Cruises today are gearing more toward families, offering an array of activities, accommodations and services to appeal to parents. With our top tips for cruising with toddlers, babies and kids, you maximize your vacation when taking a cruise with your kids. The first tip is to check for the minimum age requirement for traveling with kids. Most start with a minimum age of 6 months, so before you plan a family cruise vacation, review each cruise line’s age requirements. From there, pick your destination and you’ll find ships able to make kids happy, especially toddlers and young kids who will be excited by all the offerings on the ship, as well as your excursions on land.
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When you spend 9 months traveling around the world, planes, trains and automobiles can get tiresome. Cruises today are gearing more toward families, offering an array of activities, accommodations and services to appeal to parents, which is why decided to take our son on a cruise. We loved it so much we cruised four times during our trip, cruising in chilly weather in Alaska and Scandinavia, managing rough seas in Southeast Asia, and, our favorite, relaxing on the Med while taking in European city excursions.
Still, not everyone will enjoy cruising with toddlers. Start by weighing the pros and cons of cruising, and then check for the minimum age requirement for traveling with kids. Most start with a minimum age of 6 months, so before you plan a family cruise vacation, review each cruise line’s age requirements. From there, pick your destination and you’ll find ships able to make kids happy, especially toddlers and young kids who will be excited by all the offerings on the ship, as well as your excursions on land.
With our top tips for cruising with toddlers, we hope that you can use it to maximize your time on a cruise with your own kids.
Packing for your adventure
What you need to bring on your family vacation on a cruise, no matter the destination:
- A Travel Stroller. Have a stroller on your cruise, as cruise ships today are very large and getting from point A to point B can be exhausting. There is a lot to see on a cruise ship, and a lot to distract your kids when you’re walking around. Not only can it help get around the large ship, it can help you keep control so you can get around faster, and without your kids wanting to run into the casino to see the “cool” lights and noises. A stroller was also helpful for naps; our son slept a lot in his stroller as we explored our ships.
- A Light Jacket. Even if you travel during the summer to the Caribbean, the interior of a cruise ship is often kept chilled and you’ll want a light jacket or a baby blanket to ward off the chill.
- A Swimsuit and Puddle Jumper. Kids love water (except at bath time) and cruise ships offer hot tubs and swimming pools in which kids will want to play. Even if you think it’s not warm enough, bring a swimsuit, just in case. (Although the “hot tub” is often more “lukewarm.”)
- Baby Gear. Cruises don’t have restrictions on how much baggage you bring aboard, so bring as much as you want. (Although space in your cabin could be limited for storage.) Bring wipes, diapers, formula… always overpack it, as you never know if a shop will have what you need, and you won’t want to spend your excursion/on-shore days shopping for baby supplies. We normally recommend 3 to 4 days worth of diapers, but on a cruise, bring as much as you can. You don’t want to be in Santorini looking for diapers. Use the no baggage limit to your advantage.
- Pack ‘N Play. Cruise cabins are tight, so they may be too small to fit a Pack ‘N Play. Some cruise cabins offer a sitting area with a sleeper sofa, but for little kids that may be too unsafe for sleeping. Instead, bring your Pack ‘N Play and when you are in your room, use the closet space to provide extra room for the it when it is open, or put it by the couch, if you have one in your room.
- Medicine. If you may get seasick, carry medicine with you for seasickness. For young kids, a doctor needs to prescribe medication so have the medicine before you cruise, just in case. Because you are traveling in very close quarters on a cruise ship, also having your basic medicines handy in case something happens is recommended.
Fun on the high seas
Cruise ships are like resorts at sea, with many offerings to fill your days on at sea, including:
- Daycare. We love cruising because there is a place for kids to play, including daycare for kids ages 3 and older. If your child is not old enough to leave in the daycare, you are still welcome to visit with your child to play. We would spend 30 to 45 minutes playing in the daycare, sometimes giving each other a little alone time and space during our cruise. Many of the daycares have babysitting service for late nights, entertaining the kids with lots of activities.
- Outdoor Activities. We loved not only swimming in the pool, but many cruise ships have sports courts like basketball and soccer, and even if toddlers can’t officially play a sport, they can have fun playing with balls and running around a safe area.
- Kids’ Activities. We would start planning our day the night before, reading the itineraries the ships provided in our cabin. We’d find all of the kid-friendly activities for the following day to plan some fun each day. While we weren’t scheduling our entire days, it was helpful to know what was available. You never know what activities the ships will provide, from scavenger hunts to meeting the captain. Take advantage of the entire ship and what it offers.
Dining at Sea
Cruises are known for offering a plethora of food, and it’s the same for families who cruise:
- Milk and Water. There is no need to worry about milk and water for your kids on a cruise ship. Milk is available at every restaurant and meal time, and if you bring a water bottle, you can refill it at any location on a ship. You can also bring milk and water to stock in your mini-fridge in your cabin. We found some cruises had a mini-bar filled with drinks, so we simply asked the ship to empty it so we could use it as our own fridge.
- Kids’ Food. There is nothing to worry about when it comes to food on a ship – it’s why people joke about overeating on cruises. Most cruises have traditional dining rooms for sit-down eating at a fixed time, while others have freestyle dining where you can select you time and sit as your own family. Kids’ items are not always available on the menu, so always ask for a kids’ menu. From there, you’ll never have to worry about food – there is always plenty for kids to choose from, such as chicken nuggets and pizza.
- Fine Dining. Cruise ships offer special restaurants above and beyond the traditional buffet-style service. When you want to enjoy the special restaurant, begin at the buffet and feed your child and then after bedtime, your child can sleep in his stroller while you enjoy hibachi or high-end Italian specialty dining. Our son would eat at the buffet, then we would get him dressed in his PJs and get him ready to sleep in his stroller, and then take him with us as we would dine in a nice restaurant.
Sleeping on a ship
Sleeping on a ship can be as comfortable as sleeping at home, and often, kids sleep well with the motion of the ship. Still, to help your child adjust, here are a few tips:
- Arrive Early. If you can, arrive in your embarkment location a day or two before to adjust to the new time zone and get used to the flow of things.
- Book a Mini-Suite, if possible. Try to book a mini-suite when you can. Cruises are expensive, but with a mini suite can have space for your Pack ‘N Play, stroller and baby gear. Again, even if your cabin is small, you can utilize the open closet space for your Pack ‘N Play, which we did on each cruise.
- Take Walks. After dinner, we would walk around the ship with our son in his stroller, and he would often fall asleep. Once he was out, we could grab a drink or our own slower-paced dinner as he slept in his stroller beside us.
You may think cruising is something for just grandparents, but they really are wonderful for all ages, and a great way to visit multiple places without losing a sense of place by having a comfortable cabin and restaurant staff that greet you whenever you return to the ship, remembering your child’s favorite foods and becoming friends, even if just for a week.
You got me when you said that it’s best to ask for a kids’ menu since the kids’ menu are not always available on the menu. My husband and I are planning to have a cruise trip to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. We will bring our 2-year old son with us because he is part of our celebration. He can be selective when it comes to his meals. We’ll do all your tips to make sure that we won’t get stressed in finding a meal for him.
Hi Deborah – yeah they sometimes don’t give it with the regular menu, but they always have one or can make something specific/special for the kids. That’s awesome that you guys are going cruising and taking your child with you. We love to hear families that travel together and build amazing memories together. Great meeting you and let us know how it goes!
I liked that you pointed out that talking a toddler on a cruise is fun but there is something that will make it easier. I liked your suggestion about getting a mini-suite if you can. It does seem like it would allow you to have some more room. Also, it might be smart to know where you can get food that your toddler likes on the cruise.