Looking for the best vacation when you have a small kid or toddler? You really don’t have to look farther than taking a cruise.
If you’re the parent of a little one, then you know how things that used to be simple are now a challenge. Want to head to the store to grab some milk? It involves changing diapers before you leave, strapping little ones in the car seat, and struggling with them in the store. Going out to a restaurant? Forget it.
The same sort of challenges come up with vacation. Sure, maybe before kids you used to have all the freedom and flexibility to go anywhere in the country — or the world — but with kids you have to pack more, plan more, consider what they are going to do, what they will eat, where they will sleep, and so many other factors.
Maybe that’s why many parents limit vacations while their kids are small. Unfortunately, that’s no fun for the kids or the parents. The good news is that there are some vacations that are ideal for parents with small kids. Cruising can be one of them.
No Need to Travel Far On the Ship
One of the best things for parents is that on a cruise ship everything you need is close by. Want to head to a restaurant to get a bite to eat? Or maybe to the casino to gamble? Or go shopping? All of these things are within a short walk once on board a cruise ship. There’s no need to worry about car seats, loading everyone up and then unloading again. You also don’t have to bring a ton with you when out and about because your “home base” is only a short walk back to the cabin.
Most People Live Within Driving Distance of a Cruise Port
Unless you live in the middle of the country, chances are high that you live within at least a few hours drive of a cruise port. Why is that such a big deal? Being in driving distance means you don’t have to worry about paying for flights (a big expense when flying a family). You also don’t have the headaches that come with flying with small children.
Instead of starting your vacation with a stressful, expensive flight, you just drive to the port and get on the ship.
There Is a Large Amount for Kids to Do
We’ll be upfront in saying that there is more for older kids to do on a cruise, but there is still plenty for younger folks to be entertained. From places to splash around and play in the water to toddler-specific play areas, to simply exploring areas around the ship, there are quite a few things for smaller kids to enjoy. For example, Carnival has a Dr. Seuss-themed show on board that’s specifically for smaller children. As a rule of thumb the older the child, the more there is for them to do, but your little ones will have plenty to do on most ships.
Cruise Ships Have Kids Clubs With Free Childcare
If you’re a parent of a kid that’s three years old or older, then one of the best parts of cruising is that all major cruise lines will have a special kids area. These spots offer special spaces for kids (usually several for a range of ages) with staff-led activities for them to enjoy. The nice part is that parents can drop kids off here free of charge and the staff will take care of your kid while you get some adult time to do what you want. This way you can enjoy your cruise while the kiddos also have a blast doing their own thing.
Many Ships Have Places for Those Still in Diapers to Swim
If your child isn’t potty-trained, many pools won’t allow them to swim — even if they are in swim diapers. This is for health reasons should an accident happen. Cruise lines realize this isn’t much fun for kids (or their parents) who aren’t toilet-trained just yet. That why many are moving toward having splash pads and small pools for the smallest kids. This gives your child a place to splash and get wet in a safe spot.
Eating Can Be Easy
If you have a little one, then you know how frustrating it can be at mealtimes. Head to a restaurant and you have to keep them still and quiet while also trying to get them to eat. On a cruise ship, there is no shortage of spots to eat. Want to simply eat in your cabin? Order room service. Want to go and eat in public? Then the buffet in the evening is fairly empty, meaning you can dine without worrying about disturbing a lot of other people if there is a meltdown. Even better, if your kid is old enough for the kids clubs, they can take care of dinner for you while you dine out.
Kids Are Cheaper to Sail With
When you see the headline fares advertised by a cruise line — such as “Prices starting at $259” — that fare is for one person. The second person in the cabin has to pay the same amount. But the good thing with cruise fares is that the third person in the cabin is cheaper, often as little as a third the cost of the full fare. So if the fare for Mom and Dad is $500 each, it might only be $200 or so for the third person — in this case the kid. In other words, even though you all get the same cruise, your child travels for much cheaper.
Some Cruise Lines Don’t Charge Gratuities for Small Kids
Gratuities are a fact of life on a cruise. These charges of about $15 per person, per day cover the service of all sorts of people on the ship, from your stateroom attendant to the dining staff. And while those staff deserve compensation, there’s no arguing that gratuities are expensive. One nice perk is that if your kids are small, they may not be charged. Carnival doesn’t charge gratuity for kids under two. Norwegian doesn’t charge for kids under three. This can save you about $100 on a week-long cruise.
Port of Call Facilities Offer Easy Things to Do Right Near the Ship
Most ports these days have facilities right at the end of the pier designed to entice passengers to stay and spend their money. These port facilities have shops, restaurants, and usually some things to do or see. If you’re traveling without kids you’ll likely want to explore further out than these spots. But if you have small children, they are an easy way to spend the day without traveling far.
Cruise Lines Don’t Charge Baggage Fees
If you’ve traveled with a small kid, then you know how much extra stuff you have to bring. Diapers, formula, stuffed animals, toys… the list goes on. The good news is that unlike airlines, cruise lines don’t charge for baggage. You can bring on several suitcases and it’s the same charge as if you brought a backpack — free. That takes some expense and stress out of cruise travel compared to traditional travel.
Cribs Are Available for Free
Need a spot for your baby or toddler to sleep… that’s not your bed? The cruise lines have cribs for passengers to use free of charge. Just call the cruise line up and let them know you want to have one set up in your cabin when you arrive. This way you don’t have to worry about packing a “Pack and Play” for your child to sleep. It takes a huge weight — literally — off your packing list.
Have more questions about traveling with kids? See our 41 tips for cruising with babies, toddlers, and kids and 17 things to always pack when cruising with children.