Understandably, many parents are apprehensive when it comes time to travel with their child for the first time. There are so many added factors when you bring a child or toddler along for the trip, but there are also so many added benefits. And let’s get real you have never needed a vacation more than after your first year of parenthood.
If you are looking for something easy for your first trip you may want to consider cruising. For most cruises babies ages 6 months and up are welcome on board (that age may be a little higher for transatlantic or panama sailings.)
What I love about cruising is that it is a vacation the family can enjoy together but it is also extremely easy to take a little time for yourself, or reconnecting with your partner.
But bringing a baby on board does mean you have a few additional things you will want to consider before choosing your cruise.
You have a few different options when it comes to where you would like your baby to sleep. Some cruise lines carry small, portable cribs (like Pack ‘n Plays) for cruising babies, that can be requested when you book your cruise. Some lines (like Disney) will guarantee your room will have it set up if you request it in advance, for others it is not guaranteed so make sure you know what your line’s policy is if you are counting on this.
Other options include bringing your own travel crib, having your baby sleep in the bed with you or for older toddlers sleeping in the rooms pull down bed.
In terms of choosing a cabin if you have a little one who will nap often I recommend springing for a balcony so you can enjoy the sun and sea instead of sitting in a dark room while they snooze.
I personally love Disney Cruise Line’s set up with the curtain separating sections so you can enjoy your own space after the baby is asleep.
Unless you book a suite, family cabin or a Disney cruise, your cabin will likely not have a bathtub. The showers in ship cabins are extremely tight so you will want to think in advance how you plan on bathing your child. I like to bring an inflatable tub like this one.
If your child is not yet eating solid food you will need to pack any items they need to eat, unless you are on a Disney cruise. Disney does offer some baby foods and formulas in the gift shops, they also will puree any food they have on board for your child. Even if you are on a Disney cruise you will want to make sure you have enough for shore excursions or for backup.
If your baby uses formula, double check that your ship carries the type of milk (whole, 2 percent, soy, almond, etc.) your baby likes and plan to bring your own formula on board.
If you are flying into the port, I ALWAYS recommend flying in the day before. The main reason is so you don’t miss your cruise if your flight is delayed, but the added benefit is that you can stop at a grocery store or have groceries delivered to your hotel room so you don’t have to worry about flying with an extra bag full of food, or dealing with your liquids at TSA (even though you can fly with baby food.)
All cruise ship restaurants will have highchairs.
You will hear SO many parents praise cruising because their children loved the kids program and they were able to spend much needed time alone. Unfortunately, onboard kids programs usually start at 3 for potty trained children. Disney is the exception here again as they allow diapered children. But sometimes when the kids clubs aren’t in use they will open the space up as a meet & greet for parents with younger babies on board – or this will take place in a lounge so check your cruise itinerary for these opportunities.
Due to CDC guidelines absolutely no diapered children are allowed in the pool even if wearing swim diapers. Disney and some RCCL ships have approved splash pads so make sure you take this into consideration when making a decision.
In terms of excursions, all cruise line-sponsored activities onshore have age minimums. There is always at least one that is open to everyone so check what is available aligns with your interests before selecting an itinerary, though I would avoid Expensive Excursion. You will want to pick short ones or pick ports that have something toddler friendly to do nearby so you won’t be disappointed in the event of a toddler meltdown. This will also allow you to honor your child’s established nap schedules which will make those meltdowns less prominent.
Most cruise lines do not sell baby essentials onboard. You may be able to get what you need in port but make sure you pack WAY more diapers and wipes than you think you will need. I would also say the other area to overpack is on Over-The-Counter Medications as they do not usually have the infant doses. At the very least make sure you have Tylenol and Benadryl. One area not to go crazy on is clothing, most ships have laundry facilities on board if you experience one too many accidents.
Should I bring a stroller or car seat?
If you plan to travel by car or taxi during your cruise, you will need to bring your child’s car seat to comply with the law and be safe. If you don’t want to lug it, alternatives include only traveling by bus, hiring tour guides in port who provide their own car seats, renting cars with car seats or relegating yourself to port activities reached only on foot.
You will want some kind of stroller or baby carrier for taking your child around the cruise ship and in port. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, have rentals available; MSC offers loaners. You will need to store strollers in your cabin, so we recommend bringing a small umbrella stroller, rather than a large baby jogger. Shop some strollers here.
I did mention at the beginning of this article that you would be able to get some of the R&R that YOU need. This is because of the amazing baby-sitting services that some ships offer. Disney, MSC and Royal Caribbean all have a drop-off paid nursery service in dedicated spaces with licensed childcare providers. They have separate areas for play and napping and allow you the time to spend at a romantic dinner with your partner or enjoy the pool or spa alone.
Some other cruise lines offer in room babysitting, but not necessarily with licensed providers or only if a crew member is available so make sure you check before booking.
What are the Best Cruise Lines for Babies
Disney Cruise Line
If you haven’t noticed throughout the article with almost every tip I shared I mentioned Disney Cruise Line, either because they have an optimal set up or they offer something for babies that the others don’t. They are definitely my pick for the best cruise line with a Baby or Toddler. I mentioned their nursery is the best of the best and it’s open 9am- midnight so you can enjoy some of the nighttime entertainment. I love that all mouthed toys go into the yuck bin to be cleaned, and there are separate play and nap areas. They have the tot friendly splash pad and a kids club that accepts non-potty trained children. You can reserve pack n plays and diaper genies in advance. Their staterooms are the largest in the industry and offer a curtain divider and tub. It also has the only ships that sell diapers, cream, pacifiers, and baby food in the shops. Also a limited number of strollers, bottle warmers and bottle sterilizers are available for use through guest services.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
RCCL has some great options as well but I wouldn’t rank it nearly as high as Disney for babies and toddlers (teens are a different story!) They do have a nursery on some ships (so make sure you check) and the tot-friendly splash pad. While they may not have the same amenities as Disney they do offer a Fantastic Service where you can pre-order Huggies, wipes, cream, organic baby food to be delivered right to your stateroom, when you arrive and throughout your cruise.
MSC Cruise Line
MSC prides itself on being a family cruise. They even offer pricing where kids (up to age 17) sail for free if they are sharing a stateroom with 2 adults. But if you don’t want to share they have some incredible interconnected options. They have Baby Clubs with activities for the whole family and Baby Care Service where you can drop your children off at the Mini Club and they will be looked after by qualified and dedicated staff. They have partnered with Chicco and pride themselves on having the most modern, fun and educational toys at sea. They have a unique service onboard for Baby Laundry, this service washes baby and toddler clothes separately from everything else, using a specialized machine, program and detergents to clean and sanitize at low temperatures. They collect your children’s items from your stateroom and deliver them to you the following day clean, safe and sterilized: ideal for protecting their skin. You’ll find full details in your stateroom, along with a biodegradable paper laundry bag and a service coupon to fill in.
As you can see, even though there are additional considerations when traveling with babies and toddlers it can still be enjoyable! If you are ready to book your cruise but not sure where you want to go, check out my blog post on Best Cruise Line By Region to make sure you have the best family vacation.
One of the additional things you do need to think about when traveling with a napping baby is stateroom location, you don’t want to end up below a busy pool deck or above a loud kids club when your child is trying to sleep. To help you pick the best stateroom for you I have developed a Guide to Choosing the Right Disney Cruise Line Stateroom that you can download for free below.
If you are ready to have the family vacation you’ve been dreaming of, without spending time researching, planning and making it happen, schedule a call today. I’m here to help busy working Moms plan, organize and book the perfect family vacation. With me, all you have to worry about is enjoying your well-earned time away with your family. If you are ready to stop trying to do everything on your own and see how I can help you schedule a complimentary trip planning session now.
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