BABY AND TODDLER TIPS
Q: Are children in diapers allowed in the ships' pools?
A: Due to health codes, most cruise lines post a sign by the wading pools saying that those in diapers are not allowed in the pools. However, there might not be personnel standing by the pool checking to see if anyone in it is wearing a diaper. You can either have your child wear throwaway swim diapers, or buy bathing suits with diapers built right in.
Q: Do any lines offer private babysitting?
A: Only a few of the cruise lines offer private, in-cabin babysitting, including Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, along with some of the more upscale lines like Crystal Cruises. Go to the guest services desk soon after embarkation to reserve the days and times you want a babysitter. Some lines have age minimums for babysitting, so check ahead of time. Royal Caribbean, for example, only arranges babysitters for those one year and older, while Celebrity's minimum age is six months.
Q: Any suggestions on what size stroller to bring?
A: Don't bring a full-sized stroller. It takes up too much room and there's nowhere to store it in your cabin. Either bring an umbrella stroller (one with a top for shade, especially if you will be in the Caribbean) or a combination stroller/car seat that you can order from baby catalogues such as The Right Start. These work well if you are flying to a cruise, since the stroller converts into a car seat for the plane ride, eliminating the need to carry a bulky car seat in the airport.
Q: What kind of cribs will the lines provide for your baby?
A: Some of the lines provide "pack 'n play" port-a-cribs, while others lines have small cribs with tubular bars. Reserve yours when you book your cruise.
Q: How do you give a baby a bath, since most of the cabins do not have bathtubs?
A: Some lines, such as Disney, do have tubs in all cabins. However, most ships only have tubs in the upper category cabins. When we cruised with our infant, one of us got in the shower in our bathing suit and held the baby while the other soaped and rinsed him off with the handheld nozzle. Some parents bring a tiny, inflatable baby pool that they fill with water to bath their infants in.
Q: We're debating whether to spend the extra money on a verandah. Any thoughts on this?
A: If your toddler or baby naps during the day, it is very worthwhile to have a verandah. That way once the baby is asleep, you or your spouse can hang out on your verandah rather than have to spend a few hours in a dark room. I bring my baby monitor (with plenty of batteries) because the sound of the sea out on deck may prevent you from hearing the baby inside.
SHORE EXCURSIONS WITH KIDS
Q: Do cruise lines offer discounted shore excursions for kids? Is it worthwhile to bring an infant or toddler on a shore excursion?
A: Yes, most cruise lines that have a youth program also have a number of shore excursions with discounted rates for children. Some lines, such as Disney, have substantially lower rates while others do not. I find that children do not want to be on an organized tour in every port, but prefer to go exploring with you independently. Do some research ahead of time and catch a cab to a beach or attraction on your own. You'll save some money and also have the flexibility to go back to the ship when the kids are tired instead of having to be out for a full or half-day on an excursion purchased through the line. I generally shy away from purchasing shore excursions for an infant or toddler. If there's a must-see excursion, perhaps you and your spouse can take turns with the infant so the other can go solo on the tour.
Q: Do any lines have kids-only activities on land?
A: A number of lines, such as Disney, Princess and Holland America Line, have kids-only activities on their private Bahamian island. Disney also offers a few teens-only shore excursions in the Caribbean and Bahamas.
Q: Can you recommend some good family-friendly beaches for us to go to independently?
A: See the "Back to the Beach" article listed on this site for suggestions on beaches that you can easily reach by cab and that have gentle waters, sandy beaches, and bathroom facilities.
Q: What's a good age to bring kids on a cruise to Europe?
A: While all children are different, about fourth grade (age 10) is when most kids start to appreciate the history, art, and culture they will see in Europe. Keep in mind that many European ports can be one to two hours from the headliner city (as is the case for Rome, Florence, Paris, and London). Young children would be wiped out trying to go on an excursion before you even got to see anything!
Q: I heard that Stingray City in Grand Cayman is really neat. Do you think my kids like this?
A: I wouldn't suggest this for young children as they might be intimidated by the large stingrays swimming past them or coming up to them in the water. Some parents have reported that their child was too frightened to get off the small boat that takes you to the spot in the water where the fish congregate.
Q: How old do you think my child should be to climb up Dunns River Falls in Jamaica?
A: Our daughter was five-and-a-half when she climbed half way up Dunns River Falls, with a lot of help from us too! When she was seven, we returned and she very proudly climbed the entire way up. It's a neat spot, but parts of the climb can be hard even for adults!
Q: I'm considering cruising with my kids but not during school holidays. What are your thoughts on the kids missing school, and will there be other children aboard then?
A: It is easier for younger grade school children to miss a week of school than for older kids. We always ask for my daughter's homework ahead of time so she can do it on the plane ride to the cruise. I always make sure my daughter studies a map of where we are going, which gives her a geography lesson as well. If you are cruising during a period that is not a major school vacation time, there will be obviously fewer children for your kids to meet on your cruise. Some lines that carry the most children, such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Disney, are your best bets if you are cruising during a non-school vacation week. There are always children aboard these lines year round, but obviously there will be more toddlers and preschoolers aboard during non-school vacation periods.
Q: Should we tip the youth counselors at the end of the cruise?
A: Yes! The youth counselors generally pool their tips, so you can hand one of the counselors an envelope with your group tip in it. While not everyone thinks to tip the youth counselors, I look at it this way -- if you tip people who bring you a drink, or drive a cab, or even cut your hair, aren't the people who take care of your children even more important?
Q: Do the water slides on the ships empty into the pools?
A: Due to the size constraints of pools on cruise ships, slides do not empty into the pools but rather end in their own splash of water.
Q: I am planning to go on a cruise when I am eight months pregnant. Any advice is appreciated.
A: Make sure you check (and double check) with the cruise line at the time of booking to see what their cutoff week is for pregnant women to cruise with them. You will need a note from your obstetrician to verify your due date, healthy condition, etc. Make sure you pick a cruise in traditionally gentle waters such as the Caribbean, Bahamas, etc. since you probably won't be able to safely take seasickness medication.
Q: Any tips for seasickness in kids?
A: If you think your child is prone to motion sickness, check with your pediatrician prior to your cruise as to the correct dosage of Dramamine or other medicine to give if necessary. My daughter has had success with wearing sea bands in rough seas. They are applied to the wrists on pressure points and really help without the side affects of oral medication. Here's another trick -- have a few apples in your cabin. For some reason, they help alleviate symptoms a bit.
Q: My child is lactose intolerant. How should I handle this during our cruise?
A: Call the cruise line ahead of time and they will send you a form to complete prior to the cruise. They will then have lactose-free milk on board for you -- just let the maitre d' know on the first evening.