Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cruising with a baby

Mark and I would love to take B to visit hill tribes in northern Thailand, stay at a tented safari camp in Botswana or cycle around the islands of southern Croatia, but lets face it;  it isn't always sensible to haul a two-year old across a dozen time zones or spend 24 hours in transit, particularly with only a week or two of vacation.


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:


  1. 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) 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
If you decide to cruise with a baby or toddler, don't forget to bring along a(n):
  • 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!

    9 comments:

    1. Thank you for this article! We are planning on bringing our then 13-month old son on the Oasis next April and this has been so helpful.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Jen, so glad you found it helpful. Also check out: http://www.packyourpassport.ca/2012/03/cruising-on-oasis-of-seas-with-baby.html. The Oasis was the first cruise we did with our son too, and we had a blast!

        Delete
    2. We are taking our 2.5 years son on his first cruise (our 2nd) in June 2013, on the Carnival Spirit, which is now going to be based in Oz. Thank you for some of the practical suggestions even in these early days of our planning for this trip! Wendy

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. I'm glad you found it helpful. Have a wonderful cruise!

        Delete
    3. Thank you so much for this page! It was super helpful in prepping for our cruise on Allure of the Seas with our 6 month old, and made it that much easier! Oh and we all had a great time :)

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. I'm so glad you found the information helpful and that you enjoyed your cruise! I'll be taking my (now) 3 yr old on the Allure next year. He doesn't remember being on the Oasis at 7 months so I'm looking forward to his reaction to the boardwalk and all the other fun activities.

        Delete
    4. Nice write up! We're going with our 1-yr old daughter next month on Carnival. We'll definitely be taking an inflatable pool, per your suggestion. Since we're traveling to Caribbean ports that we've visited on previous cruises, we're not super concerned of what to do with baby on port calls (we'll either stay on ship, or just go for a light walk around town near the port.)
      I did have some additional questions:
      1. For non-walkers, did you find a stroller / baby bjorn / something else to be easiest to navigate around the promenade deck / walking areas?
      2. Did you have any issues with your baby going on and off the ship in foreign ports? We are bringing just her passport (it's really the only document beside a birth certificate that we have)
      3. For dining (either in the dining hall or lido deck), did the cruise line provide high chairs or did you bring one?
      Finally, we're really hoping that the monitor does work into the adjacent cabin where other members of our party are staying.
      Thanks for any answers and for a very informative post!
      ~Kevin

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Hi Kevin,

        Glad to hear from you. To answer your questions:

        1. It is certainly advantageous to have a stroller or baby carrier, because they give you the option of exploring the ship while baby is sleeping. A compact, folding stroller will easily fit in most cabin closets or under the bed. I've usually found a stroller to be more helpful just because there is storage space for the inevitable wipes etc. and it is a lot easier to use the bathroom without a child strapped to your chest :) But whatever you find works best for you when you are at home will work on a cruise ship too.

        2. Your baby will have her own cruise card which you will need to carry with you when you get off the ship, and depending on the ports you are visiting, you will certainly need either her original passport or a photocopy.

        3. Carnival will definitely have high chairs available at all its dining venues so there is no need to bring one along.

        Have a wonderful cruise!

        Delete
    5. My husband and I are deciding if we should go on a cruise with our 7 month old. We are going with our friends with no kids and that are single that we used to party with. Your article is very helpful. Thank you.

      ReplyDelete