Best Cruise Tips for Families (And What to Pack and Expect Along the Way)
Are you looking for the perfect family experience that will remain etched in your memory forever?
We have a perfect idea!
A family cruise offers the perfect holiday experience away from city life. Experience some of the best adventures yet, try new cuisines, and explore family amenities. With a family-friendly cruise, you’ll have full access to endless games and activities for you and your kids; all at budget-friendly costs.
When it comes to planning a family cruise, we know it can be overwhelming at first. But you don’t have to fumble in the dark!
Here’s our ultimate guide to planning the best family cruise this summer.
Choosing the Right Cruise
The first thing to consider is choosing the right cruise line that aligns with your needs and expectations as a family. There are many cruise line options for families, but not all have specialized activities for kids.
Depending on the age of your children, you may want to focus on the best cruises for parents with babies and toddlers.
There are seven cruise lines that work best for families with kids including:
- Royal Caribbean
- Celebrity and
These are the mainstream cruise lines that are family-oriented and offer special grouping for kids so they can socialize with their peers. They also have kids clubs, supervised activities for toddlers, kids, and teens, plus onboard nurseries and babysitting.
When choosing the right cruise line for your family, here are a few things to consider:
- Children’s Programs – the Norwegian Cruise has a “Splash Academy” that offers circus, juggling, and spinning classes; Disney offers themed parties, and Carnival has Camp Ocean which is a marine-themed kids club.
- Kid Grouping – some family cruises will divide children into smaller age groups for activities like 3-6, 7-9, 10-13, and teens. While the grouping isn’t standard, your child may feel more comfortable around kids their age.
- Childcare – Disney has a full-service nursery with nap areas and toys for babies 6 months old to 3 years; Norwegian has a drop-off nursery that’s equally convenient, and MSC offers babysitting for an extra charge.
- Family activities – for a memorable family experience, look for a cruise line that offers activities like competitions, movie theaters, sports, and other adventures that your kids will enjoy while onboard.
When to Book Your First Cruise
The best time for a family cruise is summer — the kids are home, the sun is out, and the prices are fair. You can go on a cruise any time, just note that holidays and spring breaks often attract higher prices.
Fall is also a great option because the weather is mild, but kids are often in school. Be sure to plan within your budget or be ready to home-school them while you’re on your trip.
After deciding on your travel dates, aim to book early. Cruise schedules are available between 12 to 18 months in advance, and if you’re looking for the best prices, you should book with plenty of lead-in time.
Booking early also allows you to pick all the best amenities for your trip — from the cabin you desire, activities for the kids, and exciting shore excursions. Plus, you’ll see much more available when you’re looking a year or more in advance.
Other travel arrangements you should plan include:
- Type of ship
- Cruising days
- Type of cabin/stateroom
- Transportation to and from your port
Picking the Right Ship
Whichever cruise you select, you get to choose a ship as well.
Choosing the right ship is crucial because you’ll want a new ship with all the latest features and amenities for your family. Most new ships have incredible water slides, rope courses, pools, retractable roofs, and comfy deck chairs.
Cruises can last for days or weeks, depending on your itinerary. However, an ideal trip would be about 7 to 10 days. That way if your children are missing home, you won’t have to stay on board for too long.
Nonetheless, your cruise days should work within your family’s schedule — what’s the best time away from home and for how long? How much outdoor time would you like to have? What’s within your budget? These factors will help you determine how many days you should be cruising.
Cabins, or staterooms, can vary from a cabin with a balcony, inside cabins with or without windows, ocean views, and suites. Balcony staterooms are great because you can view sunsets or sunrises depending on the side you’re on.
You may need to look at the overall layout of the ship, so you don’t land in a cabin with too much foot traffic from elevators, passageways, and public areas. This could be bothersome if you or your kids need to rest. Again, the location can be convenient if you land a stateroom close to social amenities like the dining area or spa.
You can opt for a family-sized suite where the stateroom will have additional space for accommodating up to 5 people using bunk beds or pull-out sofas, and extra bathrooms. Alternatively, you can opt for connecting rooms, so you sleep in one suite while the kids sleep in another.
Lastly, you can also plan for high-end suites that connect different rooms, including a large living room, multiple bathrooms, and bedrooms. Such a suite can accommodate up to 10 people.
The best thing about suites is the additional services like upgraded entertainment systems, priority boarding, and services like a personal butler or concierge. You can also easily get room service to dine with your kids.
Transportation to and From the Port
Transportation can be tricky for families because, depending on your cruise, you may need to cater to additional costs like return flights. To start, you can opt to drive yourself to the port, but only if you can find a safe space to park your car for the duration of your cruise.
Other transport options include a shuttle bus, hotel shuttles, taxis, and carshare services like Uber and Lyft. Shuttles will have enough space for all your luggage, baby strollers, and car seats. However, for taxis and minivans, it will depend on the type of vehicle.
What to Pack
Getting ready for a family cruise is an exciting time, but with all your jitters, you might forget to pack essential items.
You’ll need kid’s essentials and entertainment — we’re talking toys, diapers, pacifiers, snacks, baby bottles, and changing kits.
Next, you’ll want to pack clothing. Casual wear like shorts, khakis, summer dresses, and sleeping clothes are great for cruising. For all the fun activities you plan to do, don’t forget the appropriate attire and accessories like swimming suits, goggles, sunscreen, and flip-flops.
For a more in-depth packing list, we suggest a few more items, including:
- Important documents like passports, visas, and travel insurance
- Medications like motion sickness patches, pain killers, or activated charcoal in case of stomach upsets
- Water bottles
- Electronics like video games, cameras, and tablets
- Shoes for all occasions
- Packing bags/cubes
- Mosquito repellents/nets
- Other additions like a sewing kit, first aid kit, and travel pillows
- Snorkel gear, rash guards, and boards
Remember to pack light if possible. You’re going on a trip with your kids, and you need to be prepared, but don’t pack their entire wardrobe. Carry at least 1-2 sets of clothing per activity.
Lastly, don’t carry heavy items, expensive jewelry, or anything prohibited in the cruise, like weapons or fire hazards. Most heavy items like baby strollers will be provided on the ship so you don’t have to bring one from home.
What to Expect
We touched on a few activities on each cruise line but here’s what you can expect on a daily basis from your family cruise.
Expect different cuisines depending on the direction of the cruise. If you’re going to Mexico, you’ll have completely different cuisines than going to Alaska. Expect to dine with many specialty restaurants serving Asian, Italian, French, Brazilian, and other local menus.
There will also be options for all your picky and finicky eaters. Whatever your kids’ taste buds desire, they’ll have it — pizza, fish fingers, chicken wings, and appetizers and dessert. Plus, if you have any dietary restrictions, you’ll also find many other options like Keto, Vegan, Gluten-free, and diabetic foods.
Lastly, most cruise lines also offer a kid’s menu with sit-down dining and room service, so if your child can’t dine for long, you can opt for in-suite services.
The mainstream cruise lines feature pools, with signature slides and waterworks. However, each cruise has counselors who work with children of all ages to keep them busy as you enjoy some vacation time as well.
At the kid’s clubs, there are activities like video games and arcades with another sports section for playing mini-golf, Ping-Pong, or basketball.
Teens who are looking for more thrilling activities can go for dance classes, ice skating, cooking lessons, scavenger hunts, or skydiving with simulators.
Family-Friendly Shore Excursions
Shore excursions are complementary activities you can do while off the ship. There are many choices that are appropriate for families with kids of all ages.
You can visit a nearby historical site, swim with dolphins, take a submarine adventure, play with turtles, and more.
Pick the Perfect Cruise for Your Family This Summer
What’s not to love about family cruises?
From the shore excursions, onboard attractions, various cabin options, and age-appropriate activities — there will be something for everyone on your next cruise.
We encourage you to book early and do your research for the right accommodations for your family.
There’s certainly no shortage of options for family cruises these days. And with the right cruise, your family will have a vacation they’ll never forget!
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