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 we were completely novice to cruising ourselves. While there were certainly some things we would have done differently, we really loved our first cruise with a baby. And we’re here to share with you our best tips for cruising with young children as well as a few lessons we learned from our 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 because we could drive from our hometown of Pittsburgh to the Baltimore Port. (And it was great not having to tack on a flying with a baby in addition to our first time cruising with a baby!) 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 to, and it was exactly the family vacation we were hoping for.
Although our first hand cruise experience is specific to Royal Caribbean, these tips can apply to essentially any cruise ship. Keep reading for our top tips for cruising with a young toddler or baby.
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1. Check if the Cruise Ship Has a Splash Pool Before Booking Your First Cruise with a Baby
I put this one first on the list since it’s a pretty big consideration when you’re cruising with a baby or toddler. Did you know that most (if not all) cruise ships require kids to be fully potty trained before they can go in the regular pools? I had no idea until a few weeks before the cruise was leaving that our son couldn’t go in the pool. With it being our first cruise, this was something I want aware of and that our travel agent didn’t inform us of.
There are strict CDC rules for a saltwater pool that does not allow kids to swim unless they’re fully potty trained. (Most cruise ships have saltwater pools, which lack the typical chlorine and other chemicals. Many of the larger ships or cruise lines for families like Disney have some type of baby pool or splash zone. Our smaller Royal Caribbean ship had neither, so I recommend checking the pool situation before you book! If this is important to you, you may want to think about waiting to cruise until your child is potty trained.
Fortunately, the lifeguards allowed our son to play along the edge of the pool as long as he didn’t sit in the water. (Just be aware that this may not always be the case.) We also 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 after all.
Pro Tip: If your child isn’t fully potty trained, make sure they have a good swim diaper on before getting anywhere near the pool. (Just in case!) We love this reusable swim diaper or these disposable swim diapers.
2. 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. Like most places, we found that they made exceptions for young children. 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. Fortunately, our son still ate pretty well with the variety of food offering on the cruise ship. (Aside from becoming an ice cream addict. But who doesn’t love unlimited soft serve ice cream??)
3. Umbrella strollers and/or baby carriers are a must for a cruise with a baby
Even our cruise ship being on the smaller side, it was still big enough that it required 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 this lightweight stroller 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.
I was glad I decided to bring this baby carrier on our trip as well. It was perfect for my early morning walks with the little guy. (We would typically get coffee and a snack to hold us over until everyone else was up for breakfast.) Plus, he loved having the outward view to say hello to everyone in the morning!
4. 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 so 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.
Additional information on the programs for babies and toddlers at Royal Caribbean:
- Royal Babies is available for babies/ toddlers from 6-36 months.
- 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.
- At the time of our cruising, hourly fees for the Royal Caribbean nursery were $6 before 6pm and $8 after 6pm.
- Hours and availability of the nursery on Royal Caribbean 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.
- 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!
- Some Royal Caribbean ships no longer offer the nursery for babies. Be sure to check in advance if you’re cruising with a baby or young toddler.
5. Request items you need for the baby in advance
Since space and availability can be limited on a cruise ship, it’s important that you request the items you need in advance. Here are a few things to consider pre-requesting when cruising with a baby:
- Request a Pack-n-Play or similar travel crib for your room if needed. I requested a crib via email soon after booking so that we didn’t have to drag our travel crib on board with us.
- Request a mini fridge in 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. We were able to request small cartons of milk from the buffet and keep them in our room when needed.
- Request diapers, wipes and/or baby food in advance, if available. 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 bath tubs or even sinks large enough to bathe a baby. We love the inflatable duck tub pictured here when traveling with a baby. Even though the shower stalls in most cruises are tiny, the inflatable tub still fit.
6. Upgrade to a balcony or suite when cruising with a baby
After having a balcony on our first cruise, I don’t know if I can go without it in the future! Our son was going to bed around 7:30pm at the time, with our bedtime routine starting at 7. The balcony was perfect for my husband and relax with a drink in hand and not feel like we were stuck in 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 also used the balcony in the morning while Daddy slept 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.
7. 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. Plus, super attentive staff made the whole dining process easier. (Wrangling a baby or young toddler in a buffet line can be less than enjoyable!) After the first night, our initial requests were replicated without us even having to asks. The high chair 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.
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.
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, check if your cruise ship has a toy loaner program available. Royal Caribbean had toys available to rent out from their royal babies nursery.
Related Post: 10 Travel Toys for Babies & Toddlers for Under $10
9. Research options for excursions when going on a cruise with young children
We were happy to find that there were several options for excursions when we went on a cruise with our 13 month old. The cruise lines will often indicate age and weight minimums, which makes it easy to search. 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, we were able to do a glass bottom boat cruise. Our son loved looking at the fish beneath the boat. We also felt that the water in Bermuda is calm enough to bring a baby on a boat ride.
Be sure to also check for holidays in advance. Our 24 hour cruise stop in Bermuda fell on a major holiday when we arrived. 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 from Horseshoe Bay to the Naval Dockyard where our ship was docked. We’re typically sticklers for car seats, even when traveling, and were stuck without one for this long and winding trip. (FYI, car seats are not required for taxis in Bermuda.) In the future, I would definitely book an excursion to Horshoe Bay from the Naval Dockyard in advance.
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 are over for the foreseeable future. Although we only stopped in one port on this trip, 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. Plus you can go to sleep in one city and wake up in a new one. All from the comfort of the cruise ship without having to drag your luggage multiple times through trains, planes and automobiles.
Have you been on a cruise with a baby or toddler? After our first experience, I can’t wait to cruise again. I’d love to hear in the comments if you have any addition tips for cruising with babies or toddlers!
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