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Cruising with a Toddler or Baby: Tips for Taking Kids on a Cruise

Cruising with a Toddler or Baby: Tips for Taking Kids on a Cruise

For many people, cruising seems like a very relaxing type of holiday. There are many activities on board, you’re being fed multiple course meals, and you can easily explore places you’re visiting.

Considering taking a cruise with a baby or toddler? While most cruise lines allow kids, keep in mind that it’s a completely different trip and requires preparation.

Some people will tell you that it’s better to wait until your kid is 3 years old, but having done it, I think you can still have fun when cruising with a baby or toddler. We cruised with our kids when they were 1.5 and 3, then again a year later and the kids keep asking when can we go on “a big ship” again. It’s safe to assume they enjoyed the experience.

Two toddlers dancing on the deck of a cruise ship with live music, enjoying family fun while cruising with a toddler.

Babies and kids don’t need a passport to go on a cruise if it’s a closed loop (and naturally, if the cruise leaves from the US). The only documentation you will need is a government-issued birth certificate, which is honestly great considering the never-ending wait times for US passports at times.

How Old Does a Baby Have to Be to Go on a Cruise?

Infants must be at least 6 months of age at the time of embarkation in order to sail.

Children must be at least 12 months of age at the time of embarkation to sail on trans-ocean crossings and remote itineraries.

Children must be at least 8 or 10 years old (varies per cruise line) to go on an Antarctic or Galapagos cruise.

Are Babies Free on Cruises?

I’m afraid babies aren’t free on most cruises, unless there’s a promotion (most promotions don’t apply during high seasons like Spring Break, Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas).

Cruise fares are per person which includes children and infants. You can waive gratuities from kids as well if you wish.

Cruise lines when babies under 2 sail free:

  • MSC Lines (Caribbean itineraries only)
  • Cunard
  • Royal Caribbean (all kids sail free outside of holiday sailings)

Cruise lines with discounted rates for children:

  • Royal Caribbean (all kids sail free outside of holiday sailings)
  • Crystal Cruise
  • Norwegian
  • National Geographic Lindbad
Young family posing on the cruise deck with a scenic port backdrop, capturing the joy of cruising with a baby.
Dylan was 3.5 and Holden was almost 2 when we cruised for the first time with both kids.

What to Expect When You Take a Baby on a Cruise

Pack Wisely for the Cruise with Kids

Everywhere we travel with our kids I see people with gigantic suitcases and baby items. Families with kids usually feel the need to bring half of their home with them on a trip.

When you go on a cruise, keep in mind that unless you’ve booked a giant suite there’s simply no space for too much luggage.

On our last two cruises, we had only 3 carry-on suitcases for all 4 of us and we fit, but if we brought a full-size suitcase and a stroller it would have been problematic.

Cabins tend to be small with not much space for anything, hence why you see most travel strollers folded and stored outside of the cabin in the corridor.

The strollers have to be small enough because they cannot block the corridor. On our last cruise if we brought a full-size stroller it simply wouldn’t fit in our room or corridor at all.

Some other things I find helpful to bring:

  • Diapers (if your child still uses them)
  • Wipes
  • Formula (if needed), otherwise you can get regular full milk everywhere on the ship
  • Sun hat
  • Portable sound machine (you’ll all be sharing a small cabin) – our Hushhh worked great!
  • Teething toys
  • Few books
  • Snacks (especially for the first day!)
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Sippy cups or bottles
  • Baby thermometer
  • Infant Tylenol or Motrin
  • Sunscreen
  • Magnetic hooks you can stick to walls and hand items
Open cruise ship wardrobe with an array of clothes and accessories, depicting the practical side of taking kids on a cruise.

Think About Sleeping Arrangements

For our first cruise, we booked a room for 4 people with one double bed and two bunk beds – as it was the only option for families of 4. We thought we had it all figured out and I read everywhere that cribs are provided and placed in your room.

I’m always a fan of getting hotel cribs, especially when we have time between flights and checking in/out of a hotel or cruise, so we don’t need to drag a million things along.

As our older son already slept in bunks we felt fine about it, and we requested a crib for the almost 2-year-old… Let me tell you that it didn’t work out on Royal Caribbean.

The crib blocked the only space between a bed and sofa (and the only space in the room basically) and my other son had no access to his bunk bed as there was nowhere to put the ladder. We thought we could live with that, but then we discovered that it was a MINI crib.

As our room attendant pointed out, they only offer mini cribs, because a regular-size travel crib or pack-and-play wouldn’t have fit. He was right. Our beloved Guava Lotus crib wouldn’t have fit.

My son was way too big to fit in a mini crib, so we ended up asking the staff to take it away and he ended up bedsharing with my husband, while I and a 4-year-old slept in our bunks.

That said…

Think About What Type of Cabin You Want to Book

Everywhere we read that when traveling with a small child, you’ll likely spend a ton of time in the room to do bedtime, naps, and other activities, but the room was crammed so we were barely there and just returned to sleep or change.

Our kids would have been climbing off the walls if they were stuck there for longer periods (and frankly, me too).

Most people suggest booking a cabin with a balcony so you can have a place to escape while the baby sleeps, but I opted against it with a toddler.

In general, cabins are semi-babyproofed, but my kids can easily figure out how to open a door and get stupid ideas while you’re for instance pooping, and I wasn’t going to take this risk. They were fine with a big window.

Baby looking through the window on a cruise.

For our second cruise, I ended up upgrading us for about $100 total to a slightly bigger corner cabin and it was a total game changer. Instead of bunk beds, we had a sofa bed that the kids shared and essentially, we ended up with way more space.

Babies or Toddlers Who Aren’t Potty Trained Aren’t Allowed in Pools

Yes, you read it right, and due to Martimine Law it applies to ALL cruise lines and ships. Kids who are not fully potty trained cannot enter the pool, as swim diapers aren’t allowed.

There are staff members all around and if they see a baby or child with a swim diaper in the pool (or even a child looking too young to be potty trained) they will ask you to leave and might even fine you.

Some ships have Baby Splash Zone, which is basically a small sprinkle area for babies, but make sure to check if your ship has one (most ships actually don’t!).

For babies and smaller toddlers, many people bring a small inflatable bathtub to set up on the deck for them to splash. It can also be useful as there are only showers in cabins.

Our smaller child was potty trained right before the cruise, so it worked out because I couldn’t even envision having to tell him that he could not swim in the pool.

(Ironically, we must have had a lot of fun, because I have zero photos from the pool area.)

Young children looking over the interior railing of a cruise ship, a family adventure while cruising with a toddler.

Kids Club for Kids under 3 Has to Be Prebooked

Most Kids Clubs are for kids 3 and older. They also need to be fully potty trained, and by fully it means that the staff isn’t authorized to even enter the bathroom area or help a child pull his pants up, so that’s important to know.

Some cruise lines have infant rooms for kids under 3. You can go hang out there with your child, but if you want to drop them off you need to book it at least 24-48h in advance and it costs.

Carnival doesn’t offer full-time drop-off for kids under two years old. Royal Caribbean. Disney do offer drop-off kids that are six months to three years old, but not on all ships.

When we cruised on Rhapsody of the Seas with Royal Caribbean we weren’t very happy with Kids Club and Nursery. The nursery was almost never available to book and when we went to hang out there, there were only toys for infants, so my almost 2-year-old was super bored.

The Kids Club that my older son went to didn’t have many toys or things to do either, so on two occasions, we got a call after less than an hour that he wanted to be picked up (understandably, as he was just sitting watching TV). So keep in mind that Kids Club might be a big fail and you’ll have to spend a lot of time with your kids.

On our second cruise on Explorer of the Seas, we had the opposite experience. Both kids, then ages 3 almost exactly 4.5 absolutely loved the Kids Club. They had many sessions available for them, they did a ton of activities, and my kids never wanted to leave and begged us to stay until 10 PM every night.

It was insanely convenient, as not all shows were attractive for our kids and we enjoyed them in peace, while they played happily.

Note, that most cruise lines allow “almost 3-year-olds, who are fully potty trained” to join their Kids Club if they have space, but it can be a hit or miss as they judge their maturity. Your child might also be asked to leave and not return if frequent potty accidents happen.

Dinners Are Long: Be Prepared

Dining in the main dining room each evening is a semi-formal process with several courses and lots of wait times. We thought of avoiding it, but I’m not a fan of buffet alternatives and we also traveled with other family members.

All the dining areas will have highchairs available for you to use. If you want to get certain foods just ask your waiter as they cater to all kids. My kids however were very happy with kids’ menu options and they could always ask for veggies.

My tip is to book a late dining slot (we booked for 8 PM) with very little kids. Our waiter was bringing kids’ food while we were getting drinks, and then we created spaces for them to sleep as we continued our meal in peace.

Father and child enjoying dinner time on a cruise,

Shore Excursions with Kids Aren’t Always Possible

Getting off the ship to explore a destination is just like if you were traveling anywhere else, unless you’re landing at private Caribbean islands (Royal Caribbean and Disney have them in the Bahamas) as then it’s basically as if you never left the ship.

If you’re running low on snacks, diapers, or anything, you can purchase them – most buildings at the port have shops.

Most families tend to head to beaches near the cruise ship on port days, as it’s just easy with small children. Our family doesn’t often do full beach days, so we opted to actually explore…

I normally wouldn’t book a shore excursion, as they are basically bus tours, but I wanted to make it easy when cruising with a toddler…

Alas, about 2 weeks before we were set to sail we found out that Royal Caribbean and Disney don’t allow kids under 4 on ANY shore excursions. It came as a shock because it’s not mentioned anywhere. We couldn’t even take a stupid shuttle to the beach because the kids were under 4.

Even on private islands of Disney, there was absolutely nothing to do for kids under 5, not even a kayak rental under parental supervision.

We had to plan our own excursions everywhere we went which was quite a hassle as we were going all over the Caribbean islands. We rented a car in Grenada, booked a group (non-cruise affiliated) excursion via Viator in St Vincent and Dominica, and hired a private driver in Tobago.

It worked out, but it involved a lot of planning. We did like that it gave us flexibility that we wouldn’t have had on cruise excursions. When kids wanted to, they napped in the car.

If you’re heading to the Caribbean keep in mind that car seats are basically non-existent. We brought a WayB car seat for the little one, but only got to use it when we rented our own car, as it wasn’t possible to install it on any minibusses.

Royal Caribbean cruise with baby

Would we go on the cruise with a toddler or baby?

Cruising is the easiest form of travel, but how easy it would be for you depends on the itinerary (and whether you want to go offshore to see the place) and the age of the kids. We wanted to see everything and the time was limited so we were exhausted by the end of it.

I would definitely go on a cruise with a baby, but only until about 18 months. Then I would wait…

Between 18 months and 3 years, it’s an awkward age when toddlers are more needy, complaining, and too bored with baby stuff in the nursery, but not old enough to join Kids Club – which basically leaves you with them 24/7 and you will undeniably miss out a lot of stuff.

Our relatives came with us on the last cruise so we could at least go to a bar or show, but after debating booking another cruise, I opted to wait until our youngest turns 3, so it gives us more freedom.

Both our kids were potty trained before 2, so we never encountered not being able to go to a pool, but if they weren’t it would be a deal breaker as my kids are obsessed with swimming.

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