Cruising With a Baby: 8 Things to Know Before You Board

The sleepless nights… the dirty diapers… the constant need for attention. Having a baby is enough to make any parent dream of a vacation somewhere warm.

And while we’d all love to have an extended break, the truth is that taking a cruise lasting up to a week — and leaving the kid at home — is out of the question for many parents. It’s simply a long time to leave a child in the care of another when they are still so young.

The great news is that a cruise is among the best vacations you can take with a baby. If you are within driving distance of a port, there are no stressful plane rides.

Cruise ships also offer tons of activities and places to eat onboard, all within walking distance, unlike on land. That means you don’t have to worry loading up tons of kid gear just to go get dinner. There are also a number of ways that cruise lines cater to parents of young kids — including in-room babysitting — to make a cruising extremely convenient for parents of babies.

With this in mind, there are a few things you should know before you step foot on your ship…

Babies Must Be Older Than Six Months

Want to sail with a newborn? It’s not allowed. Your child must be at least six months old at the time of embarkation — not when you book the trip. This rule is for health purposes as younger infants are still rapidly developing. If something were to go wrong, the cruise lines don’t have the facilities on board to treat such young kids. Once the child reaches six months, they are free to board and set sail.

Bring Your Child’s Birth Certificate

While it’s unlikely your baby has a passport, they still need some sort of papers to travel on a cruise. That’s why you’ll need to be sure you pack a birth certificate issued by a government agency (not the hospital). This will allow your baby to travel in and out of the country on closed-loop cruises that begin and end in the same port.

Fares For Babies Are Cheap (But Not Free!)

One of the best things about cruising is that it’s inexpensive to bring along your baby. Fares are full-priced for the first two occupants of the room, but then discounted heavily (40-70%) for a third person in the room. If traveling with two kids, then the fourth fare is also discounted.

When traveling with a baby, it can seem like paying any fare at all is too much. After all, you’re going to bring their food and babies can’t enjoy the activities on board. Still, considering that there is room, access to the ship and more, paying some fare is appropriate. It’s nice that there is a large discount for a third passenger. Also, many excursions do let you bring babies for no additional cost.

No Gratuities For Babies on Some Cruise Lines

One way you can save more with bringing a baby? On some cruise lines you aren’t expected to add additional gratuities for the baby. For example, Carnival recommends gratuities of $12.95 per person, per day, that is distributed to the dining staff, room steward, and others. While all gratuities are technically optional, it’s considered proper to pay your share. However, Carnival doesn’t expect you to pay more for having a baby in the room. If your kid is under two years old, then there are no tips expected for them.

You Can Order Pens on Board (For Free)

One of the biggest questions is where will the baby sleep? Due to suffocation hazards, babies aren’t supposed to sleep in a regular bed due to suffocation hazards. Cruise lines know this and will offer a pen (Pack ‘n Play) for the child or a crib. It’s free of charge. All you have to do is call them up in advance of your trip (we’d recommend at least two weeks before departure) and let them know you need one. It will be waiting for you in your cabin when you arrive.

Prepare to Have Your Baby in Tow Almost Always

While cruise lines have a ton of activities to entertain kids, including play areas dedicated to specific ages, they aren’t designed for kids under two years of age. In fact, you aren’t allowed to drop your kids off in these areas on most cruises until they are older than two. That means you’re going to have to watch your baby pretty much the entire trip. That’s no big deal for most people, but if you were expecting to simply drop off your kid and hit up the casino or nightly show, then it might be a rude awakening.

Onboard Babysitting Is Available

Just because kids can’t be dropped off at anytime in the kid areas on the ship doesn’t mean you have to have them constantly in tow. Cruise lines offer babysitting on board their ships. For example, Royal Caribbean offers babysitting between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. for $19 per hour. Carnival offers its Night Owl service between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. for just $6.75 per hour and additional times during the day for a few hours. (Royal Caribbean ended their program in September 2018.)

Pack Everything You Need, Like It Won’t Be Onboard

Yes, a place for your baby to sleep will be provided if you let the cruise line know in advance. For everything else, be sure to pack it. This includes formula, diapers, sound machines, pacifiers, and anything else your kiddo may need. Baby items aren’t available on the ship like if you left your toothbrush at home.

If there is a real emergency, you will be able to find items in port, but that’s of little help when you’re in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. While we usually suggest packing light for adults as you usually need less than you bring, we suggest overpacking for babies. You simply don’t want to not have something you really need for your kid when you are in the middle of the ocean.

Note: Some larger items like high chairs and strollers are available, depending on your cruise line. We suggest calling them directly if you have a question about what to bring.

Have tips for bringing a baby on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below…

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