We somewhat naively booked our first cruise not long after our son was born and well before we had traveled enough with him to have an idea of what to expect. A few weeks before the cruise I was going into panic mode, even more than my usual pre-trip stressing. I found out that the ship didn’t have a baby pool and our 13-month old wasn’t allowed in the regular pool when he LOVES the water. It turned out, my stressing was for nothing and we all had an amazing time, especially our little guy.
For our first trip, we decided to cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to Bermuda. We chose this cruise primarily because it was drivable from Pittsburgh to the Baltimore Port. My mother-in-law also loves Bermuda, and we booked this trip after she had a major surgery. It gave us all something to look forward with our son and the first nephew and grandchild of the family. And it was exactly the family vacation we were hoping for.
Since this was my first time on a cruise, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means. We did learn several things about cruising with a baby though, including a few things we’d do differently. Keep reading for my top ten tips on cruising with a baby or toddler (in no particular order).
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1. Bring snacks on board with you
With this being our first cruise and our son still exploring solid foods, I wanted to make sure we had snacks with us in case there weren’t enough options that he liked. We brought a supply of Puffs and fruit/veggie pouches to make sure we had healthy and easy snacks on the go. Royal Caribbean technically has a policy against bringing outside food and drinks. They typically make exceptions for little ones, though, and we had no issues with bringing a big bag of snacks with us. I’d definitely recommend bringing the snacks with you as a carry on versus checked luggage. That way the staff can see you’re traveling with a small child and ask questions if needed. We definitely used the snacks, but fortunately our son also ate pretty well on the trip (aside from becoming an ice cream addict!) Who doesn’t love unlimited soft serve ice cream??
2. Umbrella strollers and/or baby carriers are a must
Even with Grandeur being on the smaller side, cruise ships are still huge and you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. We brought an umbrella stroller almost everywhere with us, as did the other parents we saw with babies or young toddlers. In addition to giving us a break from lugging around our big guy, the recline feature of the Summer Infant 3-D Lite was perfect for naps on the go. Plus the extra storage made it easy to carry his diaper bag and anything else we needed wherever we went. While the stroller is a total state of relaxation for our son, the baby carrier is the opposite. Meaning, he wants everyone in his sight to smile and talk to him and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. I was so glad I decided to bring the Ergobaby 360 Carrier this time to have both options. I hadn’t been using it that much at the time, but it was perfect for my early morning walks with the little guy to get coffee and a snack to hold us over until everyone else was up for breakfast.
3. Take advantage of the on-site nursery services and kids programs
We took our son to the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery for 2 days for an hour or two while we were there. Part of me felt guilty dropping him off when we were on a family vacation, but it gave him some time to roam around in a clean space with lots of new toys and other kids his age. And it gave the adults a little bit of relaxation time without worrying about what our wild child was getting into.
Some additional info on Royal Babies programs:
- Royal Babies is available for babies/ toddlers from 6-36 months (kids 3-11 can participate in Adventure Oceans programs.)
- 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.
- Hourly fees are $6 before 6pm and $8 after 6pm. Hours and availability differ by ship, but 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.
- A Toy Lending Program is offered for families to borrow age appropriate toys during their cruise
- A free kids program is also available for kids over 3. We are excited to take advantage of that when our son is older!
4. Request items you need for the baby in advance
Although we used a travel agent this time, I contacted Royal Caribbean directly to ensure we had both a crib and a fridge in our room since both are in limited supply on the ship. Both requests were accommodated with no issue, and the fridge was key to storing milk throughout the day without having to make multiple trips to the buffet. (Note: Milk usually isn’t out all day, so just ask anyone working there if you need a few cartons and they can get it in the back.)
I don’t know if it was the darkness of the room or the rocking of the ocean, but I was also super thankful that our son actually slept well every night for the first time since we’ve been traveling with him.
Pro Tip: Most cruise lines do not have baths in the room, so if your baby loves a bath every night like ours, I’d recommend bringing a portable blow up tub with you like the Munchkin Inflatable Duck Tub pictured here, which fit perfectly in the small shower stall.
5. Upgrade to a balcony or suite
After having a balcony on our first cruise, I don’t know if I can go without it in the future! Our son is usually in bed around 7:30, so this was perfect for my husband and I to hang out (usually with a drink in hand!) and not feel like we were stuck to our room. Plus the sunsets were amazing and we had the best views coming into Bermuda.
The little guy and I are early risers, so we would head out to the balcony in the early morning to have a little picnic and play while letting Daddy sleep in. The rooms with a balcony are also larger, so we could actually 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, which is typically larger than an interior room and has the needed space to fit a portable crib.
6. Don’t be afraid to eat in the formal dining room on a cruise with little kids
To some people, the idea of eating with a baby in a formal setting is anything but enjoyable. We loved it because the food in the Grandeur Great Gatsby dining room is SO good and the super attentive staff made the whole dining process easier. After the first night, the high chair was ready for us. Plus our son’s fruit was on the table the minute we sat down, which was much better than fighting for a table, high chair and food in the buffet area. We were also able to request special items off the menu for our son with no issues.
If you’re not up for formal dining with a baby or just need a break one night, most cruise ships including Royal Caribbean offer in-room or nursery babysitting during dinnertime hours.
Pro Tip: Make sure you or your travel agent request that reservations are linked for dinner if you’re traveling with multiple family members under different reservations to make sure you can all sit together. We had an issue with only 2 of our 3 reservations being linked. Thankfully the head waiter fixed it for us on the first night.
7. Know the pool situation before you book your cruise
Since the pool(s) can be such a huge part of your day with cruising, definitely do your research here in advance. As I mentioned before, I had no idea until a few weeks before the cruise was leaving that our son couldn’t go in the pool based on strict CDC rules for a saltwater pool. (Lesson learned!) Many of the larger ships or family targeted cruise lines like Disney have some type of baby pool or splash zone, but this ship had neither.
Fortunately, the lifeguards allowed our son to play along the edge of the pool as long as he didn’t sit in the water, and we brought enough stuff to keep him occupied at the chairs when he couldn’t be near the water. While I was originally really worried about it, it ended up not being a big deal afterall.
8. Bring toys or some form of entertainment everywhere.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting by the pool, sitting at dinner, sitting at a show… you get the point. 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. We especially love the Melissa & Doug On-the-Go Water Coloring Books that can be reused with no mess.
Fortunately for our son, even without the toys he probably still would have been entertained. He loves attention, and the number of people in one place talking to him and telling him how cute he was was basically heaven for him. Pro Tip: If you forget toys, Royal Caribbean has a toy loaner program available at their royal babies nursery.
9. Check for national holidays before you go on a cruise
This doesn’t just apply to kids or cruising but something I definitely learned on this trip about traveling in general. We had limited time in Bermuda and were super bummed to find out that all of the shops in Hamilton were closed when we got there, and the public transportation was running on an amended schedule.
In Bermuda, this meant that taxis were more expensive and the Ferry shut down early. And it resulted in very long, unplanned ride by taxi van to the other side of the island at the Naval Dockyard where our ship was docked. Our typically easy baby was hysterical for most of the long and winding ride home.
10. Enjoy the ease of traveling without ever having to leave your room
This by far is my favorite thing about cruising. Let’s face it, our days of touring 5 cities in 5 days and staying in different hotels each night are over for the foreseeable future. Although we only stopped in one port on this trip, the best part about cruising is that you only have to unpack once and have the baby adjust a new bedroom once. Plus you can go to sleep in one city and wake up in a new one without having to drag your luggage multiple times through trains, planes and automobiles.
After our first experience, I can’t wait to cruise again. Please share in the comments if you have any additional tips for cruising with babies or toddlers!
Will’s Trip Stats: Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas/ Baltimore & Bermuda Ports/ June 2018/ 13 Months Old
Children’s Book Inspiration: Boats Go by Steve Light
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