My wife and I made it through a road trip with our then 8-month old mostly drama free last year. That brought up the next challenge — taking a cruise with the little one. At nearly 16 months old, Ashok would be a toddler by the time of our cruise. That promised a new set of issues to work through. So how did it go? Pretty well, actually, though a few things did surprise us along the way. I’ve put together a handful of things that worked for us, and hopefully will for you, too.
Before starting off, I’ll add the same disclaimer from my post with advice for road tripping with infants. A lot of this is obvious and/or common sense for veteran parents. Even with a helpful mom nearby, us newbies sometimes lose sight of the obvious.
A Word About Cruise Line Age Restrictions and Document Requirements
First of all, before planning a cruise with your wee one, be aware of cruise line age restrictions. These vary from line to line. Most cruise lines have a minimum passenger age of either 6 or 12 months, depending on cruise length and destination. Check with your specific cruise line for more information.
Also note that if traveling with a minor, your child does NOT need a passport for “closed loop” cruises. A certified copy of a birth certificate suffices. These are cruises departing and arriving at the same US port. For example, Galveston to Galveston is a “closed loop” cruise. Galveston to Fort Lauderdale, however, is not, and all passengers must have passports. Even if your child doesn’t need a passport, it might be a good idea to get one. In the unlikely event you get stranded in a foreign port, you might be SOL as far as getting back home without one.
Arrive in Port At Least a Day Before
This is something you should do anyway. NEVER leave an expensive cruise to the whims of airline on-time performance. But with a tyke, it becomes even more important. You want some buffer in case you forgot something at home. On our trip, we realized at our hotel that we forgot the wet wipes. But, since we had the night and next morning in Galveston, a quick trip to Wal-Mart took care of that problem. Though you can buy baby gear in ports, that’s time you no longer have for tours.
Make A List, Check It Twice, But Don’t Overpack Clothes
A certain member of our crew insisted on bringing multiple changes of clothes for each day of the cruise. Needless to say, that meant an entire suitcase just for baby clothes. We drove to Galveston, so the number of bags we took didn’t really matter. If you’re flying, though, and need to conserve bag space, don’t worry about overpacking. Truth is, in every single port, hawkers sell clothing for a few bucks a piece. Sure, you might only get one or two uses out of that onesie before it shrinks. But it’s probably still cheaper than the extra bag fee.
Need Warm Milk? Rest Easy, It’s On the Buffet
This might seem trivial, but Ashok likes his milk warm. How to get warm milk while out touring in port worried all three of us. Turns out, the ship provided an easy solution. There’s hot milk on the breakfast buffet line, right next to the oatmeal. We’d just mix some hot milk with cold, stick it in a thermos, and viola, warm milk on demand.
Speaking of cold milk, you can get that at the breakfast buffet, too. Many staterooms have refrigerators, so we’d stock up on a few cartons and stick them in the fridge. You can also ask the stateroom attendant to bring a bucket of ice, and keep one or two in there.
If You Have the Means, Spring For a Balcony
Staterooms tend to be small, but a balcony adds valuable extra space. Not only does it make for some handy playspace…
…the table also gives you a makeshift eating space with a built-in distraction, the ocean view.
Not to mention, you now have space to dry clothes after the inevitable spills. In case you’re thinking, “there’s no way I can afford that”, balconies aren’t necessarily expensive. Cruise lines often run “balcony for the price of oceanview” specials, reducing the cost considerably. It’s worth a check before assuming you can’t afford it.
Take It Easy on Shore Excursions
Shore excursions present a couple of special challenges if you have small children. One, the length might exceed your child’s attention span. Or compete with nap time, which might rear its head at an inconvenient point in the tour. Lucky for us, Ashok decided he wanted his nap when we started the bus ride back to the ship.
But there’s one other challenge. Many shore excursions, even longer ones that go through lunchtime, don’t include a meal stop. Or if they do, the offerings might not qualify as “kid friendly”. If your child is open to trying new foods, no problem. We have an especially picky eater, though, and that created problems for us. That meant carrying food with us – and that’s kind of a PITA. Not just carrying it on the excursion, but the fact that we had to pack a whole bunch of baby food. Not only does it take up space in the bag, it created a good deal of clutter in the room.
One option – hire a private taxi to take you around. You can usually negotiate how long you want the car, and exactly where you want to go. Plus, if your munchkin decides he doesn’t like what you selected, you can always ask the driver to take you somewhere else. Or just go back to the ship. The downside to private taxis, though, is cost. The ship will try to charge you several hundred dollars for one. A better option is to negotiate directly with a driver once you get off the ship. Almost all ports have tour guides selling private taxi tours right in the dock area. Just make sure to agree on a fare and an itinerary BEFORE getting in the car.
The Main Dining Room Is Not Your Friend
This one surprised me. I expected Ashok would enjoy dinner in the big dining room. It’s big, there are chandeliers everywhere, and big windows to look out. And, he usually behaves well in restaurants. It didn’t really work out, though. I don’t know if it was the noise, too many people, or what. But Ashok just wouldn’t settle down. Every night, he’d act OK for about 20 minutes, then get agitated. Me, mom, and grandma constantly had to take turns to walk him out in the hall. Dinner just wasn’t very much fun for anybody.
In hindsight, I should have expected more trouble. Dinner in the main dining room resembles premium cabin meal service on a long-haul, daytime flight. It’s usually a long, drawn-out, multi-course affair, which adds to the experience. That’s usually not a good mix with a very young child. Bottom line: better to stick with the buffet. Or take advantage of another perk onboard the ship…
Cruise Ships Offer Child Care Services
Almost all ships offer a “kids club” and/or babysitting services of some sort. You have to pay, of course. But if you want to take an adventurous shore excursion, or enjoy a quiet dinner, it’s there if you need it. Assuming you don’t have a grandma willing to play babysitter, of course.
Speaking of which, if you have a willing relative – take them up on their offer to come along. Even if you have to pay for their cruise fare. We originally planned to take this cruise by ourselves, but at the last minute, my mom asked if she could tag along. I can’t tell you how much easier having her around made things. And Ashok enjoyed grandma’s company, too.
Sure, taking our 16-month old on a cruise presented challenges, but nothing particularly awful. We learned some lessons for sure, but were really glad we went. We’re looking forward to our next cruise with an older Ashok, and the changes that will bring!