I'm a mini-expert on many things. Cruising (on cruise ships) is one of them. Living here in SoFla means that jumping on a cruise ship is super easy (no flying and great Florida resident discounts). While not exactly as romantic as an episode of "The Love Boat", cruising with kids can make for an amazing family vacation.
I have some tips for planning a great cruise for the whole crew…
1. Research, Research, Research: All cruise ships and cruise lines are not the same. Some lines, ships and itineraries are more kid friendly than others. A ship headed from Florida for a week in the Caribbean this summer will be likely filled with kids and teens. One headed on a transatlantic voyage in September, not so much. Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival and NCL all have great activities and programs for the kids. Just be sure to really check out what you are booking before you plunk down your credit card. Most of the larger and newer ships have amazing things like ice skating, water slides, surfing machines, etc to keep even the crankiest teenager happy but some of the smaller ships in the fleets of the same cruise lines do not.
|The newest Royal Caribbean Ship coming out "Quantum of the Seas" will offer bumper cars as an activity!|
2. Don't just trust a travel agent, ask a friend or a "Boardie": My best friend got off of a voyage on a Disney ship and described it as being trapped inside a floating Chuck E. Cheese's for 7 days and 7 nights. This was really good advice as she is my best friend and I'm certain I would feel the same way. If none of your friends are good sources, go search the forums/message boards on Cruisecritic.com. Those people know more than any travel agent. They are normal people obsessed with cruises and can answer any questions from general ones such as "What ships offer babysitting? " to "Does the Carnival Breeze have chocolate milk available in the main dining room during lunch?" (I'm not kidding, these people know EVERYTHING). There are message boards dedicated to each cruise line and special interest cruises like "family travel")
3. Sometimes getting two cabins or even a suite may be less expensive than squeezing everyone into one cabin: Cruise ship cabins are generally small. Like really small. My family of four squeezed into one cabin for a weeklong cruise when my kids were little. It was super fun but very tight. Unlike hotels who let you shove everyone into a room for one price, cruise ships charge by the person so it may be the same or a little more expensive to getting adjoining cabins or even a suite. If your kids are teens, you may be able to book yourself a nice balcony cabin and shove the kids across the hall in a cheaper inside cabin.
|Haven Family Suites on some NCL ships have two bedroom and two bathrooms!|
4. Don't assume that your kids will go to the kids "camp" on board: One of my sons loved going to the onboard camp when he was younger. In fact, he pretty much ditched us every night at dinner so that he could attend the fun night activities. My other one took one look at the amazing kids facilities and decided that he'd rather hang with the grown ups. This was fine with us but you might want to just keep in mind that not every kid wants the organized activities
|Kids Camp Room on Carnival Cruise Lines|
5. Check out the Kids camp rules before booking: Ships separate their "campers" into age groups and I've been told that they are sticklers for not allowing kids to cross over into other groups so that they can hang with siblings or friends. This means that if your kid and his cousin are a year apart, they may not be able to go to "camp" together. There are also rules at how old or young kids have to be to attend organized activities without a parent. It would be a great idea to know what to expect way before you board
6. Consider the "more the merrier " rule: The last time that we cruised with friends, they brought their Au Pair with them to keep an eye on their three year old. It was probably the best $500 that they ever spent. They were able to hang with their older kids while still having great family time with the little one. You may also want to barter with grandmas, aunts, nieces etc. Invite them to sail along with you if they agree to babysit a little bit. I've also found that traveling with friends means that my kids are more entertained and I get more "Japolina Time" to relax . Furthermore, once you book, your teens may just find out through social media that their friends are booked on the same trip! On one of our recent cruises, there were five other kids (from three different families) that my kids knew. We barely saw our kids all week which might have been a good thing.
7. Spring for travel insurance: Your health insurance may not cover you onboard or in foreign countries. You can buy a policy for a few bucks that not only allows you to cancel your cruise if someone in your immediate family gets sick before you go but also if someone gets sick while onboard. Cruise ships have medical clinics onboard but they can't handle everything so if you have to get (g-d forbid) airlifted off, you will want to be covered. On one of my cruises, my friend's daughter broke her leg while ice-skating on the first day at sea. My friend did not purchase travel insurance and was in for lots of money to the cruise ship medical center for the x-rays, cast & treatment. It made a bad situation worse. You can purchase insurance through your cruise line. I always buy it through www.insuremytrip.com as it is much cheaper. By the way, the cruise line could not have been nicer to my friend and her daughter for the rest of the trip.
8. Pack like you're going to a five star hotel on the moon: What I mean is that if you forget something, you may either have to go without it or pay through the nose for it. Unlike traveling on land, there is no Target or Walmart at sea. If someone forgets their flip flops or sunglasses , you will be paying five start hotel gift store prices to buy them onboard. Make a good list and be sure to pack an emergency/first aid kit with thermometer, baby tylenol, etc. Hopefully you won't have to use it but if you do, you'll be happy that you have it.
9. Decide ahead of time whether you are going to let your kids wander without you: During those tween years, I usually let my kids traverse a ship without me but had either walkie talkies or post it notes. I made sure that everyone had a working, waterproof watch and had to let me know where they were going and what time they were going to be back. Walkie talkies don't always work onboard so we had post-it notes. They had to put a post-it note on the mirror in the room which said what time they left and where they were headed. If they wanted to go somewhere else, they had to come back and change the note. It worked great for me.
10. Have a set of rules written before you go: Besides my post-it note rules, when I cruised with tweens and teens, I had a written set of rules that were handed out to everyone before we set sail. No, I'm not a neurotic drill sergeant and I never hand out lists of anything on land but I saw this on the internet and thought it was a great idea. Rules included "no going into anyone else's cabin, no going into any crew area, no sitting on railings, etc"
Did I forget anything? What are your top tips for cruising with kids?