Cruising with kids is like having a resort holiday, while still exploring new places. With endless activities onboard, complimentary kids club and fun itineraries, cruises are super family-friendly.
After enjoying five cruises in four years, we have found cruising to be one of the easiest and most relaxing ways to holiday with primary-aged kids. From when the kids were 6 to 11 years old, we have cruised in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.
Please welcome Kirralee Baker of Escape With Kids, she’s here to share her cruising experiences and wisdom with those of us who are pondering a cruise with the family.
10 top tips for cruising with kids
1. Find the best time to cruise
Like most destinations, if you’re willing to travel outside school holidays then your cruise will be cheaper and quieter. But there will also be less playmates for your kids, especially on a very small ship like Captain Cook Cruises Fiji or a less kid-focused cruise line e.g. Celebrity.
Check the weather along your cruise route, remembering that you will cover a fair distance on your voyage. For instance, Fiji might be lovely and warm in the middle of the year, but if you’re cruising from Sydney, then it will take a couple of days to get there and another couple to get back, so four days out of a seven day cruise may be quite cool.
In terms of your kids’ ages, there are some limitations to cruising with babies and toddlers. While many ships have wonderful nurseries for these ages, kids must be fully toilet-trained to enter a pool, and many shore excursions have minimum ages.
Click here to check the Deck Chair Cruising website for current specials.
2. Choose your cruise ship wisely
Make sure your ship offers the sort of activities that your family enjoys. For example, pools and waterslides are perfect for warm weather and indoor sports facilities are ideal in cool weather. Check any minimum age for sports like rock climbing or ice-skating.
Check what bedding configurations are available in the staterooms. The most common is a queen or king size bed plus a double or queen size sofa bed. If you have more than two children then enquire about larger family staterooms, but these tend to book out quickly.
Browse a wide range of cruise options on the Deck Chair Crusing website, click here.
3. Deciding on your stateroom
In most cruise ships, the most affordable cabin is an Inside Stateroom, meaning it is an internal cabin with no windows. If you expect to only sleep in your room, then this is a good choice.
Next is the Oceanview Stateroom, which has a window. These are more pleasant to spend time in, since you can see outside and have natural light.
A Balcony Stateroom is lovely so you can sit outside in your own private space, but is more expensive again.
I recommend choosing a deck which only has staterooms above and below it to minimise noise. If you have public areas above or below you, then there can be noise during the night while staff are packing up and cleaning these areas.
If you are susceptible to seasickness then midship staterooms are best, but are more expensive. We have always had forward or aft staterooms and never been seasick, but we’ve also been fortunate never to have had particularly rough weather.
4. Cost considerations
There is a cruise for almost every budget. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are the same company, with Celebrity being the more luxurious brand. Princess, P&O and Carnival are all the same company, with P&O being the most affordable, then Carnival, then Princess.
We loved Royal Caribbean, but Carnival is also very popular for families.
Keep in mind that the cheaper cruise lines tend to have less included. For instance, on Royal Caribbean almost all activities such as rock climbing and ice-skating are included, whereas on P&O you will need to pay extra for some activities.
Of course, cruising outside of school holidays will always be cheaper. Bargain hunters will enjoy searching through last minute cruise deals too.
5. Dining options
Dining options onboard typically include a huge main dining room, a buffet restaurant, some poolside takeaway options and some specialty restaurants incurring additional cost.
There are usually two seatings for the main dining room, about 5.30pm and about 7.45pm. It pays to book your cruise early if you want to secure the early dining time, as it is very popular with families and books out first. Note that you may be sharing your table with another family.
6. Drink packages
Drinks (apart from water) are generally not included in your cruise fare, so you can purchase individually onboard (they will be added to your stateroom account) or you can buy a drink package. The soft drink packages tend to be around A$10 per person per day, while the alcohol packages are around A$80-100 per person per day.
Keep in mind that packages must be booked for every day of your cruise.
We didn’t buy an alcohol package and that was definitely the right decision for us as we had no more than a couple of drinks a day. But we also overheard quite a few people regretting their alcohol package purchase as they didn’t get their value out of it. Especially when you’re off the ship most of the day on a port day.
7. Kids clubs
There are often a number of kids clubs on your ship, as the kids are split into age groups.
Kids clubs will generally be free, but may only operate for limited periods. For example, when we cruised on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas the kids clubs were open for three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon and three hours in the evening. They were also open in the late evening (after 10pm), but at a cost of US$7 per child per hour.
No bookings are generally required, but there can be a lengthy queue when each session opens.
Nurseries for babies and toddlers often incur additional cost due to the higher carer to child ratios required.
8. Shore excursions
You do not need to do any shore excursions through the cruise line. At many ports you can walk off the ship and have a wander around by yourselves. No need to spend anything. Or you can organise a tour or activity privately.
But remember that shore excursions booked through your cruise line have an obligation to get you back to the ship before it leaves, even if something goes wrong like a bus breaking down. If you explore independently and don’t make it back to the ship on time, then it is your expense to travel to the next port to catch up with it.
9. What to take
You will need a passport if you’re stopping anywhere outside Australia. You may also need travel visas and/or vaccinations.
You may need power adaptors. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, have Australian power points in staterooms, whereas others have U.S. or European (or both).
Special clothing may be required for some activities. For instance, although our South Pacific cruise was in warm weather needing only light clothing, ice-skating required long pants and socks and rock climbing needed shorts/leggings and socks.
Ensure you’re aware of the dress code in the main dining room when you’re deciding what to pack. Shorts, T-shirts and swimsuits are not permitted on Royal Caribbean, whereas only swimwear and gym clothes are not permitted on P&O.
There may also be optional theme or formal nights on your cruise.
10. Once you’re onboard
While you can often board your ship from around 11am, staterooms will not be ready until early afternoon. Take a carry-on bag with swimwear to hang out by the pool or enjoy your first cruise lunch in the buffet restaurant.
Use your first day onboard to familiarise yourself with the ship’s layout, perhaps take a guided tour, and get the kids signed up to kids club.
Thank you Kirralee!
If you’re interested in looking at a family cruise, her are some links to click to check out what’s current:
Seana here and I’d love to add that you can read about my family’s cruise on the Carnival Spirit here:
The Best and Worst of the Carnival Spirit
You might also enjoy this post about a smaller ship cruise to Fiji’s Yasawa Islands.
Who doesn’t love a bargain… do keep an eye on the P+O Cruises Last Minute Specials page here. You never know what might come up!
The Deck Chair Cruising page also is worth keeping an eye on, click the advert below here.
I hope this article helps would-be cruisers to decide whether a family cruise holiday is for you, giving you some top tips to help you book and prepare for the holiday.
PS This post contains some affiliate links meaning that, if you buy an item using the link, a small commission is paid to support Hello Sydney Kids, at no cost to you. Read my full disclosure policy here.