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Going on a cruise can be a great way to relax while seeing a lot of different places. Cruising with young kids can be a bit worrisome if you've never done it before. There's really no need to be worried though as a cruise can be great for kids and adults alike.
So you want to spend some time relaxing in the sun, enjoy several different locations, and swimming in the ocean. You also have at least one toddler. Fortunately, you should be able to actually have a very enjoyable vacation, even with little ones in tow. As usual on a vacation with kids, you’ll have to do a bit more work than you might want, but a cruise is usually one of the better ways to actually relax on vacation.
For many, this will be an uncommon vacation, so go in with the mindset of having the time of your life - you most likely will. Cruises these days are packed with a ton of activities from kids to adults alike. Below are a few tips and thoughts as you go into your first cruise.
Do a shorter cruise your first time
If you’ve never been on a cruise before, I’d highly recommend that your first cruise be 5 days or less. Cruises can be a really enjoyable time. However, with young kids, you just don’t know how they will react. If it was just you (or just you and another adult) then starting with a longer cruise isn’t as big of a deal. With kids though, you’re not sure how they’ll react to everything.
A cruise is on the water most of the time - how will they deal with a rocking boat? How will they deal with a potentially different climate? Will you still be enjoying yourself by the end in tight quarters with everyone? These are a few of the questions that you’ve got to answer for yourself. If you want a longer vacation, then perhaps you book a hotel on either end of your cruise to extend it longer.
I’ll admit, our first cruise with a toddler (3 years at the time) was a 7 day cruise. It was good, but we were ready to get off the ship by the end. We’d done most everything on the boat, and things started to get a bit rocky with high winds and waves. It was fine - we still enjoyed the trip overall, but a 5 day cruise would have been better.
Choose a cruise that has activities for kids
Each cruise line is a little bit different in how they cater to younger children. Some cruise lines are geared heavily towards kids (Disney) while others do not even have any activities for kids. Within cruise lines, you’re going to have a big variety as well based off of the ship itself. Generally, the bigger the boat, the more activities they’ll have that are directed towards younger children.
Choosing a ship with minimal activities for kids is going to probably not be a good idea - you’ll be entertaining them the entire time. You want a ship that has a lot of activities that your child can engage in. Don’t worry though - just because you look for a cruise that has kids activities doesn’t mean you’ll be left out. Even Disney cruises have activities that are just for adults as well, so you’ll still find things that you’ll enjoy as well.
Research about the kids club
Most ships that have a focus on children will have a kids club. I’d highly recommend that you take a cruise that has one of these on board. Read up on what the requirements are to leave your child at the kids club, and if there is a cost associated with doing so.
For example, the cruise may not charge anything for children 3 and up as long as they’re potty trained (time to get on that if they’re not). There may be a club for kids under that age that they charge an hourly rate for. They may take children later into the evening with a cost associated as well. Also, can you leave your child on the boat or at the kids club if you want to do a shore excursion without them. These are all details that you should try to figure out when choosing a cruise as they will make a huge difference for your enjoyment while on board.
Realize that your quarters will be cramped
Cruise rooms are not large by any means. Fitting two people into a room with luggage is already tight, adding a 3rd and 4th into that same room will make it fill very small. Obviously, if you’re in one of the suites offered by a cruise ship, you won’t feel this as much. I’m assuming you're on a smaller budget than that though as those large suites run at a pretty hefty price.
Depending on the ship and room that you book you may have beds that pull down from the ceiling that your children sleep in (over your bed), or you may have a sofa type bed. You’ll be getting luggage in the room as well somewhere, and you’ll have a very small bathroom. It’s a good thing that you’re on a cruise that has a lot of fun activities - you won’t want to spend tons of time in your room.
Try the different activities on board
You’re going to be on the ship the majority of your cruise. Your room isn’t the most fun place to be, probably. Get out and try all of the activities that you can on the ship. Your cruise will have a daily schedule of different entertainment options and what’s going on throughout the day on the ship. Look over that each evening to get a basic idea of events that sound fun.
Beyond planned events, take advantage of other activities that are always open. For example, when we took our 3 year old, he loved the miniature golf that was available on the ship and we spent several rounds of golf up there - it was also pretty empty when we were there as well which was great.
Depending on the ship size, there may be water slides, rock climbing walls, and ice skating. Some of these may be too hard for your younger child to take advantage of, but you certainly can - either drop them off at the kids club or take turns between yourself and your partner doing them.
Let your kids play in the kids pool area as well. There may be height restrictions on certain parts of the play area - our son was just a little too short to play in the larger kids area, but a couple of the lifeguards let him play there anyways. He enjoyed the slides, the little pools, and of course the ice cream right close by.
Take it easy at the ports
Each port will be a bit unique in terms of its offerings as to what you can do. There are going to be extreme activities that you can take advantage of, and simple activities. With young kids, don’t try to plan a multi-hour hike through the mountains or rivers. It’s just asking for a hard time. Our cruise allowed us to leave our kids on the ship while doing excursions, but we didn’t do anything that was too far away from the ship as we didn’t know what we’d do if we needed to get back for some reason.
Fortunately, there are a lot of family friendly activities for kids and adults. Bus rides, boat rides, relaxing beach excursions, and so forth. Get off at the ports and take advantage of the activities available - just make sure it’s something that will be kid friendly as well.
Visit the beach
If you’re taking it easy at the ports, you’re probably going to end up at a beach at some point. Enjoy some time in the sun on a beach, or hop in the ocean and swim around a bit. If you come from somewhere that you don’t have a beach, your kids will likely love playing in and around the ocean. It’s a great chance for at least one of the adults to relax - the other will have to keep a close on your children.
Try to find a beach that’s not too crowded, when possible. There are a lot of resources available for each port, and where the best beaches are that aren’t too crowded. Once you’ve booked your cruise, you can research each port to find the beach that will work best for you.
Leave the kids at the kids club at least one evening
If you’ve booked a cruise that has a kids club, plan at least one evening where you can leave the kids behind and enjoy some time on the ship with your partner. While it may cost some money, a few hours of peace doing something that you’d like is generally a great way to really re-energize yourself.
There are so many options of what you can do, including going to a speciality dining restaurant, watching one of the many shows, or heading to the casino if that’s your thing.
Going on a cruise should be a fund and relaxing experience. Having kids with you will challenge that to some degree, but if you plan out your choice well in advance, you’ll have a great time.