I totally meant to have this post up yesterday, but this week has been insane around our house! I'm prepping for our local consignment sale and, just in case you don't follow on Instagram, we've had some exciting things happening around here in the past few days. I'll talk more about that later this week!
For now, I finally sat down and wrote out my best tips and tricks for cruising with kids. It can be such an incredible vacation if you put in a little bit of research and go in with an open mind. We sailed on the Carnival Triumph from New Orleans in September. Our 4-day cruise went to Cozumel and had 2 days at sea. Noah and I both expected a fun vacation, but I don't think we had any idea how perfect it would be for our family this year!
(If you missed my cruise recap, you can find it here.)
So, why did we choose a cruise?
-It's cost-effective. As far as bang for your buck, you're not going to beat the value of a cruise! When we were planning our vacation for this year, we researched several different options. Just to book a condo at a beach on the gulf coast (for the same time of the year) was going to cost about what we paid for a cruise for all four of us, which included food and entertainment (and didn't require gas or a car to get to different places). We weren't quite ready to do Disney again (especially with a small baby), so we wanted something a little more low-key this year. This was the perfect option for our price range and needs.
-It's kid-friendly. Guys, I don't think I quite knew just how kid-friendly a cruise was until this trip. It is such an incredible vacation for families! There are kid activities basically non-stop on the cruise. On a Carnival ship, there is childcare (included in your cost!) from 10am-10pm, with a 1-2 hour break in the afternoon. And Emmie absolutely begged us to go to it! There are options for paid babysitting if you need later than 10pm or if you have a child under 2, but we didn't take advantage of that (on this one).
If you want to do things with your children (imagine that ;)), there are tons of options too. We went to several of the Dr. Seuss events that Carnival hosts, including a character parade, a reading of Cat in the Hat, and a Dr. Seuss brunch. There are also ice carving demonstrations, kitchen tours, games...the list goes on and on. You will have so many great, unique experiences with your kids on a cruise!
-There's always something going on! I don't think it's possible to be bored on a cruise. You will never have a single moment where you can't find something happening on the ship! Each night, you'll get an itinerary for the next day that includes the entire schedule of the ship, so it's easy to plan out your days in advance.
-We like all-inclusive. I know different families have different preferences in this department, but for us, all-inclusive is the way to go. We don't like to have to worry about costs while on vacation. Cruises include almost all food (there are a few options to upgrade, but basically everything is included), almost all entertainment (all we paid extra to do was the Dr. Seuss brunch), and boarding. You also have options to purchase all-inclusive alcohol or soda packages if you want to include that. It just makes vacation a little less stressful to take money out of the equation!
-It's easy for different family members to enjoy different activities. This was huge for us on this vacation. A lot of times, Jackson might need to nap but Emmie might want to go have fun at a kids' event. Not a big deal at all! I would head back to the room to put Jackson down and Noah would take Emmie where she wanted to go. Unlike vacationing in a city or at a theme park, we could easily do this without really splitting up. We also felt really comfortable leaving Emmie at a kids' activity and enjoying time without her (without feeling like we were too far away).
Now, all of that being said, planning a cruise is extra important with kids. We have found that by doing a little bit of prep work, vacation always goes so much smoother.
Here are a few of my best tips for cruising with kids:
-Pack the right supplies. Planning for this kind of vacation is especially important; unlike vacationing on land, you can't just run to a grocery store and pick up something. We made sure to pack items that made it easy for our kids to feel "at home" and things that we knew we would need.
A few things to think about bringing (affiliate links used)...
-Formula (don't worry so much about water to mix formula; our steward was able to get us a few bottles of water for that.) (Another side note: I'm a breastfeeder, but we chose to bring a can of formula on this trip...so much easier than trying to bring along frozen milk if I decided to have a glass of wine or two. Many rooms don't have refrigerators, and then there's the logistics of trying to keep it frozen until you're on the boat...just too much. I did bring my pump too and just pumped and dumped if needed.)
-Bottles and a Bottle Drying Rack
-Go Pod (This one was huge... Jackson loves his Exersaucer at home, so this was a great place to put him in the room if we needed him in one place for a few minutes.)
-A few toys and teethers
-Clothes (take what you normally use for the span of your cruise and double it...they are either going to have an accident or sweat so much you'll need to change a lot!)
-Ergo (Seriously...don't leave home without this if you're going on a cruise with a baby. This was so incredibly important. You do a ton of walking, and I personally didn't want to carry a 24-pound 7 month old around a boat all day!)
Jackson even slept basically all the way through Cozumel in it...let me tell you, it made for a much easier shopping experience!
-Double stroller (Honestly? We could have done without this. The Ergo was fine for Jackson and Emmie walked most of the time. But it depends on the ages of your children - if they were both toddlers this would have been important! The one we have is very compact and fit wonderfully in one of the closets in our room.)
For younger kids:
-A few smaller toys
-Pool toys (nothing big, those aren't allowed in the pool...but Puddle Jumpers, sand toys, etc. are ok.)
-Books (necessary for us for bedtime)
-Kindle or other electronic device (we didn't use this a lot, but there were a few downtimes where this was awesome.) Don't forget chargers!
-Power strip (You'll have a sound machine, electronic devices, and lots of other things to power with kids...there are usually only one or two plugs in your room. Just make sure it isn't a surge protector, those aren't allowed for use in the rooms.)
We also ordered a Little Cruisers Activity Package from the Funshops before we boarded and they had it waiting on us when we arrived at our room. It was a very fun little surprise for Emmie!
It's also important to have all of the appropriate IDs to get on the boat! Younger children don't have to have passports if you depart and arrive back in the US; we used birth certificates and that was just fine.
-Plan ahead. Just like any other vacation, this one requires a little planning in advance. We watched a ton of videos on Youtube about our cruise before we went. If you'll search for your boat's name, you can get specific info about food, entertainment, and rooms.
From there, you can start narrowing down the things you want to do on sea days and in port. We developed a list of things we wanted to try to do by watching these videos and looking up the Fun Times itineraries...but those schedules are subject to change, so make sure your plan is flexible. I also made sure we had a few fun little things for the events we were attending (for example, Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts for Emmie and Jackson).
No real need to reserve anything before you board the ship, but it is smart to have a loose plan for each day!
-Challenge your children to try new things. If there is ever a place to try something new, it's on this vacation! At each meal, there will probably be food options that your child has never tried before. We challenged Emmie to try something new at each meal. She (mostly) did it!
There are also lots of opportunities to do something new on a cruise. Whether it's going down a big water slide or performing on stage, some of these things can be exciting and a little scary. It's a wonderful opportunity for a child to step outside of their comfort zone and experience something new.
-Be flexible. Anybody that's ever vacationed with kids knows that being flexible is a must. They're going to get tired; they're going to have meltdowns. That's just part of it. You will be very busy on a cruise, but that doesn't mean you can't sit out of an activity or two to give your child a chance to recharge. You might even need a break, too! :)
-Plan to spend some time in the room (especially with a baby). Jackson is still at the point where he naps 2-3 times a day, so I knew I was going to be spending a good bit of time in the room to allow him to sleep. So, I brought along a few things to do for myself. Many of you know I'm a big cross-stitcher, so I brought Jackson's stocking to work on while he napped (yes, it's not done yet...and it's almost October). I also made sure to download a few iPhone games that don't require internet before we left. I will admit: the downtime was kind of nice for me too!
With that being said, if it's in the budget, I would highly recommend upgrading your room to a suite if possible. We originally had a balcony room booked, and Carnival called us a few weeks before the trip with the offer to upgrade to a suite for a few hundred dollars. We did, and it was the best money we spent on the trip! We had more room, more storage, and had priority embarking and debarking (all three are so important with kids).
Emmie had the equivalent of a twin bed (a couch that converts to a bed) and we had enough room for Jackson to have a crib (provided by Carnival) in the room. You can see the rest of our room here.
-Know what is paid vs. what is included. It's important to know what you might have to pay for before you ever step on the boat. Nobody wants a huge bill on the last day of the trip.
From my experience, most food and entertainment is included. A few things that will cost you extra...
-Alcohol (Wit Carnival, you have the option of brining 1 750ml bottle of wine per adult with you on board. Check with your cruise line for their allowances.)
-Sodas (You can purchase an unlimited soda card for the trip. We have done this in the past, but didn't this time and really didn't miss it. You also have the option of bringing a 12 pack per person on with you, which should help tremendously if you just have to have a Diet Coke.)
-Gambling at the on-board casino
-Gratuity (This is expected on a cruise and is assessed per guest, though I've heard kids can cost less if you ask. Remember, you are getting exceptional service from stewards and wait staff on a cruise, it's common courtesy to reward them for this!)
-Special events (like the Dr. Seuss brunch)...if an event costs extra, it is usually pretty clearly disclosed.
-Shore excursions (With kids, these aren't really needed. We just explored the city and did a little bit of shopping while there. But there are lots of fun options that are kid-friendly if you want something extra!)
-Speciality restaurants (Again, it's pretty clearly disclosed if a meal costs extra.)
-Some of the upgraded room service options
You probably won't do every one of these, but I've never been on a cruise where we didn't have extra costs...so plan accordingly!
-Explore childcare options. If you think you'll need an extra hand while on the boat, make sure you research what's available on your boat! Like I mentioned, Carnival offers (included) childcare for ages 2 and up from 10am-10pm, with an hour or two break in the afternoon (see above for those itineraries). They also have options for children under 2 or childcare past 10pm, but there will be an extra fee.
Emmie absolutely loved Camp Carnival! She still talks about the things they did on the boat. There are crafts, activities, games, movies...basically, think of anything fun you can do with a group of kids, and they do it. We even have a few fun souvenirs from Camp Carnival, including a t-shirt they made and an adorable handprint craft that is so special.