Bringing the Baby

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I've been cruising for more than 12 years, and I took my now eight-year-old daughter on her first of 10 cruises when she was three. But even with all this experience, I was still a bit anxious about our seven-month-old son Ethan's first cruise this spring. However, because we chose a family-friendly line and took time to plan ahead, we had a fun and memorable cruise with both baby and big sister in tow.

Baby-Friendly Lines

The major family-friendly cruise lines are Carnival, Disney Cruise Ships, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Costa, Holland America and Celebrity (only a seasonal program).


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Disney Cruise Line is the only one with a fleet-wide nursery for infants and toddlers from ages of six weeks to three years. The nursery imposes an hourly fee, and you should book it as soon as you board. Cunard's QE2 also has a nursery, as will the new Queen Mary when she enters the market. The QE2's nursery accepts kids age one year and older; the professional nannies there do change diapers.

While the youth programs on most lines (except for HAL, where kids must be five years old) will accept children who are at least three years old and potty-trained, Carnival, NCL and Princess accept children starting at age two. Carnival, however, is the only one whose youth counselors will change diapers. On NCL and Princess, you must stay on board while your little one is in the youth program, so the counselors can page you if you are needed to change a diaper. Some lines will let children under the minimum age use the toys and games in the youth rooms any time, as long as a parent is present; check with the youth counselors once aboard ship. Alternatively, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have private babysitting, so you can reserve a babysitter to stay in the cabin with your little one who may be too young for the youth programs.

Most lines offer a reduced third/fourth berth rate for children between the ages of two and 17. Check at the time you book. Some--such as Carnival, NCL, Costa (in the Caribbean only) and the QE2--allow children under two years to sail free, paying only port taxes and fees. Disney has a greatly reduced rate for those under three: $99 for three and four-night cruises and $119 for seven-night cruises.

Before You Book

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Here's what you should know when booking your stateroom. Most standard cabins don't have bathtubs except in the top categories, such as suites. Disney Cruise Line is the one exception, with all cabins offering a split bathroom with a tub/shower combination. If your little one doesn't take well to showers, keep this in mind when booking your cabin. However, since the showers on most ships have a hand-held nozzle, one parent can hold the infant in the shower while the other washes the baby off. We found this worked well when our daughter was young and did not like to shower yet.

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If you need a crib, reserve one at the time of your booking. Cribs vary, depending on the cruise line, from the standard pack 'n play portable cribs to small ones with vertical bars. On our recent Disney cruise, we found that the only convenient spot to put the pack 'n play crib was right next to my daughter. Since our teething baby wakes up often at night, this was not a great option, and most nights the baby ended up in the king-sized bed with us.

One thing we liked on the Disney Magic was the curtain that separated the king-sized bed from the pullout couch where my daughter slept. This enabled us to keep some lights on in the cabin while she slept on the other side. A number of lines now offer this option in standard cabins. If your toddler sleeps in a bed but needs a bed bar, bring your own folding bed bar, which can collapse to fit in a suitcase. It is almost impossible to find a bed bar, even on the most family-friendly ships. My daughter tended to fall out of bed -- and sleep through it! -- when we were at sea, so we packed our own bed bar for a while.

A mini-refrigerator is a big plus when you need to store baby food or formula. Lines that have them in their newer ships include Disney, Princess and Royal Caribbean.

Verandas are handy when your infant or toddler takes a long nap. Instead of spending three hours of a beautiful sunny day in the cabin, you can relax on the veranda while your child sleeps inside. (In warm climates, keep the veranda door closed so the air conditioning stays inside. Depending on your child's age, you might want to bring a baby monitor because you won't be able to hear the child if you are on the other side of the glass door.) All private balconies have door locks to keep little ones from straying outside unattended.

Once On Board

All the main dining rooms of family-friendly cruise lines have highchairs (your waiter will probably have it set up for you before you arrive each night), but they are harder to find at the buffet and fast food restaurants. Some lines do have a supply of highchairs at the buffets, but you might find it easier to bring your stroller there, and feed the baby in that in case you can't get a highchair.

More and more cruise ships have splash pools for infants and toddlers. However, for sanitation reasons, many of them won't allow non-potty-trained children in them even if they are wearing swim diapers. While Disney allows children with swim diapers in the splash pool and larger pool, Costa allows non-potty-trained children with swim diapers only in the splash pools. Carnival, Princess, NCL and Royal Caribbean do not allow swim-diapered infants in any pools, including splash pools. One parent on the family message board said she brought along a small inflatable kiddy pool for her infant on their last cruise.

Tipping for infants and children is varied. Some lines, like Carnival, suggest tips for children age two and over, while on NCL the age is three years and over. For children three to 12 years, NCL suggests $5 per child per day, vs. the standard $10 for teens and adults. Other lines, such as Royal Caribbean, suggest tipping the same for kids as for adults. Costa states that tips are not required for infants and children. However, I find that kids in the dining room can be even messier and need more special requests than adults. Thus I suggest some kind of tip, perhaps on a pro-rated basis.

If there is no child's or infant's life vest in your cabin, see your steward right away and ask for one.

As for shore excursions, keep it simple. In warm weather destinations with an infant or toddler, we generally research nearby beaches that have bathroom facilities and that can be reached by taxi. We go there in the morning and return to the ship in the early afternoon for Ethan's nap. My husband and I then take turns staying with the sleeping baby in the cabin, while the other goes to the pool or back ashore with our older daughter. Generally the shore excursions booked through the cruise line are too long for children under four years old. Since excursions tend to be expensive, it hardly seems worth booking them for babies or toddlers. I suggest purchasing the guidebook "Cruise Vacations With Kids" by Candyce Stapen (Prima Publishing; you can order it on for suggestions on what to do independently with your children ashore in various parts of the world.

Continue Article >> Packing For an Infant (Part 2)

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