Along with home design and renovations, our family enjoys traveling… like A LOT! Ok, ok, it may be one of my passions and I take the fam along with me… but I know they enjoy it as well! As some of you may know, we just got back from an AMAZING cruise to the Bahamas last week. I wanted to write about it as it’s fresh on my mind and I want to go back!! Lol… We LOVE cruising with our kids… as a matter of fact, it’s the ONLY way we will go on vacation for a long period of time with them! (eeek!) No, but really, once you cruise with kids and see how easy, AFFORDABLE and fun for the ENTIRE family it is… you’ll have a hard time doing anything else!
Family vacations should be fun, relaxing and memorable, BUT sometimes they can also be very stressful! So when it comes to cruising – and cruising with kids – it takes a whole different kind of planning to ensure it goes smoothly and everyone has fun… including you momma!! But don’t be discouraged! While it’ll take some research and preparation, you’ll be able to look forward to a family-friendly getaway that caters to everyone, no matter their age! The more you know, the smoother your vacation will go and the less you’ll have to worry!
As you look forward to your next family vacation at sea, check out these 8 tips for smooth sailing with kids of all ages!
1. Do Your Research
Planning a vacation always requires research, but when traveling with kids, there are certain things that you must look into. Family-friendly entertainment is a must. While you may be happy lounging by the pool all day with a piña colada in hand, kids get bored easily – so make sure there are plenty of things for them to do! Check to see if there are shows, movies, games excursions, even swimming pools that cater to the ages of the children you’re bringing. (Some lines have designated wading pools for children who still wear diapers.) If you have little ones that need to be with you at all times, make sure the activities are something that you can all enjoy as a family, like live musical shows or kid-friendly moving screenings. Also, consider how many days are appropriate for your family to be at sea, and what kind of activities and excursions are offered at each stop.
- Enlist the Help of an Expert
Whether you’re a novice or a pro when it comes to planning vacations, setting sail with the family takes special preparation. I’d recommend that anyone contact a cruise expert to help them narrow down which cruise would best cater to their interests, needs, and budget (this service is free… just call the cruise line and talk with a specialist!) Most importantly, an expert will bring up things that you haven’t even thought of before. They may be able to help you get better deals, plus they’ll assist you in registering and preparing all the paperwork that you need in order to safely board the ship with no departure-day hiccups (yikes!). Overall, a cruise expert will help provide you with a vacation experience that is best suited for your family.
- Check Out Childcare Options
While family vacations are supposed to be about spending quality time together, you and your spouse probably want to enjoy some “adult” time, too (hey, you deserve it!). When cruises offer on-site childcare options, you can get the best of both worlds! If a day at the spa or a romantic dinner for two appeals to you, make sure the cruise you choose offers a service to watch the kiddos for a few hours. When looking into childcare options, check out availability and age limits. Some cruise lines even offer private babysitting services for an hourly fee and come right to your cabin!! (how cool is that?!) If your kids or teens are old enough, scope out options for supervised activities and areas that are designated just for them…ALWAYS something fun going on while cruising! This brings me to my next point…
- Look Into Kids / Teens Clubs
Maybe your kids are social and love engaging in group activities. Perhaps your teen is adventurous and would prefer to be with others her own age. Or it could be that you and your spouse want a safe place to send the kids while you enjoy some quiet time for awhile! Whatever the case, supervised clubs are a great resource to take advantage of while you’re on a family cruise. From arts and crafts to games to dance parties, your kids will have a blast hanging out and meeting new friends! Travel Mamas suggests taking your kids down to their clubs on the first day. That way, they can participate in orientation and ice-breaker activities. If they make friends immediately, they’re much more likely to want to go back later in the week. Also, it’ll give you a chance to check it out, for yourself!
- Pack Appropriately For Your Family
Especially when traveling with youngsters, parents need to make sure to pack all the essentials. It should be noted that just because you’ve boarded the ship, it doesn’t mean you’ll have immediate access to your room! With this in mind, have everything in a handy carry-on that you’ll need for those first few hours on board (including BATHING suites, sunscreen, a change of clothes, sunglasses, and a few toys). You should definitely keep your ID and necessary documents with you until you can lock them safely up in your room. With little ones, you’ll want your diaper bag to be fully stocked: diapers, wipes, formula, bottles, pacifiers, and baby food. What’s more, make sure to pack a generous supply of these items with you for the trip. Some cruise lines may carry these things in their stores — most likely, for an exorbitant price — and some may not have them at all (this is definitely something you should find out before booking your vacation!). If your child is in diapers, Travel Mamas even suggests bringing your own inflatable wading pool if there are no designated splashing areas for youngsters on the ship. Additionally, make sure you have a carrier or small stroller for your young child- I cannot express this enough! There are SO many lines, and lots and lots of walking on the cruise ship… a stroller is a MUST! . Some cruise lines allow travelers to rent strollers for free or for a fee, but they may only have a certain amount available. Some ships don’t have this option at all. It’s also helpful to know that some ship cabins have a limited amount of power outlets. Especially if you’re traveling with teens (who always seem to be recharging their phones!), you may want to consider packing a power strip. Or, challenge the family to “unplug” during the trip and communicate from a distance the “old-fashioned” way: walkie-talkies!
- Prepare – And Don’t Procrastinate
I learned this the HARD way guys!! My daughters birth certificate went MIA two hours before we were suppose to leave and to make a long story short… we had to leave our sweet baby home with grandma! It was a terrible overall experience but a great learning experience… (pretty much the reason I wanted to write this article) There is a ton of paperwork and registration forms to complete before embarking on your vacation. This will most likely mean you’ll have to gather birth certificates, passports, visas, etc…and you don’t want to be running around doing this last minute! To be safe and have peace of mind, I would suggest printing off and gathering up ALL paperwork, documents and ID’s two weeks before you embark on your vacation. That way, if there are any mishaps — say, you realize your passport has expired, or you forgot to pick up sunscreen on your last errand run — you’ll have time to correct them without going into full-on panic mode! Many cruises require your kids to have wristbands that contain camp admittance or safety information, that you will need to print and fill out before you get on the ship. You’ll also have to put down a deposit, or even the vacation’s entire expense, long before you leave shore, and most ships don’t use cash on board, so pre payment is a must! It’s also a great idea to start planning what you’re going to pack, even if it just means writing your checklist down on paper so you don’t forget anything!
- Plan an Itinerary
If you have older kids who will want to go off and do their own thing, consider planning a daily itinerary including excursions, special dinners, and family activities that you’ll have scheduled. If applicable, print out the kids club schedules and have your kids choose what they’d like to participate in, and when. Go over your daily schedules together every morning and designate times and areas for when you need to meet up again. Not only is this a great way to spend your time efficiently, it’ll help everyone know where the others are, should you need to find each other before your meeting time. (This is another great reason to pack those walkie-talkies!) Also, a lot of off shore excursions take several hours so plan ahead of time when you need to wake up so you’ll have enough time to hit the beach too!
- Arrive A Day (Or Two) Before Departure
Although fun, vacations can be very stressful. For me, planning extra time during travel days helps me relax, in the event that something does not go according to plan. It’s always smart to arrive in your city of departure a day or two before you set sail. That way, if your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost (eek!) you’ll at least have a cushion of time to adjust your plan and re-prepare before setting sail. If you’re departing in a city that’s in a different timezone than you’re used to, factor in an extra day, if you can, to give everyone some time to rest and adjust. Boarding the ship — along with thousands of other people — means crowds, long waits, and stress! With little ones, you’re definitely going to want a stroller. If it’s an option, check in early at the airport. I highly suggest looking into purchasing round-trip shuttle tickets if they’re available. The shuttle will bring you from the airport to the cruise ship (and back to the airport, when you return home). By taking advantage of pre-check-in and avoiding lines, this is one instance where the extra money is well spent.
Most of all… HAVE FUN!!! I hope this article helps in planning your next cruise and let me know if you have any other suggestions! Thanks – Heather