The idea of going on a cruise with my kids has only recently entered my travel radar. It first crept in last year, when friends came back from a holiday at sea tanned, relaxed and full of stories from gorgeous locations and it took hold when fellow family travel blogger Claire (who I interviewed here) came back from a cruise with her two girls full of praise and advice.
What dawned on me when chatting with her was an aspect of cruising I hadn’t considered: cruising holidays don’t simply allow for easy travel within different locations, but they can combine two sometimes contradictory types of holiday: relaxing poolside and city exploring. Now, THAT piqued my attention.
Since then I have been reading regularly about family cruises and especially on cold winter days made of school runs and karate practice sessions, I find myself more and more often dreaming about a holiday on a ship where I can just sit back get comfortable and let the destinations come to me.
Being the obsessive travel planner than I am, I didn’t leave my travel dreams being abstract for very long and before I knew it I found myself scouting the web for practical tips and advice on how to go about planning a perfect cruise with kids.
My web peregrinations provided me with a lot of ideas on how to make a cruising holiday with small kids a success and my always reliable family travel blogging friends gave me precious insights. Here are my notes about what to keep in mind when cruising with kids.
5 tips for cruising with kids
Do your homework: research is key
Not all cruises are created equal when it comes to welcoming families and different cruise operators have different policies about age restrictions. As Claire highlighted in this post, children who are not potty-trained are often not allowed on board and even if they are, they often cannot partake in the activities of the kids club or qualify for the babysitting service.
Always check age requirements and get in touch directly with the cruise operator if you have any doubts, especially if you have a baby or toddler and are hoping to use swimming pools and kids corners or special needs to cater for.
Do check specific rules even in the case of cruises presented as family friendly: as Cathy from Mummy Travels explains in this post often cruise ships have different kids clubs for different age groups and this is important to know in the case of siblings who may not be happy to be separated without warning.
Cruise ships have incredibly varied offerings. Did you know that some even offer autism-friendly options? My perception of cruises as a one-size-fit-all kind of offer was obviously very wrong!
Pick the right cabin
When I was little I used to take an overnight boat every summer to go to Sardinia, where my auntie and uncle used to live. Entering our cabin and making it our home was always exciting and having a space that worked for us was crucial to the success of the night. This applies tenfold to a cruise when your cabin truly is your home for the whole duration of your time at sea.
When booking a cruise, make sure you select a cabin with all the facilities you may need and, if at all possible, pick its location on the boat. I suffer from terrible seasickness and cabins in the centre of the ship always worked for me better than the ones at the extremities – take this into account especially if, like me, you tend to feel every rocking movement, no matter how big and solid the ship is!
I am the type of person who always arrives at appointments 10 minutes early and at airports three hours before the flight and, with kids, allowing a generous timeframe to move from one place to the next has always proven a good idea.
With cruise ships, this approach seems to be the best one too. While cruising is perhaps the most stress-free way to travel, you still have to make your way to the embarking point. Remember, while if you miss a flight you can catch the next one, this isn’t true with a cruise liner! Make sure and give yourself the requisite breathing room so you have time to spare in case there are any hiccups on the way to your cruise. Even if there aren’t, your trip to the cruise ship will be much more relaxed when you know you have room to breathe.
To make sure you don’t, literally, miss your boat, all my cruising friends tell me you should arrive at your departing city at least one day before you are due to set sail.
Cruise ships allow for heavier packing than planes and had I not done my research I would have thought stuffing everything into a big bag for it to be delivered to my room and forget about it would be the way to go.
It turns out, even on ships it is wise to have a carry on bag to keep with you when boarding with all the essentials you may need at short notice. Good things to pack in your shoulder bag are your cruising documents, baby equipment (nappies, baby food and formula if using), swimsuits and sunscreen if appropriate, an extra layer in weather requires it and a bottle of water.
You can find a great packing list with all the essentials for cruising with kids in this post by Sarah at Extraordinary Chaos.
Pick the right excursions
Not all excursions are suitable for kids and it is worth to put some extra effort into picking the right ones. For each destination, check the length of the excursion offered, the mean of transport if any and suitability for your family. Don’t forget to take into account possible excursion fatigue: instead of signing up for all activities, it can be a good idea to mix and match some structured days with some independent exploring. A good read about the pro and con of both options is this post by Lisa at Travel Loving Family
So, what do you reckon: is a cruise with kids something you would consider? I am definitely tempted!