Any parent who has tried to go anywhere with a baby or toddler knows the vast number of essential items you need to bring, from bottles to extra sets of clothes. And, if you’re that parent, you’ve probably had at least one moment of sheer panic when you realized you forgot one of those necessary items! Now, multiply that distress hundredfold, and you’ll understand why preparing to cruise with a baby can be stressful.
Taking a cruise with a baby requires having the necessary documentation, buying a ticket for your little one, packing the gear they need, and planning ahead for your onboard experience.
No one needs added stress when preparing to take a vacation, right? If you’re thinking about or in the planning stages of booking a cruise, and you’ve got a child under the age of two, read on to learn more about how you can make the experience of cruising with a baby go by without a hitch.
Before Booking Your Cruise with Your Baby
If you plan to travel with a child under two, it’s a good idea to first verify if age restrictions exist with your specific cruise line.
Can Babies Under 6 Months Go on a Cruise?
Generally speaking, babies under six months of age cannot go on a cruise.
Your child needs to be at least six months old before they can board most cruise ships. For trans-ocean cruises and remote itineraries, or cruises lasting longer than 15 days, babies must be at least 12 months old at embarkation. Some cruise lines also enforce the 12-month-old restriction if a cruise has more than two to three consecutive days at sea.
There is a reason for these strict age limits: the primary concern of cruise lines is not providing the appropriate level of medical care for infants or toddlers while at sea or in an international port.
Another critical piece of advice: apply for your infant’s travel documents several months ahead of your travel date. Depending on the backlog of applications or ongoing world events, the documents might take longer than expected to arrive.
Some of the travel documents your baby needs before they can join you on your cruise include the following:
Every person, regardless of age, must have a passport to travel internationally. It must be a full passport; a passport card cannot be used for international travel.
Even if a passport is not required for your cruise because it is considered domestic, all cruise lines recommend traveling with a passport in case an emergency finds you or your child being airlifted to the nearest hospital in a country not your own. Plus, passports are good for five years for children ages 16 and under, so it’s a good form of identification to have on hand for later trips anyway.
Both parents or two guardians must apply for your minor’s passport in person at a passport acceptance facility. Use the U.S. Department of State’s checklist to be sure you have all the required information needed to get started with these steps:
- Complete Form DS-11
- Provide evidence of U.S. citizenship (original or certified, physical copy of your baby’s birth certificate or adoption decree)
- Provide a photocopy of citizenship evidence
- Provide proof of parental relationship
- Present your valid ID
- Provide a photocopy of your ID
- Bring a photo of your child that fits the required size specifications
- Pay the passport fee and submit the application
It can take up to 10 to 12 weeks to receive your child’s passport. If you’re in a hurry, you can expedite the process for a fee and receive it in 4 to 6 weeks. It’s always good to give yourself plenty of wiggle room so you’re not scrambling at the last minute before sailing.
Note: According to the U.S. Department of State, “If your child does not have a Social Security number, you must submit a statement, signed and dated, that includes the phrase, “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the following is true and correct: (Child’s full name) has never been issued a Social Security Number by the Social Security Administration.”
Cruise lines, the U.S. Department of State, and many countries recommend, and in some cases, require that you carry notarized statements showing permission to travel with a child in these particular situations:
- Single or divorced and traveling alone: a statement from the other parent or ex-spouse
- Sole custodial parent due to death or court decree: death certificate or court order
- Grandparent or non-parental family member: permission from child’s parents or guardians
- Non-related adult: permission from the child’s parents or guardians
You may or may not be asked to show this documentation during your trip. The United States does not require it, but some countries do. Not having it with you could hinder the progress of your journey as you move through different countries.
It’s also good practice to travel with a list of your baby’s medications and contact information for your pediatrician in case of an emergency.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has detailed information on immunization for babies. The CDC recommends that infants and young children complete standard childhood immunizations on a schedule as close to normal as possible.
If you plan to cruise with your baby before all vaccinations are completed, be aware that your child may not be fully protected against certain diseases.
The CDC does allow routine immunizations to be given at the minimum age and dose intervals in the event of travel. Routine vaccinations include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Human papillomavirus
- Neisseria meningitis
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
Depending on your destination or ports of call, your baby may need several travel-specific vaccines. Not all of these are effective at an early age, and some are not recommended for infants:
- Hepatitis B
- MMR or MMRV
Check with your doctor or the CDC to determine if your child needs a specific vaccine to enter a particular country.
Booking Your Cruise with Your Baby
Let’s say you’ve decided on a cruise vacation, your baby is old enough to travel with you, and you’ve begun the process of gathering their travel documents. Now what?
It’s time to consider the cruising options available to you. Your primary decision will be choosing a cruise line and the type of trip you want to have.
River Cruises vs. Ocean Cruises
River cruises have historically catered to adults, offering very little in the way of a kid-friendly atmosphere or activities. From the (smaller) size of the rooms to the trip’s slower pace, river cruises don’t tend to appeal to families with children.
However, this has started to change somewhat, albeit slowly, with most changes geared towards older children and teenagers, not infants and toddlers. If you’re considering a river cruise, keep in mind that rooms are not sized for family groups, swimming pools and fun kid activities are mostly non-existent, and childcare is not typically an option.
Ocean cruises, on the other hand, are set up to handle and entertain all ages. These cruises make taking children onboard much more appealing, with multiple swimming pools, climbing walls, educational and fun “camps” for kids, and kid menus. Parents of small babies and toddlers will have more choices in accommodations, use of baby equipment, and even in some cases, baby food on an ocean cruise.
If an ocean cruise has everything you need and more for your baby, consider one of these lines that have a reputation for being family- and baby-friendly:
Deciding Cruise Duration
Cruise lengths vary from a short 3-day trip to standard 7-day cruises to the big ones that last 15 to 20 days or more.
Duration is a matter of preference and budget, certainly, but your baby’s age may also determine the cruise length you choose. As stated earlier: most cruise lines require a baby to be at least 12 months old if the trip has 2-3 consecutive days at sea, crosses an ocean, or travels to extremely remote locations.
Choosing Cruise Accommodations
Cruise ship accommodations vary by the cruise line and room type. They can range from small (less than 100 square feet) to palatial suites as big as a house. A standard cabin houses two people with a small bathroom and just enough room for luggage to be (kind of) out of the way.
If you’ve ever traveled with a baby, you know they come with a lot of baggage: clothes, diapers, food, toys—just to name a few things. If your budget allows, consider booking a larger room with pull-down beds or a family cabin that offers a second room, additional sleeping area, or even another bathroom.
For those with higher-end budgets, a suite is ideal for traveling with a baby or small children. The extra space comes in handy with the baby gear mentioned above, and toddlers will have room to roam. Some cruise lines offer priority boarding for those who book these deluxe suites.
Cruise Critic says that most ship cabins come with a mini-bar or mini-fridge stocked with items available to you for a fee. If you need to store breast milk or open containers of formula or baby food, you can use the room’s mini-fridge at no cost.
Since every cruise line and cabin is different, be sure to confirm the presence of a mini-fridge when booking your room if it’s a must-have for you to travel with your baby.
Purchasing Cruise Tickets
Every passenger, even the youngest infant, must have a ticket. While this news might make you and your wallet cringe, rest assured that cruise lines are very aware of your reaction and make efforts to lure you into cruising anyway.
Frequently, the major cruise lines have “kids travel free” deals or offer discounted fare to guests staying in a room with two full-fare paying customers. So, be on the lookout for these deals and book your cruise accordingly. (Keep in mind that you will still be required to pay taxes and port fees, even if your child’s ticket is free.)
In addition to the companies that advertise occasional “special deals” where kids sail free, there are a few other cruise lines to keep on your radar that often offer specials:
- Disney: Half-price fare for ages 6 months to 2 years
- MSC: Free fare for ages 11 and under (with two paying adults in the room)
- Costa: Free fare for ages 3 and under
- Cunard: Free fare for babies under 2 (with two paying adults in the room)
Note: Most cruise lines do not expect you to pay gratuities on behalf of a ticket-holding baby under the age of two.
When to Book Your Cruise
According to Cruise Critic, you can book a cruise anywhere from 18 months to one week ahead of your sailing date. The earlier you book your trip, the more choice in accommodations you have. Additionally, the closer to the sail date you book, the better price you may find (excluding holidays or high travel periods).
If you’re traveling with an infant, you may want to book pretty far in advance so that you can get the room type and size you need to have a place for all your baby’s belongings.
What to Pack for Your Baby
Packing is a necessary evil of travel. Packing for an infant…well, that takes it to a whole other level. You’ve got to carry what your baby needs and still be able to carry the baby too!
Taking a baby on a cruise means you’ll have little to no access to stores if you run out of baby food or, worse, diapers. With that said, you’ll need to know just precisely what baby equipment and supplies you might find onboard the ship so you can determine what should be added to your luggage.
Most cruise lines offer portable sleeping cribs for babies and toddlers. They are free of charge and available on a first-come-first-served basis. You should request and reserve one at the time of booking to ensure you get one since supply is limited.
The availability of strollers depends on the cruise line. Most will have a limited supply on hand for guest use. Cruise lines do allow you to bring your own stroller, and most suggest an umbrella-type stroller due to its size and portability.
- Disney provides complimentary strollers, and even beach wagons on their private island, on a first-come basis.
- Princess and Norwegian packing lists suggest bringing a stroller.
- On Carnival cruises, strollers are available for rental by the day or for the entire cruise.
High Chairs and Booster Seats
All cruise ships have high chairs and booster seats for your baby’s use in the dining rooms. Typically these cannot be reserved in advance, and you will have to request one from the restaurant staff as you enter.
Baby Food and Formula
Only you know how much food your baby will need for the duration of the cruise. It’s best to bring enough food and formula for the whole trip since purchasing more is not an option on most cruise lines. Only a few offer limited supplies of food and formula for purchase onboard.
However, certain cruise lines may be able to accommodate your baby’s eating needs in a variety of ways:
- Princess ships have complimentary Stage 1 and Stage 2 jarred baby food if requested before sailing. Pureed fruits and vegetables can be prepared for your baby in the main dining room.
- Disney will prepare fresh, pureed vegetables in the main dining rooms or room service. Disney also has baby food and formula for sale in its merchandise shops onboard.
If you plan to bring your own formula and baby food, note that it must be in pre-packaged, unopened containers and require no kitchen staff preparation. Homemade or pre-cooked baby food is not usually allowed.
If you plan on bringing breast milk aboard, keep the following tips in mind:
- Most cruise lines allow you to bring a cooler for medical needs and baby food items like breast milk. Check with your specific cruise line to find out the permitted cooler size.
- In some cases, for breast milk that will be pumped and used after your cruise, you must also notify Guest Services who have to advise the proper authorities that you will be traveling with a food substance post-cruise.
- If you are nursing, many cruise lines have stated policies that allow a mother to nurse her baby in public or private areas without being required to cover themselves.
Babies go through a lot of clothes! Pack enough clothes to give your infant several outfit changes per day.
All cruise lines do offer pick-up/drop-off laundry services for a fee. However, be aware that your baby’s clothes may be washed with other items using standard laundry detergent, not baby-friendly soap.
It’s worth noting here that Disney provides 24-hour self-service laundry facilities if you prefer to handle washing your baby’s clothes yourself. You can purchase detergent and use these facilities for a nominal fee, similar to any laundromat back home.
Diapers and Baby Wipes
Plan to bring enough disposable diapers and wipes for the length of your cruise. Most cruises do not have these items for sale onboard, and, depending on your ports of call, you may not be able to buy diapers and wipes onshore either.
- If you sail on Disney, diapers, wipes, and a host of other baby essentials are sold in the ship’s stores.
- Carnival also has diapers and wipes available for purchase.
- On Holland Cruise Line, you may purchase them if ordered in advance of sailing.
Cruising with a Baby While Onboard
Tickets…check. Passport…check. Necessary baby gear…check. Now that you’re on the ship, baby in tow, you want everyone to have a fun time and enjoy all the ship has to offer.
To ensure that you and your baby have a great experience onboard, there are three main points to consider:
- Safety and Well-being
- Shore Excursions
Keeping Your Baby or Toddler Safe on a Cruise
Safety with a baby becomes second nature to most parents, but you may be more relaxed on vacation and not quite as in tune as usual. Keeping your baby safe on a cruise involves more intentional vigilance than it does at home.
Ship cabins are not baby-proofed, so be sure to consider these danger points in your room:
- Electrical outlets
- Windows and doors that open
- Access to a balcony
- Upper bunks
- Floor hazards
There are also a few safety tips to keep in mind while onboard:
- When you’re out and about on the ship, be mindful of where you park a stroller so that it doesn’t go rolling into the railing or down the stairs if the ship makes an unexpected shift.
- Always supervise a crawler or walker, especially around water. Not all ships have lifeguards on duty.
- Don’t let your guard down on board or in port and leave your baby unattended in a stroller or high chair for any reason.
Can My Baby Use the Pool on the Cruise Ship?
Due to U.S. public health guidelines, babies and toddlers who still wear diapers are not allowed in any water play area on a cruise ship, even if they wear swim diapers. The bottom line is only potty-trained children are allowed in any water activity, including pools, slides, splash fountains, spray parks, and hot tubs.
If your toddler is out of diapers and can use the pools, consider bringing their preferred flotation device since most ships do not have these available.
What If My Baby Gets Sick?
All cruise ships have a medical facility on board with trained and licensed staff in place. While they may not specialize in pediatrics, they can provide immediate medical care for emergencies and common illnesses.
Childcare Options Available
Cruise lines know parents may want to participate in adult-only activities while onboard. That’s why most offer some form of childcare during a cruise; exactly what that means varies by cruise line and age of the child.
On most cruises, you can book and pay for childcare as needed once you board the ship. However, Disney, in particular, is geared towards families with children, which means its Small World nursery spots fill up quickly. You will need to make reservations for your baby’s childcare in advance if traveling on a Disney cruise.
Additionally, Disney will keep the youngest infants while other lines only offer care for children once they are potty-trained or reach a certain age. Also, some cruise lines provide parents a cell phone while their child is being cared for so that they can contact a parent if needed. Check with your specific cruise line for their childcare policies and amenities.
What If I Need Childcare for a Late-night Show?
Nighttime babysitting is available on some ships until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Typically, these have a “slumber party” feel for older children. Infants and toddlers, if allowed by age, will have portable cribs for sleeping. You will need to provide diapers and wipes, formula, and food for your baby.
You will have to pay for babysitting by the hour, usually using your onboard account card. Be sure to pick your child up by closing so as not to forfeit any future use of the service.
Is Childcare Available While the Ship is in Port?
Several cruise lines offer childcare while your ship is docked in a port. For an hourly fee (and sometimes an automatically added gratuity), you can leave your baby with the childcare staff while you explore on shore. However, childcare may have limited hours, so choose your excursion carefully, plan your departure and return accordingly.
Can My Baby Go on a Shore Excursion?
Shore excursions come in all shapes and sizes. Whether your infant or toddler can go with you depends entirely on the nature of the activity. Keep in mind that you may need a car seat for your child if the excursion involves riding in a vehicle.
For some, taking a cruise with their baby may seem like a bad idea at first glance. For others, it’s a no-brainer; they love traveling with their child. Granted, there are many things to consider given traveling age restrictions and all the stuff needed to travel successfully with an infant or toddler.
Getting ready to go is a lot of work and requires foresight and planning, sometimes months in advance of your sailing date. However, in the end, cruising with your baby can be a rewarding and relaxing experience for everyone.