If you’re a new parent — or already a parent with a new addition to your family — then the thought of a vacation has crossed your mind. After sleepless nights and days consumed with caring for your baby, the thought of taking a cruise is pretty enticing.
And in fact, a cruise vacation is one of the best trips you can take with a small child. No matter where you go on the ship, you are only a few minutes from your room. That makes it perfect for midday naps, means you don’t have to carry around a ton of baby supplies, and there is plenty to see and do without going far.
But what’s it really like to cruise with a baby? We recently took a five-day trip aboard Carnival with our 10-month old son. While the trip went as smooth as you can expect with a baby in tow, it was definitely different than our experiences cruising without a kid.
Here’s everything you need to know…
Cruising With a Baby 101
While you may not realize it, there are several items you should know right off the bat if you want to cruise with a small child.
Age Restrictions for Babies
The absolute first thing you should know is if you can even take your baby on a cruise. Cruise lines (including the major players like Royal Caribbean and Carnival) require the child be at least six months old on the day of embarkation for most cases. Yes, you can book the cruise when the child is younger, but they must be at least that age by cruise day.
If you are sailing on a transatlantic, transpacific, or a Hawaii cruise then your baby must be at least 12 months old at the time of sailing.
These age restrictions are put in place for medical purposes. Given the special care needed for infants in case they get sick or injured, cruise lines don’t want children of the most vulnerable ages to be stuck at sea for extended periods of time.
Passport/Documentation for Infants
We recommend adults have a passport when they cruise. But do you really need to go through the trouble of getting a passport for an infant? The answer is no, if you are a sailing on a closed-loop cruise (one that begins and ends in the same homeport).
If on a closed-loop cruise, the only documentation you will need a government-issued birth certificate. For children under the age of 16, you don’t need to have any photo identification. You will show the birth certificate at check-in on your first day and when passing through immigration when debarking the cruise back at home.
Cruise Fares & Gratuities for Babies
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to cruise fares for babies. The bad news is that yes, you will be charged for having a baby in your room. The good news is that the rate for a third (or fourth) person in a cabin is significantly less. For example, if your cruise fare is about $500 per person for the first two adults in the room, then you’ll only pay an extra $200 in most cases for your baby to sail with you.
As for gratuities, some cruise lines expect you to pay tips for the child and some do not. For example, Carnival’s policy is that any guests under two years old are not expected to have gratuities added to their account. Royal Caribbean, however, automatically applies gratuities for everyone — including babies.
Keep this extra charge in mind when shopping for cruise deals.
Cribs, Formula, Diapers, and Other Baby Supplies
One of the biggest headaches of traveling with a baby is all the extra things you need to bring with you. Cruise lines do make it easier by supplying some items, but you’re still going to be packing extra if you bring a baby.
Cribs/Sleeping Areas: Royal Caribbean and Carnival will both provide a crib or sleeping area for your child at no extra charge. You should call the cruise line well in advance (2+ weeks from your cruise date) to request a crib be placed in your room.
High Chairs: High chairs are available in dining areas, just like in a restaurant. If you don’t see one, simply ask the waitstaff for assistance.
Strollers: Carnival offers strollers for rent aboard its ships for $8 per day. To our knowledge, they are the only cruise line that has strollers available onboard. Still, we would recommend you always bring your own stroller from home. Kids (and parents) are used to their own strollers. The last thing you want is a stroller that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to ruin any outing on your trip.
Diapers/Formula/Other Supplies: Anything your baby consumes, you should bring from home. This includes any formula, snacks, diapers, wipes, rash ointment, baby shampoo and more. Carnival supplies no consumables for babies and requires you to bring anything your child might need. Royal Caribbean offers some items that you can order, however, selection is very limited. It’s best to bring the items you know and trust from home and pack enough for an extra day or two after your trip just in case you run out early.
Cruise Cabins and Accommodations For Your Baby
When you are on your cruise, your cabin is your home away from home. When traveling with a small child, you’ll likely spend a ton of time in the room. Between naps, some feedings, and the kid’s bedtime, we found ourselves back in the room much more than when we’ve cruised without a baby.
For that reason, we definitely suggest booking a cabin with a balcony. Balconies offer a place for mom and dad to escape to while the baby is sleeping, yet still be able to keep an eye on things. In addition, balconies offer an important source of fresh air — a must-have given how easily stinky diapers can smell up a tiny cabin.
Safety in the Cabin
In our experience, cruise cabins are pretty safe for babies and don’t require much childproofing. Plugs were up high where children couldn’t reach. There are no stoves or other hot spots to worry about. Furniture isn’t easily toppled over since things are secured for a rocking ship. Balconies offer full protection from falling — a full sheet of tempered glass means there are no gaps a child could crawl through.
In general, cabins are babyproofed.
The only real issues are with drawers/doors and cleanliness.
Our child loves to open and close drawers and doors. Every cabin has a built-in system of closets and drawers that are easily reached no matter how tall your child is. We found that our son wanted to constantly open drawers, use them to stand up, and then accidentally smash his fingers when he closed them again. The bathroom door also had pieces of trim with extremely sharp edges that were within his reach.
For the most part our cabin was clean to the eye. But just like any hotel room, there are out-of-the-way spots that you can only see when you are down on the ground like a baby. Spots in corners and behind furniture were dirty. You kid will find these spots! It’s not the end of the world, but be prepared.
As mentioned above, the cruise line will provide a crib/pack-n-play at no extra charge. You should contact them a couple of weeks in advance of your trip to let them know you’ll need one. Don’t just assume they will put on in the cabin.
The crib supplied by Carnival on our trip was perfectly fine, albeit utilitarian. The base featured a mat wrapped in a regular sheet. Our child had no problem going to sleep in his normal “butt up” position.
We’ve had our child sleep in his own room since he was about two weeks old. In general he is a good sleeper, but he does wake up a couple of times a night, crying for about a minute before settling back down to sleep. Being in the same room — and in close quarters to other passengers — caused for some restless nights.
For one, instead of hearing our baby grunt or cry over a low-volume baby monitor, the sounds were right in our ear. That meant any sound woke us up. In addition, when our son cried in the middle of the night, we jumped up to calm him immediately to keep from disturbing our ship neighbors instead of letting him settle himself back down.
Frankly, sleeping in the same room as our baby was the worst part of the cruise. It took us back to the first months of having a newborn when we were up several hours each night trying to keep him quiet and calm.
One tip we can offer: Pack some clothespins or other clips to secure the sheet to the crib’s mat. Our sheet would come undone, instead of fitting tight against the mat.
Cabin showers make it easy to bath your baby. Almost every cabin comes with a handheld sprayer that you can use to wash your kid. There’s no need to bring a bath chair or anything else. Assuming your child can sit up, you can just sit them on the floor of the shower to give a bath.
Eating on a Cruise With Your Baby
Even if your child is a great eater, you might be anxious about dining on a cruise with your kiddo. After all, no one wants to be that family with the loud, messy eater.
On our cruise, we actually avoided the main dining room altogether. Dining in the main dining room each evening is a rather formal process with several different courses. A long, drawn-out meal is not the best environment for a happy baby — or other diners. For everyone’s sake, we simply ate in the buffet or other venues for our meals.
Often we would simply grab a meal and take it back to the cabin to eat. There are plenty of places on the ship to eat that are less formal than the evening dining room, so we never felt out of place in these venues.
All the dining areas will have highchairs available for you to use. Since our child loves eating finger foods like cut bananas or other fruit, he usually makes a mess when he eats. We brought along a silicon mat that sticks to any flat surface. With this we could place his food on the mat for him to eat without worrying about making a mess (or picking up germs) from the actual table. It was a lifesaver.
On days when we were in port or for baby mealtimes where we didn’t want to eat, we would always pack a bottle with formula and his baby food. When it was time to eat we simply fed him in his stroller.
What to Do With Your Baby on a Cruise Ship
If you have a kid who is a little older, then there is no shortage of things for them to do. Most major cruise lines have kids areas have allow parents to drop off their children and offer all sorts of activities. The problem is that these areas cater to older kids.
For example, Carnival doesn’t offer drop-off of kids under two years old, so be prepared to spend a lot of time with your child. Royal Caribbean offers the “Royal Babies & Tots Nursery” designed for kids that are six months to three years old. With this program — available only on select ships — you can drop your child off to be watched for $6-8 per hour. The staff will entertain and watch your child, providing a ton of kid-friendly things to do.
If you aren’t on Royal Caribbean, then you should be prepared to spend a lot of time doing things with your baby in tow. Thankfully at this age, kids are still pretty easy to keep entertained. Our child is very social, so simply walking around the ship looking at all the new people kept him interested (and other passengers took an interest in him as well).
On sea days, we often just found an empty spot on the deck to let him crawl around, explore, and play with toys without bothering other passengers. There were not many baby-friendly things to do that were put on by the cruise line. However, on two mornings during our five-day cruise they did allow parents to bring their kids to play in the kid’s areas — as long as the parents stayed and supervised the child. We took advantage of this time and our son had a great, albeit brief, time playing with the toys available on the ship.
While the vast majority of activities put on by the cruise line won’t be aimed specifically at children, they are usually still welcome to attend and can have a good time. Things like ice-sculpting and the “hairy chest” contest are fun for all ages. Fortunately, small infants don’t need a ton of entertainment to stay occupied. Often just the new sights and sounds around the ship are enough to keep them busy.
One thing you should know is that your baby likely won’t be allowed to swim on a cruise. Cruise lines don’t allow kids wearing diapers (even swim diapers) into the ship’s pools. Some newer ships have a small infant pool available if you’re lucky. If you want to go swimming with your child on a cruise, the best way is to head to the beach on port days.
Ports of Call With Your Child
Visiting ports of call with a baby requires a lot more planning than you might be used to. For one, you have to be sure and pack everything you would need while out and about. It’s not easy just to run to the store if your forget something.
You also have to be very careful in planning excursions that your small child can handle. If you are traveling to the Caribbean, be prepared for the heat and humidity to zap them of energy extremely fast. As well, you’ll need to be considerate of naptimes and feeding times unless you actually like traveling with an irritated baby!
Given the headache of trying to plan around a baby’s schedule, we actually opted to make it easy on ourselves and our kid by simply heading to beaches near the cruise ship on port days. That way we didn’t have to shell out a lot of money for an excursion while we might be tending to a sleeping baby or having to stop and feed him. We also didn’t have to go far and could make it back to the ship quickly if needed.
We also timed our exit of the ship to give us the most time possible without feeding or napping. While most people got off right when the ship docked, we waited until after our kid’s first nap. Then we fed him before setting off to the beach. This gave mom and dad more time to enjoy the beach without having plan around naps and feeding time.
One other thing you should know is that ports of calls aren’t going to cater to families with young children. Taxis likely won’t have a place for a car seat; you’ll need to carry your baby on your lap. Don’t expect to find changing tables in every restroom. And some restaurants may not have high chairs. If you are worried about having facilities catering to your baby, your best bet is to stick around the more Americanized parts of town such as the area right near the cruise port.
Parent Time When Sailing With a Child
It’s safe to say we all love our kids, but that doesn’t mean we want to be around them 24/7, especially on vacation. So are you able to get away from your child for a few hours?
The answer is yes, but it can vary wildly. As mentioned before, Royal Caribbean offers the “Royal Babies & Tots Nursery” designed for kids that are six months to three years old. With this program — available only on select ships — you can drop your child off to be watched for $6-8 per hour. The staff will entertain and watch your child, providing a ton of kid-friendly things to do.
Royal Caribbean also offers in-room babysitting for up to three kids between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. This service is great if you want to go out for the evening, catch a show and have dinner. Rates are a pricey $19 per hour.
Note: As of September 2018, Royal Caribbean decided to discontinue this service.
If you’re traveling Carnival, then your options are much more limited. Again, there is no drop-off service or nursery for kids under two years old. Carnival does have a “Night Owls” program that offers babysitting for kids 6 months and older in their “Camp Ocean” facility. The hours are extremely limited — 10 p.m. – 1 a.m. each night. Rates are $6.75 per hour (plus gratuity).
When we traveled aboard Carnival, we had our child with us the entire time. That meant we turned in early each night when our kid went to bed. We would often spend the evening sitting on the balcony with a couple of drinks or catching up with our shows on Netflix. Yes, we would have rather gone to a quiet dinner, caught a show or hit the casino, but those are the sacrifices you have to make when you sail with an infant.
Bonus Tips on Sailing With Your Kid
Spending five days sailing with a baby is a completely different experience than cruising without a kid. While we’ve offered a ton of tips above, here are some other things we learned during our trip to make cruising with a baby easier:
The Heat and Humidity Drain Kids
Even when it’s not that hot in the Caribbean, the combination of sun and humidity can zap a baby’s energy. Don’t be surprised if after only a short time outside your child is ready for another nap. Be sure to offer them plenty of shade to keep them from getting exhausted.
Kids Wear a Muster Legband
Mom and Dad will have an assigned muster station printed on their room key. Babies will get a legband to wear for their trip with the muster station listed on it. This way, if you are separated then the crew knows where you take your kid in an emergency.
Make Sure You Receive a Kid’s Life Jacket
Every room will have life jackets in it, but you should receive a smaller kid’s life jacket upon arrival. If there’s not one in your cabin closet already, just ask your room steward to provide one.
Order Bottled Water to Your Room
Most cruise lines are stingy on bringing bottled water, but do let you order it to your cabin. We suggest getting a couple of cases. This way you will always have water to make your baby’s formula instead of having to go to the ship’s restaurants to fill up.
Most Rooms Have In-Cabin Refrigerators
We’ve never seen a cabin that didn’t have a fridge, but have heard they do exist on some older ships. Having a refrigerator is good if your are still breast-feeding as it gives you a place to store milk after you pump.
Bring an Outlet Adapter
Between nightlights, sound machines, and portable fans, you might bring a lot of electronics when cruise with your baby. However, most cabins only have one or two plugs. For that reason, we suggest an outlet adapter that will give you multiple outlets for all your baby’s gear. They are cheap and convenient.
Bring a Lightweight, Small Stroller
We have a large comfy jogging stroller at home, but opted to cruise with a much smaller, foldable stroller. We definitely recommend bringing one of these types of strollers. Ships can be narrow and with so many people on board, it’s difficult to navigate a large stroller. Plus, you can also just fold smaller ones and put them in the cabin closet when not in use.
Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen (And Aloe!)
Every parent knows to pack sunscreen. The sun is much stronger at lower latitudes, meaning your baby can burn in as little as five minutes. Use sunscreen religiously. And if you have an accident, be sure to have some soothing aloe on hand to help treat sunburn.
Have other questions about cruising with a baby? Let us know in the comments below!