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Have you ever taken a family cruise? Have you thought that a cruise was out of the question for a family vacation because it would be too difficult with kids? Well, I’m here to change your mind! Cruising is great as a family – even if you have a full house! We recently took eight kids on a week-long Caribbean cruise and I’m going to give you lots of tips and tricks on how to cruise with kids from the very beginning planning stages, right through your trip. Today’s post will concentrate on what to bring on a cruise with kids.
This is not a sponsored post. We just love cruising as a family and want to encourage other families to give it a try – even large families.
This is part two in a three-part series about how to cruise with kids.
Part 1 will cover the PLANNING stage. This includes why a cruise is a great family vacation in the first place. We’ll go over your basic choices, discuss the breakdown of costs and help make a countdown for your trip.
Part 2 will cover PREPARATION. You’ll find out what to bring on a cruise with the family, how to pack for a cruise with kids and supply a great packing list to help you have it all together on boarding day.
Part 3 will discuss the ADVENTURE of life on board and how to survive it with the kids along. We’ll talk about things to do with kids on a cruise and how to cruise with a toddler. This is definitely not a couples cruise. You’re going to need a plan.
What to bring on a cruise with kids: PREPARATION
Here is where we’ll tell you what to wear on a cruise ship. There are different “classes” of clothing that you’ll need for your cruise. Basically, they can be divided into three categories: daytime, evening, and ports.
If you’re taking a Caribbean cruise, it’s going to be shorts and t-shirts during the day. You’ll want comfortable clothes for knocking around the ship. You’ll also want a swimsuit and coverup for laying by the pool.
Of course, if you’ve booked an Alaska cruise or another voyage with cooler weather, you’ll want long pants and a sweatshirt as well.
After the activities of the day, you’ll most likely head back to your stateroom to dress for dinner. Most cruise lines still offer formal nights – usually one night on a 3-5 night cruise, and two nights on a 7-night cruise. The definition of formal dress has relaxed over the years and includes collared shirts and dress slacks for men and cocktail dresses or formal clothes for women. Jackets for men are not required but are often seen in the dining room on formal night.
Other nights are more casual in the dining room with shirts and slacks for men and casual dresses for women.
Don’t stress out about the kids – it’s easy, really.
Little girls can wear dresses to dinner every night – even sun dresses. For the boys, we packed khaki and black dress pants, black dress shoes and collared shirts. Short sleeve for casual nights and long sleeve for formal.
Remember that a pair of pants can be worn twice if they don’t spill on it and, really they’re only wearing it for an hour or two during dinner.
If you don’t want to be bothered with changing or dressing up and prefer to stay in your shorts and t-shirts all day, you’re welcome to eat in the buffet or have room service delivered.
It seems like a lot of extra packing, but we really recommend the dining room for dinners with the family. Do what works for you. We ended up having five dinners in the dining room and two in the buffet. You’ll never know unless you try it.
Again, this depends on what region you’re cruising in so consider that when dressing for port excursions. You’ll most likely want comfortable shoes for walking and a backpack to carry your water and any souvenirs you pick up along the way.
We suggest packing three pairs of shoes for each person.
Tennis Shoes – Wear these on the day of embarkation. That way you’ll save space and weight in your luggage.
Dress Shoes – Preferably these will be a nice black shoe that you can wear with all of your dress clothes in the dining room.
Sandals – One pair of sandals or flip flops per person to wear around the ship during the day and by the pool.
Cut out all unnecessary clothing. Experienced cruisers often advise that you pack for your trip and then remove half of the clothes and replace it with twice the cash.
How to Pack
The easiest way to pack for a cruise (and a lot of other vacations) with kids is to use Ziploc bags. Let me explain:
Ziploc Freezer Bag, Gallon
Take one Ziploc bag for each kid per day (and one or two extra depending on the age of your kids – you’ll be glad you did). Place a pair of socks, underwear, shorts, and a t-shirt into the bag. This is one outfit. Remove the air from the bag and repeat – making one bag for each day of the trip. Then pack those bags into a larger duffle bag or suitcase. If you have several kids you can even write their names on the bags. When you get onboard, place those bags into the dresser provided in your stateroom.
You’ll be saving yourself lots of time on your vacation because you won’t be trying to search for a missing sock or a shirt to match the shorts that your child wants to wear. It also makes it easier for the slightly older kids who can dress themselves. Just throw a bag at them and they’ll be good to go.
This method works great for kids and babies. I basically let the teens fend for themselves after providing them with a packing list to ensure they had all they would need.
Of course, dress wear for dinner was hung into a garment bag for the older kids and adults. We carefully folded and packed the younger kids formal clothes and hung them in the closet shortly after boarding. There are great products for removing wrinkles in clothes and I’m also a fan of hanging clothes in the bathroom while I shower to let the steam relax out the wrinkles. If you’re in need of major wrinkle repair, you can alert your stateroom attendant who can have your dresses pressed if needed.
Leave the pajamas at home. Each night after returning to the cabin for bed we would take out the next day’s Ziploc bag and dress the kids in the clean clothes for the next day. This was usually a pair of soft shorts and a t-shirt. They slept in these clothes and were already dressed for the next day when they woke up. This saved loads of time in the morning especially when you’re waiting for 10 people to get ready so you can head to breakfast.
So we’ve talked about clothes. But there is so much more. Let’s find out what else to bring on a cruise.
Snacks and Drinks
I know you’re thinking “she must be crazy telling me to bring my own food on a cruise”, but hear me out:
Water and Soda
If you’re a water drinker (and really, we all should be) you may want to consider picking up a case or two of water bottles to bring along with you. They are great to have in your stateroom at night and also to throw in your backpack before heading off into port for the day. Some people swear by the quality of water onboard – but some just prefer the bottle. Bottles of water will be available for a price onboard (and not a cheap price).
Note: your success in getting a case of water onboard will vary depending on your cruise line, ship, and departure port. But, hey, it’s a $3 gamble that we’ve been willing to take. And we’ve been successful each time.
Soda is also an upcharge on most ships (not Disney). Again, it’s quite a savings to bring your own case of your favorite soda with you when you board. The same variables exist with getting the soda onboard as well. Some cruise lines prefer that you place it in your luggage, and some prefer you carry it alone. Check with your cruise line before boarding day.
Although food is abundant and found nearly everywhere on a cruise, if you’re bringing along young children you may consider adding a few of their favorite pre-packaged snacks to your luggage. It may be a lifesaver to bring out some goldfish crackers while waiting to board or in between meals on the ship.
Cruise lines welcome babies who are six months or older on most cruises. However, on some exotic or extra-long itineraries (think transatlantic) the minimum age is one year. Should you decide to cruise with your baby, there are some important things to consider.
If your baby is on formula, you will need to bring it with you on embarkation day. Make sure you pack enough for the duration of your trip and extra just in case.
If your baby is old enough to take milk, make sure you check with the cruise line to see that the kind of milk your baby needs will be provided onboard. Enquire as well about the mini fridge situation. Some cabins don’t have them at all, and the fridges that are available are often not as cold as your refrigerator at home. If you have to store breastmilk this could be an issue for you.
Along with the formula, you’ll also need to supply your own bottles. This also means that you’ll be responsible for washing them yourself. Most parents bring a small bottle of dish soap and a brush and wash them each night in your cabin bathroom sink. You could also consider using disposable bottle liners for your trip.
Some cruise lines (Disney) will puree food in the dining room for your baby. However, most of the mainstream lines will not. Check with your cruise line to see what is available. Chances are that you’ll have to bring your own jarred baby food. If your baby is eating pureed foods, we suggest bringing some disposable spoons for feeding. You’ll be hard pressed to find a small spoon while onboard.
A couple of weeks before your trip, pay attention to how many diapers your baby goes through a day. You want to make sure that you bring as many as you’ll need plus extra of both diapers and wipes. Let me tell you, you don’t want to run out of these on your trip. We also recommend picking up some special odor eliminating diaper disposal bags. Your stateroom attendant will thank you!
Medical facilities are very limited on a cruise ship so you must come prepared. You won’t be able to just hop in the car and head to the corner Walgreen’s for anything. So, try and anticipate what you may possibly need while you’re gone.
You must make sure to bring any prescription medicines that your family will need during your trip. Cruise lines usually recommend that you leave them in the original bottle and place them in your carry-on bag. If you need special accommodations like refrigeration, contact your cruise line to make those arrangements.
You would be wise to include pain relief, cough and cold medicines for everyone in your party, and any other OTC remedies that you may need. Like I said, you’ll be in the middle of the ocean without access to a pharmacy. What common medicines that are available in the ship’s sundries store will be limited and expensive. Some of the things you may want to consider packing include:
Pain relief – Motrin/Tylenol in the proper dosages for your party
Cough expectorant/suppressant (cough drops)
Band-Aids – including waterproof
Aloe gel for sunburn relief
Bonine – for seasickness
Ginger candies – a natural seasickness remedy
Baby Orajel – if you’re taking a baby
Cruising as a family is definitely an adventure. And a cruise with kids is a whole different ball game from a cruise alone as a couple. Here we’ll give you a list of the best ideas for what to bring on a cruise with kids.
Our daughter was 11 months old at the time of our trip. One of my concerns was how she would get about while on the ship. We have a sling carrier that we absolutely love, but I wasn’t sure I was willing to carry her everywhere each day. So we purchased a new stroller specifically for our cruise. Some of the important features we were looking for included a recline option, a basket underneath for storage, a sun shade, and a five-point harness. I also wanted a cup holder, but this model did not have one, so we purchased this accessory which worked wonderfully.
This stroller was the perfect size for fitting through the small cabin doors and down the narrow hallways – allowing for enough room for people to pass us as well. It also folds up very compact – similar to an umbrella stroller. I loaded this thing down and took five kids to the pool by myself one day – it carried a lot.
Diaper disposal bags
Diaper disposal bags are a must when cruising with kids in diapers. Staterooms onboard are very small and smells are unavoidable. I used these bags for each diaper before placing it in the very small garbage can in the room. Even though your room steward will clean your room and empty the garbage twice daily, the use of these bags will make the whole thing more pleasant for all of you. The low price and small compact size make it very easy to throw these into your luggage and carry-on.
Disposable Baby Products
There is a whole range of disposable baby items from bibs to spoon and even changing pads. Even though our daughter was 11 months old and able to eat finger foods we brought along disposable spoons to help when feeding her things like applesauce or yogurt. We also used the disposable bibs – because it wouldn’t be fun to try and wash out cloth bibs in the cabin and you couldn’t hold onto them until you got home – yuck. We also brought the take and toss sippy cups for her as well. I liked the convenience of having things that made life with the baby easier onboard and I didn’t have to worry about washing them or storing them to take back home.
Inflatable Baby Bath Tub
We all know that diapered children are not allowed in the pools on cruise ships. So what is a family to do when there is no baby-specific splash zone on your ship? Bring along a small, blow-up baby pool for your child. It fits nicely into your suitcase and can be blown up in your stateroom. We are so glad that we brought ours along. I simply carried the inflatable tub to the pool deck and filled it up in the foot wash/shower by the pool. Afterward, we simply emptied her tub into the drain on the deck. Easy squeezy. A must have if you’re cruising with your baby.
Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand
We like the buffet, but not the idea of hundreds of people touching the same handles on the serving spoons. So, we packed along these great wipes. They are very easy to take to the buffet, in your pocket or backpack and make wiping your hands after a round through the food line very convenient. I definitely would not cruise without these – even on a couples-only cruise.
Over The Door Organizer
If I haven’t mentioned how small cruise ship cabins are before, let me just say it again. They. Are. Small. With you and your kids smashed into this very cozy space, organization will become very important. You only have a week on board and you don’t want to spend time searching in drawers and under beds for sunscreen or your sea pass cards. There are waves to see and golf to play after all. We brought along two of these – one for each cabin – and they were lifesavers.
You really want one with clear pockets so you can see everything inside. We used it to store brushes, combs, hairspray, lip balm, sunscreen – pretty much everything that you want quick access to when you’re heading out the door. We hung ours on the outside of the bathroom door. It may seem awkward, but it saves so much time because your items are easily stored and found, and it keeps the small desk free from clutter.
Belkin Mini 5W 3-Outlet
The small onboard staterooms also come with a very small desk. There are a limited number of electrical outlets in each room as well. Because of this, we recommend taking this great mini travel charger with you on your cruise. It is very compact and swivels to allow for different outlet locations. Definitely a must-have item for land or sea travel.
If your child uses a step stool in the bathroom at home to reach the sink for washing their hands, bring it along on the ship. You may think it’s a bit much (like you’re already bringing the entire house), but do you really want to spend the week stuffed into the tiny bathroom with your child holding them up by their armpits while they wash at the tiny sink? I didn’t think so.
Here is my 3 year old washing his hands by himself. The stool really doesn’t take up much space in the luggage, we turned it upside down in the bottom of a duffel bag and put shoes and flip-flops into it. It also slid under the counter in the cabin bathroom – easy.
The Packing List
Download our free Cruise Packing List. No email required! It will help you get started and give you a good idea of what to bring on a cruise. There is also ample space for you to add your own items.
And there you have the basics on how to pack and what to bring on a cruise. Check out part 1 on why you should consider a family cruise, and part 3 to read about the adventure of life onboard.
Find out what Not to do on your first family cruise!