Cruising with kids is becoming an increasingly popular form of family holiday. A resort-style boat can be good value when you include the endless food, onboard entertainment and babysitting services.
We recently went on our first family cruise – a short 5 night trip aboard the Golden Princess from Melbourne to Port Arthur and Hobart and back.
Here are my Top 10 tips for cruising with kids, especially for first-timers.
Are your kids the right age to start cruising?
I think the best things about cruising with kids are the kids club and the pools – you’ll get a break and the kids will have fun too. If you can’t use those facilities then you’ll just spend your leisure time parenting on a boat!
The kids club on the Golden Princess is only open to toilet-trained children 3+ years. Some boats allow kids from 2+ years.
For public safety reasons, children in nappies (including swim nappies) and children who are not toilet trained are not permitted in the public swimming pools and spas. Some cruise ships offer splash areas for non-toilet-trained tots.
Note cruise ships will not have baby food or baby formula. You’ll need to BYO and ask them to store it for you. Cots are generally available, plus booster and high chairs. Baby baths, prams, nappies and baby wipes are not available onboard and not all cruise ships or cabins will have standard baths.
Pick a cruise that caters for families
As with hotels and restaurants there are levels of exclusivity with cruise ships and not all ships are suitable for kids. Cruise Critic is a good resource to start your research.
What you’re looking for is a kids club, numerous pools, possibly a kids play area, meal options (children’s menus or buffet). Also consider size and layout of staterooms.
The kids club on the Golden Princess operates 9-12pm, 2-5pm and 7-10pm when at sea and 8-5pm, 7-10pm when at port. You can also book group babysitting 10pm-1am for an extra fee. You need to pre-register for kids club before boarding.
Lady AB and Baby 2.0 both love the kids club – activities include craft, movies, Tshirt colouring, mini Olympics, giveaway toys and ice cream parties!
Pick a short route
I think with kids it’s best to pick a short route where a ship is not at sea for more than two consecutive days. While there’s a lot to do on board it does get a bit repetitive after a while. Also you may experience unexpected motion sickness and if anyone get seasick there is nothing worse than knowing that you can’t get off the boat soon!
Five nights was about right for us – the kids got to try kids club for the majority of the 2 days at sea and explored on shore for the other 2 days. Our schedule was:
Day 1 – embarkation (in afternoon)
Day 2 – at sea
Day 3 – Port Arthur
Day 4 – Hobart
Day 5 – at sea
Day 6 – disembarkation (in morning)
Pick the right cabin
If budget allows there’s an art to choosing the best cabin:
- Don’t pick an internal cabin. You think you’ll not be spending too much time in your room but with young kids you’d be surprised, especially if you want to sleep or read while the kids are at kids club. It is very claustrophobic being in a cabin with no windows and disorientating not knowing if it’s night or day.
- The most stable cabins are midship, closer to the interior and on a lower decks. The lower the level, the less rocking you’ll experience.
- Be far from the laundromat. People hang around the corridors while waiting for their laundry to wash and it’s open 24 hours a day.
- Don’t stay near the lift/stair wells or service entrances. If you’re noise sensitive you don’t want to sleep near a thoroughfare.
- Avoid the same level as pools/sports venue/entertainment/all-night eatery areas. Sometimes the expensive, exclusive suites are actually on the same level as the noisiest part of the boat.
- Don’t stay near or below the galley. Bumping, rolling and talking all night.
Basically, the best passenger deck to choose is one between other passenger decks.
On the Golden Princess we stay in a ‘mini suite’ on the 9th level with a queen size bed, a fold out sofa, a bath and a balcony. It fits 3-4 people.
What to pack
- Lanyards. Everyone is issued a cruise card on embarkation. It is your room key and is also used for ID, charging items to your account and checking in at kids club. It’s easiest to wear it around your neck and you’ll notice that everyone does it. Lanyards are not provided and are expensive on board so BYO.
- Bathers. My kids will want to go into the pool in any weather, so bring bathers no matter what! There are generally no shops on board selling bathers for kids.
- Motion Sickness medication. If you’re at any risk of experiencing motion sickness, discuss medication options with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Power pack. Cruise cabins do not have many power sockets so pack a power pack to charge electronic devices. Expect that mobile phone coverage may not be available or very expensive at sea.
Eat at off peak hours
The Golden Princess can fit 2000 guests and while there are numerous eateries there is bound to be queues for everything if you go at peak hour.
We eat lunch at around 12pm in the buffet restaurant (where there’s more room) and 5:30pm in the a la carte dining room. Note upscale restaurants require an extra charge and a different standard of dress and behaviour is expected, so it might not be suitable for young kids.
Be prepared for waits to get on/off the boat
With 2000 guests to manoeuvre every procedure for embarkation and disembarkation is a finely tuned operation.
Be prepared to wait up to 20-30 minutes to disembark in timed groups. If you are getting into a tender boat (smaller boat for onshore excursions) then the wait may be longer. A good strategy is to explore the pools and other facilities and get on a tender later.
Stick to some sort of eating/exercise regime
With the amount of freely available food it’s easy to go overboard. Take a pair of runners so you can visit the gym or walk around the decks for the fresh sea air.
Kids are offered soft drinks, juice and sugary treats at every turn so set expectations about what they are/are not allowed to eat.
Be mindful of the dress code
Most of the time there is no dress code on board, but most cruise lines will have one ‘formal night’. On the Golden Princess guests dining in the a la carte restaurant were turned away if they were not dressed in ‘formal wear’ ie jacket for men, no jeans, thongs, shorts.
Arrive at least the day before the cruise departs
Cruise ships wait for no man (or woman). If your departure port is not your home town then try to arrive at least the day before in case of flight delays, lost luggage etc.
T missed the boat as he was delayed working interstate so he had to fly to Hobart (at his own cost) to board the ship.
Click here for further reading:
- Best cruises for Australian families
- How to find the perfect cruise for families
- 19 Best Cruise ships for kids (mostly international)
Have you been on a family cruise before? Share your experiences.