In the beginning (2004), when Jen and I were dating, cruising was just ‘her’ thing. Anytime anyone had brought up the topic of cruise ships, even if she was on the other side of the room submerged in the most serious of conversations, her head would pop up on a swivel like a velociraptor to scan the room and see who needed information. It didn’t matter to whom she was talking, she would push them to the floor, fire her chin into the air with puffed chest and immediately run to the aid of anyone who had questions about braving the high seas in varying degrees of luxury.
To her credit, she has been on 17 cruises to places such as Puerto Vallarta, Costa Rica, Ixtapa, Belize, the US & British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic and even through the Panama Canal.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about the cruising life. To me, ‘cruising’ meant driving over to Pottstown, Pennsylvania on a Saturday night after I had spent all afternoon pumping Turtle Wax into the body of my truck – trying to make it look NOT 1985, in an effort to whistle at girls and smoke the tires. It turns out (SURPRISE!), it has a much different meaning these days.
I took my first cruise after my wife and I moved in together in 2005 and to my surprise, I enjoyed it. So much so, that after my wife and I got married back in 2008, we set sail from Boston Harbor and headed to Bermuda for the first week of our two-week honeymoon with family and friends in tow (week 2 was my choice – CAMPING – but we won’t talk about that here). Since then, we’ve cruised together to Jamaica, Haiti, the Caymans, and all over the Mexican Riviera WITH a varying amount of our kids.
Cruising with your hubs or a lady friend is a totally different experience than with three kids under the age of five, however, I DON’T want you guys to be afraid.
Our most recent cruise was this past year on the Carnival Freedom. We sailed from Galveston, Texas on the eve of Mardi Gras and visited Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progreso over the course of 7 days.
After we got the kids to bed on our first night, we laid down and threw a SIGH into the ether. We recanted about our flight, the sluggish hell that was walking through the airport, the embarkation process and little things that first-time family cruisers may not think about OR may not know about.
So we came up with a list. I guess you could call this a ‘survival list for first-time family cruisers’. I know that each and every cruise line has different amenities and policies, so it’s important to check with your individual carrier.
I’m sure that we’ll continue to add to this list, but these are…
12 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CRUISING WITH KIDS
- MARITIME LAW & ROOM CAPACITY – Do research and be aware of the maritime law in the jurisdiction that you’re traveling. In cruising to Mexico, we realized that only four people were allowed in one outside or balcony state room. This meant, that, because we were a family of five, we’d have to book another state room and figure out who would sleep where. IF this is the case, which it most often is, request ADJOINING state rooms so that you can keep the door open to have easy access to everyone in your family. On our last cruise, we weren’t lucky enough to get connecting rooms – which meant that my wife and I had to split up. She slept in one room with Ava and Mason and I slept in the other with Charlie but our rooms did connect via the large adjoining balcony so we did have access to both rooms. The doors are extremely heavy by design, to make it harder for a young child to go outside–but keep a close eye and never leave your child alone in a room.
- BRING A BABY MONITOR – If you have adjoining rooms, bring a strong baby monitor with you. You can at least keep the doors cracked for easy access and retain SOME privacy in the process. Or you can throw them down for naps and relax on a private balcony. It’s totally worth the extra dough.
- iPads – I’m certainly not here to criticize your kids’ screen time, however, I will say that vacation is vacation. If we’re taking our kids with us and watching their iPad is going to squash a tantrum or help us get through a situation without me lighting my hair on fire – GO AHEAD AND WATCH IT. Load up on some surprise apps, movies or their favorite TV shows. Bill Gates has saved us more than once.
- TOYS ‘N STUFF – Last year, my parents gave the kids small personalized duffel bags for each of them–and they’re great. It’s their responsibility to maintain it. When they’re done playing with their smalls, watching the iPad or snuggling with a stuffed animal or blanket, they go back in the bag. This was SUPER helpful on the flight to our port-of-call and also in maintaining some semblance of normalcy for them. The one thing I will say is that many cruise lines, including Carnival, do a great job of having a toy check out system on board so that you can borrow larger toys and just return them before disembarking.
- BATHING SUITS – Bring more than one. It’s so much easier to let one sit on the balcony or hanging on the line in your bathroom to dry when you’ve got a back-up. I’d recommend at least three per person–you might find getting in and out of them more than once a day and there’s nothing worse than putting on a wet bathing suit.
- WHAT’S THE FORECAST – Think about the weather. Use the Weather Channel app to check in on the weather at your ports-of-call. There were a few nights (especially when we were at sea) that, even though we were in the Caribbean, it got really chilly on deck due to the crosswinds (this is normal). Several cruise lines will play movies up the massive movie screen on deck or have parties and concerts – which is awesome, but you want your kids to be warm.
- REGISTER FOR DAY CAMP/BABYSITTING – Check to see if your cruise line offers babysitting services, as well as a day camp. As soon as you board and they open for registration, go up and register IMMEDIATELY. These services fill up fast. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, will issue you a phone that you can carry throughout your entire trip, but they go quick. The phones are wired to the server on the boat and they’ll call you if there’s any type of emergency.
- WHY DAY CAMP/ BABYSITTING? – You may ask, ‘why would I want to take my kids on vacation and then dump them in camp?’ The only way that my wife and I were able to have a bit of time alone, was to send Ava & Charlie to day camp for a bit. They loved it. They got to socialize with other kids, do crafts and just have some time to play. Carnival had a separate day care service for kids under the age of 2 but it’s not offered every day, so when we could, Mason went on the one or two nights that we just wanted to share a quiet dinner together – without tantrums or flying spaghetti.
- THE ANSWER IS ALMOST NEVER “NO” – You’ve paid a lot of money to be on this cruise, which includes meals. Start the kids off with WHATEVER is offered. Some people don’t know that you can ask for a cheese & fruit plate before any apps or entrees are even brought to your table. This will certainly help keep the kids occupied until the cavalry arrives. Order them something from EVERY SINGLE COURSE… avocado gazpacho? Check. Prosciutto Wrapped Bacon? Check. If they don’t like something that is on the menu, TRY IT ANYWAY… when else will your child get to trudge through lobster tail, Beef Wellington and Oxtail Orzo? Let them try it–you might be very surprised.
- STROLLERS – With three kids under six, I sometimes call upon the double-wide stroller. DON’T DO IT. It’s a local move – save it for a Saturday at the mall. If there are two of you, I’d sooner take two single strollers and honestly, the cheaper the better. The umbrella stroller is lightweight, compact and serves its purpose. There’s nothing like trying to maneuver a double-wide down a cruise ship hallway with an inch of space on either side. Personally, we always need strollers in the airport, and they’re certainly important to have during naptime and early evening in case one of the kids falls asleep, but it’s important to remember that Carnival (and other cruise lines) offers a stroller check-out system too, so be sure to ask before you cruise–if you can avoid that and just sign one out from time to time, you’ll have it made…
- MEDICATION – You never know when one of the little’s is going to spike a fever, get wind or sunburned, cut a tooth or have intestinal distress from all the flying and different foods. You should always anticipate illness and it’s potential remedy. All cruise ships will have infirmaries and medicine, but it’s just easier to be able to troubleshoot and fix without leaving the room.
- BOOZE – Bring the amount that you’re allocated. You never know when you’re going to meet new friends (who also have a circus of kids) and want to share. Drinks gets expensive on cruises and there’s always something to celebrate.
So these are 12 keys things to keep in mind as you prepare to book your first or next cruise with the kids. I’ll continue to add to this list, so you may want to bookmark it for future reference. Stay tuned for my next post in the travel section, where I review our trip to Galveston, Texas and our cruise to Mexico on the Carnival Freedom!