Last Summer my family and I took a 14-day cruise to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Norway! We were excited about our upcoming cruise but this wasn’t like any cruise we have taken in the past. This time we were traveling with a 3-year-old! If you have never taken a cruise before, I highly recommend going on one. I have been on three cruises now – a four, seven, and fourteen day cruise. They have never been disappointing. One of my favorite things about a cruise is that you travel to several places and don’t have to pack up each time! The cruise ship is like a mini city. It has everything that you can think of (and more!) to make your life comfortable. The experience we had was so great that I can’t wait until our next cruise!
Before you actually go on the cruise there are some things that you can do to help your vacation go smoother. Here are my tips on cruising with kids:
- CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE SHIP. There are several types of ships available for cruises. I know I didn’t want to be on a ship that was “all about kids”. However, I did want to cruise on a ship that was family friendly. This means that there are activities and services geared towards families. We chose to cruise with Celebrity Cruise Lines on the Eclipse. Our ship had a Fun Factory. The Fun Factory was divided into different age groups and even had a “Teen Only” area. The play area for our son’s age group had various toys, books, and games for infants to toddlers. You could also borrow these things to bring to your stateroom. I believe it does cost extra for your children to attend the Fun Factory without supervision, but worth every penny according to the parents we talked to (and their kids!). The cruise ship also offered babysitting services and slumber parties! The slumber parties were not overnight, but allowed the kids a place to hang out in a safe environment while the parents dine or participate in some evening entertainment.
- CONSIDER STAYING IN A BALCONY STATEROOM. Although the cruise ship offered so many things to do and places to hang out, it was nice to be able to settle in our own room without feeling so enclosed in. Having a balcony opened up the room incredibly. Plus, you can enjoy the views from your own room without having to pack up the kids to go up to the top deck. Our stateroom probably could have slept two adults and three kids. There was a sofa with a trundle bed, a pull down loft, and a Double/Queen bed.
- REGISTER WITH THE CRUISE LINE. One of the first things that you should do is register with the cruise line. Once you do this, you can enter in all your passenger information, travel details (passport information), obtain your luggage tags, purchase extra packages (like beverage or special occasion packages and purchase cruise ship souvenirs), and book your shore excursions. Our cruise line offered discounts on packages and services the day we set sail, as well. The days that you are at sea (even your sail date), the cruise line will offer discounts on packages (except shore excursions) – spa packages, beverage packages, picture packages, and shopping discounts/sales. I found comfort in knowing all of that was already taken care of before arriving on board.
- PURCHASE THE BEVERAGE PACKAGE. We purchased a beverage package. This actually saves you money in the long run, especially if you have children! We didn’t bother getting our son a package since he’s so young. Our package gave us coffee, milk, juice, water, and soda for a set price. They had other packages if you wanted fewer options or wanted to add alcohol. We received a discount by pre-purchasing online.
- SPECIAL OCCASION PACKAGES. We happened to be leaving on our son’s birthday. I found out that you can purchase a kid’s birthday celebration package. We were able to get a birthday decoration for our stateroom, a cake, and a kid’s cruise backpack for him. Inquire about bringing your own decorations. Maybe you can request your stateroom staff to decorate or do it yourself when you get a free moment. There are several types of special occasion packages available that you can view online.
- BOOK YOUR SHORE EXCURSIONS EARLY! You have the option to book your shore excursions online or on the ship. I recommend booking them online, as early as possible. We booked half of our excursions at home and the other half on the ship. When we decided to book extra excursions on our first day at sea, we found that many were sold out! Booking shore excursions makes it easy to plan your day –meals, naptimes, activities. We didn’t feel stressed out about trying to find something to do or see in each port. With the excursions we knew we would see a highlight of the port we were in and have guaranteed transportation to do it. In the end, we booked an excursion at every port. I am so glad we were able to do that! Next cruise I will definitely book them all in advance though!
- WHAT SHOULD I PACK?! Figuring out what to pack can be overwhelming. You should know how many formal dinner nights to expect before you cruise. The cruise website explains the different dress codes so you know exactly what to pack. You are not required to attend the formal dinner nights and can choose to eat at the other cafes or grills on board. Also, pack appropriate clothes for the season and destination you are traveling to, keeping in mind to pack clothes appropriate to the activities you plan on doing (swimming, working out, shore excursions). When packing clothes, keep in mind that the staterooms do not have irons in them. Some ships do have self service laundry, ours did not. The laundry and pressing services were expensive. One thing I should have done was iron my things prior to our cruise, pack them better and bring a wrinkle release spray! I think I read once if you roll your clothes, they wrinkle less. Anytime you travel with children you want to bring enough things to make them comfortable in their new, temporary environment. Besides clothes, I have a set list of items to bring for our little guy that include:
- Enough favorite snacks and foods. My son is a VERY picky eater!
- Favorite blankies. He has 3 he sleeps with every night. It seems excessive, right? These are his comfort items. He has had two of those blankies since he was a baby!
- Familiar toys. Since it was his birthday, he had some new toys to entertain himself with, along with a few trusty Disney Cars and Hot Wheels.
- The iPad. This has been a wonderful travel item! We loaded up new videos and apps prior to our cruise.
- Sippy cups, snack cups, spoons/forks, and bowl/plate. The cruise line does not have kid friendly plates and utensils.
- Dish soap/bottle brush. Am I the only one who packs this? Whenever we travel (besides to family), I always bring dish soap in a travel size bottle and a bottle brush/sponge in a large ziplock bag to be able to wash our son’s stuff in our hotels. It is a must pack item for me!
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SELECT SEATED DINING AND ROOM SERVICE! On the ship there are several places to eat – cafes, grills, bars, Specialty Dining restaurants, Select Seated Dining Room, and free room service! On our cruise, the Oceanview Café was buffet style. The pros: several types of food to choose from, the dress code is Casual Daywear, it was on the same deck as the pool. The cons: finding a place to eat during peak times was nearly impossible, the atmosphere seemed more stressed. During non peak times, there was less of a selection of food. The food was good, but because I felt stressed it made it hard to enjoy my meal. Once we realized that 24 hour room service was available for free, we took advantage of it! A few of the shore excursions that we booked were early, and room service made life easier for us on those days. We didn’t have to wake our son up too early and get him ready to go somewhere to eat and we could sleep in a little more. It was also nice to eat on our balcony as we were cruising into ports. This gave us time to enjoy the views and take pictures from our room! Depending on the night, the dress code was Smart Casual or Formal if you ate at any of the restaurants for dinner. We had Select Seating. This means that we were able to choose what time we wanted to eat at the restaurant. I cannot think of one bad thing about eating at the restaurant! I can only think of great things! We were able to have a set time for dinner. We were usually at the same table and had the same servers. The servers usually had Gavin’s milk ready, a high chair at the table already, and his food served to him by the time we ordered ours! It was a more relaxing atmosphere and the food was excellent! We also had three formal nights on our cruise, giving us an opportunity to dress up. I think Gavin really enjoyed wearing his little ties and dress shoes! And all the ladies loved when Matt wore his military dress uniform! He even got asked to take pictures with random people!
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE AND PURCHASE A PHOTO PACKAGE. On the ship there are several opportunities to take professional pictures. Every evening there were photo stations set up throughout the ship and also photo stations on the port as we got off the ship. They also had a photo studio to book a personal photographer. You can view your pictures and purchase them individually as prints or purchase a print/digital package. The printed photos are excellent quality. The prices of the individual prints were expensive, which made the photo/digital packages look attractive. Once we decided on purchasing a print/digital package, we took advantage of all the photo opportunities! This was a chance to capture some family photos with all of us actually in the picture! When we viewed the new pictures, I had the staff set these aside and had them toss the not so great ones. At the end of our cruise we received all the prints I had saved and a digital disc with the copyright to print as many as I needed. This was definitely worth purchasing for me. I was able to get all the pictures (good and bad) on disc and some great photos already printed up ready to be framed!
- RELAX AND ENJOY YOUR VACATION. Each day of the cruise you get a newsletter and information about the port you are going to. The newsletter had a schedule of events, weather, dress code reminder for dinners, and any other important information you might need. We referred to this often. The days we were at sea, the cruise offered seminars about the ports we were visiting the next day. This was great because you received the Port Explorer and Shopping Guide early. My husband made a great statement before we left for our cruise. He said once on the ship, he wasn’t going to worry about money. This doesn’t mean we are rich and not mindful of our spending during our trip! It just meant we weren’t going to be nitpicky and nickel and dime while on vacation. We were going to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. By booking our excursions and special packages early, we only had to spend money on souvenirs or other services (spa or casino) while on vacation. All that stress of vacation planning was left at home and we could relax!
I bet you are ready to book your next cruise after reading those tips! – That’s IT Mom, Sharon
*Sharon did not receive any compensation or product for this post. She’s sharing her experience and tips with our readers.