As a parent, the initial idea of cruising with kids might seem daunting. With a little preparation and some savvy strategies, cruising can be a delightful experience for everyone in the family.
Having spent 75+ nights on cruise ships, spanning five unique cruise lines, we’ve accumulated a treasure trove of cruising hacks. These gems are particularly handy when you’re embarking on a maritime adventure with a baby or young child in tow.
Here’s our practical guide to help you navigate the high seas with your tiny explorer.
6 Tips for Booking a Family Friendly Cruise Adventure
1. The minimum age to board is typically 6 months.
Age Matters. Before you start mapping out your voyage, remember that most cruise lines require babies to be at least six months old. This is one policy you can’t negotiate, so plan accordingly!
2. Decide which family amenities are important to you and research cruise lines and specific ships accordingly.
Many companies offer amenities like kid-friendly menus, babysitting services, and even onboard pediatricians. Research thoroughly to find the right fit for your family. Kids club admission requirements vary by cruise line. If this service is important to you, make sure to check the minimum age and potty-training requirements.
3. Snag a cabin with prime real-estate.
When booking your stateroom, try to snag one near the stairwell or elevators. You’ll thank us when you’re making those quick trips back and forth with a little one. Check what level the amenities you’ll use most are on and book nearest to that floor if possible.
4. Opt For a kid-friendly cabin.
Requesting a ‘family cabin’ or a balcony for extra space can make all the difference in your comfort and convenience. The last cruise we took offered a family cabin with more square footage and fold down bunk beds at no extra charge. Keep reading for tips on how to make the most out of a cozy stateroom.
5. Arrange your flight to arrive at the embarkation city at least one day before you are scheduled to set sail.
With flights being unpredictable, especially lately, give yourselves a buffer of at least one day.
6. If you have a flight out the same day as disembarkation, consider booking an Airport Transfer through the cruise line to ensure your disembarkation is prioritized.
This especially means flights that take off within 4-6 hours of disembarkation. Give yourself more time though when booking flight itineraries though if at all possible.
9 Hacks for Preparing for Your Family Cruise
Before you set sail, there are a few key things to pack and do before setting sail.
7. Separate your Carry-On Essentials from the rest of your luggage.
On embarkation day, your large baggage will be checked and taken to your room. It can take up to a half day before you see your large bags again. Pack a carry-on bag with everything your family might need. From diapers and snacks to swimwear and change of clothes, having these necessities at hand can make the first day on board smooth sailing.
Consider a few toys as well. Sometimes embarkation takes awhile and toys help to pass time in the waiting area while you wait for your group to be called.
8. Save some cash by bringing wine on board (if allowed).
Check the alcohol carry-on allowances for your cruise line. Some cruise lines allow you to bring two bottles of wine per stateroom.
9. Don’t skimp on packing bedtime essentials.
Help your little one adjust by bringing familiar bedtime books, noise machine, blanket/lovey, and a night light.
10. Overpack diapers, formula, and wipes.
Bring more than you think you’ll need so you aren’t paying a hefty price at an onboard boutique or wasting time at a port on a shopping mission.
11. Bring your own over-the-counter medicines for yourself and the kids.
You never know when they might come in handy, especially with how easily germs can spread on a ship and in the kids club. The clinic onboard has hefty fees and shopping at pharmacies internationally is never easy when ashore! Consider packing motion sickness remedies as well.
12. Know the rules regarding swim diapers.
Check in advance if swim diapers are allowed in the ship’s pools and pack accordingly.
13. Pack walkie talkies.
While walkie talkies typically don’t function well through the metal walls of cruise cabins, they are especially helpful on port days when you or your fellow travelers do not have cellular service abroad. When my husband and I would split up to do a museum with our oldest, we could easily check in as we were exiting and decide on a good meeting point.
They work great on the top levels of the ship as well.
14. Download the cruise’s mobile app.
These apps are getting more helpful year over year. Now, many include free messaging with others on the ship! This made a huge difference for my husband and me.
The app also has helpful information on daily itineraries, the ship map, and reservation capabilities.
Make sure to stay on airplane mode and use the ship’s Wi-Fi.
15. Decide whether you will join in on formal nights.
There will be at least one evening on your itinerary that is considered “formal” night. It is not required to dress up though. For the sake of packing efficiency we wore nice attire, but not fancy, instead.
For information on Disney’s theme nights and more, refer to this comprehensive list of things to pack for a Disney Cruise.
4 Suggestions for Port Days with Kids
One of the most exciting aspects of cruising is the opportunity to explore new places. When planning day trips, consider the duration and physical demands of the activities on your child.
16. Carefully select your organized tours and shore excursions.
Many cruise lines offer family-friendly shore excursions, such as beach trips or guided city tours. Our personal preference though is to book directly with local operators on private or semi-private tours so we aren’t moving around with a swarm of people all day and expecting our kids to hold to that schedule.
GetYourGuide is one of my favorite sources to find family friendly tours when cruising with kids. Young children may tire easily, so opt for shorter, relaxed tours if possible. Click one of the tours below to discover more.
17. Know the proximity of the port to “downtown” or your attraction and how to get between them.
Typically, harbors large enough to dock these mega ships are outside the heart of the city. A taxi, shuttle, or bus might be required to reach your planned destination. Taxis are often cheaper than cruise organized shuttles when you account for all family members.
How does one take a taxi without car seats? I’m glad you asked. Because I found one my favorite products this year for ages 3+. These Ride Safer Vests are approved in the USA as child restraints and they are so easy to pack and carry on our stroller handles in case we need to catch a cab to or from the ship.
18. Download map areas offline.
If you’re venturing out independently, research kid-friendly attractions at each port and download the Google Map area for that city if you won’t have a cellular data connection.
19. Determine your stroller strategy.
To stroller or not to stroller. It’s a common question when cruising with kids.
We found it super easy to move around the ship with the stroller and many other parents did the same. It was very helpful to have in ports too, we just had to carry it when we encountered stairs or extra rough cobblestone streets since it was just an umbrella stroller with small wheels.
My vote with a 3 and 5 year is yes, definitely pack the stroller. They can easily be stowed in the stateroom under the bed.
7 Tips for Low Stress Meals while Cruising with Kids
Meal times on a cruise can be a culinary adventure, but they can also present challenges for families with young children. To make mealtimes more manageable, try these tips for planning meals when cruising with kids.
20. Vary your dining selection based on the family’s mood.
Cruise ships often offer a variety of dining options, from buffet-style, to room service, to formal dining rooms.
Buffets can be a great choice for families, offering a wide range of options and the flexibility to eat at your own pace. Some have a buffet spread and seating area that caters specifically to kids’ palates.
Buffets can also be stressful if you’re hitting peak meal times. They get packed and navigating a space while balancing plates and beverages can be more hassle than its worth.
Room service for breakfast is often free, so consider this to ease into your morning peacefully. We’d just layout a clean pool towel on the floor for a mini picnic.
21. Request the early dinner seating to ensure your little one’s bedtime routine isn’t disturbed.
To skip the chaos of the buffet, we opt for the formal restaurant at dinner. It’s a great chance to debrief with the kids about the day.
Prior to our latest cruise, our kids hadn’t done many lengthy restaurant meals, but by the 3rd night on board, they were pros. It was fun to watch them learn the niceties of a 3-course dining experience.
The main dining room will typically have a kids menu and ample highchairs.
22. For babies, consider bringing your own silicone plates and/or cleaning supplies to wipe down the high chair tray.
When my kids were babies/early toddlers, they had the tendency to swat their plate from the table. So I always traveled with silicone plates like this one.
Sippy cups may come in handy as well!
23. If you or your child has specific dietary needs, inform the cruise line in advance so they can accommodate you.
24. Ask a crew member if you need whole milk for your child.
If you can’t find the type of milk your child drinks, ask a crew member. We’ve never had trouble getting a box of whole milk when cruising with kids – make sure to grab an extra one for your day out in the port.
25. Request or pack bottled water if your baby is formula-fed.
26. Keep snacks on hand when cruising with kids.
Bring a few pre-packaged snacks from home in case your child has a late night hunger pang or you need a few things to pack for your day trips off the ship. The familiar foods are usually a welcome treat for little travelers.
Boxes of Cheerios make excellent on-the-go snacks for your baby. Stock up from the buffet for those moments when you’re off the ship exploring. We’ve only seen boxed cheerios on Norwegian, but other cruise lines have dispensers and we’ve brought a bowl back to the room and put it into a Tupperware container we packed for day trips.
2 Tips on Kids Clubs for Adult-Only Time when Cruising with Kids
Cruise ships are renowned for their kids clubs, which offer a range of fun and educational activities. From treasure hunts to craft sessions, these clubs can provide hours of entertainment and give parents some well-deserved downtime.
27. Research kids club offerings in advance.
When considering a cruise line, check out their kids club offerings. Some have age-specific programs, while others offer group activities for all kids. Make sure there’s something that suits your child’s interests and age group.
Full transparency, my 3 year old doesn’t want to leave us and my 5 year old was bored in the 3-6 year old room at our most recent ship’s kids club so we only ended up using it once. I’m hoping for better success when we do our Disney cruise.
28. Be aware that most kids clubs don’t allow parents to leave children under the age of three.
You can still use the play area with your child, but you might need to rethink those kid-free dinners. Once they are three, they can be dropped off in the Kids Club as long as they are potty trained.
9 Ideas for Optimizing Tiny Spaces when Cruising with Kids
29. Use magnetic hooks to create an easy drop zone
Pack magnetic hooks for your stateroom walls. These are perfect for hanging jackets, small bags, lanyards, and more, helping you stay organized in a compact space. We liked putting some at the kid’s height so they could be responsible for their own items.
30. Organize small items with an over the door shoe organizer.
These are great for kids shoes and socks, small kids activities that they can self serve, and random bits and pieces that didn’t have a better home in the cabin.
31. Bring an inflatable bathtub.
An inflatable bathtub can be a sanity saver at bath time. They’re affordable, easy to pack, and can fit in the teeny-tiny showers typical of cruise ship cabins. Combined with a couple cups for pouring, this kept our baby happy while I was doing my hair/makeup in the bathroom.
We got our money’s worth out of this one for cruising with kids or staying at grandparents’.
32. Prepare for diaper disposal.
Ask for extra garbage bags to manage dirty diapers – think DIY diaper genie style where you create knots around each diaper to contain the smells.
33. Expand your charging station with a cruise-approved multi-plug adapter.
Power Up: Outlets can be scarce in staterooms. Power strips with surge protection or long cords are not allowed though and will be confiscated by most cruise lines. Instead, look for a product like this one to offer more outlets.
34. Pack a pop-up hamper or laundry bag.
A cheap, pop-up laundry hamper or large mesh bag can keep dirty clothes organized and out of sight while cruising with kids.
35. Try our cruise cabin laundry hack.
A dry bag can work in reverse too! Here’s how:
- Fill a dry bag with hot water and a small batch of laundry.
- Drop in a sheet of travel laundry detergent.
- Shake vigorously.
- Pour into sink/shower and rinse.
- Ring out as much water as possible, then lay onto a towel.
- Roll the towel with clothing and then walk on the roll to help squeeze excess liquid from clothes.
- Hang dry in the bathroom. (Every cruise I’ve been on has a retractable clothesline in the bathroom.)
36. Keep track of your cruise cards with lanyards.
They’re handy, especially for adults or older kids who might have their own cards to manage.
37. Bring a few cabin friendly activities for downtime when cruising with kids.
Our go to easy-to-pack toys are Legos, plus plus blocks, Coloring Books and crayons, and a balloon.
3 Thoughts on Staying Healthy while Cruising with Kids
No one can deny that a cruise ship is a cesspool of germs. From railings, to buffet serving utensils, to elevator buttons, it’s easy to catch a bug.
38. Excessively wash and sanitize your whole family’s hands.
We got our kids in the habit of sanitizing every time we passed a dispenser and did handwashes before every meal (before and after using the buffet utensils.) My 5 year old got comfortable opening doors with his foot or elbow.
39. Prepare for common ailments like colds, fevers, motion sickness, minor cuts, and tummy troubles.
Despite our best efforts, they’ve gotten sick on two cruises – on the last day each time. So we were grateful for our medicine bag of tricks.
40. Request pricing and available services from the clinic on board.
Pricing can be steep on board for medical services. If possible, visit a pharmacy or clinic while ashore to save money.
One More Thing
41. The photo shoots are FREE unless you buy prints.
Don’t pass them up, especially if you haven’t had a family photo in a long time. You might luck out with a great shot of happy people with their eyes open! Spending $40 on a print that you LOVE is better than booking a mini or full photo session at home.
My 5 year old just had fun posing for a camera so we’d stop no matter how scrappy we looked.
FAQ about Cruising with Kids
What is the minimum age for children to cruise?
Most cruise lines allow children over 6 months. It’s best to check with the specific cruise line.
Are there babysitting services available on the ship?
Many cruise lines offer group babysitting services. It is important to check requirements for use of this service and if there are any fees.
What kind of kid-friendly activities are offered on board?
Most cruise lines offer a wide range of activities for kids, such as games, arts and crafts, sports competitions, Lego spaces, and educational programs through their kids clubs.
Sitting in the front row at the theater kept our kids intently entertained for the 40 minute shows.
Are there special meal options for children?
Yes, most cruise lines offer kid-friendly menus and can accommodate dietary restrictions with advance notice.
Even with a kids menu, we often found items on the adult menu that were more suitable for our kids, like fish (requesting no sauce) or steamed vegetables.
Can I bring my stroller on board?
Yes, you can typically bring a stroller and many do. They will ask you to park your stroller outside the theater, dining room, kids club, etc. so be ready to remove valuables.
Are there family-friendly cabins available?
Many cruise lines offer family cabins or suites, which have more space. No matter how you slice it though, they are still small.
How safe is it for kids on a cruise ship?
Cruise lines prioritize safety and have measures in place such as childproof locks on cabin doors and windows, lifeguards at pools, and mandatory lifeboat drills. Kids are typically given a wristband upon boarding so they can easily locate the parent.
However, parents should always supervise their children.
Are there medical facilities on board in case my child gets sick?
Yes, cruise ships have medical facilities and staff on board to handle minor illnesses and injuries. Medical services on cruise ships typically have hefty fees (you can ask for a price list) so for common symptoms, make sure you’ve prepared your child’s travel medicine bag.
Is there a kids’ discount for cruises?
This varies by cruise line. Some offer discounted rates for kids, while others charge a flat rate regardless of age. We have found great pricing (free except fees) on MSC and Norwegian for kids.
What should I pack for my child?
Swimwear, a hat, sunscreen, formal wear (if desired), and any necessary medications. Check the weather at each of your ports of call and pack clothing accordingly.
Also, consider packing familiar items like their favorite snacks or toys to help them adjust to the new environment.
Common Mistakes when Cruising with Kids
Cruising with kids can be a fantastic family experience, but there are some all-too common mistakes to avoid to ensure your vacation is smooth sailing.
Choosing the Wrong Cruise Ship
It’s essential to select a cruise line that caters to families and children, offering kid-friendly activities, amenities, and food options.
Not Setting Rules and Expectations
Make sure your children understand your rules and the ship’s rules. With our little kids, these include: sanitizing our hands every time we pass a dispenser, not removing the wristband, and what to do if we get separated.
Poor Meal Planning
Waiting too long to finalize your dinner plans can result in inconvenient dining times or missing out on specialty restaurants. For example, call and ask to be assigned the first dinner seating so you can get the kids to bed at a normal bedtime.
Failing to Plan for In-Room Necessities
If your child has specific needs or routines at bedtime, plan accordingly. This might include bringing a nightlight, books, favorite blanket or lovey, or downloading shows for downtime. When we were still bottle feeding, we requested that minibar products be removed so we could use the full fridge and also that ice was brought to the stateroom daily.
Not Booking Shore Excursions in Advance
Early booking ensures you don’t miss out on popular attractions and activities, and it helps keep the day organized for your little ones.
Arriving the Day of Your Cruise
Travel delays are common. Arriving at the departure city a day early can help reduce stress and ensure you don’t miss the ship.
While it’s important to be prepared, overpacking when cruising with kids can lead to clutter in your cabin. Pack versatile clothing items and remember that laundry services are usually available or you can use my in cabin laundry hack mentioned above.
Neglecting the Details of Your Cruise Fare
Be aware of what’s included in your fare and what’s not, to avoid any surprises. Some activities or dining options may come at an additional cost. Research typical tipping expectations as well.
Final Thoughts on Cruising with Kids
So there you have it – our top tips for cruising with a baby or toddler. Armed with these hacks, you’re ready to set sail on a family adventure like no other!
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