Taking the family vacation on a cruise ship eliminates many of the issues of a road trip. No more bored kids tired of sitting in the car whining “Are we there yet?” Kids on cruise ships can run around and find many things to entertain them instead of spending their time strapped into a car seat. All the ships have pools, hot tubs, and most important, kids programs. Some also have water slides, arcades, and other fun things to do like mini-golf, sports courts, ping-pong tables, or even rock climbing walls, skating rinks or a carousel if you pick the right ship.
Kids on Cruises
Bringing the kids along on a cruise does add extra considerations over an adults-only voyage though. When bringing older children, do you book adjoining cabins or sleep the whole family in one room? Ships can accommodate either option. Adjoining cabins have a door between them which stays locked if unrelated parties book them, but unlocked when a family uses both. Other cabins sleep more than the standard two people. Some have a couch that makes into a bed, others one or two bunks that fold down from the ceiling.
Cost usually figures into any cabin decision from whether you want an inside cabin, a suite or anything in between to how many people to book into one cabin. If money didn’t matter, the adjoining cabins offer more space and an additional bathroom. In most cases though money matters a great deal. Often the ships give discounts or even free bookings to the third or fourth person booked into the same room so this can bring about great savings. Free or reduced fares do not, however, include a reduction in fees and port taxes, so those will probably end up costing more than the room did for the extra people.
Select an itinerary that includes port stops the kids will enjoy. When traveling with very young children it also helps if the ship docks at most ports to avoid the hassle of transporting small children on a tender as much as possible. Not to mention you can come and go from the ship as you please without having to wait to get on a tender if the ship is at a dock.
Cruise Ship Youth Programs
The ships divide their youth programs into various age groups. Carnival starts theirs at age 2. Holland America, Princess, MSC, and Costa at age 3. Most cruise lines have programs for teens up to 17. Norwegian‘s youngest age group starts at 6 months, and they also offer group baby sitting, which has a fee in some situations. Royal Caribbean has programs for babies as young as 6 months, as well as in-room or group babysitting for a fee. Celebrity also offers paid babysitting for children over 12 months and their youngest age group for activities is under 3, with those still in diapers requiring a parent to attend the events with them. As anyone would expect, Disney has a multitude of children’s activities. They also have daycare for babies as young as 3 months. Links provided here are direct to information about the kid’s programs on each of the cruise lines mentioned except Carnival where it goes to a page full of programs where the kids things are easy to find, and Holland America where it goes to activities and you have to look at the bottom of the column on the left and click on youth programs because they did not have a direct link there.
Sit down in the dining room accompanied by a child, and a children’s menu often appears along with the regular one. It may even come with crayons. Children may order off either menu. Special requests will be honored, although cruise ship staff may have a hard time understanding plain means no garnish, no dusting of powdered sugar, nothing at all. They like to present an attractive plate after all.
Onboard entertainment may include early and late shows of the major presentations. Normally the early show will be family-friendly, where the later version of some things such as comedy shows may not.
Taking Kids on Shore Excursions
Choose shore excursions carefully, as some have age, weight, or height requirements. Have the kids help pick the excursions. Parents have more fun on an excursion the kids enjoy than on one with fussy bored children even if that particular excursion wasn’t the parent’s first choice. The rest of the people on the excursion also appreciate well-behaved children and may resent a screaming child marring their (usually expensive) experience.
Nature Cruises for Kids
For a different sort of cruise ship experience, InnerSea Discoveries/American Safari Cruises schedule special Kids in Nature cruises that include special prices and activities for kids. These small ship cruises explore the wilds of Alaska where the larger ships can’t go. Instead of port to port, they cruise cove to cove with plenty of wilderness hiking, kayaking, and exploring.
Cruising with Kids Can Mean Extra Paperwork
Cruise ships always have a number of required forms passengers need to complete before sailing. Bringing children also brings additional paperwork, some of which may require notarization, particularly if one or both parents don’t take the cruise. Make sure to have all travel documents required for any countries you plan to visit.
In addition to the ship’s paperwork, if boarding the boat in a country where you do not live, make sure you have all documents that country requires before crossing the boarder. In addition to the usual passports, and if required, visas, children traveling without one or both parents may require a signed and notarized document giving their permission to take that child across the boarder. Knowing what documentation you need far enough ahead of time to make sure you have it will ensure that you get to take your vacation as planned.
Wise choices from choosing the cruise line, ship and itinerary that is right for your family and planning activities for everyone to making sure all requirements are met will make your cruise a wonderful and memorable vacation for family members of all ages.