Cruising with toddlers: Why you should try it

We recently took our first cruise as a family, and I am happy to say that it went very well! We chose to cruise on Royal Caribbean due to their “kids sail free” deals and otherwise reasonable fares, as well as all the positive reviews about their ships, food, and overall experience. I had previously sailed on Carnival, prior to having children, and though I always enjoyed those vacations I was ready to try something new. We settled on a 4 night trip out of Port Canaveral to keep things simple. Our cruise went to Nassau, Bahamas as well as the Royal Caribbean private island, Coco Cay! Below are some pearls of wisdom I gathered about cruising with small children, as well as reviews of our ship and the ports of call.

Cruising is more kid-friendly than you think

One of my main concerns when planning this trip was strategizing how to keep my kids busy on the ship. It turns out, there are a TON of kid-friendly activities on cruises. Many of the activities will be better suited for older kids (such as the rock wall, surf simulator or water slides), but my 1-year old and 3-year old still had plenty of fun just roaming the ship, eating ice cream, and playing in the enormous splash pad. One really important thing I overlooked was that what kids REALLY want out of a vacation is fun, quality time with YOU- and there is plenty of this to go around. There are a few reasons I think cruising is an often overlooked way to travel with young kids:

  • Once you’re there- you’re there ! You board the ship, unpack, and thats it. no driving, no gps, no getting lost or being stressed in traffic, no parking, no getting kids in and out of the car. It is simply delightful to look ahead at your 4 days with your family and know you don’t have to worry about getting anywhere.
  • Kids can nap whenever they want! Your stateroom is always just a short walk away. Kids getting fussy at the pool? no problem! just take an elevator to your room and it’s nap city. Kids too tired to make it through dinner? No worries, just leave the dining room and go put them down.
  • There is food literally everywhere! No stressing over where to find the next meal, you have plenty of options. Got a picky kid? don’t worry, there is always pizza or french fries. The dining room staff also go above and beyond to accommodate your children (or at least, ours did). Our son was presented with his french fries and cup of berries at every dinner, no questions asked.
  • Childcare is available! We did not use the childcare services this trip as my kids are velcro-children, but i have heard wonderful things about the children’s day camps. The childcare services on Royal Caribbean are called the “Adventure Youth” program and serve children ages 6 months-12 years.

Stateroom choice can make or break the trip

Growing up, I cruised with my family and we usually had indoor staterooms on the lower decks. This was completely fine and we always had a great time. However, for our trip I chose to get us a stateroom with a Balcony on an upper level, and I did not regret it. It is slightly more expensive, but in my opinion is worth every penny.

  • The Balcony offers extra square footage: It’s nice to have an extra space to sit and enjoy room service, especially for breakfast. It also creates a little separation if you and your spouse need some quiet time.
  • You can’t beat the view: to me, this was the most important part. If I was on a giant ship in the middle of the ocean, I wanted to look out my window and see the water!
  • Sunsets. period.
  • Being on an upper deck gets you closer to all the food, pools, activities, etc. Fewer long elevator rides with the kiddos= happier family.
  • My son loved looking at the water: He talked about the waves, the fish, and the birds he saw long after our trip.

I was very concerned (major mom anxiety) prior to our trip about whether the balcony would be safe. I can confidently say that yes, the balcony was quite safe. The glass comes up very high, almost chest-height on an adult. A child could not fall overboard unless they stood on a deck chair. For this reason, we kept our deck furniture far away from the balcony and the rule of our stateroom was NO KIDS ON THE BALCONY WITHOUT MOM OR DAD. This worked just fine. The Balcony door is very heavy and difficult to open; even my son, who loves opening and closing doors, struggled to open it. Many of the ships have locks on the balcony doors that are situated near the top of the door, but our ship was older and did not have this. We brought a tension-rod type bar from home, which worked just fine to secure the door for overnight.

Manage your expectations about shore excursions, and you won’t be disappointed

My husband and I LOVE to do adventurous activities on vacation, but traveling with younger kids is a different kind of trip and THATS OK! The goal of our cruise was to spend quality time as a family, and with that in mind I skipped booking any shore tours. Most of the excursions offered in the Bahamas did not seem kid-friendly, or even specifically mentioned an age requirement of >6 years old. The activities on Coco Cay were ALL kid friendly, but you don’t need to book an excursion to enjoy them.

In Nassau, we elected to get off the ship in the morning and just explore the town around the ship. We did a little souvenir shopping, stopped at a cafe, and just generally took a nice walk. Both kids slept the entire time in the stroller. I could have probably loaded all of us into a bus and gone searching for a beach, but we live in Florida so this wasn’t a huge priority for me. My goal was to keep things stress-free.

At Coco Cay, we exited the ship and went immediately left to Chill Island, which was exactly as described! There were plenty of empty chairs on the beach, and a nice wading area for the kids to play. Drinks and food are easily accessible, and there is actually a buffet that is included with your cruise fair. The food was very good, better than I anticipated. There is also a splash pad, water park, several other beaches and bars, and a few restaurants on the island. We had a really lovely day here and I would highly recommend it as a family-friendly port.

Both kids slept just fine in one room

Having mostly traveled by staying in AirBnbs or small cottages, this was one of my main worries. I was concerned my kids would wake each other up overnight and we would all be exhausted. The first night, we put my daughter’s travel crib in the bathroom (my number one travel hack for overnight stays with babies!) but we decided afterwards we’d rather have access to the bathroom overnight. We put her travel crib in the main stateroom space for the rest of the trip, and surprisingly both of my kids passed out each night without issue. My theory is that there is something about the gentle rocking of the ship, perhaps? And, also, they were exhausted from having fun all day.

Our Ship: Independence of the Seas

I have nothing but good things to say about this ship. It was well maintained, clean, lots of food options, several bars with different themes, and the specialty dining was delicious. The pools are a little on the small side, but there are multiple and they were not overcrowded. The splash pad was by far the most enjoyed by my kids, we spent a lot of time there. The staff were all kind and friendly, we felt cared for and had no complaints. In short, I would cruise on this ship again.

Go for it!

If you’re considering taking a cruise with small children, I say go for it! I found it to be a lot less stressful than other trips we have taken, and there are very budget-friendly options out there on many different cruise lines. Start with a short trip, 3 or 4 days, to see if it’s your style. Adjust your expectations about how much you want to “do” and focus on just being there together, and you’ll have a great time.

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