A compendium of advice for families about to cruise together
Thanks to all you readers and writers who have contributed so much in making the CruiseMates.com's family section the leading resource for information on cruising with children!
TIPS ON BOOKING A FAMILY CRUISE
Q: Any suggestions for booking air on your cruise?
A: It's very importation to arrange your own air or pay the deviation fee to have some input on the cruise line's air arrangements. Often, if the cruise line is booking your air, they may book you inconvenient flight times or multiple connections, which are difficult when traveling with a child or infant.
Q: Where can I go to get a good deal on a family cruise?
A: Once you decide on a ship, you can post your request in the "bargain finder" section here at Cruisemates.com to get some competing prices. Travel agents will e-mail you with the best prices they have for the ship and departure date you specify.
Q: Any suggestions on where to go for deals on air?
A: Bestfares.com has "hot deals" that offer very competitive air packages.
Q: We want to cruise with Disney Cruise Line but are looking for lower rates. Any ideas are appreciated.
A: We responded to an ad for a sale from Disney. If you can cruise during an off week, which means times other than school holiday periods, you can get rates that are much lower than during school vacations. Check the Disney Cruise Line web site frequently for any special deals.
Q: What's the advantage of booking an assigned cabin versus a guaranteed one?
A: With a guaranteed room, space within a specific category is reserved for you. However, bed configurations may differ slightly within that price range, which may not work for you if you are traveling with a child who is too young to sleep in an upper berth. With an assigned room, you will be booked in a specific room with the exact berth configuration you ask for.
Q: Any advice on booking a stateroom if you're cruising with older children and teens?
A: We cruise with four kids ranging in age from 10 to 14. We always book rooms across the hall from each other -- we adults get an outside, more expensive cabin and the kids get an inside, cheaper cabin. That way, the kids have some freedom as well as an additional bathroom, while still being within our sight. Make sure you bring an infant monitor with you. We leave the kids' monitor on all the time, which makes us feel a whole lot better at night!
Q: Which are the best lines to book when traveling with a family of five?
A: Here are some responses from various cruise lines: Carnival: Our ships accommodate families of five. Typically, the cabin configuration is two lower beds, two upper berths and a rollaway. Most suites also accommodate five, and a typical configuration is two lower beds, a sofa bed that accommodates two, and a rollaway. Disney: There is a wide variety of options for larger families ranging from one of our family suites to our many other cabin categories that connect. Princess: Grand, Golden and Star Princess feature family suites consisting of two interconnecting cabins that can accommodate up to eight people. Royal Caribbean: The family staterooms on Brilliance and Radiance of the Seas have two twin beds, sofa and/or pullman beds; they accommodate six. There are many connecting cabins on the Voyager class ships.
Q: Where can I get more details on the ages and activities of the various youth programs at sea?
A: Here's a link to the many articles on the family cruise section: www.cruisemates.com/articles/famiy/index.cfm
Q: Our three year old is not fully potty trained yet. Will he be able to participate in the youth program for those three years and older?
A: The only youth counselors who change diapers are those at Carnival Cruise Lines. Children age two and older can participate in Camp Carnival. While the counselors in Disney Cruise Line's nursery change diapers of the infants and toddlers, children must be three years old and fully potty trained to participate in the free youth program. At Norwegian Cruise Line, children can participate in the youth program at age two. While NCL youth counselors do not change diapers, parents are given a beeper so they can come and change a dirty diaper when necessary. This means that you can't leave the ship if your non-potty-trained child is in the youth program. All other lines that offer a youth program starting at age three -- including Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Celebrity -- will only allow potty-trained children to participate.
Q: My child is just a month away from being three years old. Will she be able to participate in the youth program that starts at age three?
A: Generally not. Youth counselors receive the ship's manifest, which lists the birth dates of all passengers. Thus you can't really pull the wool over their eyes even if your child is almost -- but not quite -- old enough for the youth program. You can always ask the counselors for an exception once aboard ship, but don't book a cruise expecting that your child can participate in the youth program unless they are truly the age that is required.
Q: Is there a youth program on port days?
A: Yes, on most cruise lines. Many youth programs, however, offer more limited activities when the ship is in port compared to the evenings and on sea days.
Q: Will the youth program open early enough on port days so that my child can stay there while I go on an early morning excursion?
A: Some lines, such as Royal Caribbean, adjust the hours of the youth program so that it opens up one half hour prior to the first shore excursion departure.
Q: I just heard that Princess Cruises no longer accepts children as young as two years in the youth program. Is this true?
A: Yes, Princess Cruises' youth program now is for those three years and older.
Q: Is Celebrity Cruises' youth program offered year-round?
A: While most major cruise lines that offer a youth program have youth counselors on board year-round (Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Costa Cruises), Celebrity's program is offered only seasonally. This means that Celebrity has a youth program during major holidays and the summer. However, they also have a youth counselor on board when there are 12 or more children booked on a cruise. Check the status prior to booking your cruise.
Q: Has anyone used those two-way radios on any of the larger ships? I'm traveling with a 14 and 18 year old and am trying to find a way to keep in touch. Do these things really work? Looks like the average range is up to two miles and more expensive ones have a five-mile radius.
A: The two-way radios worked very well for us on the Voyager, which is a huge ship. Word of advice: take loads of batteries. We kept ours on all day and needed new batteries every day! Make sure you buy the kind that has both the channel and the code selection. You will probably run into someone using the same channel as you. The solution is to switch to a different channel or a combination of different channel and code altogether. Most of the new Motorola units offer both separate channel and code.
Q: Are there bed rails available for toddlers?
A: None of the cruise lines seems to provide large bed bars like you would use at home for a toddler. I suggest bringing your own -- you can buy a collapsible one from Safety 1st. Since they are collapsible, they will fit into a large suitcase for travel purposes. My daughter used to fall out of the beds a lot on ships, so we carried the bed bar with us for many years!
Q: I'm concerned that my child might fall overboard. What are the railings on the ships like?
A: Most modern cruise ships have plexiglass covering the rails so that it would not be easy for your child to fall overboard. Most railings are waist or chest high on an adult, so a child would have to climb to that height to try to jump overboard! Of course, as when traveling anywhere, you must keep a watchful eye on your child while at sea, but falling overboard is not a major concern aboard most conventional ships today.