Child-friendly cruising: Need to know
At first, choosing a cruise holiday with a baby, toddler or child doesn’t seem the most obvious decision.
But cruises have worked hard to throw off their blue rinse brigade reputation and the sheer array of facilities means they’ve often got the edge over a resort – not to mention the chance to visit a string of destinations.
So if you are thinking of booking, what do you need to consider for a cruise with kids?
1. What activities are there on board?
The major cruise lines have great kids’ clubs on their ships, but it’s worth checking exactly what there is for your family – there’s often limited facilities for under-twos, or parents need to accompany them. Great if you just want an area with plenty of toys to play in, not so much if you want to lie in the sun.
What age groups do they split into – for example, if your three-year-old is expected to play with eight-year-olds, it’s not going to be much fun for either, while teens will want their own, less supervised area. Not all cruise lines will change nappies, so you may find yourself summoned back to your toddler by pager each time too.
2. How about babysitting?
Can you book childcare for your cabin in the evenings or do you need to take your child along to a central point? What times does it run – some cruise lines only offer a service from 10pm, so are you happy taking a sleeping child in a buggy or letting your kids stay up late.
And is there a daytime option during port days, if you want to explore or try an excursion that’s not suitable for little ones? Do you need to book in advance (which usually means before boarding or on day one to secure limited places), or can you just turn up?
3. Cruise cuisine
As anyone who’s ever cruised will know, you aren’t short of food on a cruise, quite the opposite. The key is when it’s available. If your toddler has their tea at 4.30pm, you don’t want to discover the only option is sushi, while room service might consist solely of sandwiches and snacks.
Larger ships will offer both an early and late seating at dinner in the main dining rooms, as well as a flexible option, so you can turn up whenever suits you best. And some cruise lines offer a mashing option for babies, useful if they’re weaned but won’t cope with adult food.
4. What if you run out…
Can you buy nappies on board? Or does the cruise line offer a service where you can order wipes and formula in advance, to save space in your luggage?
The last thing you want to be doing during your precious time in port is searching for a supermarket (or approaching other parents on board to beg a spare nappy, as one mum did to me after slightly miscalculating how many she’d need).
5. Long-haul, short-haul or no-haul?
No-one’s going to pretend that a 10-hour flight with a toddler is fun (although I promise it is doable) – so if you’re based in the UK and don’t want a long flight, you’ll rule out most of the Caribbean, for example.
There are plenty of options sailing from Southampton, although that limits you to the closer stretches of the Mediterranean. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular cruise line, doublecheck where their main bases are.
6. Which cabin?
It’s tempting to save the pennies and go for an indoor stateroom if you know you’re only going to be sleeping and showering there.
But if you’re travelling with a baby or toddler, it can be worth upgrading – more space to fit a cot, more space for them to play safely, and a balcony where you can relax by the sea while they nap, rather than cowering quietly in a dark corner.
7. Pools or paddling only?
Most cruise ships will have several pools to choose from, but you may find they’re very busy on sea days – is there a dedicated children’s or baby pool? Bear in mind that cruise lines may insist children are potty-trained before using any of the pools though, so even a swim nappy may not be enough.
Some larger ships have splash zones but if you’ve got a toddler who loves swimming, their only option could be the sea when you dock.
8. What’s the cost?
Even if you’re bringing a six-month-old (the minimum age for most lines), your baby won’t necessarily be free – some cruise companies have occasional free kids places outside of school holidays, others offer lower rates or tax-only prices.
But the majority will treat them as a normal passenger – so, for example, if you’re travelling as a couple with a baby, you’ll pay a reduced third-person rate for the cabin. If you’re travelling solo with the baby, you’ll almost certainly end up paying the full second-person price.
Main Image: Edward Lamb/Flickr; all others copyright MummyTravels