To me, a cruise is like a limo-driven, fully catered road trip, and you only have to unpack once. By chance, B ended up on two Royal Caribbean (RCI) cruises last year, the first (at 7 months old with Mommy, Grandma and Grandpa) on the monster-ship, the Oasis of the Seas, and the second (at 8 months old with Mommy and Daddy) on the much smaller Serenade of the Seas. Here's why cruising, particularly on Royal Caribbean, can make for a great (even adventurous if you want) family holiday:
- You get to see a variety of places in a short span of time. Sure you don't get to really immerse yourself in a place, but it's like doing a day trip every day and you don't have to spend hours driving or fight with your spouse about directions (of course this has never happened to us)
- There are lots of food choices. There are enough choices to feed even the pickiest child, and here's my favourite part - someone else is cooking it for you. On RCI, the breakfast and lunch buffets are ok, but the a la carte meals in the dining room are excellent. And if your child lacks the patience to sit through a three-course sit-down meal, you have the option of eating at one of the buffet restaurants or order room service.
- For warm destinations, a balcony cabin is worth every penny. After baby is asleep, you can enjoy the rest of the evening on the balcony of your cabin. On the Oasis, our cabin overlooked the central 'boardwalk' area, so I was able to take in big screen movies and the impressive water/dive show from the comfort of my balcony while B slept. Unless you have bionic hearing, you won't be able to hear a crying child when the balcony door is closed so a baby monitor is a must-have. Baby monitors generally DO NOT work between cabins, so it isn't a good idea to leave a child alone to spend time in a neighbouring cabin.
- RCI offers a wide variety of kids programs. Their largest ships, including the Oasis, have full nurseries and all have activities and/or child care for older children if you are looking for a little adults-only time. RCI loans out big bags of age-appropriate books and Fisher Price toys, which can be exchanged throughout the cruise for a different selection. This is brilliant because it saves having to pack and bring a lot of toys and books along. The toys are sanitized after each user and they were always in excellent condition.
- Those interested in shopping, working out, sitting in a hot tub, going to the spa or competing in belly-flop contests at the pool are well-covered. Most RCI ships have mini golf, kids pools (for those out of diapers) and rock climbing walls. The Oasis and Allure of the Seas add zip-lines and surfing to the mix.
- At ports, there are lots of cruise excursion options for those so-inclined. We always venture out on our own, hire a taxi or book a private tour ahead of time - this has allowed us to get away from the tourist crowds and enjoy sights well off the beaten path. Even horribly over-touristed islands like St. Thomas have some really wonderful sights, great food, and can be a lot of fun if you make a point of exploring away from the hoards.
Keep in mind:
- Babies/toddlers in swim diapers are not permitted in any pools, other than little wading pools. MSC and Disney Cruises offer the only exceptions I've found.
- Most cruise lines have a minimum age requirement to travel, usually 6 or 12 months
- Bigger doesn't mean better. On RCI, the smaller ships actually have more spacious cabins and more breathing room in the restaurants, dining rooms and around the ship. The larger ships make up for the tight spaces with a wider variety of activity and entertainment options. Smaller ships are able to stop at smaller ports right in the heart of town, whereas large ships like the Oasis have to stop at the larger ports located well out of town. Because the size of the Oasis makes it more of a terrorist target, we had to go through full security screening (i.e. no liquids or gels permitted, and full x-ray screening of strollers and all belongings) every time we got on board - it was like going through airport security every day.
- The huge Oasis is far more geared towards families than the smaller Serenade - for this reason, we actually enjoyed the Serenade better; it was easier to get a high chair at the restaurants, the children's areas were less busy and because B was one of only a few kids on the cruise, we never had to jockey against other strollers for space in the elevators, or anywhere else for that matter. Plus since there were so few other kids, he got loads of attention from the crew and other guests.
- Book your dining room seating time as soon as possible to make sure you get the seating time that works best for your child's schedule. RCI also offers My Time Dining meaning you can head to the dining room whenever you want, but this has to be booked well ahead of your cruise.
- Baby monitor - if you want to take advantage of your balcony (parent unit must be battery operated as there are no power outlets on balconies)
- Pack 'n Play sheet(s) - if you book one for your cabin, it is a good idea to bring your own sheets since the cruise lines use standard twin or queen sheets which are easy for an active baby to get tangled up in
- White noise - always a winner for helping a baby sleep, there are a number of phone apps (we like Sleep Fan, which can help to drone out the occasional noisy passersby in the hallway
- Car seat - if you don't plan to spend your port visits on tour buses, bring along your own car seat to use in taxis or mini buses
- An inflatable bathtub or small baby pool (24" diameter or less) - Unless you are cruising with Disney Cruise Lines or in a larger suite on another line, you'll likely have a shower in your cabin, so bring your own tub if baby is accustomed to having a nighttime bath. For more information, see Bath Time!.
Cruise Critic is an excellent resource for information about family cruising. Have you taken a baby or toddler on a cruise? Please share your experience!