After going on a cruise with my two kids under 5, here are my top tips to help you enjoy your time at sea.
A cruise seems like the perfect way to holiday as a family, where you can eat as much food as you can handle, and see the sights of whatever destination you are headed to, without having to constantly lug all your baggage on and off a plane, or in and out of the car.
Having recently been on a cruise with my preschool aged daughters, I learned a lot about life on board with two little ones, and I have plenty of advice for anyone thinking of taking their tots on a cruise.
Think about what you want from your cruise
If you are looking to visit lots of places youíve never been to before, a cruise is certainly a good way to go about it when you have kids. Almost everything is included in the price and there is plenty of entertainment for the days you spend at sea. Some activities, tours of cruise destinations, and food and drink packages cost extra, but if you stick to the included options, you can get away with not paying much more.
On the other hand, if you are want to relax, a cruise may not be the holiday for you. Yes the Kids Club is a great service but only if your children actually want to go there. When we booked our cruise, I envisioned my eldest daughter spending plenty of time in the Kids Club, and my husband and I taking turns looking after our youngest so we could both relax and have some time to ourselves. Wrong!
My eldest spent the first morning of the cruise in the Kids Club then refused to go back, and the youngest was below the age that kids were allowed to attend without parents. Most kids clubs only cater for kids aged 2 or older. Some also have limited opening hours and you may need to book a private babysitter if you want to venture out later into the evening (which is an additional cost).
We did get to go to some fantastic spots that I would never have seen otherwise though, so for me that was a benefit that balanced out our non-existent relaxation time.
A family-friendly cruise is a must
Look for cruise companies who market themselves as family-friendly. Some are better at catering to families than others, and some wonít even allow children on board. Some of the most family-friendly cruise companies include P&O, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess Cruises, Disney and Cunard.
If you're unsure how to narrow down your choices, look for the ships that provide services that will suit you best such as a daily Kids Club, babysitting, special dining times for kids and families, and plenty of activities offered for families with young children. The staff on family cruise lines are likely to be very friendly and accommodating for guests travelling with children, and there will be plenty of other kids for your own children to play with.
When choosing a room, think about the ability to fit travel cots in comfortably, and whether or not you want to avoid having a balcony for safety reasons.
Consider the ages of your children when you book
Typically, children need to be aged 6 months or older at the time you plan to go on the cruise for domestic cruises, and at least 12 months for international cruises, but check what the rules are for the cruise company you plan to travel with, before you book.
Also, it's very common for children who aren't toilet trained to not be allowed to swim in the ship pools for hygiene reasons. Yes, even when wearing a swim nappy! Lots of parents don't realise this until after they book and are very disappointed. Some cruise ships provide splash pad/water play areas to compensate for this, while other families just wait to swim in the ocean when they dock at island ports.
If you have a little one who is prone to accidents, it may be worth waiting a bit longer to book your trip, to make sure the whole family can swim together when on board.
Be aware of limitations for pregnant women
As a general rule, you can cruise up to your 23rd week of pregnancy. So, if you will be starting your 24th week half way through the cruise, you wonít be able to board the ship. If you are pregnant, you will need a letter from your doctor or midwife stating your due date and that you are in good health, no matter how far along you are.
Feeding babies may take planning
With no kettle or microwave in the room, you may want to take an electric bottle warmer if you're formula feeding, or you'll find yourself asking the cruise staff to provide hot water many times a day.
There's usually a small fridge you can keep milk and small amounts of food in, and you are allowed to bring formula and baby food on board. I took a tin of toddler formula and used bottled water for my youngest daughterís milk (she was 18 months old at the time) and also took some little boxes of long life milk in my luggage.
You'll also need an electric bottle steriliser or you could be stuck washing bottles in the bathroom sink. If you are breastfeeding and pumping, you'll also need to have some way to clean the breast pump and the bottles for your expressed milk. However, there may only be one Australian power point for all of your extra electrical goods! Check with the cruise company before you go and don't forget your power board.
Still keen to go? Then it's time to start researching! Happy cruising!