We somewhat naively booked our first cruise shortly after our son was born. It was well before we knew much about traveling with a baby or toddler. And while we were completely new to cruising ourselves, we had an amazing first cruise as a family. We’re here to share with you our best tips for cruising with a toddler or baby, including a few lessons learned.
Although our first cruise experience was on Royal Caribbean, we have since done a Disney cruise with toddlers more than once. Keep reading for our top tips for cruising with young children.
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Check if the Cruise Ship Has a Splash Pad Before Booking
I put this tip first on the list since it’s a pretty big consideration when you’re cruising with a toddler or baby. Did you know that all cruise ships require kids to be fully potty trained before going into the regular pools? I had no idea until a few weeks before departing on our first cruise that our son couldn’t go in the pool.
These rules are based on strict CDC requirements, as most cruise ships have saltwater pools that lack the typical chlorine and other chemicals. That said, the best family cruise ships typically have some type of baby pool or splash zone. Most Royal Caribbean ships have these, and we LOVE the themed Splash Zones on Disney Cruise ships. The Disney Dream has a Finding Nemo Splash Zone and the Disney Wish has a Toy Story Splash Zone.
Pack Snacks for Your Cruise with a Baby or Toddler
If you’re used to traveling with a baby or toddler, bringing snacks is probably already second nature. Since our son was still exploring solid foods, we wanted to make sure we had some healthy snacks with us as a backup. We brought a supply of puffs and fruit/veggie pouches to make sure we had healthy and easy snacks on the go.
Keep in mind, many cruise ships have policies against bringing outside food and drinks. They do make exceptions, however, for young children as well as any sealed snacks. Just be sure to include these in your carry-on as they can be confiscated if they’re in your checked bags.
Bring an Umbrella Stroller and/or Baby Carrier
Even if you’re cruising on a smaller ship, they require a lot of walking and it can be a lot to carry around a baby or young toddler everywhere. We brought an umbrella stroller almost everywhere on our first cruise, and it was a lifesaver for our 13-month-old who wasn’t quite walking. In addition to giving us a break from lugging around our big guy, the recline feature of this lightweight stroller was perfect for naps on the go. (Especially during excursions!) We also brought our go-to travel stroller on the last two Disney cruises for our 2-year-old, but tended to only use it embarking and disembarking.
Take Advantage of the On-site Nursery Services and Kids Programs
Most family-friendly cruise ships offer a nursery for children under 3 and a kids club for children ages 3 and older. Typically, there is a fee for babies and young toddlers under 3 to use the nursery given the extra care needed with that age group.
We took our son to the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery for 2 days for an hour or so each while we were there. I felt a little guilty dropping him off during a family vacation, but it gave him time to roam around in a clean space with lots of toys and kids his age. We also had some time to relax without worrying what our wild child was getting into.
Royal Caribbean Babies & Tots
Royal Caribbean offers a drop off nursery for babies and toddlers 6-36 months. The nurseries include great toys for kids under 3, many of which we have and love at home.
- The drop off nursery program requires an additional charge. At the time of our cruise, it was $6-8 per hour depending on the time of day.
- Nursery times can be reserved on Day 1 during boarding and any time the nursery is open. Hours vary by ship and whether it’s a port or sea day.
- Royal Caribbean daycare hours, availability and pricing differ by ship. Our nursery was open for drop off from 9-12pm and 6:30-midnight during sea days.
- Open play sessions are available every day for family and friends to play with their baby or toddler and have access to all of the toys in a clean space at no charge.
- Most RCL cruise ships offer this service, be sure to check your specific ship beforehand. Currently nursery drop off isn’t available on Explorer, Adventure or Jewel of the Seas.
It’s a Small World Nursery on Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line offers a drop off nursery for cruises 6 months up to (and including) 3 years old. They include age-appropriate toys, Disney movies, crafts and other activities.
- You can book nursery time in 30 minute increments, either in the Navigator app in advance or in person. (We recommend during this on the first day during open houses since times do fill up.)
- The current rate for the DCL nursery is $4.50 per half hour.
- The nursery is open to everyone during open house on the first day, and toddler time is also available (often in the shared kids club spaces.)
Kids Clubs for Toddlers Ages 3-5
Most cruise lines offer kids clubs for ages 3+ that are included in the rate. Most require kids to be potty trained for drop off, and they include:
- Aquanauts on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line includes fun experiments and play spaces for kids ages 3-5.
- Oceaneers Club on Disney Cruise Line for kids ages 3-12 with interactive, Disney themed spaces. We especially love the Disney Wish kids clubs.
- Carnival Cruises offer Camp Ocean, with the Penguin club designed specifically for ages 2-5. (This is a drop off program and kids do not need to be potty trained.)
- Norweigan Cruise Line also has the Splash Academy drop off kids club for ages 3-12.
Note: Some cruise ships require you to book nursery services in advance. Whether you’re going on a cruise with a toddler or baby, I recommend looking into the childcare options beforehand.
Request Items You Need in Advance
When packing for a cruise with babies or toddlers, it’s important to avoid overpacking given the limited amount of space in your room. Fortunately, there are a few items you can request from cruise ships in advance of your trip. Here are a few things to consider pre-requesting when cruising with a baby:
- Pack-n-Play or similar travel crib for your room.
- Mini fridge for the room (if it doesn’t come with one.) This is ideal if your child is drinking milk regularly or if you are pumping/ breastfeeding. On most ships, you can also request small cartons of milk from the buffet to keep in your room.
- Diapers, wipes and/or baby food in advance, if needed. Many ships do not readily keep these items on hand, but you can request them prior to cruising with a baby. We opted to bring everything on board with us since we were driving to the port.
- Be aware that most cruise lines do not have bathtubs or even sinks large enough to bathe a baby. We love this inflatable duck tub when traveling with a baby. Disney Cruise Line is also one of the few cruise lines with bathtubs in each family Oceanview or Verandah room.
Disney Cruise Line also included a diaper genie in the room when we booked a child under 3.
Related Post: Packing Tips for the Beach with a Baby
Upgrade to a Balcony or Suite
After having a balcony on our first cruise with a baby, I don’t know if I can go without it in the future. (In fact, we booked a balcony room for a subsequent cruise as well.) With babies and toddlers typically having earlier bedtimes, the balcony is the perfect place to relax at the end of the night without being stuck indoors. It’s also great for early mornings if you have younger kids that wake up earlier than the rest of the family. Plus, you can’t beat the sunsets and port side views from a cruise balcony.
The rooms with a balcony are also larger, so they fit the pack-n-play without it taking up half the room. If a balcony is out of your price range, consider an outside room. They are typically larger than an interior room and have the needed space to fit a portable crib.
Eat in the Formal Dining Rooms for Dinner
To some people, the idea of eating with a baby in a formal setting is anything but enjoyable. We loved our experience on Royal Caribbean since the food is great and the staff makes the process so much easier than wrangling a baby in the buffet line. After the first night, our initial requests were replicated without us even having to ask. The highchair was ready and our son’s fruit was on the table the minute we sat down. We were also able to request special items off the menu for our son with no issues.
Disney Cruise Line takes dining one step further with themed rotational dining experiences. Several ships offer the interactive Animators Palette. Other ships include princess themed dining experiences like Arendelle on the Disney Wish or Rapunzel’s Royal Table on the Disney Fantasy. DCL is great at accommodating special requests for picky eaters or allergies as well. Since it’s Disney, they also tend to be more casual dinners than other cruise lines offer, but still with amazing menus.
Not up for formal dining with a baby or just need a break one night? Most cruise ships offer babysitting at the nursery during dinnertime hours.
Bring Small Toys for Your Cruise
Dinners can be long on cruises, and you’re also bound to have downtime in your room when cruising with young kids. We recommend bringing some small fidget toys or activities to keep the kiddos busy. This doesn’t just apply to cruising, but we always have a small bag of toys with us that are suitable for either in the room, on-the-go or dinner time. Our favorite travel toys are these water coloring books and these stacking cups.
Related Post: 10 Travel Toys for Babies & Toddlers for Under $10
Research Options for Cruise Excursions
We were happy to find that there were several options for excursions when we went on a cruise with our 13 month old. While we could not go snorkeling with our family, we were able to find a few excursions in Bermuda that accommodate babies. In addition to going to Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda, we also did a glass bottom boat cruise that left directly from the port. Our son loved looking at the fish beneath the boat, and the water in Bermuda is very calm.
Subsequent cruises we went on had stops in the Bahamas. At the time of our sailings, we were limited on Nassau excursion options for kids under 5, so we opted to stay on the ship for our first cruise to Nassau. The second time, we walked to the Pirate Museum in Bahamas. It was a quick excursion and the kids had fun. Until Nassau port construction is complete, however, I don’t think I’d get off the ship again. If you’re looking for another Nassau excursion to walk to from port, Margaritaville Resort in Nassau is a popular option for families. You can purchase a day pass through Resort Pass, and it has a large pool with lazy river and a splash pad for kids.
For excursions with toddlers, I do recommend going through the cruise lines if you’re required to drive to your destination. We made this mistake on our first cruise and ended up with a long taxi ride from Horseshoe Bay without a car seat.
Consider Logistics Before and After Your Cruise
For our first cruise, we decided on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas with a cruise stop in Bermuda. We chose this cruise primarily for the Bermuda destination and also because we could drive from our hometown of Pittsburgh to the Baltimore Port. It was so great not having to tack on a flying with a baby in addition to our first time cruising with a baby!
For our second and third cruises with toddlers, we cruised with Disney out of Miami and then Port Canaveral. Since Ubers were the easiest option to get to and from the Port of Miami, I brought a car seat for my 2 year old. When cruising out of Port Canaveral, we opted to rent a car for the day since there’s a free shuttle from Port Canaveral to Avis car rental. That time, we brought both the lightweight car seat and a Mifold travel booster for our 5 year old. (This inflatable booster seat is a another popular option for travel.) Both times, we left the car seat out on our verandah in the car seat bag.
Enjoy the Ease of Traveling Without Leaving Your Room
This by far is my favorite thing about cruising with kids or without. Let’s face it, our days of touring five cities in five days are over for the foreseeable future. Even if you only have one stop on your cruise, the best part about cruising is that you stay in the same room the entire time. That means you only have to unpack once and have the baby adjust a new bedroom once. With the ship typically traveling overnight, you can also go to sleep in one city and wake up in a new one. All from the comfort of the cruise ship!
Have you been on a cruise with young kids? I’d love to hear in the comments if you have any additional tips for cruising with a toddler or baby!
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