When my daughter, Ava, was 9 months old, I took her on her first cruise. She had just started to walk and was barely talking. Of course, as a new mom and as new parents, we didn’t know what to expect onboard, so we packed eveything we possibly could. After, several subsquent cruises our toddler, I have cruising with a small child down to a science, and have learned a few things along the way.
All Ships Are Not Equal
First, not all cruise ships are created equal. This may seem obvious but, just because one ship has a toddler program, a baby welcome package or other amenities for small children, doesn’t mean that all of the ships that the cruise line operates have the same features. For example, on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships, there is a robust toddler program with kids club facilities and more, however, this is an amenity that has yet to be introduced fleetwide.
Many newer ships have great features for toddlers. The Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas offer programs for toddlers and complete nursery facilities.However, older ships still have limited facilities and, an important aspect to make note of is that they also require children to be potty-trained before entering the pool area. That means no swim diapers are allowed. Obviously, there are no potty police, but it’s something parents should be aware of before planning a trip and thinking that, instead of time in the kids’ club, you’ll be heading to the pool.
It’s a good idea for agents to stay abreast on all the amenities offered onboard each ship, especially for families traveling with small children.
To bring a stroller or not: That is the question. When my daughter first cruised, it was an absolute necessity. I wouldn’t have left home without it. But be aware that onboard the ship, there are several areas that aren’t stroller friendly and often times, we found ourselves plucking our daughter out of her chair and carrying her and it up stairs or over ledges. This was particularly true during the safety drill as well as during busy times when the elevator was full.
I would suggest that, if your toddler is old enough, take a look at what shore excursions and activities you are going to be participating in, as well as flight schedules, before making the decision about whether or not to lug a stroller around with you. If, let’s say, you have direct flights, are staying close to the ship on shore excursions and your toddler is pretty capable when it comes to walking, I would leave the wheels at home. It just becomes a hassle.
When it comes to cruising, access to food is almost a no-brainer, but a very young child who is still on formula or a picky eater, might find themselves in foreign territory.
One of the best things you can do is request to have a refrigerator in your room. This is so handy with young children. I know that, when my daughter was young, she always woke up wanting a bottle or a sippy cup of milk. We would bring down some milk or order some from room service and stash extras in the fridge so that we would always have some on hand.
We also did this with snacks such as yogurt and cereal. This way, mom and dad could relax en suite without having to run out and grab a meal, bring something back all while relinquishing precious hours of vacation sleep-in time.
For picky eaters, a fridge is a great place to stow some foods that you know your toddler will eat and that you can buy in town, in case they are not available onboard.
One of the best things about cruising is that if your toddler has a favorite food in the dining room, the waitstaff will usually make every effort to bring it out every night making dining “out” actually a pleasant experience.
Out and About
While onboard activities are easily managed, time away from the ship should be a fun time, too. When selecting a cruise for the toddler set, be sure to check out shore excursions in advance. Cruise lines do a great job of offering a variety of activities that are fun for every mobility level, but some can be more enjoyable for kids than others, and families don’t always want to spend every day doing the beach trip or the bus tour – and the kids don’t either.
The first step should be to decide what you would like to do and keep your expectations reasonable — obviously, junior isn’t going ziplining.
Also, spend your excursion dollars wisely. Some ideas are to plan your own activities, which in some destintions, such as Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, can be easier than traveling with a big group. You can stroll through the city center in Cabo, hit up the tourist market and the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta and more. Sightseeing in this manner can be done at your own pace and can be more relaxing than traveling with a large group.
The last piece of advice is that when it comes to packing, less is more. When I took my daughter on her first cruise and packed everything I could find, we were weighed down by diapers, formula, toys, clothes and more. When it comes to packing, I suggest using a service such as TK, which will ship diapers, formula and more straight to the ship without the hassle of extra luggage.
Also, many cruise lines lend toys from their kids’ clubs to keep young ones entertained.
So, with all that said, my final suggestion is to do your research. If you investigate all of these aspects before you select your cruise, sailing with a toddler can be one of the most enjoyable vacation experiences around. l