You booked your cruise and the family is ready to set sail. Well, all aboard!!!! We took our first family cruise last month and I wish I could say we researched and prepped but we didn’t. I’ve cruised with the hubby (before kids) and with our previous family travels, we agreed to just go with the flow and have fun. Sharing tips on the experience and what we learned being at sea:
Arrive at Least One Day before Sailing
If you think the stress of having to travel to a destination is high, can you imagine having to fly or drive in the day the ship sails with kids in tow. Those cruise ships don’t wait for you and you’ll be paying a hefty penny to get to that next port. I’d recommend arriving at least a day early to give the family time to adjust and to move at a snails pace. We were boarding at the San Pedro Cruise Port Terminal about 45 minutes from LA, so we flew in a few days early to hang with friends and explore with no agenda.
Bring Books, Homework, Toys and Games
You’d think that on a cruise, you could keep kids busy. You definitely can, but we found that travelling as a family with young kids, we spent a lot of time in the room at the start and at the end of the day. We didn’t want the boys to be watching TV the entire time. For all our trips, the boys always packed books, toys and games. For this trip, on the whim we took the boys to Barnes and Nobles and as a treat they picked out activity books to keep them busy. I was surprised and actually impressed that they worked on their activity book every night for about 30 minutes.
Boarding the Ship and Organizing Yourself on Day One
When you board the ship, having access to your room may take a few of hours so bring a carry on with goodies just for your kids (LOL). We had swimming gear, toys and books on hand just in case. But really the first few hours spent on the ship, we ate, explored and relaxed a bit.
Once you have access to your room, organize yourself. Space is tight in the stateroom on a cruise ship and unlike an Air BnB or hotel where you can leave a suitcase out for easy access, you don’t have that same luxury. Ask your room steward for tips on organizing and any hidden drawers that you can use, then unpack everything and leave what you don’t need in the suitcase in the closet.
Cha-Ching! Have Cash On Hand
Having cash on hand, it gave us negotiating power not only with the cab drivers, but with my boys. We rely so heavily on easy payment with a card, and with our trip through Mexico it was handy to have cash for shopping at the market, transportation and eating local like my little guy above.
NOTE: withdraw cash from home to avoid the out of country bank fees.
On Board Kids Care aka Babysitting Options
I would highly recommend putting the kids into the cruise line’s Kids Care Service (On Norweigan, they had Splash Academy). Hubby and I were so excited for them to go play and we were excited for ourselves to have a date of some sort, but my boys refused to go in. By the end of the trip, we were itching for some time alone and on our last day at sea, I bribed my boys with cash and it was worth every penny.
Room with a Balcony?
My first time cruising with hubby we opted out of a balcony. We figured that we’d hang out to watch the sunrise/sunset and enjoy the water from one of the deck chairs. Rarely happened, but we didn’t regret it. Booking a balcony this time around with kids, we opted for it because we thought it would be fun. You can save yourself the money, but for us unknowingly it was money well spent. When you have kids, and depending on their age and mood, you could be spending a great deal of time in your cabin. And on our first cruise with the boys, we did just that. They slept in and after each meal always asked to go back to the room to chill and watch TV. Also, if you’re an early riser, being steps away from the balcony to watch the sunrise is bliss!
NOTE: it’s important to set the rules before boarding the ship with the kids and talking about balcony safety is a MUST. We were always on their case.
Self Arranged Tours
We decided to not purchase excursions through the Cruise Ship. Not because we didn’t want to, we just didn’t have the time to research. And in the end, it actually worked out in our favour. We woke up every morning and took our time easing into our day and I would say by noon, we were ready to explore. We made our way off the ship and took a car service to explore and typically ended up on a beach.
Quick and easy tips and with that, happy sailing!