When Autumn was 14 months old we took a family cruise in the Caribbean. Our Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas cruise out of Tampa in January 2015 was a blast for all of us. It was a wonderful 7-day cruise that was packed fun of fun in the sun, shopping, eating plenty of food, lots of wandering around the ship, and some nice leisurely afternoons filled with naps (for all of us!).
We did A LOT of research before selecting our cruise line and cruise we would be taking. Ultimately, we had learned that Royal Caribbean was in the process of outfitting their ships with nurseries. It felt like a no-brainer to have the nursery as an option for us to use so we then selected our ship, dates, and itinerary.
Check out our breakdown of the big things to consider when cruising with a baby or a toddler:
-Selecting your cruise-
It’s important to pick a cruise line, ship, length of cruise, and itinerary that works best for you. They are all import factors in you selecting the cruise you will take. There are so many cruise lines and itineraries that you can easily become overwhelmed. Stick with something that you think you will enjoy and be comfortable with.
Something that we considered was the age of our child and the services the ships provide for her. As she was too young to understand any of the Disney characters we decided to skip the Disney cruise. We felt the Royal Caribbean cruise would offer great things for us and for her. And we were right!
Something that we didn’t consider was if the ship would be tendered or docked at each port. After completing our cruise that had 3 tendered ports and 1 docked one, I am certain to say that tendered ports stink! You can manage but they require so much more coordination than if the ship is docked. You already have so much to juggle with you infant, your stuff for the day, and the baby’s stuff for the day, that having to deal with the on and off and waiting for the shuttle boat stinks.
It’s quite amazing how much clothing you need while on a cruise! From the daytime stuff like bathing suits, shorts, tops, and sneakers, to the evening stuff like pants, blouses, dresses, and heels. And don’t forget the formal night(s)!
And then add all the stuff your baby needs… clothes, diapers, wipes, medicines, formula, pumping equipment, some toys, etc, etc!!!
Be mindful of all of this and carefully pack up all of this stuff before your trip. I don’t think you can truly properly pack for a cruise at the last minute, but, hey, that’s just me! So take your time and properly plan it all out before you pack it all up at home.
Once you get on board I highly suggest that you unpack your suitcase(s) so that you can easily find things and get around your room. We put one empty suitcase under out bed and one in the closet. It worked well for us so just find something that works well for you.
And then pack as much stuff as you can the night before you get off the cruise so that your suitcase(s) can be collected outside your room to be brought into the port. It makes getting off the boat so much easier.
We used the laundry service a few times while we were on our week long cruise on the Royal Caribbean.
The first 2 times we used laundry we were charged by piece, similar to when you bring items to the dry cleaner. After that our room steward gave us a bag that had a flat rate to use as an option. See what laundry service and rates your cruise line has, ask ahead of time or ask your room steward.
-Swimming on the Ship-
Unfortunately, your little one can’t use any of the pools while on board as they don’t allow babies and toddlers to use diapers in the pools. And you’re little one has to be potty trained, so don’t just think you can dip your baby in there without a diaper.
This is a bummer, but it’s for sanitary reasons as cruise lines (with the exception of the Disney Cruise Ships) don’t have the proper filtration systems in place to deal with any poo accidents.
On some forums I read that people pack inflatable pools that they blow up with a plastic hand pump, or with a strong set of lungs!, that they use on their balcony. If you think that would work well for you then you might want to get a pool like this Intex Sunset Glow Baby Pool (34 in x 10 in) and a pump like this Hand Air Pump.
There are 2 main ways to bring your baby or toddler around on and off the ship- a stroller or a baby carrier.
We brought both an Ergo and an umbrella stroller that a coworker generously gave us. We liked having both options as we like using a carrier when in the airports and the stroller was great when we were in each port.
The carrier is also great when you have to go to your muster station before the cruise starts. Getting around the ship with it is great as well, as there generally is a wait for the elevators. My using a carrier you can skip the line and just take the stairs.
We found that the stroller worked well for us when we were in port as it allowed for us to get around quickly with Autumn by having her safe and secure. Sure, we could have had her in the carrier but it was nice not having to load ourselves up as we had other bags of things like snacks, water, shoes, sunblock, a camera, and towels to lug around as well. It was a pain to push through the sand at the beaches but it did help us keep out stuff together and out of the sand when we loaded it up when it wasn’t in use.
If you would like to use a stroller but don’t want to bring one yourself then just inquire if your cruise line has strollers for use, as Disney and Carnival do, for a deposit or daily fee.
-In Port/On Shore Excursions-
We didn’t participate in an of the excursions that were arranged through the ship. They sounded wonderful but the majority of them were too advanced for her. We did speak to another family that took their 2 year old on an excursion to see and swim with dolphins. They said she did well and enjoyed it, which was great for them, but the year difference between Autumn and their daughter would have made a big difference. We just thought she would have been too scare, just do what works for you.
Grand Cayman and Costa Maya were beach days for us. They were both wonderful days filled with fun in the sun. We made the days work with cab & shuttle rides to and from the port to the beaches. From there we chairs and umbrellas that we either paid ($20- Grand Cayman) for or we free (Costa Maya) for use.
The other days were spent around port shopping and just walking around. Belize was the toughest day as it was our last port and it was so incredibly hot. But every port was great in its own way.
We all loved the food on the cruise! The variety of foods meant that she could try a lot of different things so there was sure to be something that she would like. And there were things that she tried for the first time that she loved- like jello!
While everyone thinks there is food 24/7 it’s not really the case, there are set times when the restaurants and cafes are open. As our daughter is an early riser we spent many mornings waiting for the main restaurant on the 9th deck to open. We quickly learned that it was important to always have snacks available to ease the hungry toddler. Grabbing boxes of cereal, yogurt, and fruit when we left breakfast each day helped us get through snack time and those lunches when Autumn just wanted a yogurt and not any of the 50 choices we laid out in front of her.
Our diner servers were so awesome as they quickly learned how to make dinner run smoothly for all of us, including them! Autumn was a fan of the bread basket so they always brought that over quickly and we always kept our menu browsing time to .2 seconds so we could order as soon as possible to get our food out quickly. It was a bit rushed but it all worked well for us so we could all enjoy food.
There were nights when we just knew Autumn would be content with some bread and yogurt and then there were other nights when we ordered her an appetizer. I was a bit hesitant to order her any food but our server kindly reminded us that we paid for it so we might as well. There were nights when she loved what we ordered and their were nights she hated it, and then were were the nights she ate what I ordered for myself. ha!
– Your Stateroom-
Unless you get a suite, your room is going to be cramped. That’s just the way it is when you have a small room and then add a pack and play.
As I was exclusively pumping, I needed a refrigerator in the room to store the milk. I called ahead and spoke with a Royal Caribbean agent who arranged that, along with our pack and play. Both are to arrive by8pm the day you embark on your cruise so it can make things tough if your child goes to be earlier (like ours), but be patient with your room steward as they are busting their butts that day.
I really suggest getting a mini fridge as this will help you keep your pumped breast milk/milk/formula, snacks, medicines, etc cold. We had to have a chair removed from our room to make room for it but it was so worth it. Unfortunately we couldn’t rip the built in sofa out of the room to make even more room. ha!!
Autumn wasn’t used to taking showers so they were kinda scary for her but she did well as we kept them quick. We found it worked well to tag team the ‘event’ so that she was in here with one of us and when she was done/completely over it the other could grab her, dry her off, diaper, and change her, while the other completed their shower.
I suggest bringing a surge protector as there are not many outlets in your room so with 1 outlet being dedicated to your mini fridge you are limited to can use the other outlet for. For example, if you are pumping then you have used both outlets and are unable to charge any of your devices while in the room.
We used the nursery on our Royal Caribbean Cruise throughout the week-long cruise in one way or another.
Babysitting was just $8 an hour (January 2015) which certainly beats our $12 rate in the Boston area. They had clean facilities and experienced staff who were excited to watch Autumn. Autumn loved the toys and movies they had playing and quickly took the staff getting snuggling in their laps to take a bottle before going to bed there while we were having our dinner. We would just get her, quietly walk to our room, and put her in the pack and play in our room to complete the wonderful night.
Unfortunately Autumn was the only kid to use the nursery that week. It would have been great to have met other families while using the toys during the open play times.
The kind staff even gave us a bag of toys at the start of the trip so that Autumn could have things to play with while we were in our room. We just returned it on the last day after lots of use.
Our Top 10 Tips & Tricks To Successfully Cruise with a Baby or Toddler
–Avoid tendered ports. Tendered ports are no fun for anyone, but they are even less fun for you and your infant as you have to lug your stuff and theirs on and off the boat that shuttles you from the ship to the port. Plus, there is the wait to get on the shuttle boat, load it, and then unload it. Babies aren’t always the most patient creatures!
-Bring a compact umbrella stroller. This is helpful for getting around in port or around the ship. It’s great for on the go napping. Plus, the storage helps you keep your hands free too.
-Bring a baby carrier. This is great when you are attending your muster station drill, getting on/off the ship, and in port. Plus, we find them to be really helpful when you are going through the airport.
–Bring extra of everything! Pack more diapers, wipes, and formula than you think you would need. Better be safe than sorry. But be sure to pack efficiently too!
–Request a mini refrigerator for your stateroom. Call ahead of arrange this. This is definitely needed if your formula feeding or pumping. Plus, it’s great for storing snacks.
–Request the staff to remove any furniture, if possible. Our room steward took out a chair for us as we were cramped with a pack & play and the mini fridge.
–Take portable snacks whenever possible. Grabbing boxes of cereal and fruit at breakfast is a great way to start the day to know you’ll have something on hand for when your in port or just around the boat.
–Use the nursery, if available. We found this very helpful and just awesome. We used their open play times and babysitting services.
–Try to maintain your typical schedule, especially for naps and meals. This worked well for us as the consistency was helpful for her to have some sort of routine.
–Go with the flow!! While you should stick to your child’s normal schedule as much as possible, if your kid doesn’t eat, behave, or sleep like normal, just remember how this is a new experience to them so just follow their cues to make it work for everyone.
– Bonus… Have fun!! It’s a cruise! It’s vacation! Always remember to have fun.