess it’s a good thing?) about traveling with kids is that you’re up early…and as a result, get to the beach before anyone else!  We were back on the ship before my single and child-free sister had even had breakfast.

A Few Things You Might Want to Pack

  • Sunscreen (I know, DUH, but it’s expensive when you forget it and have to buy it on the boat)
  • Jackets (even if the weather’s going to be warm – it’s windy on the high seas, folks)
  • Baby carrier
  • Umbrella Stroller
  • Disposable bibs (I know, not very eco-conscious…but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, you know?)
  • Diapers and wipes
  • Entertainment for the kids (I wish I’d brought a DVD player or laptop with some movies)
  • Sippy cups (I wish we’d had a sippy cup with us that I could have filled with juice not only for dinners but also to take on our excursions…Jack was cranky and it was a challenge getting him to drink enough water, and I never found bottled juice on the ship).
  • A watch (this seems obvious, but we always use our phones to tell the time, get around, etc…turns out, it was kinda expensive to use the internet or our phones at all in a foreign country – and I ended up buying a watch – also…the ship operate on SHIP TIME, not necessarily the actual time…so you can set your watch to match the time on board).
  • Inflatable tub if you need to bathe your baby
 
If you have a cruise coming up – may your kids be well, may your DVD player be packed, and may your child behave in the dining room.
 
Bon voyage!
 
Questions (because clearly, I am an expert at successful cruising with small children…)?  Or, do you have any advice to add to this?
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I think some, if not most, cruises have a rule about kids being potty trained to use pools, right? So I have heard some people bring little blow up pools to put out next to the big pool for little ones to splash in. You are braver than me, being stuck on a boat with 2 young kids is not something I want to do ๐Ÿ™‚

Great tips! We’ve never cruised with little kids, mostly because I was afraid they would go rogue and try to jump overboard. It looks like you made the best of it though and I really think your ideas it will help other families.

I just found your post via the Suitcases and Sippycups facebook page. I’m so sorry to hear you had such a rough time! We took our oldest on a carnival cruise when she was 15 months old, and we LOVED it! For her age, I’d suggest a harness. I know they’re controversial, but it made me feel better to have her “leashed” AND holding our hands when we were out on the decks! It’s the first and last time we’ve used a harness for her. It was a worthy exception to our usual aversion to child leashes!

I also recommend bringing grandparents. ๐Ÿ™‚ They took turns helping with nap duty so that we could enjoy the sun while our tot was sleeping. Similarly, I’ve heard a balcony is a nice upgrade so that adults can get outside during naptime and early bedtimes!

We were looking at another cruise this spring. We have two kids now (the youngest is 8 months). It’s perhaps worth noting that a lot of cruises have a minimum age of 6 months (others one year).

Good luck your next adventure! ๐Ÿ™‚

This was nice to read. I’m going on a cruise with my 17 month old and my in-laws and I am terrified. I’m so glad to hear you had a good experience with your 15 month old.

Sorry to hear your vacation was not what you had hoped. As I type this I have a fever and am looking after an unwell two year old hence I am VERY thankful for kids TV. Really appreciate your tips in case we head off on a cruise anytime soon.

We have been on 2 Disney cruises and absolutely love DCL. We’ve never cruised with any other line before but vowed to never after our experience either DCL, they cater to your kids and make your vacation fun with all of the kid friendly entertainment and daily activities.
Those a helpful tips for first time cruise goers!!

We just got back from a Disney cruise to Alaska with my not quite 3 year old. I really wish we’d waited a few years until he was older. I have nothing against the “kid clubs” but we don’t leave our child with strangers and so even before we left, we knew that wasn’t something we were going to use. We did visit the kids’ clubs and nursery during open play hours as something to do with him. Overall, I didn’t think there was enough to keep my older toddler entertained. He doesn’t watch TV or movies (lasts about 5 minutes tops) and had no interest in the “shows” (magic show and comedy show and a ventriloquist.) We ended up in one of the lounges using the Jenga blocks to make roads for his toys cars and playing with the Connect 4 checkers quite a bit. My son also liked looking through the “store” (gift shop) so we wandered through there and admired the toys at least once a day. Additionally, Alaska was a bit too chilly/rainy for much swimming, while we were there, even with the pools being heated (he did play one afternoon.) The biggest plus to Disney is the bathtub in the staterooms. That was a saving grace most days, especially when it was too rainy/cold for the pools. I’ll also add that while my son is potty trained, he still needs help, especially with the larger adult toilets and the bathrooms on the ship are tiny and cramped. I found it difficult to help with his clothing without knocking myself out on the sink in our cabin (one with the split bathroom) or jabbing an elbow into the walls in the public restrooms. I was also disappointed in the food options between 2p (when lunch ends) and 6p (when the first dinner options open.) My son is an early to bed, early to rise type so that meant evenings spent in our cabin. It didn’t help that we experienced a time change during our cruise that made the early dinner seating even later. Fast foods options like hot dogs and hamburgers or chicken fingers were all that was available during that 2p-6p time period. My husband ended up bringing me back dinner to our stateroom between courses most nights after I’d put our son to bed, to which I was very thankful. I just wish there were some better adult food options at that point. Heck, I wish there had been something healthier to serve my son during that time period. We tried room service a couple times but the food was not impressive. Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Alaska and the excursions we took. I don’t regret our trip, but again, I do wish we’d waited another couple years.

I came across your blog post through Pinterest. We’re going to be going on a Carnival cruise at the end of November (friends of ours are getting married on board!), and we’ll be bringing our daughter, who will be 9 months at the time. We’ll have her aunt and her boyfriend with us as well, but I think they’ll be doing their own thing a lot of the time. ๐Ÿ™‚

This has been very helpful to read. I’ve been a bit concerned about bringing a little one on a cruise – I keep reading mixed things about babies on board, especially on a non-Disney type cruiseline. It’s disappointing we can’t use the pool on board, but I really do hope there is enough to keep us busy when we’re at sea.

How did the crew treat your little ones on the Carnival cruise? Does the cuteness factor of little ones help with that?

We did a 14 day cruise with our then 2 1/2 year old. We sailed from LA to Hawaii and back on princess.. It was awesome. She wasn’t fully potty trained so we had a swim diaper under her suit and no one said anything about it. We are taking the same cruise this December with our now 5 year old and our son who will be 18 months. I’m so excited, it was a wonderful time. And this year both my parents and brother are coming, so yay for babysitters ๐Ÿ™‚ lol

This is great info! We have toyed with the idea of taking the boys on a cruise but I think we might wait a few years for our sanity. You made the best out of the situation , though, good job!!

We have taken several Carnival cruises with our young children and I agree with your advice. It is hard to keep them constantly entertained and it is wise to bring your own entertainment for those long hours in your cabin!

Wow it doesn’t sound very kid friendly at all really! ๐Ÿ™ I have only been on one cruise and it was a Disney cruise. Their ships have bathtubs plus showers (I had no idea his wasn’t normal), and a seperate toilet and sink so one person can bathe and one person can go potty. Also the dining rooms and room service both provide kid cups… why wouldn’t everyone do that??? There are sooo many things to do starting at 3 yrs old. My daughter had just turned 3 and loved the kids club. Inder 3 you have to pay to use the nursery. And yes, the excursions are more oid friendly hut you still have to ride the boat out and back in half the time. Honestly ny kiddo and I just stayed on the boat dueing port days and enjoyed the less crowded pools.

We just returned from a Carnival cruise with a two year old and a four year old. It was a wonderful trip, albeit not as quiet and calm as a kid-free cruise ๐Ÿ˜€
We packed some surprise toys (legos mostly for the 4 year old and a new baby for the 2 year old) and they were a big help to keep littles entertained in the cabin and the dining room. The kids club was amazing, my daughter who rarely leaves my side, was happily joining in the fun (helped that her brother was with her). The staff in every area of the ship excelled with the kids and our fellow cruisers seemed to take delight in sharing the ship with some littles. We were pleasantly surprised that the trip went as well as it did – we didnโ€™t get to explore beyond a single beach at each port but a bucket and shovel did at least get us time to chill in the sand. Great article, thank you!

I don’t think we’re quite ready to cruise with our toddler, but this is something I’ve been very curious about. Thanks for the read and definitely pinning this for later! Hoping to do a Viking cruise someday in the future.

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