Cruise Advice for Parents with Kids at Sea

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There are so many ways to take a cruise, and so many different types of adventures one can embark upon. One of the most enjoyable and rewarding, however, are those that involve family. Bringing children along may seem like a big commotion but those family holidays together provide priceless memories and are a great way of helping your kids explore and understand the larger world around them. If you are thinking of bringing your kids on a cruise departing from Southampton but are looking for a few pearls of wisdom before doing so, this guide full of advice, tips and tricks to make your cruise with kids a success, will be invaluable.

kids on a cruise ship

Kids club and children focused cruises

Choosing the right cruise for you and your family is of course incredibly important, and even more so when kids are involved. Nicole Melancon, who writes about travel and culture over at her fascinating blog Third Eye Mom, was kind enough to offer her advice on the subject:

“With young children, it is very important to make sure you choose a cruise that has a focus on children. We did a Royal Caribbean cruise that had a children's theme (Sponge Bob) and was loaded with child-focused options for all aspects of the cruise, including activities on and off the ship that are age appropriate and exciting, and had good dining options for children. Also critical is doing a cruise that offers a kids club where the kids can go for a few hours of the day or evening and the parents can get a break.”

Choose family friendly destinations

Nicole also has some advice for parents when it comes to selecting your cruise destination, as it’s important to know how well suited they will be to kids:

“Destination is also very important. Young children generally prefer destinations that have activities they want to do for excursions such as swimming, snorkelling and anything involving water, animals, etc. Our cruise went to Belize and Mexico which was perfect for kids. We had warm hot weather, went snorkelling and to an ocean waterpark. The kids loved it. I don't think they would have enjoyed a European cruise at that age.”

Day 1 programmes and age groups

Don and Heidi of the cruise blog Eat Sleep Cruise, a site for news, reviews and travel tips, are well versed in the world of travel and cruise ships. Fortunately, they were happy to share some of their top tips for those travelling and had a few things to say regarding youth activities, age groups, and additional services for infants.

“Once on-board, it is best to check your children into the youth activities centre on Day 1 so they can meet the staff and some of the other children who are also on-board. This will ease some of the concerns if the little ones are a bit apprehensive about participating in these programmes or being apart from mom and dad.

“You will also want to investigate the children’s programming, including how the cruise line separates children based on age. Most lines have separate areas for different age groups. If the siblings vary in age, they might not be in the same dedicated spaces, which of course, the kids may or may not like.

“Many children’s programs start at age 3 and require children to be potty-trained. If you have younger kids, you may have to pay for additional services beyond the cruise fare if you want some alone time during the trip.”

Choose cruises with suitable facilities and kids entertainment

Child on cruise ship playing golf

Alyson Long is a professional traveller and family travel expert. She and her family have been travelling full time for over 4 years now, and have many helpful travel tips and details of their adventures at World Travel Family. Alyson spoke to us about her own tips for parents looking to cruise with their children, offering the following advice:

“My children have now been on 4 cruises, all longer voyages with multiple sea days, and they are constantly begging to take another! This is in part because of their love of buffets – boy these kids love to eat! They also really enjoyed the kids' clubs – we wanted them to stay with us, they wanted to go and play.

“My advice to parents planning a cruise would be to carefully consider which cruise line and style of cruising best suits your family. We enjoy very casual, informal cruising with no dining times or dress regulations (Norwegian Cruise are our preferred cruise line for their freestyle dining).

“We also look for ships with facilities that suit the age of our kids, they like water slides, rope courses and go carts, not so much nursery or crèche facilities. Check out the evening entertainment options too – are the shows something that your kids will enjoy? Ours have enjoyed magic shows, Katy Perry and Aerosmith tributes, all sorts of musical performances, not so much pianos and ballroom dancing.

“Cruising can be fun for all the family and we're looking forward to our next chance to travel on one of these incredible ships.”

Know your cruise lines and have swimwear to hand

The importance of researching a cruise ships’ child related facilities is one that Danielle Fear of Cruise Miss highly recommends. Danielle is currently nominated in the Favourite Cruise Blogger category by World of Cruising (which is open for voting). Danielle was also on hand to offer her favourite cruise lines for cruising with kids:

“When planning a family cruise, one thing to always do your homework on is what is on offer for the kids! It's important that they are kept occupied during the cruise and a good kids' club can make a world of difference. Some of the best options for family cruising have to be Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Lines - they have ships packed with enough features and facilities to keep the adrenalin pumping 24/7.”

Danielle also left us with a handy top tip for making a parent’s life easier: “If embarking in warmer climates (or if your chosen ship has an indoor pool) pack the kids' swimming clothes in your hand luggage, then while you wait for your cabin to be ready, they can jump straight in the pool and you can sit back and relax.”

Pre-purchase baby products and book adjoining cabins

Are you are worried about the type of cabin to book? How many cabins you need and how to manage your family’s accommodation? Well, Don and Heidi of Eat Sleep Cruise have advice to set you on the right path.

“Depending on the age of your children, it might make sense to purchase two adjoining cabins, instead of one larger ‘suite’ or family style room. The additional bathroom and space of a second room can come in handy. Not to mention, booking two standard rooms can actually be cheaper on some ships than the larger accommodations."

And if you are worried about packing a plethora of baby products, remember this tip from Eat Sleep Cruise:

“If you are traveling with infants, some cruise lines allow you to pre-purchase certain baby products so you don’t have to pack them. Investigate the online cruise planner to see what items are available from the cruise line to be delivered to your cabin.” 

Create alone time for you

Mother and child on cruise ship

The emphasis on selecting the right cruise for your children’s wants and needs is deliberate, but not only is this smart for providing your kids with the best holiday possible but choosing a cruise and cruise line that is welcoming to kids will also allow you and other adults that much sought after alone time. This is a point touched on by Gary Bembridge, a travel and cruise writer, podcaster, and YouTuber. His website Tips for Travellers is full of inspiration and advice for luxury travel.

“Make sure you take them on a cruise line that really caters for and welcomes children” advises Gary. “This will ensure you have the best facilities like Kid’s Clubs, kid-friendly activities and excursions, programs to allow you to enjoy alone time, find other kids and families to interact with and also ensure the other guests are welcoming and tolerant of having children around.

“While most lines will have the ability and programs for families at key vacation times, they are not necessarily the best ones to take kids on. Both for the facilities, activities and programs but also in terms of the atmosphere and how welcoming other guests are to them. Look at cruise lines that want families to cruise with them and cater for them (and their parents too).

“The best lines to look at include Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival and MSC Cruises. These will have younger guests and lots of families, along with family cabins and the biggest and most comprehensive Kids’ Clubs.”

Creating alone time for the parents is also something that Eat Sleep Cruise strongly endorses, suggesting that travellers:

“Make sure to plan both family time and some ‘parent only’ time during your cruise. Whether it is dinner in a specialty restaurant, a couple’s massage, or just a relaxing evening with a few cocktails, reserve time for just the two of you.”

Research ports and itineraries

Lisa from the family oriented blog Travel Loving Family (a site full of tips, reviews and destination guides), was able to share with us her own expert advice for cruising with children, suggesting that parents really research the various ports that a cruise ship visits, while also making sure to select the right itinerary.

“My advice would be to do lots of research before booking your cruise. Not only are you looking for a ship that has good kids’ facilities (kids’ clubs, kids’ pools, etc.), you also need a cruise itinerary that works for your family, e.g. a Southampton to the Caribbean crossing for some families may be great as they may enjoy plenty of sea days but if you are a family that enjoys exploring ports this is not the best itinerary for you. Likewise, you may not wish to spend time travelling from ports to the main cities/attractions and therefore ports such as Civitavecchia (which involves a one hour drive into Rome) may not be the best choice of port.

“You also need to book well in advance as most cruise ships have rather limited family cabins, particularly if you wish to book in the school holidays, and if you are looking to book a particular type of cabin (e.g. an outside family suite with balcony). More tips can be found on my website.”

Lisa has also just launched a brand new blog focused on the very subject of this article. The blog is called Cruising With Kids and is also being run with three of Lisa’s fellow family travel bloggers: Karen from Mini Travellers, Sarah from Extraordinary Chaos, and Claire from Tin Box Traveller.

Be flexible with children’s bedtimes

Our next piece of advice comes courtesy of the aforementioned Claire from Tin Box Traveller. Claire enjoyed her first family cruise on-board the Carnival Vista last year. As a mum of two girls, aged 3 and 1, she recommends being flexible about bedtimes to fully take advantage of the on-board evening entertainment:

“We’re fairly regimented when it comes to bed times at home. Bath time, pyjamas, warm milk and bed for 6/7pm. However, on our cruise we quickly realised we’d have to vary this a bit. Tin Box Tot was keen to go to the evening parties at the kids’ club and her sister was too young to be allowed to join her. Rather than sit in our cabin with a sleeping one-year-old while the Tot enjoyed the on-board nightlife, we popped Tin Box Baby into her PJs and pushchair and took her to dinner with us. More often than not she drifted off to sleep while we enjoyed our date nights. We also often got to lay in the morning after!”

Pack appropriately

Packing the appropriate items for your holiday has its obvious benefits and packing for a cruise can be a little more specific. Beyond reading our recent piece on what to pack for a cruise holiday [link to previous article will be here once live], Gary from Tips for Travellers has some suggestions for what parents should make sure to pack:

“Pack your own home first aid kit with all the incidental things you use at home to cater for daily issues. This will be less stressful and so much cheaper than having to visit the medical centre or trying to navigate the pharmacies in unfamiliar countries. Make sure you pack a dental repair kit as ships do not have any dental services on board.”