Last winter, my family celebrated Christmas and rang in the New Year aboard a 10-night, Caribbean cruise. Cruising is a great vacation option with toddlers because you get to visit multiple places without having to repack at each destination. Also, the crew is super friendly with little ones, and will shower your kiddo with attention or at least play a few rounds of peek-a-boo.
We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas ship. My son was just 22 months old at that time. I was nervous about many things: lengthy stay at sea, being on a moving ship, our FIRST family cruise. Thankfully, we were not alone. We had a set of grandparents with us for extra help. Having backup provides a much needed break at times, and cruising is a great experience to share with family. If you’re any bit like me, you’re probably worried about how feasible it is to cruise with a toddler, is it even worth it, are there activities for a toddler, will a toddler be bored at sea, etc. The trip took months of planning, research, and preparation, but it was worth it!
1. Choose your cruise. For most cruises, baby needs to be at least 6 months old with an original birth certificate or a passport, depending on where you’re traveling to. Our ship had age-specific nurseries, open play times, trained and experienced childcare professionals, a splash zone, and the DreamWorks Experience. SOLD! We knew from past vacations that our son loves beaches and playing with water, so the Caribbean was perfect.
2. Bring extras of all the things. As far as packing goes, bring everything you could possibly think you’ll need… and some. Don’t forget about formal/theme nights! Definitely bring a lightweight, umbrella stroller. Even better, if it reclines. You can hang stuff off the handles if you go shopping, contain your child, and nap on the go–if your child is into that sort of the thing. Mine is not, but he fell asleep ONCE in the umbrella stroller. I felt like I won the lottery and took a ridiculous amount of cute, sleeping pictures. Another thing that I found super helpful: snack containers. They saved us whenever we needed to hoard food from the ship.
3. Special requests. Make three important requests in advance: 1. Dinner seating time (obviously accounting for bedtime), 2. Pack ‘n play for your stateroom (unless you co-sleep), and 3. Mini fridge (to store breastmilk or hoarded cafeteria milk, food, medicine, etc). Staterooms can be tight quarters, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if unnecessary furniture can be moved out for more room.
4. Explore the ship at sea. There’s no chance of boredom at sea with lots of places to check out (so many decks!), live music to hear, and holiday decorations to appreciate. Cruising days are also DreamWorks characters days. My son wasn’t doing any screen time then and didn’t know the characters, but I thought it would be fun. We are still recovering from Shrek-scare. Apparently, a giant dancing ogre does not a friend make. He did see Santa and the elves with Grandpa one morning, and got a sweet beach towel. It’s also a great idea to check out some of the restaurants on board, when at sea. Make a reservation! There is literally something for everyone! It was so fun to be able to introduce many new foods of all different cuisines to our son. He is now a developing foodie and carb connoisseur.
5. Pool or splash zone. Your little one must be potty trained and no longer needing a swim diaper, to use any pools on board. This is for sanitary reasons pertaining to the filtration systems. But we loved the little splash zone!
6. Find the playroom! Hands down, a favorite past-time for sailing days was going to the toddler zone playroom. It had tunnels, slides, ride-on toys, books, balls, blocks, a play kitchen and more! The space was clean and large enough to run around and play with other kids.
7. Embrace the babysitting services! Babysitting was just $6 an hour during the day and $8 an hour in the evenings. The nursery workers are trained professionals, the facilities are clean, they follow all your care instructions, and keep in touch via a cell phone/pager system. It was the first time we ever left with a sitter, but I was comfortable with the space and the childcare workers’ backgrounds. They had me fill out a form with his schedule, food preferences, etc.–and more importantly–respected it all. We started him there during his nap time. They had actual cribs and I knew that once he was up from his nap, they would just give him a snack and play with him. Easy enough. We would only leave him for about 2 hours or until he was up from his nap.
8. Maintain a schedule, even if it’s a modified one. Obviously, you want to try and stick to a familiar routine, while accommodating some adjustments here and there. This was difficult for me to do at times. I know my son best, and if he doesn’t nap, it’s all downhill. And as parents, we’re the ones that have to deal with that. It’s hard! Just do your best with sticking to what you know works for your little one. We didn’t pay for any excursions during days at ports. We chose to go at our own pace and plan around naps. Do what works for you.
9. Try new things. A cruise is filled with new experiences, fine dining, exciting shows, and exposure to different cultures. One of our new and memorable experiences from our cruise was celebrating Christmas in a new way. We had brunch as a family and went to the grandparents’ stateroom for “presents under a mini tree.”
10. Have fun!
Have you been cruising with your toddler or infant? Favorite ship? Any tips to add?