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Family vacations can be some of the best memory-making times with your kids. But they can also be stressful. With Spring Break coming up fast, many families may be considering (or have already booked) a family cruise vacation. You may be a bit nervous about packing the kids onto a ship this year. But don’t fear! Just avoid these simple things and your trip will be one to remember!
Don’t Plan Someone Else’s Trip
This is an obvious one although it’s not technically on the trip. But in order to make your vacation a successful one, you need to narrow down what’s important for your family. There are so many choices when it comes to cruising. A variety of destinations, ships, amenities and cabin choices can make your head spin. You can’t plan someone else’s dream vacation. Whether it’s embarkation port or ship amenities, make a list of the things that really matter to you and your family. It will help you narrow down your choices and make the reservation process easier.
Don’t Ignore Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic is the number one authority when it comes to anything cruise related. They have news and reviews for people just like you. They also have a breakdown of destinations and many articles with helpful tips about cruising for families. But the best part, if you ask me, is the Message Board area. This is where the magic happens. It’s a large area of the site broken down by the cruise line and a specific topic about cruising. They even have a Family Board where parents just like you have gotten great answers to their questions. I used Cruise Critic before both of our cruises and learned so much information I felt a little bit like an expert before I ever set foot on a ship. Because of the great folks there, I learned how to book one of the largest balconies for the same price as the smaller ones. My husband and I spent so much time together out there and I would never have known it existed if it wasn’t for Cruise Critic.
Don’t Pack Pajamas For The Little Kids
I know, that sounds weird, right? But hear me out . . . we brought eight kids on our week-long cruise. The amount of clothes we were bringing was astronomical. If you’re planning
- Shorts and a t-shirt for daytime around the ship
- Swimsuits and cover up for the pool area and beach trips
- Dinner attire for the dining room
That’s a lot of clothes. We skipped pajamas for the little kids and each night we would dress them in the next days’ shorts and/or t-shirt. It saved room in the suitcases and also made mornings go really smoothly. As soon as they were up and visited the bathroom, they were ready to head out for breakfast. There were no lost shorts or scrambling to decide what to wear.
Don’t Enter the Dining Room Unarmed
Please, whatever you do, don’t let bringing the kids along keep you from the dining room. In our experience, the dining room is one of the greatest things about cruising. Think about it . . . you’re seated in an elegant space with white tablecloths and soothing background music. Several people in black suits bring fresh-baked dinner rolls and a parade of appetizers, entrees, and fabulous desserts. Trust me you don’t want to miss it – but you must be prepared! We had all eight children ages 11 months -16 years with us and we ate in the formal dining room five out of seven nights including one formal night.
Some of the necessary equipment:
Play Pack Grab and Go packs
I tell you these things are like gold. Not many things can thrill a preschooler like a coloring book and some sheets of stickers. And there are crayons included. They come in all kinds of character options and they only cost $1 each. I found them at our local Dollar Tree and also the dollar section at my second home – Target. Start picking them up in the months and weeks before your trip. They take up little to no room in your suitcase and you can throw them out when you’re done. I passed out the coloring books and crayons to my 3 and 5-year-olds and kept the stickers to entertain the baby while we waited between courses.
Take and Toss Sippy Cups
If you’re going to take your littles into the dining room with a hundred or so other people and eat dinner at a table with a thick white tablecloth, you should have a couple of these cups in your arsenal. We had two kids that were three and under so I bought these because I was afraid of spills. We only ended up using them for the baby because my 3-year-old did just fine with his regular glass (amazing). These are relatively cheap and disposable – you won’t have to worry about bringing them home. They also don’t take up much room in the luggage.
Your Sense of Humor
I wish I could have read the minds of the nice folks sitting at the tables around us on the first night that we marched into the dining room. It was the second night of the cruise and the first formal night. I bet they were afraid, but in the end, it all turned out okay. Dinner with the kids isn’t going to be perfect or an absolute nightmare either. Your wait staff will do their best to bring your food in a timely manner and entertain your little ones. Whatever you need, a fruit plate for the baby when you first sit down or french fries every night, they’ll do their best to get it for you.
Make sure you’re prepared to make a quick exit if things go south. You never know when the very young ones will have had enough. Our table was way in the back by the kitchen – a good location for kids because it masked some of their noise and there was a lot of activity to keep the kids distracted. One night I had to leave almost immediately after dessert was served because the baby was Ready.To.Go. Hilariously I carried her out in my arms with her strategically placed over the newly spilled sauce on my dress. Keeping it classy even at sea!
Don’t Try To Do It All – Because You Can’t
Every evening when you return from dinner you will find a nice schedule of the next day’s activities. Bring a highlighter or two and spend a few minutes planning out your must-dos for the next day. There are so many things going on from trivia to sculpting classes in the fitness center. There are demonstrations in the lounges and shows in the theater. Not to mention pool time and mini golf awaiting you. It’s enough to make your head spin. If you try and do it all, you’ll be rushing around with little hope of enjoying anything. Pick a few things for each day and go with the flow. Hopefully, there will be more cruises in your future and you’ll be able to try those things you missed this time.
Don’t Be Afraid to Stay On the Ship
Been to Cozumel already? Not in the mood to battle crowds and lines or pay big money for ship-sponsored shore excursions? There’s no shame in having your own “at sea” day while the ship is safely docked or anchored off shore. You can sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast with the family in the buffet after the eager beavers have headed to the gangway. Even though there may be a reduced number of activities while the ship is docked (or not), you’ll enjoy the decks and pools mostly to yourself. Alternately, head off and explore the port area for an hour or so and then return to the ship ahead of the crowds for lunch and some relaxation.
Don’t Wear Your Diapers In The Pool
If swimming pools are high on your list of priorities, pay attention here. Ships do not allow kids in swim diapers into the main pools for obvious health reasons. Some ships have a splash zone for diapered children. Make sure your ship has what you need in this area. Our ship had a kids pool and slide but diapered babies were not allowed. Because we had an 11-month-old, we brought along a blow-up baby tub and carried it to the pool deck. We filled it with water from the kid’s pool and our daughter had fun splashing and throwing her brother’s shoes in her own private pool while the boys played in the kid’s pool. When we were done, we dumped the water into the deck drain and carried the tub back to the cabin. It also was very handy in the bathroom as it fit perfectly into the shower where we bathed the small kids at night.
Don’t Confuse a Family Cruise With a Couples Only Trip
You can’t expect to have quiet dinners followed by romantic walks around the deck each evening when you bring the kids – unless you utilize the kids club or babysitting options. However, if you adjust your expectations you can have the trip of a lifetime with your family. There’s nothing like exploring new countries by day and enjoying the theater after a great meal in the dining room at night. Be flexible – you’re probably going to miss that show you planned to see because someone is going to be so tired after dinner that you’ll have to get them to bed. Take turns with your spouse each night. One of you takes the littles to the cabin while the other sees the show with the older kids. The next night switch it out. Notice and enjoy the little things. Take a walk around the top deck at sunset. Hang out on the promenade and try and catch a glimpse of the flying fish. Shoot some hoops together or learn shuffleboard. Discovering new things with the kids is a great way to connect. As long as you have your priorities adjusted, you won’t come home disappointed.
Don’t Forget You’ll Have To Come Back To Reality
Just over halfway through your cruise, you will find a friendly paper outlining the procedure for the day you’ll be asked to leave. That’s right, you can’t stay on board forever. It’s a bummer, I know. But make sure you read through all of this information. Make a plan for how you will spend the final morning on board with your kids. If you’re leaving very early order some room service food that you can keep in the fridge for the morning. That way you’ll have at least something to feed them without having to head to the buffet.
Arriving home can also be a huge shock after a week without cleaning and cooking, where interesting activities are planned every hour and gorgeous sea views abound. Before you leave for your trip throw a few nights worth of dinner in the freezer: pizza, lasagna, enchiladas – whatever will take the sting out of having to cook and clean up after yourself again. That way you’ll know what you’re going to eat while you unpack, wash clothes and maybe start looking online at your next family trip!
Cruises are probably one of the best ways to vacation as a family. Where else can you take the kids that will offer an enormous amount of activities and classes during the day, excellent all-you-can-eat food and great shows at night? The best thing is that you won’t have to lift a finger to cook or clean all week. And that, my friends, is worth its weight in gold!
Have you taken a family cruise? Share your tips in the comments below. Scared to bring the kids on board? Ask you questions and let me try to persuade you :)!