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Cruising with Kids (and Babies)

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Cruising with Kids (and Babies)

Do you remember my long-winded post about the week leading up to our "vacation" - the week where everyone got sick and we had to fly to California for a five-day cruise with our family (and two sick kids)?

Well, now that a couple of weeks have passed and I've had some time to reflect, I've put some tips together that might help you, should you find yourself stuck on a cruise ship with small children in a foreign country wondering what you're going to do all day (because I can tell you, wandering a city you don't know with crabby little children and a giant diaper bag isn'

Our cruise was with Carnival.  Carnival is known for being family-friendly, and the ship we traveled on had the amenities to prove it: two water slides, a splash park, an arcade, miniature golf, several pools and even Camp Carnival - an entire program dedicated to kids.

That said...many of these activities were directed towards children a little bit older than our own (Jack being three, Claire being nine months).  If our kids were just a couple of years older, I do believe we would have had a very different experience.

And so with that in mind, you can take this advice with a grain of salt.

Here are some things to keep in mind when booking (and packing for!) your trip.

Sleeping Arrangements

Carnival provided us with a small crib, free of charge (which Claire never actually slept in, and which we mostly used as a playpen).  They did not have crib sheets, but rather wrapped a regular sheet around the mattress in such a way that it was nice and snug.

Jack slept in a twin-size bed, and we ended up pushing the crib up against his bed to use as a bed rail (because the last thing we needed on this trip was for Jack to fall out of bed in the middle of the night).

Be sure to find out what kind of sleeping arrangements will be available so you can plan accordingly.

In-Room Entertainment

I assumed (and if there's one thing I know, it's never assume anything!) that we'd have TV on the boat.  And we did.  Kind of.  But, we mostly had grown-up channels.  Yeah, we had Cartoon Network - but it was the Mexican version (meaning that in between random cartoons we had never seen before, masked wrestlers would appear on-screen and frighten my poor child).

Rather than movies on-demand and child-suitable programming, we were stuck flipping back and forth and back and forth between a very select few channels.

My recommendation would be to bring your own entertainment (small DVD player or iPad with some movies loaded on it, maybe) if there will be a need to plop a child down in front of the TV (you'd think that on a cruise ship TV would be the last thing you'd want to waste your time with, but it would have been nice to have on the airplane...ow when we were at the Urgent Care...or when Jack was sick and we were stuck in our stateroom...or when it was bedtime and we were so exhausted it was all we could do to turn on the TV and hope it would lull him to sleep...).


One of the things I actually worried about, and with good reason, was how I was going to bathe these kids on the ship.  We didn't have a bathtub, and babies are slippery little buggers and not at all fun to shower with, and Jack is terrified of the shower.

So the first night, I think, "No problem! I'll stick Claire in the sink!"  It looked big enough.

Well, that didn't go so well.  The sink didn't have a flat spot to sit in, so as soon as I sat her down - she freaked out.  And sent water flying ev-er-y-where.

Our solution was just to have dirty kids (no, was).  We did attempt a few half-hearted sponge baths, but it's safe to say the nightly bath was not part of our bedtime-routine-at-sea.  AND we had wet toilet paper that first night thanks to Claire's shenanigans.

Next time, I would bring some sort of inflatable tub (like those ducky ones I've seen) - this could sit on the floor of the shower for the baby, and then I could fill it up with water for the big kid to take a "real" sponge bath.


One good thing about cruise ships?  There is plenty of food.  All kinds, and for all tastes.

It was no trouble to round up a hotdog and some french fries, or order a PB&J from Room Service.  And for those with healthy eating on their minds, fruit was unlimited and veggies were bountiful.

If you eat dinner in the more formal dining room, you might take a drink with your for your child (in a sippy cup)...or, you could let your three-year-old sip lemonade from a wine glass, like we did.

On-Board Entertainment

There is plenty to do sure to read the daily newsletters you receive to find kid-friendly activities.  For example, the ship's comedian made balloon animals (and swords!) for all of the kids who wanted one on our last day at sea.  This is the kind of thing I wish we had been able to participate in the first few days, it would have killed some time and engaged the kids.

We found that the less time we spent in our room, the better off we all felt.  Sometimes this meant forcing ourselves to brave the windy top deck for a round of mini golf, or venturing into the buffet with both kids rather than calling Room Service.

Find out what activities are available for young kids, and partake.

Getting Around On-Board

I brought my trusty Ergo baby carrier.  A cruise ship is a big place, and kids get heavy.  I saw many parents with strollers.  While I think bringing my whole stroller set-up from home might be a bit of overkill, I would definitely bring an umbrella stroller next time as a supplement to the Ergo (which I truly do not think we could have survived without!).

When Jack was begging to be held - AGAIN - it would have been nice to have a stroller to stick him in.


It turns out that most excursions have minimum age requirements...also, turns out our kids were too young to meet most of these requirements.  So, we were left with but a handful of excursion choices.  All of which were expensive and required being bused to another location, and not being able to return to the ship when we wanted to.  So - we bypassed the excursions and decided to go it alone (just like we would have done pre-kids).

This kind of sucked.

We thought we'd just be able to go hang out at the beach for a couple of hours, but it wasn't that simple at all.  We had to take a boat from the ship to land...then another boat to the beach...and then after staying for an hour, a boat back to the dock...and then another boat back to our ship.

My advice is to research the ports you'll be visiting.  If there aren't any appropriate excursions, or if your kids are too young, HAVE A PLAN.  Because wandering around the touristy part of Cabo San Lucas, like we did the first day, with two bored little ones, is just not fun.

This was our first attempt at visiting Cabo.  It didn't go well.
Our second attempt was better.  One good thing (I guess it's a good thing?) about traveling with kids is that you're up early...and as a result, get to the beach before anyone else!  We were back on the ship before my single and child-free sister had even had breakfast.

A Few Things You Might Want to Pack

  • Sunscreen (I know, DUH, but it's expensive when you forget it and have to buy it on the boat)
  • Jackets (even if the weather's going to be warm - it's windy on the high seas, folks)
  • Baby carrier
  • Umbrella Stroller
  • Disposable bibs (I know, not very eco-conscious...but sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do, you know?)
  • Diapers and wipes 
  • Entertainment for the kids (I wish I'd brought a DVD player or laptop with some movies)
  • Sippy cups (I wish we'd had a sippy cup with us that I could have filled with juice not only for dinners but also to take on our excursions...Jack was cranky and it was a challenge getting him to drink enough water, and I never found bottled juice on the ship).
  • A watch (this seems obvious, but we always use our phones to tell the time, get around, etc...turns out, it was kinda expensive to use the internet or our phones at all in a foreign country - and I ended up buying a watch - also...the ship operate on SHIP TIME, not necessarily the actual you can set your watch to match the time on board).
  • Inflatable tub if you need to bathe your baby
If we go on another Carnival cruise, it will not take place until my youngest child is at least three (and probably even a little older).  Also, I might look into a Disney cruise - as kid-friendly as Carnival is, I can't help but think Disney might be better-prepared for the really little kiddos!

If you have a cruise coming up - may your kids be well, may your DVD player be packed, and may your child behave in the dining room.  

Bon voyage!

Questions (because clearly, I am an expert at successful cruising with small children...)?  Or, do you have any advice to add to this?

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