Preparing to travel for vacation can be stressful. Throw a baby into the mix, and stressful can quickly elevate to chaotic.
However, don’t let this stop you from cruising with your baby or toddler. That dream of a memorable cruise vacation is possible with a bit of planning.
We started cruising when our kids were 9 months old and we highly recommend exploring the world with young children this way.
Here are some of our best tips for cruising with a baby or toddler:
1. Picking the Right Cruise Line
Many cruise lines are family-friendly but not all are baby and toddler friendly. Look for cruise lines with amenities and activities geared towards families with infants and young children.
Keep in mind that the majority of cruise ship cabins do not have bathtubs. Disney has a bathtub in almost every stateroom but if you’re cruising on another line, practice taking a shower with your child in a stand-up shower or bring an inflatable bathtub from home.
Research age requirements for nurseries and kids clubs. Some will require your child be fully potty trained and some don’t have these restrictions.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney Cruise Line all offer babysitting services where infants and toddlers can play in a supervised environment. Royal Caribbean also offers in-cabin babysitting on select cruise itineraries.
Some ships have free toy and book programs where kids can borrow age-appropriate toys and games to play with on-board. Selection is limited but it’s definitely a service to take advantage of if you have several At Sea days.
2. Choose a Baby or Toddler-Friendly Itinerary
Many popular family-friendly cruise lines invite babies at least six months old to join their parents to set sail but some cruises like transatlantic, Hawaii and South American itineraries require children to be a year old.
Caribbean itineraries are easier to plan (as shore excursions range from several hours to all day) and you can make your port day as relaxing or active as you want.
Mediterranean and European itineraries are great for art, history and architecture buffs but keep in mind that many shore excursions have a minimum age requirement or take the entire day – which can be taxing on a baby or toddler.
Make sure you research not just the itinerary but also baby and toddler friendly activities for all ports of call.
3. Arrive a Day or a Few Days Early
Flying is stressful with a young child and I’d recommend flying in the day before (or a few days before) the start of your cruise. You won’t have to worry about flight delays, lost luggage, getting to the ship on time or adjusting to a new time zone.
If you’re looking for baby or toddler-friendly hotel recommendations near your embarkation port, be sure to check out our Port Guides before you book.
4. Have a Separate Packing List for Baby
Some cruise lines have necessary supplies like diapers and wipes on board (there will be huge markup though on these items); while other essentials like baby formula or potty training diapers/pants may harder to find.
Make a list of baby and toddler essentials that you will need for the duration of the cruise and start packing sooner than later. This avoids having to pay the high markup when you’re on board and spending time looking for baby essentials while in port.
Consider making a separate emergency medicine kit for baby too – include a baby thermometer, infant-safe fever reducer, and age appropriate sun block. This baby sunscreen is rated one of the best kids’ sunscreen by EWG.
Remember to include these essentials (identification, swimsuits, sunscreen, diapers, wipes etc.) in your carry-on bag before you board the ship. It take several hours before you have access to your stateroom or your luggage.
5. Stress Free Sleeping & Eating on a Cruise Ship
Families traveling with a baby can request a Pack ‘n Play or portable crib at the time of the booking. Some cruise lines have bed rails for toddlers but some do not so if this is something you require, be sure to make the request at the time of booking.
Choosing the right stateroom is essential for getting a good night’s rest – especially when you are traveling with a baby or toddler. In addition to researching the size of staterooms, look for cabins that include a separation curtain or a separate sitting area.
These simple additions can make nap and bed time a little more comfortable for the entire family. You won’t be forced to sit in silence in the dark during your baby’s afternoon nap or their early bed time.
When planning your meals, ask if they will mash or puree food for your baby. Disney Cruise Line will do this for families traveling with infants but Carnival and Royal Caribbean will not.
Royal Caribbean offers baby food for purchase through their Babies 2 Go program. Baby food and formula are not available on board Carnival ships. All three cruise lines will allow you to bring prepackaged food for your baby.
Also make sure dining staff have a high chair or booster seat reserved for you in the main dining room as they will go quickly if you’re on a ship with many infant or toddler aged cruisers.
6. Getting Around with Strollers, Car Seats and Baby Carriers
Another helpful tip for cruising with a baby – bring a stroller. Since space is limited in staterooms, consider getting a lightweight umbrella stroller with an adjustable shade. Not only will it help keep the baby out of direct sunlight while in port, but allow them to nap anytime comfortably – even when you’re exploring the ship.
If lugging along another bulky item isn’t appealing, there are a couple of the cruise lines, like Disney and Carnival, that have strollers on board – either free to use or for rent.
You can also consider bringing a baby carrier if you want a hands free option.
Traveling with a car seat is a personal decision. You can bring your own portable car seat if you’re planning to explore ports by car or taxi. If you want to avoid lugging a car seat around, you can also look into hiring a tour company who provides baby and toddler seats in their vehicles. Many Caribbean ports run tours with open air buses where babies and toddlers can be held in their parents’ lap.
Alternatively, you can stay close to port and choose activities that are walking distance from the ship.
7. Doing Laundry
If you’re planning to do laundry during your cruise vacation, make sure to pack your own laundry detergent and stain remover.
Most cabins have a retractable clothesline in the shower so you can hand wash dirty clothes as needed instead of waiting for a full load to take to the self-serve laundry room.
8. Plan for Playtime at the Pool
Due to health code stipulations, diapers or swim diapers are not allowed in cruise ship pools. But don’t worry, some cruise lines have splash pad and water play areas for little cruisers.
Disney Cruise Line has a separate pool and filtration system specifically for little splashers, (swim diapers must be worn) to enjoy water play time. We have used both the disposable swim diapers and reusable cloth swim diapers successfully on family vacations.
Royal Caribbean’s Freedom- and Oasis-class ships have splash pad play areas for non toilet trained cruisers.
9. Why Short Port Excursions are Better
One of the significant parts of enjoying a cruise are the unique shore excursions available at the different ports. Many times, if there is a tour, infants and toddlers under the age of three do not need a separate ticket and will be allowed to sit on a parent’s lap.
Consider choosing short shore excursions that don’t take you too far from the ship. New sights and sounds can be overwhelming for babies and toddlers and keeping your port days short and being able to return to the ship quickly avoids temper tantrums or meltdowns. All day tours and excursions can be exhausting for little ones and flexibility is key when exploring the ports.
If you are prepared and relaxed, there’s no reason you can’t have a wonderful vacation. Don’t forget the most important tip of all – enjoy every second!
Have you cruised with your baby or toddler before? We’d love to hear about your best tips for cruising with an infant or toddler!