Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cruising with Kids

Before my blog hiatus, I promised a cruising with kids post. We took a 5 night cruise the 1st week of December and had a blast! I read blogs and websites about cruising with young kids before we left... some was good advice.. others not so much. A few friends have told me they're considering cruising this year with their families but were nervous about it so here's my list of tips for enjoying a cruise with young children.

1. Keep to your regular schedule.
We did the same routine every night. After dinner, we came back to our room, put on PJs, let the kids play iPad for 30 mins to an hour and then it was bedtime. They were asleep each night by 8. Yes, that meant I was in the room with them at 7 but I wasn't very interested in the cruise night life. It just isn't my scene. I brought my laptop with movies/TV shows I had downloaded and was very content with room service cheesecake and my shows. Daniel played poker and was back in the room by midnight so we could wake up the next morning and enjoy our day without being sleepy. Sleepy kids=grumpy kids!

2. Don't bring toys.
Some blogs showed pictures of kids with bag packs loaded down with legos, barbies, etc. The point of the cruise is to enjoy the boat, not sit in your room and play toys. We only brought the iPad and it was plenty sufficient. They watched a show on it before bed and sometimes while we got ready for dinner but otherwise, we were out of the room.

3. Choose the flex dining or early dining plan
You might me tempted to want the 8pm dinner so you have more daylight on the lido deck but that makes for a long day. We opted for flex dining so we didn't have the same waiter every night but we could eat when we wanted from 5-7pm. Most nights, we were there at 5 and our kids were fabulous at dinner. They weren't over tired or over hungry. You do have to wait sometimes for a while and that wait with hungry, tired kids would be miserable. By getting there at 5, we also got to request the waitress we liked and got our preference of tables. Please don't bring an iPad to dinner. It's inconsiderate. Try talking to your kids or coloring. Our cruise provided menus with games and crayons.

4. Utilize Childcare
We didn't get to utilize the childcare facility as much as we had planned to because Avery spiked random fevers but Parker went and really enjoyed it. Sometimes during the day, he would request to go play for a while. At first I was nervous to hand my kids off to people I didn't know on a boat in the middle of the ocean, but I really liked that they would give you cell phones if you requested one. This gave me piece of mind that they could contact me when he was ready for me to get him or if there was a problem. On the other hand, you're on a family vacation... don't leave your kids there all day! We limited it to 2-3 hours per day. Make sure to research the age requirements for each cruiseline. They are not all the same and some have potty training requirements.

5. Reconsider cruising if your kids are not potty trained
All cruise lines, including Disney, require for all children to be potty trained to get in the pools. They cannot wear swim diapers or plastic pants. Most cruise lines also won't keep diapered children in the kids club. That means that you will not have a break from your baby and cannot take him/her in the water unless you're off the boat and at a beach. For some people on our last cruise, they were fine with that and took turns chasing their 1 year old all over the boat but some other parents looked downright miserable. Little ones also have a hard time sitting that long at dinners. Screaming kids at a nice dinner is just rude to other paying customers, in my opinion. We take our kids to Mexican restaurants and not Morton's for a reason, it you know what I mean.

6. Pack half of what you think you'll need
I packed a swim suit, a play outfit and a nice outfit for each of us for each day. We had a lot of luggage and a lot of clean clothes when we got home. It was too much. We put on bathing suits 1st thing in the morning with cover ups and wore them all day until dinner. I did like having 1 outfit per dinner because they inevitably got food on their nice clothes. Next cruise, I'll pack half as many play clothes.

7. Prepare your kids
When we 1st boarded the boat, Parker was overwhelmed. We showed him YouTube videos for weeks before our cruise but it still didn't prepare him for how loud the muster stations would be and how busy the lido deck would be when everyone was boarding. I can't imagine how out of sorts he would have been if we didn't talk about it a lot and let him know what to expect.

8. Don't rush off the boat on the last day
We left the boat at our leisure after our debarkation was called. We had a nice sit down breakfast in the formal dining hall so that when we got in the car, we could drive a long stretch before needing to stop for food. It was also nice to not start our 8 hour drive home rushing. Enjoy that last breakfast... you paid for it!

9. Be mindful of the time of year you cruise
We cruised in December and I don't think I would do it again. The ocean was already pretty chilly in the Bahamas and the pool was freezing. Everyone was packed into the hot tubs! Also, think about the time of year in relation to the people who will be on the boat. We went in December when school was still in session and thus we cruised with TONS of geriatrics and a few toddlers. The entertainment was geared towards older people and there weren't many kids to play with. Whereas, if you cruised in the summer or spring break, it would be a kid haven! The water would be warmer, but the childcare facility would also be busier. So weigh whats most important to you and think about your cruise in relation to weather and school schedule.

10. Let it go
We went on this cruise with very little expectations of how it would go. We choose a less expensive cruise for our 1st time so that if it was a total bust, we wouldn't feel so upset we wasted a bunch of $. Now that we know they loved it, we feel more comfortable spending $ to go to the ports we really want to go to. While we did stick to our normal schedule, we let a lot go. They ate what they wanted, because we did too. Frozen yogurt was consumed at every meal. We played more putt putt than I ever cared to play. We let go of our expectations and just lived in the moment and that made for a stress-free, enjoyable family vacation.

I hope that helps you plan (or not plan!) your next family cruise! We are hoping to book another one in the near future! :)


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