Cruises are popular vacations for families. The cruise line takes care of all the stressful parts of vacation planning, like finding meal options for the whole family or activities that the kids will enjoy. Most cruise ships offer a lot of activities for older children, but what about toddlers?

Cruising with a toddler in your party requires more planning and preparation than a regular cruise. If you want to have a successful and memorable cruise, follow the steps bellows.

  • Planning Your Cruise (Booking, type of ship, type of stateroom)
  • Bring What You Need with You (Packing list, what to get from the ship)
  • Get to Your Embarkation Point a Few Days Early
  • Make the Best of Your Time Onboard (Activities, excursions, meals)

Planning Your Cruise

As with taking any vacation, you need to plan your cruise carefully. This is especially true if you are planning on cruising with a baby or toddler. There are no last-minute getaways when there are young children involved. Things that you will need to think about are:

  • How long your cruise will be
  • Where it is going
  • What kind of ship you are cruising on
  • What your accommodations will be
  • What excursions are offered
  • What activities are available to young children

Make a list of everything you want before you begin researching cruises so you can check off whether they meet your requirements or not. This will prevent you from choosing a cruise that is inappropriate for a toddler.

Booking Your Cruise

Did you cruise before you had children? Maybe you took weeks-long European cruises or short ones to Key West with your friends. Your requirements for those cruises are very different for one with your toddler. Your new requirements should be:

  • Does the cruise line have an age minimum? Many cruise lines require children to be 6 months old before the sail date. Some longer cruises, like Hawaii, South America, or transatlantic have a year-old minimum.
  • How long is the cruise? If this is your first vacation with your toddler, you might want to take a cruise that’s only a couple of days long. This way, you are not stuck on a boat for a week with a cranky toddler.
  • What destination should I choose? Europe is a great destination filled with culture and history, but it might not be the most exciting for a young child. The same goes for a cruise that stops at the best drinking spots in the Caribbean. Choose a destination with family-friendly activities that you can all enjoy.
  • Where does the cruise depart from? If you live near a cruise ship port, you might want to book a cruise that departs from that port. Driving to the port rather than flying with a toddler will make your trip simpler. Cruises leave from ports all around the coasts, so don’t feel like you need to fly to Miami to get a cruise.

Carefully picking a cruise that fits all your requirements will go a long way to ensuring you all have a fun time and not spend your trip wishing you were at home.

Book with a Family Friendly Ship

Some ships are set up with everything a family needs, and others cater to different crowds, whether it be retirees or college kids on spring break. Make sure you choose a family-friendly ship that offers you and your toddler everything you need.

Some cruise lines cater specifically to families, while others have ships with numerous kid-friendly activities. Take a look at these when booking your cruise:

  • Disney Cruise Line: Great for kids aged 4-11 with lots of Disney themed activities and attractions. There are deck parties for kids and restaurants to keep them entertained.
  • Royal Caribbean International: The line’s largest ships – Anthem of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, and Oasis of the Seas – are kitted out with lots of great activities for kids and accommodations for families
  • Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival’s Vista and Dream class ships offer fun for kids of all ages, with clubs for different age groups, an aqua park, and a movie theater. The Vista ships offer extra perks, like free dining at specialty restaurants and a family lounge.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian’s signature “freestyle cruising” is perfect for families who don’t want to follow schedules and dress codes for dinner. With rock climbing walls and water slides, this line is one for adventurous kids. Most of its newer ships, except Norwegian Bliss, are very family friendly.
  • Princess Cruises: Princess has partnered with Discovery Communications to offer fun and educational activities aboard all their ships.

Look for Special Features When Booking

No matter what cruise line you book with, there are certain features and amenities you should look for when booking your cruise.

  • Babysitting: You are looking forward to spending time with your toddler on this cruise, but everyone needs a break now and then. Before you book, make sure your ship offers childcare.
  • Activities: Unless you want to spend all your time in your cabin entertaining your toddler, find a ship that offers activities for children of all ages. Look for shore excursions that are good for small children.
  • Bathtubs: This might not be at the top of your mind when choosing a cruise, but many cruise ships do not have bathtubs. If having a bathtub is important to you, look for cruise ships that offer them or plan to bring an inflatable tub.

As with most things after having a child, picking a cruise ship is more complicated. The good thing is that it is easy to find out what amenities cruise lines offer on their websites, making the research process simple.

Choose the Right Type of Stateroom for Your Family

Choosing your stateroom depends a lot on your budget, but there can be advantages to upgrading to a higher category stateroom than you would usually book on your own.

  • Family cabin: Family cabins offer more space and sleeping options than a regular stateroom, with pull out sofas or extra berths.
  • Connecting rooms: This option is good if you travel with older kids, who might want to share a room with their parents but need to be close by and easily accessible.
  • Suites: If your budget allows for it, a suite is a great option. Depending on what level you choose, you get extra bedrooms and living areas that accommodate the whole family.

If those options aren’t in your budget, you should at least upgrade to a balcony cabin. No matter how you schedule your trip, there are going to be times when you have to stay in your stateroom for naptime. You might as well enjoy it by being able to hang out on your balcony.

Bring What You Need With You

Planning what you bring on the trip is important, especially when you are traveling with a toddler. Unlike other vacations, where you might be able to pop into a store to buy something you have forgotten, you will be on a ship with limited options. Plan a packing list to make sure you don’t forget anything important.

What to Pack for Your Toddler

Packing for a toddler requires planning and preparation. Make a checklist of everything you need and bring multiples in case of accidents. Some of the items that should be on your packing list are:

  • A couple of outfits per day plus dressier items for pictures
  • Multiple swimsuits with sun proof shirts, sunhats, and sunglasses
  • Different shoes for different activities like sneaker and swim shoes
  • Diapers and swim diapers
  • An umbrella stroller for getting around the ship and on excursions. Don’t bring a big stroller as it will just take up precious stateroom space.
  • A baby monitor
  • Toys, including beach toys and toys for the stateroom
  • Sunscreen and other toiletries
  • Medicine and a first aid kit
  • Children’s motion sickness medication (check with your doctor first)
  • Snacks
  • Laundry detergent for anything you don’t want to wait to wash at home. Most bathrooms have extendable drying cords to hang laundry.
  • Crib sheets
  • Beach/diaper bag
  • Car seat if you are planning on driving on excursions.

Some cruise lines have restrictions to what baby foods you can bring on board. To be safe, make sure that any food you bring is in its original packaging, unopened. Bring powdered formula and distilled water for the formula in your carry-on luggage. Do not bring opened jars or homemade food. You will be asked to dispose of them before going aboard the ship.

Request These Things from the Ship

It may seem like you have to bring multiple suitcases for your toddler on this cruise, but there are some items you can request from the cruise ship to make your trip easier. Just make sure to request them at the time you book your trip, so they are available in your stateroom when you arrive.

  • Crib: Most ships have a limited supply of these, so request one early.
  • Bed rails: If you want your child to sleep in a bed, request bed rails that can be attached to the side of the bed. This will keep your toddler from falling out of their berth.
  • High Chair: Chances are you will have some of your meals in your cabin. To make mealtimes easier, ask for a high chair in your cabin.
  • Mini-fridge: This is less likely to be available on most cruise ships, but if you are able to get one, it’s a great way to keep your toddler’s food and milk cold. If a fridge is not available, bring a mini-cooler with you and get ice from the cabin steward to keep your food cold.

Plan what you need to bring and what to ask for, and you will find your whole trip a lot easier to manage. If you have any friends who’ve cruised with their children, get their feedback on what was the most important thing to bring and what they should have left at home. Don’t forget to bring any special toys or blankets that your child will miss if she’s left at home.

Get to Your Embarkation Point a Few Days Early

Traveling with a toddler is a lot of work. If you are traveling by plane to your departure point, chances are you’ll be exhausted before you even get on board. If you have the time and budget, plan on arriving a few days before your ship sails to prepare yourself.

Arriving early will give you an opportunity to stock up on diapers, formula, and baby food without having to bring it in your luggage on the airplane. If you are leaving from a different time zone than you live in, having a few days on land will give your toddler a chance to adjust to the time difference before the excitement of being on board.

A hotel room is an added cost, but if your vacation budget can manage it, it is worth the expense. Traveling with a small child is tiring for everyone involved. Give yourself a chance to rest before embarking on your cruise, so you can take advantage of everything it has to offer.

Make the Best of Your Time Onboard

Unlike other vacations you have taken, cruising with a toddler revolves around the toddler, not you. Between meals and excursions, you will have to select activities and dining options that work best for a small child.

Keep Your Regular Schedule

Vacations are a time to cut loose and forget your routines. Dinner at midnight? Sure! As a parent, though, you know that that isn’t realistic for a child. The best way to keep yourself sane while travelling and keep your child happy is to stick to your daily routine.

  • Pre-scheduling Dinners: There are many dining options on board so that you can work meal times around your schedule, not the other way around. Choose your dining time when you book your cruise. If your cruise offers freestyle dining, book earlier in the day to avoid having to wait.
  • Nap Times: You know how important naptimes are for your child and how a missed one affects their mood for the rest of the day. It might be tempting to throw the nap schedule out the window to take advantage of all the activities, but you want your toddler to be happy and well rested.
  • Shore Excursions: Research shore excursions and pick ones that are best for a toddler. Take into account travel time to the excursion, meal options, and length. Will it mess up naptime? Maybe it’s not the excursion for you.
  • Take Turns Watching Your Toddler: Just because you are traveling as a family doesn’t mean that you must be together all the time. If there is an activity that you really want to do but cannot bring a child too, take turns with your partner to watch them. This is a vacation for you too, so take advantage of the spa or wine tasting tutorial.

Young children do best when they stick to a schedule. You will still be able to enjoy all that your cruise has to offer while avoiding those temper tantrums if you keep your schedule. And remember, naps are not just for children. Make them a part of your vacation schedule too.

Plan Ahead of Time What Activities Are Available for Your Toddler

Cruise ships are a hive of activities. Every day, a schedule will be delivered to your stateroom with the activities for the day. You can also see what activities are available on your ship when you book. The cruise website will have a list of the clubs and recreational areas and age limits for these activities.

Activities for Young Toddlers

Many of the activities and recreational areas available to you will depend on the age of your child, and if they are potty trained or not. For example, due to health and safety regulations, diapers are not allowed in cruise ship pools. Some ships have splash pads that are open to small toddlers. Check to see if your ship has this before you book.

As stated earlier, most cruise lines offer babysitting in the evenings. The minimum age for this is usually 12 months, so you should not plan on using this service if your child is younger than that.

Activities for Older Toddlers

If your toddler is potty-trained, the list of activities available to you grows quite a bit. Aside from the swimming pool and splash area, there are kids clubs that are open for children ages 2 or 3 and older. You don’t have to leave your toddler there all day, but if you want to take advantage of an adult activity, this is a good option.

The clubs offer age appropriate activities, including arts and crafts, play areas, and game areas. The club counselors often organize onboard parties for the kids. Your child will never be bored when they are in the club’s care, and you can enjoy yourself elsewhere on the ship. Just remember that these drop off programs start on day 2.

Activities for the Whole Family

Most ships, especially family friendly cruises, pride themselves on offering programs that the whole family can enjoy. From fireworks displays to water shows, these are activities you can all enjoy. Cruise lines associated with entertainment companies, like Disney Cruises, will have a meet and greet with your toddler’s favorite characters.

There are a lot of programs on board that are geared towards adults that your children might have fun with. These can be things like:

  • Afternoon tea
  • Dance lessons
  • Art lessons
  • Talent shows

Don’t forget about the after dinner shows. You know your toddler best and what they might have fun doing. Don’t skip something just because it’s not specifically for children.

Selecting Excursions

One of the main appeals of a cruise is the different excursions you can take. You can go snorkeling off the coast of Mexico or whale watching in Alaska. However, having a toddler with you limits the type of excursions you can go on. There are a few options you can choose from when selecting excursions.

Shore Excursions Organized by the Cruise

When picking out excursions, make sure that you choose ones with no age restrictions. Some are recommended only for older children or adults. Some excursions require a lot of sitting or a long bus ride, which might be tedious with a toddler. Take a look at the particulars before booking.

Some excursions that are fun for young children are:

  • Panning for gold in Alaska
  • Water parks in the Caribbean
  • Beach excursions
  • Horse and carriage, train or boat tours in port
  • Aquariums and zoos
  • Glass bottom boats

Think about the types of activities that you enjoy doing with your toddler at home and see if there is something similar available as an excursion. You should make sure to pick something short, so you are back in time for naptime, and remember to bring snacks with you.

Plan Your Own Excursions

Sometimes you cannot find an excursion that suits your family. That doesn’t mean that you need to stay on the boat while everyone else is off having fun. Plan your own excursion and make a day of it.

Take a walking tour of the port or have fun exploring the coast. Find playgrounds and parks and get a picnic lunch. Do your research before you leave for the cruise to find out what kid friendly activities there are in port that you can attend. Just because the ship hasn’t arranged, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Some families decide to rent a car and get out of the port to explore the surrounding area. If you want to do this, remember that you will need a car seat. Some car rental agencies offer car seats for a fee, but this is not a guarantee. If you want to do some sightseeing by car, you may want to bring your own car seat on the cruise.

Leave Your Toddler Behind

What if there’s an activity that’s only for adults that you’ll never get another chance in your life to do? Remember the kid’s club? Leave your toddler there for the day and enjoy yourself. You need to check with the kid’s club, though, that you can leave your child alone on the ship. There might be restrictions depending on the age of your toddler.

Plan Your Meals with Your Toddler in Mind

There are lots of meal options to keep your toddler fed when they need to be. From room service to scheduled dinners, you won’t have to worry about a hungry child.

  • Room Service: Room service is a good option when your toddler is too tired to handle a sit-down meal. Most ships offer a kid’s menu with room service. Another time you might want to order room service is for breakfast, which will give you time to get your family ready for the day without rushing to get breakfast.
  • Buffets: Cruise ship buffets are a casual dining option perfect for families with young children. They offer a plethora of options, so you are sure to find something your child will want to eat. Buffets also have longer dining hours, which means you can get in an early dinner and catch the first showing of the night’s entertainment before bedtime.
  • Main Dining Room: Most cruise lines offer sit-down dining in the main dining room as part of the package. There are generally two meal times, which you choose when you book your cruise. You don’t need to attend this meal every night, but if you think you will want to, you should book the early dinner to coincide with your toddler’s eating schedule.
  • Specialty Restaurants: Increasingly, cruise ships have a variety of specialty restaurants onboard. These restaurants offer exciting cuisines and are often planned by celebrity chefs. They do cost extra, so check to see if they have a complimentary kid’s menu. If not, this type of dining may be one to save for when you have a babysitter.

Shore excursions will often coincide with lunchtime. You should find out before booking an excursion what the meal options are for the trip. If you are going alone, ask for restaurant recommendations onshore. Always bring snacks for your toddler in case they get hungry.

You Can Do This

If this is your first vacation with your toddler, you may be nervous and wondering if it is worth all the work. It’s true that traveling with young children is a lot harder than your vacations before children. However, there are ways to make it easier, and cruising is a great choice.

Cruising allows you the options of seeing lots of sights and eating great food without having to do the legwork yourself. Think of taking a cruise as the first step in a lifetime of wonderful vacations with your children. Cruise ships want to make family travel easy, so take advantage of all the amenities available.