Last November, our family went on a Caribbean cruise! I had been on a cruise 10 years earlier and loved it. This was the first time Bug and Jon went sailing into the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. My sweet husband was reluctant to go so far from the safety of land but I (and in the end, he) was so glad he did! (As he put it, he has seen Titanic. And it did not end well.)
Even as excited as we were (…I was), there was still much trepidation about traveling with a toddler. We had ventured to Canada to visit Jon’s family 4 months before the cruise which helped us prepare. We were able to get a better grasp on what we would need to bring for Bug – and our test-run was done where we were able to get something if we forgot. (Of course, in the middle of the ocean, you’re out of luck if you need something.)
A friend asked for tips on cruising with a toddler shortly after our return. I formulated a list of my thoughts and want to share them with you.
Bring disposable place mats
Cruise ships are notorious for disgusting germs and breeding grounds for stomach viruses (Norovirus is a common one). While we are not opposed to exposing Bug to some germs, we certainly did not want him to get the Norovirus (or something else equally horrible for a little guy) while in the middle of the ocean. So, we brought disposable place mats for him to eat from. After each meal, we tossed them in the garbage and went on our merry way without a second thought. You could always do a silicone (reusable) place mat, but for the purposes of the trip we took the convenient route.
Bring packs of disposable hand wipes
Sometimes finding a sink to clean up in (or wet a towel to clean up with) is challenging. For a toddler who has sticky and messy fingers after eating, it is not ideal to walk through a crowd of people to find a sink (“here…let me touch this lady’s nice, white pants with my spaghetti-sauced hands!”). You will appreciate having these.
Bring an umbrella stroller
Our little guy wasn’t walking yet when we went on our cruise, but he doesn’t like being put into a carrier. So, we could either carry him in our arms everywhere, or we could put him in a stroller. Staterooms are very small on a cruise ship; however, a sleek umbrella stroller will fold up neatly and stow in a corner, under the bed, or even in the wardrobe when not in use. It is also small enough to fit through the narrow doorways of your stateroom without a problem (based upon the cruise line we traveled). Even if your toddler is walking, it would come in handy to have a stroller as they can snooze away while you meander around the ship.
Bring more than you think you will need
In the middle of the ocean, you cannot simply hop over to the nearest Walmart, Target, or grocery store. Bring more than you think you will need, and then bring a little more. Diapers and wipes are the two things you definitely don’t want to run out of. If your toddler needs any special foods or medicines, bring plenty. (If you travel with an infant who needs formula, make sure you bring plenty of that. No hungry babies wanted!) The same rule applies to clothes for baby (think blow outs, just plain getting dirty, overly wet shirts from
drool, spit up for smaller babies). However, most cruise lines have a laundry service you can use (either pay someone to wash/dry/fold or you can use coin laundry and do it yourself). If you think you bring enough, it still won’t hurt to bring a little detergent with you so you can wash baby’s clothes if indeed you do run out (and it being in your own detergent will ensure no rashes or allergic reactions to the cruise line’s detergent). Don’t forget quarters!
Bring Benadryl for your little one
Our little guy did GREAT during the day with the rocking of the boat. We had one rough sea day that made me queasy but he handled it like a champ. We ran into issues at bedtime every night. We realized that throughout the day, our little guy was moving around so the motion likely wasn’t noticeable to him. At bedtime, however, as he tried to lay still in the crib, he could easily feel the motion which we figured was greatly unsettling. (We eliminated the idea he was simply uncomfortable with a new environment as he did great on our trip to Canada). So, every night we gave him Benadryl right before bedtime. It worked well and he woke up happy as could be every morning. If you are unsure of dosing, speak to your pediatrician. While the box gives a dose for a weight range, your pediatrician can give you a more accurate dose so that you do not give too much or too little.
Toddler dress code at dinner
Some cruise lines are more stringent on the dress code rules so it all depends on who you cruise with. However, some will enforce the expected dress code on everyone, regardless of age. This will require extra consideration for the formal dinner night on your cruise (think: a button-down, collared onesie or shirt and khaki pants). Cruises that are more kid-friendly will likely be more lax on this rule but be prepared just in case. In our case, we enjoyed getting our little guy dressed up to see how cute he was!
Island excursion day
As is typical with most cruise lines, one day of your cruise will be spent on one of their private islands. Our cruise was no exception. The best thing that we did was to rent a cabana on their island. Especially with a small child, this was huge! It gave us a place for shade (ours had fans as well so we could keep air circulating if the breeze died down) and even comfortable lounge chairs we could relax in as our little guy took a nap on one of us. If he were older, I think it still would have been great; however, I do think the younger a child is, the better it will be. We certainly don’t want to expose him to too much sun at a young age and the cabana gave us comfortable shade all day long.
Unless your child is fully toilet trained, they will not be allowed in the pools on the ship (with or without swim diapers). The pools use salt water rather than chlorinated water so it is a health hazard for other cruisers if your child were to urinate or defecate while in the pool. Consider this when deciding at what age to take your little one. It would be no fun for them to have to sit on the sidelines while you enjoy a dip in the pool (and, furthermore, they won’t understand why they can’t get in but you can). For your shore days where you may have access to the beach, of course you are welcome to take your little one in there. For your own sanity, remember to bring swim diapers.
Some cruise lines have their own version of a “fast pass.” At an added cost, these programs offer several benefits that are absolutely intriguing for parents with littles. Each cruise line has different benefits to this pass but many include priority boarding, early access to your stateroom upon embarkation (rather than waiting several hours, this affords an opportunity for your child to nap in a quiet place), and priority disembarkation at ports of call (allows you to have more time to enjoy the ports of call). However, the best benefit of the cruise line we took was receiving priority disembarkation at the end of your cruise. Unfortunately, on the day of your return to port, everyone must be out of their rooms very early in the morning (usually by 8 AM). No use of pools or other forms of entertainment are available while in port. This limits opportunities to entertain small children. Being able to disembark very early in the process is a huge benefit. Without it, we could have been waiting until mid-afternoon to leave the ship (all depends on your “zone”). For that reason alone, my vote is for a fast pass when you have small children.
Cruising with our little guy was a blast! He handled everything in stride and really enjoyed all the attention he received from other cruisers and the staff (many have children at home and are away for months at a time from them so they enjoy the chance to interact with children). Remember to pack enough for your trip (don’t skimp on the necessities!) and you will enjoy a fun and stress-free vacation.