If you're a parent looking for fun vacation ideas then a family cruise might just be your ticket to a great time. Surprisingly only about 20% of Americans have taken a cruise. As a travel consultant I find that most people have weird misconceptions about cruises. They've never taken a cruise but have convinced themselves in advance that they won't like it. I often find myself using the same line I did when trying to get my kids to eat healthy foods..."How do you know you won't like it if you've never tried it"?
Today’s ships offer a world of fun and innovation—from sky-diving simulators and robotic bartenders to celebrity chef kitchens and all-suite staterooms. Ship facilities can accommodate family members of all generations traveling together. You and your kids can visit several destinations, including some of the most beautiful cities and beaches in the world and only have to unpack once.
One other quick stat to consider or help convince your partner that this is an excellent idea - there are 30 cruise ports in the U.S. which means 75% of Americans are within driving distance of a cruise port. This can save you a ton of money buying airline tickets for your entire family. And yes, you CAN enjoy a fantastic vacation without the dreaded thought of taking your toddler on an airplane!
OH...and did we mention family cruise prices start around $100 per day per person? That includes a place to sleep, all your meals, tons of activities, nightly entertainment and free child care so you can enjoy a cocktail at the adult pool and treat yourself to a massage?
Here are other things families cruising with children should know.
Kid's Programs - All the major family-friendly cruise lines offer complimentary children's programs and kids camps included in the price of your cruise. Kid's programs are generally for children ages 4-12 but come cruise lines are open to kids as young as two. Typically, children organized by age into three or four different groups, each offering appropriate activities in separate playrooms. All are staffed by certified youth counselors. Daytime programs are complimentary. Most ships do offer evening programs that come with an additional price tag.
Teen Programs - Again these programs are broken down into age groups from 13-17 and are fully supervised. Activities run the gamut and staff counselors are trained not only to supervise but to help teens engage and build friendships. In general, cruise ships offer teens independence with structure.
Stateroom and Suites - Cruise ships offer a style of accommodation to fit every family budget. From interior cabins with no windows to two story penthouse lofts complete with butlers. Each family can choose which type of stateroom best fits their budget.
Some cabins can sleep four or five guests in one room so families with small children do not have to buy more than one cabin. Then again, some parents insist on connecting cabins. These work great when parents want privacy or they have little ones with earlier bedtimes. Having connecting cabins means you get TWO bathrooms which may come in handy. These types of cabins are always the first to sell out so plan to book these cabins at least a year in advance.
Here are some tips on cabins for new cruisers:
- Triple and Quad Occupancy Cabins The accommodations on most ships have a third or fourth bed that either pulls down from the wall or drops out of the ceiling. These twin-size bunks can then be retracted during the day so they're out of your way. Your cabin steward will take care of making up the bed at night and putting away for you the next morning. Balcony cabins and family suites may offer bunk beds built into the wall or a fold out sofa which may be a safer option for families with younger kids.
- Bathtubs Most cruise ship cabin bathrooms are only equipped with showers. Bathtubs are generally found in larger and family suites.
- Family Suites Family suites are a popular way for parties of five to eight passengers to share accommodations. These suites usually have at least two bedrooms and bathrooms (one with a tub), as well as large living areas and balconies. These are prefect for extended families who want to be together.
Water parks, slides and pools - Today's newer family friendly ships offer a plethora of thrilling slides, pools and water parks for kids. Don't worry mom & dad, there are also adult only areas where you can enjoy a quiet dip by yourselves. When cruising with a toddler, parents need to know some cruises have specific rules about swim diapers so plan accordingly.
Kids Cruise Prices - Most cruise lines charge by the number of people sharing a cabin, regardless of their ages. This is why cruises are a bargain for families with teens when many resorts charge adult rates for kids over the age of 12. On the flip side, an infant does the same price as a teenager.Cribs are also available on board and can be made available in your cabin by making a request in advance. If your child is a little too large for a crib, inquire about bed rails that can be installed for you.
Kids Menus There are plenty of kid friendly dining choices on all of the cruise lines. Many families appreciate the buffet for a plethora of choices, including kids favorites and quick self service. All ships have a main dining room and guests are given a reservation time for dinner. Most offer children's menus and are happy to oblige finicky eaters. In addition, most newer ships offer specialty restaurants that may come with an additional fee. Many offer menus from celebrity chefs or recognized restaurant chains. Again, kids are welcome at most of these restaurants. All major cruise ships have snack outlets for when you need a quick pizza fix or a cupcake....and there's always room service.
Private Islands & Shore Excursions - A day in port to go exploring is always an exciting adventure. Many of the cruise lines have their own private islands in the Caribbean where guests can enjoy a gorgeous beach day, water sports of all kinds and fun in the sun. Some Cruise lines, like Disney, have organized kids programs on their islands as well as on board their ships to insure kids will never be bored. Shore excursions are organized, sightseeing or activity day trips in specific ports of call. They offer ways to customize your cruise vacation experiences. Activities range from city sightseeing, museum tours, wine tasting, scuba, shopping...you can pretty much name it. Many tours will have age requirements for kids to protect their safety as well as the sanity of all people on the excursion. Your travel agent can help you select the best and most appropriate options here.
Infant and child supplies Cruise ships do not supply baby food, formula or diapers. Either plan on bringing enough of these necessities with you or order them in advance from the cruise line so they can have your cabin stocked when you arrive. Generally plan bringing your own strollers and car seats for port excursions. Some cruise lines do rent strollers but chances are you'll appreciate having one at embarkation (cruise ship check in) anyway.
Age Limits - Most cruise lines have rules in place for pregnant moms as well as infants. For pregnant moms, you shouldn't sail after 24 weeks. Although all cruise ships do have a doctor on the ship, no body wants a baby to be born at sea. Babies need to be at least 6 months of age for most cruise ships but some sailings to specific destinations may require infants to be at least 1 year old. It's always best to check with your pediatrician prior to making your travel plans. Infants who have not yet received all of their inoculations may be at risk so check with your doctor.
On the flip side, minors under the age of 18 must be accompanied and share a cabin with a parent, legal guardian or other responsible adult over the age of 21. Cruisers under the age of 18 are prohibited from entering the bars, lounges, the casino, the hot tubs and the spa and salon facilities and the exercise rooms. Although there is plenty of family friendly entertainment on board cruise ships, minors may also be prohibited from attending certain shows designed for adults only. In most cases, the legal drinking age on cruise ships is 21.
Sure, you could spend days and weeks googling facts and analyzing spread sheet details about the 300 or so different cruise ships to find the best vacation for your family. The other option would be to spent 15 minutes chatting with a travel agent that is a family cruise specialist. This may be your first cruise but a travel agents done this thousands of times....not to mention organizing flights, pre-cruise port stays, all while saving you money. Travel agents make planning a cruise vacation as easy as sipping a cocktail on the lido deck!