How to Take a Toddler on a Cruise and Have a Great Time!
So you are dying to go on another Cruise through tropical waters this summer, but there might be one little thing holding you back...your 2 year old. Well, I am here to tell you that you shouldn't let that stop you and your family from taking a cruise together, including your toddler! Yes, cruises are often referred to as "booze cruises", but there is much more to a cruise vacation than most people could ever imagine.
You may have some doubts that a cruiseship is the best vacation spot for your little one; however, I will fill you in on the typical cruiseline rules and even give you some useful tips. Take it from a credit-worthy source, as I have taken my daughter on a cruise when she was only 27 months old! By the end of this hub, I guarantee you will feel confident enough to want to give that cruiseship vacation of your dreams a shot!
The absolute first thing you want to check out is the age requirements onboard whatever cruiseline you are looking into booking. Many cruiselines will let you bring a six month old or older onboard; however, they differ with each cruiseline company. Some let you bring younger, others ask for them to be at least one year old...it really depends, so pull up that cruiseline's website and pay a visit to their FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) webpage.
After you have confirmed that your toddler is old enough to board the cruiseship, you will also want to check on what documentation your family (including your toddler) are going to need. If your cruiseship is leaving the country, even if going to a United States' owned island (like the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico), I believe most cruiselines require a passport for all passengers. This may include toddlers, as well...as crazy as that sounds! My husband, me and my 2 and a half year old daughter went on a cruise to Cozumel last summer and it was the best vacation but we ran into a little tiny hiccup...which could have turned out to be a huge bump in the road of our vacation. When we went to leave Cozumel and return to the port, they stopped us and said that they didn't normally allow children into the port that didn't have a valid US passport. We had taken a copy of her birth certificate with us, as the cruiseline's customer service had told us that that would suffice. My advice is to be safe and just spend the extra hundred dollars to acquire your toddler a passport. It is better to be safe than sorry...especially when it comes to your children, right?
Check the links at the end of this hub to find some of the major cruiselines' FAQs pages.
Tips From a Mommy Who Has Done It!
So this might sound like I'm one of those weird people in a store that walks their child around on a leash; however, you may want to think about buying a backpack with the attached child leash. My reasoning behind this is simple: keeping your child close beside you in crowds and crowds of people and potentially dangerous situations (side railings of the boat). I'm not one to put my child on a leash on a daily basis and honestly I thought it was absolutely ridiculous to do so...before I used it on our cruise to Cozumel with my 2 year old daughter! It turned out that she loved wearing her "puppy backpack" and I had no worries of her spontaneously running off into a crowd of people, either on or off the boat. They are fairly cheap, as I believe you can purchase them from Target for less than $20.00, and you will have the satisfaction and ease of knowing that your toddler will be stuck to your side during your vacation.
Many of the cruiselines have a "camp" or "club" so-to-speak, which is basically a fancy way of saying daycare or someone to watch your kid for awhile. I was a bit nervous about this, as my daughter had never even been to daycare before this trip; however, my niece who is the same age as my daughter was also on the cruise, so I felt a bit better about leaving them. Plus, my brother and sister-in-law had put my niece in the cruise's camp once before and she supposedly loved it! Check into the programs that the cruiseline of your choice has, I can guarantee they have a camp program. You will want to double-check that they have cameras in each room and that their teachers/camp leaders have the proper experience, etc. Think of it like screening for a babysitter or new daycare...you wouldn't just throw your child into a place with strangers without checking out the credentials first, right? So don't do it on a cruiseline, either. To ease your fears about the camp programs, my daughter and niece spent a couple of hours two nights in a row in the camp program and really enjoyed themselves. They had the ability to play with other kids and play with each other...and here's the best part...all of the adults have the chance to go out and do adult things for a little bit! Now as far as I'm concerned with in-cabin babysitting, I wouldn't do it...but that's just my personal opinion. You be the judge on that for you and your family.
One particular obstacle (or at least presumed obstacle) that I had to deal with was my daughter's potty-training while on-board. I made a mistake in my approach to potty-training...a month beforehand I decided to start potty-training her full-force, in hopes that she would be fully potty-trained for the cruise. My concern was that she would not be able to enjoy swimming in the pools on the ship if she still had to be in training pants or a diaper (most ships have this rule in place due to hygienic law requirements). So I battled away between wet pants, wet rugs, and ultimately a daughter who wasn't particularly ready to be fully potty-trained. Then I discovered that I stressed out for a whole month for nothing. The Carnival cruiseship that we vacationed upon had a kid's miniature waterpark right on the top deck! Here my toddler daughter and niece were able to romp around in the water and have a great time in the sun, without me having to worry about her having a pull-up on and getting removed from a pool....or worse, not having a diaper on and peeing or pooping while in the pool and having to deal with the embarrassment of that situation! Save yourselves some humiliation and stress and find a boat that has a waterpark or some wet area that your toddler can enjoy, while you keep an eye on her and also catch some rays at the same time. If you have older children, let them take the toddler into the water and you can relax!
Four very important and handy items to bring for your toddler's first cruise...children's sunblock, a summer hat, sunglasses, and comfortable water-shoes. Other necessary attire for a tropical cruise - sundresses, bathing suits & cover-ups, a good amount of t-shirts and shorts, and a pair of sneakers (just in case a lot of walking is being planned).
When thinking about the cuisine onboard, do not worry...they usually have everything under the sun to choose from! If you're child is a picky eater and you sit down to dinner in the dining area, just let them eat what they want to eat...don't be super concerned with having them eat something extremely healthy. It is a cruise after all and are you necessarily eating healthy while on a cruise vacation? Let them eat something that they like to eat, at least they're getting nourishment of some sort. You don't want them not eating anything and then crashing because they are lacking the food in their belly for energy later...trust me.
Last and crucial tip: if you are traveling with other folks in your family (such as a brother or sister and their kids, etc.), think about bringing a baby monitor. The reason I say this is because we had a room directly next to our brother, his wife, and little girl (our niece)...so what we did in order for some of us to get out at night, we would keep the girls in one room while they were still awake and watch them together (my sister-in-law and me one night and then our husbands the next night). When they fell asleep, we would put them in one room and turn the baby monitor on...and then hang out in the next room with the baby monitor and some wine for ourselves. The following night the husbands would stay with the toddlers while we women went out. Yes, this means that at least one night you will be stuck in the room with the kids, but at least you will have company and this gives you the freedom to go out the next night! The last evening of the cruise, put the kids in the camp program and let all of the adults go out at one time. Fair for everyone.
Fun Activities for the Whole Family
When my family and I went to Cozumel, we chose to find an excursion that was family and child friendly...this means ex-naying the scuba-diving or deep-sea fishing and finding a beach that would be perfectly relaxing and appropriate for the kids, too. We went to Chankanabh park...which is pictured to the right. The beach was gorgeous and there was a lot of space...and the best part, there was a restaurant/bar and free tiki huts right on the beach! The toddlers had a blast playing in the sand and sliding down the lounge chairs (they flipped them over and acted like they were slides).
We were able to have lunch and grab some drinks right on the beach and a few of the adults even got to do some quick snorkeling along the beach-line. Make sure you have enough cash (or that country's currency) to pay for whatever food or other random necessities during your outing. Also, before you get off of the boat...double-check that everyone has their ship passes and even passports (including the kids)! You don't want to get stuck in a foreign country without proper identification! Also, bring a bag with necessary items for the beach day: extra sunblock, towels, a couple of water bottles, sunglasses, etc.
As you can see, it is more than possible to take your toddler on a cruise and truly enjoy yourself. It just takes some preparation and planning.
Written and copyright © Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), 2012. All Rights Reserved.