In the Spring of 2010 I had the privilege of taking my 15 month old baby girl on a Carnival cruise to Mexico. I had been on 10 or more cruises previously so I knew what to expect. When I told my friends and family that my toddler was going on the cruise, some of them thought I was crazy.
We had a great time! There were very few toddlers on board but it is a vacation I would recommend for families with toddlers, especially if you are a couple with one child who is a toddler. There are some things about cruising that made it an ideal vacation for a toddler. The flight was free for her because she was under two. The cabin price for her was half because she was the third person in the cabin. We were in one place the entire week. We only had to unpack one time. Everything we needed was on the cruise ship. We didn’t need to drive. There was always food available. There is always something to do yet you can always retreat to your cabin and do nothing.
Here are my 10 tips for those who are cruising with toddlers:
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 1: Try to stay on the schedule you follow at home.
When planning your day on the cruise, consider typical mealtimes, naptimes, and sleep times. Try to plan your day around your toddler’s usual schedule. This probably mean planning any trips into the port for mornings, leaving afternoons for naps (you will need it too).
I also suggest you request early dining (6 p.m.) as the late dining time (8:15 p.m.) usually has fewer families with children as is usually a bit more formal, particularly on formal nights. I usually love the formal dinners, but we only ended up eating in the formal dining room twice during our cruise. The wait times between courses, the formality dining room, and even the food choices were not something our toddler enjoyed. The buffet was much more her style.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 2: Request a balcony if you can afford it.
We didn’t purchase a balcony, but due to a cruise line computer glitch, we were upgraded to a balcony. It ended up being a blessing because during her naptime, we could sit out on the balcony. In my 10+ cruises I had never requested a balcony because I never thought it necessary, but because we ended up spending more time in the cabin with a toddler, it was a nice addition.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 3: Get to know the morning breakfast hostess.
It seems our toddler thought going on a cruise meant waking up at 5:30 every morning. I had never been up that early on a cruise before. It turns out it’s a very quiet time of day. We would go up to the buffet every morning. We got to know our lovely breakfast hostess from the Philippines. After a couple of days she took it upon herself to have a highchair waiting for us and a plate of my daughter’s favorite fruits. Our daughter ended up being quite a hit with several of the crew who unfortunately missed their children from home.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 4: Come prepared to do laundry.
We made sure our cruise ship had a laundry room and we requested that our cabin be close to it. My previous experience with cruises told me that we would go through a lot of laundry due to the heat and I knew we would be even more in need of a laundry room with a toddler. We did laundry a couple of times during the week. It allowed us the opportunity to pack lighter and save room for things which could not have been replaced easily (such as diapers, blankies, “lovies”, soy milk, bottles, favorite sippee cups, etc.) Something really nice to have are the All Detergent Sheets.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 5: Take turns with your spouse exploring the ship, swimming, going to the casino, and other activities that are not “toddler-friendly.”
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 6: Go to the Kids’ Camp area (different names depending upon cruise line) and find out what’s available for your toddler.
There will likely be no programming for your toddler; however, we discovered that we were welcome to bring her up to the play area at anytime provided that we stayed with her. This was a nice and air-conditioned area to take her.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 7: Pack twice as many diapers as you think you’ll need.
I found that our baby typically drank about twice as much as usual when on vacation. Because of the unfamiliar solid foods, she tended to retreat to her familiar milk. This happened on the cruise and when we went to Disney World. Fortunately, we brought more than enough diapers on the cruise. Diapers typically cost up to $3.00 each in tourist destinations such as resorts, cruise ships and amusement parks.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 8: Don’t be afraid to take some form of harness if you feel you need it.
We have never used it again, but we purchased one of those backpacks with a strap for the cruise and I’m glad we did. She was just learning to run and wanted to be on the move all the time. The harness offered us some degree of assuredness on the cruise, particularly with all of the open stairwells onboard. The harness was also helpful at the airport. She was too short to hold hands with us all the time.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 9: Take a Pack n Play and a lightweight stroller.
The cruise lines say they have cribs available but we were told they sometimes run out. We have checked into a hotel before and been told they were out of cribs so my advice is to take a pack-n-play and a stroller. You can check the pack-n-play free on the flight because you get to check one baby item and you can take the stroller on the plane as carry-on luggage. We took a mid-sized stroller and are glad we did. As opposed to an umbrella stroller, we liked having the basket part underneath for her diaper bag and souvenirs and we also found it necessary to have a stroller with a cover due to the sun.
Toddler Cruise Tip Number 10: Be prepared in the event of a medical emergency.
Get travel insurance and carry your important medical information in the event of a serious medical emergency. This is my advice whether you are traveling with a toddler or not. Our toddler got an ear infection while on the cruise. Fortunately, our ship’s doctor was available and we were able to get antibiotics onboard for a reasonable price. We had all of our medical information with us which was helpful.