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Frequent Questions from Family Cruisers

| January 10, 2007

Parents traveling with children should be properly prepared for family cruises -- not just to avoid any mishaps, but more importantly to deny the kids any potential excuse for whining if things don't go smoothly. Since my favorite line is "smooth sailing," I thought some recent reader questions from our CruiseMates.com family message board would help ensure that you and your youngsters have the cruise of a lifetime.

PRE-TRIP PLANNING

Q: I heard that the passport deadline has been changed again. What's the latest?

A: There have been several changes this past year as to when passports are necessary for persons traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central and South America. As the rules now stand, everyone traveling by AIR between the U.S. and the above-mentioned countries must have a valid passport by January 23, 2007. And the official www.travel.state.gov/ web site also states that "as early as January 1, 2008" all persons traveling between the U.S. and the same above-mentioned countries BY LAND OR SEA "may be required" to have a valid passport.

Q: Where can I get details on Camp Carnival?

A: Carnival has a great new section of its web site devoted just to Camp Carnival. There are sections specifically on each age group as well as FAQs. The link is: www.carnival.com/onboardexp_home.aspx; click on Camp Carnival when you get to the onboard experience page.

Q: Is it better to book a cruise through a travel agent, directly with the cruise line, or via the web?

A: One reader replies, "I've found the best deals using the Cruise Compete feature on CruiseMates.com. If you click on cruise shopping and then cruise quotes, it will come up on your screen. You enter the information about the cruise you are interested in, and then you get quotes from travel agents affiliated with this site. The nice thing is that you know they are reputable since they're affiliated with CruiseMates.com. I usually end up with four to eight quotes. I've booked several cruises this way and have been happy with the service I have received."

Q: We have two children who will be in diapers on an upcoming cruise. Should we use cloth diapers that we can wash, to save space having to pack diapers for two kids?

A: I strongly advise against bringing cloth diapers. Most ships do not have public washing machines to use for washing diapers. I used cloth diapers at home for my first child and found it difficult to contain the odor, which will only be more difficult at sea, since you'll be in a small cabin without a waste basket that has a lid.

Even though you will have to haul a lot of disposable diapers for two children, at least at the end of the trip you'll be coming home lighter! When my second child was an infant, I packed a large cardboard box full of diapers, wipes and powdered formula and checked the box like luggage. Upon arrival at our cabin, I stocked a closet with the supplies and asked the steward to throw away the box since most of the diapers and wipes are used up by the end of the cruise.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Q: How do the youth counselors on a ship get in touch with parents if necessary?

A: Most kid-friendly lines these days give a pager to parents of those five years and younger. Also, youth counselors tend to give pagers to parents of allergic kids or those with any health concerns. All pagers are effective only on board ship, not ashore. If you have two children, you'll get just one pager for both kids.

Q: My toddler tends to fall out of bed. Can you suggest a bed rail that I can bring with me?

A: We used to bring a "Safety-First" brand bed rail after our daughter rolled out of bed on a few cruises! (Some of the beds are pull-out couches, which are often narrower than regular twin beds.) Safety-First makes a collapsible bed rail that fit in our large suitcase.

Q: My 11-year-old daughter is prone to motion sickness. Can she use a transderm patch?

A: While transderm patches are very effective for adults, you should contact your child's doctor to see if patches are appropriate for children. If not, consider the old stand-bys of Dramamine, Bonine (makes them less drowsy), Sea Bands and old-fashioned ginger. The latter two are all natural, but not quite as effective as medication or a patch. Ask your pediatrician for kids' doses of Dramamine and Bonine.

LIFE ON BOARD

Q: Do I have to tip the same for infants and children as for adults?

A: Yes, on most lines you have to give the same per diem tip for kids as you do for adults. Here are the few exceptions:
  • Norwegian Cruise Line says you do not have to tip for little ones under the age of two. Those two to 12 years old can tip $5 per day compared to the $10 per day of those 13 and over.
  • Carnival Cruise Lines: Carnival says that no tips are required for those under two years old.
  • Q: I'm concerned I might encounter some anti-child behavior from cruisers who do not have kids on the cruise.

    A: This question was heavily discussed on the CruiseMates.com message board this year. While some readers who aren't parents showed some negativity towards children being on cruises, most parents agreed that as long as your children aren't behaving extremely poorly (e.g., playing on the elevators alone, screaming throughout dinner time, or running around the ship knocking people over), you won't experience such negativity. Many suggested, as do I, that you discuss with your children ahead of time proper behavior in public places, since everyone's paying top dollar for their cruise. I have cruised extensively with my children, and luckily I haven't experienced any anti-child behavior from other cruisers.

    DESTINATIONS

    Q: We want to take our kids, who are seven and nine years old, on a European cruise. Which do you recommend more for kids: the Baltic or Mediterranean?

    A: One reader replies, "We have taken both the Med and Baltic cruises with our kids � our son and daughter were nine and 11 years old for the Med, while they were 10 and 12 for the Baltic. Although we enjoyed both, the Med was better for the kids since the weather was warmer and the kids could blow off some steam by the pool on sea days. Bring a Gameboy or something to keep the kids entertained on shore excursions, since some ports are long distances from the tourist sights. One of my favorite pictures is of my son taking a break in Pisa by leaning up against the Baptistery and playing his Gameboy for a few minutes to recharge."

    Q: We are going on a Baltic cruise and wonder if we can use our stroller in the cities we'll be visiting. I wasn't sure if some of them have cobblestone streets.

    A: One reader reports, "Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki are rather flat with paved sidewalks and pedestrian zones for strollers. Tallinn is a great port but there are some cobblestones, which are difficult for maneuvering a stroller. Stockholm is a fairly busy city with some hills and cobblestone streets. In St. Petersburg, you really need to take an organized tour since the port is very isolated from the city center. With the exception of St. Petersburg, the tourist bus is a great alternative to shore excursions since it picks you up by the ship and leaves you in the city centers. You can then stay ashore as long as your kids want to � or don't want to -- compared to an organized tour, where you have no choice in the length."

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