Have you made the decision to take a cruise for the family vacation this year? And now that time is getting close to set sail, you don’t even know how to start to pack? Never fear! I was in that same boat, so I asked all my friends for their best tips and put this great big list of 50 Tips for Cruising with Family together for you (and me!). Your welcome.
Planning/Booking Tips for Cruising with Family
1. It’s important to read reviews on Trip Advisor. We’ve never cruised without consulting the message boards at Cruise Critic. These boards are a wealth of information for so many destinations from recommendations to personal stories and reviews. Mary Solio of The World is a Book
2. The Centers for Disease Control offer a Vessel Sanitation Program, where you can look up your ships’ inspection scores. They routinely inspect ships for cleanliness, repairs, food preparation and storage, water quality, hygiene, pest management and many other things. Check out your ship’s report card on the CDC website before you book your passage.
3. When booking your cruise, whether through a travel agent or directly through the cruise line, find out what is located above and below your cabin! An inexpensive cabin above the engine room will be noisier than a slightly more expensive cabin down the hall. A cabin located under the late night entertaining venues will have more late night noise than a cabin sandwiched between other cabins or below the dining room. Similarly, consider whether the convenience of being close to the elevator (less walking) is worth the trade-off of more noise late evening. That’s a call only you can make. Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget
5. Go online in advance and reserve everything you can. Recent statistics put use of this service only at 30%. This means that 70% of the other passengers are going to be scrambling on board to make the same plans as you if you leave it ’til then. Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel
6. If you stayed overnight near port, which I highly recommend you do, as travel delays can happen anytime. Line up your transportation to the port upon checking into the hotel. Many hotels offer free transportation to the port or take reservations with a reliable transportation company that the hotel has a contract with. Most importantly, sign up when you check in at your hotel. Seats to the port are often limited the day that you need the transportation. Sara Broers of Travel with Sara
7. If your you or your kids drink more than one soda per person each day, you might want to invest in the prepaid soda cards/cups offered by many cruise lines. Otherwise, choosing the complimentary lemonade, tea, and coffee is the more affordable way to go. Colleen Lanin of TravelMamas
8. Book your cruise in January, February or early March through a travel agent. Cruise lines offer discounts the first part of the year. Travel agents with larger companies offer specials during this time that aren’t available to the general public. Put them both together and get the best value for your dollar! Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget
10. I ALWAYS keep essential meds packed in my bag when I’m traveling, especially if I’m cruising. They can be VERY expensive on a ship! Some good ideas to bring with you are: Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Aleve, Cold Medicine, Laxatives, Eye-Drops, Allergy Medicine, Bug Spray & Calamine Lotion, Motion Sickness Medicine. Tawanna Smith of Mom’s Guide to Travel
11. To Tawanna Smith’s point, Imodium and other OTC intestinal drugs are not sold on board. It’s their way of making sure cases get reported to the doctor. And as soon as you ask for Imodium you would be quarantined. Been there, done that. Barb Likos of Mom Off Track
12. Your cabin will likely be ready before your luggage gets there. Pack a carry-on bag/luggage with bathing suits and sunscreen so the kids can enjoy the pool after lunch on the day you board. Mary Solio of The World is a Book
13. Pack a refillable drink container. Tea, lemonade, and sometimes soda flow freely onboard a cruise ship at any hour of the day or night. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they are served in teeny, tiny cups to keep you from overindulging. Ha! Overindulgence is the hallmark of any good cruise, and you don’t want to be left out. A refillable drink container will allow you to fill your cup to the brim, and carry with you throughout the ship or ashore for a port adventure. Jessica Bowers of Suitcases and Sippycups
14. Tons of people recommend packing an over the door shoe organizer for the door in your stateroom. It’s a great way to keep the little things organized – sunblock, lanyards, sunglasses, flip flops, etc. With limited space, this is an inexpensive way to organize your room.
15. Pack a few extra hangers for your small closet. Cruise ships are notoriously stingy with them. Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals
16. Pack a power strip to create multiple plugs in your stateroom. My favorite one for travel is made by Belkin, complete with USB ports, available at Amazon.
17. If you or someone you know is prone to seasickness, bring ginger chews, dramamine, or sea bands with you. Also, green apples are known to help tummy troubles.
18. Pack a deck of cards for the down times. We don’t leave home without a deck. My kids got them out on the cruise and made friends rather quickly and even learned a few new card games. Tonya Prater of The Traveling Praters
19. Don’t forget to bring a jacket or sweater for the outside decks – both unexpected weather or evenings can get chilly.
20. Pack a Towel Clip. You can always spot a first time cruiser; they are the ones on the top deck chasing their towels and complaining about it being soooooo windy. When the ship moves, the wind blows and if you want to be sure your towel and other cloth stays nicely on your deck chair, you need a fastener. Jessica Bowers of Suitcases and Sippycups
21. Make a copy of your driver’s license and passport. Keep it in your suitcase just in case you lose the originals and need identifying info for replacement. Jessie Voigts of Wandering Educators
22. One of my favorite items to pack on any trip is Ziploc bags – perfect to store clean clothes, dirty clothes, and wet swimsuits after a day on the beach.
23. Bring some low denomination bills. Make sure you don’t just take some $20 bills from the ATM on your next cruise. The low denomination bills ($1, $5, $10) come in handy for tipping drivers and negotiating prices in ports. Kimberly Tate of Stuffed Suitcase
24. Make a sign or pack a few things to decorate the outside of your door with. Are you celebrating something? Surprise that person with decorations for your room. I love the tradition on the Disney Cruise line of FishFinders for the door to get secret treats!
Health/Safety Tips for Cruising with Family
25. Pack a set of Clorox anti-bacterial wipes and wipe down the surfaces and doorknobs in your stateroom when you arrive. Never hurts to be safe.
26. USE the hand sanitizer placed strategically at the entrances to every restaurant (at least they were there on the Carnival cruise we went on last year). Tell your kids to wash their hands a lot and avoid touching handrails. Use a tissue to open restroom doors. Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals
27. To stay healthy (and avoid gaining weight since there is food available EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME), use the steps instead of the elevator between floors. We did that on our cruise; the kids never used the elevator – even when we went down to “Deck 0” to depart for shore excursions! Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals
Shore Excursions Tips for Cruising with Family
28. Most of our excursions were booked using local tour guides. They were generally cheaper (typically saving 30% or more) and less crowded than the ones booked from the ship. Private tours also allowed us to customize our day. We could have multiple stops for photo ops, snack and bathroom breaks and learn a whole lot more about the locals way of life. We were able adjust the time we spent at each location too. The major drawback from booking your own tour is that the ship WILL LEAVE without you if you’re not there by sail-off. Mary Solio of The World is a Book
29. If you plan to leave the cruise ship and go on a shore excursion you will want to bring a backpack and “supplies” along for the day. I always had our passports and travel documents hidden in our bag (inside of a Ziploc bag), my camera, bottles of water, snacks for the kids, sunscreen, a notebook and pen, and a few other small things to keep them busy if need be. If you plan to swim, swimsuits, towels, goggles etc are important to have. I also took a change of clothes for each of the kids, in a sealed Ziploc bag – just in case. Amanda Mouttaki of MarocMama
General Tips for Cruising with Family
30. Get to the ship early. Sure, the ship probably leaves late afternoon but boarding on some ships can take place early. Arriving around noon will make sure that you can get on board, eat and rest or do a little investigating before you need to do ‘the drill’. Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel
31. Picky about your bedding? Some lines will provide egg crate mattress toppers, top sheets and alternative pillow types by special request. Feel free to ask, before or during your cruise. CruiseCritic.com
32. Take advantage of the Port Talks to hear all about the various stops you will be making on the cruise. These talks are free and a great way to educate yourself and your family about the place you will be visiting. Lisa and her family enjoy the port talks on the cruises they have been on.
33. Before you cruise, print a double-sided black outline map. Eduplace is a great resource for blackline map masters. On one side print a map that represents the area of your cruise so that you can plot your course as you travel. Check your TV each night for an updated position and add it to your map. On the other side, print a world map and bring along some crayons. Every crew member aboard the ship wears a nametag that lists their country of origin. Set your kids off on a challenge to meet as many crew members from different countries as possible and mark them on the map. Crew members will be thrilled to help the kids find the spot on the map if they are unfamiliar with the country. You’ll have the added benefit of encouraging your kids to make new friends, as well as the geographical information they will gain. Not to mention, don’t under estimate the entertainment in watching your kids race across the dining room because they spotted someone from Laos. Jessica Bowers of Suitcase and Sippycups
34. Being quarantined is not always a bad thing, according to this post on the TravelMamas website – What to Do When You Get Sick on a Cruise. There are so many great tips in this post – make sure you read it before you go! Colleen Lanin of TravelMamas
35. Get your room organized! Ship staterooms can be small. This is one of those times that it is actually a good idea to take a moment and unpack your suitcases once you get them into the room. Store clothes in drawers, closets and provided space. Then leaving a open hole at one end of your suitcase using the zippers. Leave only one out at a time and store the others under the bed. Use this as a laundry hamper for the family. No need to put dirty clothes ‘away’… stuff them all in the ‘hamper’ and worry about the ‘mess’ after your vacation. When the suitcase fills, store it under the bed and set up another empty one for filling. Leave one or two smaller suitcases for souvenirs and toiletries. Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel
36. Take advantage of spa specials. Cruises are all about relaxing, right? On embarkation day travelers are busy acclimating themselves with the ship and unpacking so spas tend to offer great deals for same day services. On our cruise, the spa offered a “travelers’ tension” special, $80 for full massage and mini facial. (They also offer deals on port days as well!) Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget
37. If you are cruising with tweens or teens, set some ground rules. Before setting our kids loose on the boat, we created some extra special “Maritime Rules.” In our case, we wanted the kids to stay together in pairs for safety. We also forbade swimming while they were sans grownups. Of course, we reiterated that they were not to be in anyone’s cabin and they were not to let anyone in their cabin. Failure to comply with Maritime law would result in immediate cessation of all free roaming privileges. Jessica Bowers of Suitcases and Sippycups
38. Inside cabins have no natural light. At all. Turn your TV to the bridge cam station, turn off the sound and — voila! — you’ve got an instant nightlight and a way to see if the sun is up. CruiseCritic.com
39. If you need to iron clothes for formal dinners, do this when you first get on board, before the ironing room gets busy.
40. If you have a balcony always keep the door closed and locked. We found in our stateroom that the balcony had a small table and two chairs on it, the first thing my children did when we opened the balcony door was to try to climb on the table so that they could see over the rail, fortunately we were right with them! Jennifer Jain of Jennifer’s Little World
41. Recognize you likely won’t “do it all” on your cruise – with SO MANY activities happening at the same time at various places on the ship, I advise just setting your priorities (things you absolutely don’t want to miss – like a certain show or the new water-play area or a certain dining venue) and then anything else you get to do is gravy. Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals
42. One of our good friends would shower in the Men’s Locker Room before dinner each night. He’d relax in the sauna, then get ready there, to allow more room in his stateroom for his wife and 2 girls to get ready.
43. Take advantage of the information provided on board each day in the form of the ‘newsletter’ and plan your day accordingly. Bring a highlighter. If you have multiple family members with different interests, bring various highlighter colors. Highlight on the schedule in advance the classes, games, clubs, or activities that you don’t want to miss. Each family member can have their own color and each persons’ need can be quickly identified at a glance the next day. You don’t want to miss a thing! Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel
Dining Tips for Cruising with Family
44. You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entree and dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It’s a great way to try new foods you’re not sure you’ll like (escargot, anyone?). CruiseCritic.com
45. Room service!!! Best advice given to me from regular family cruisers before our 1st cruise! Order room service breakfast (typically free on ships) to arrive around the time your kids/you typically awake. As you and spouse are getting dressed and ready for the day, you can sip of your hot coffee and the kids and nibble on something. It’s also a great way to to stock up on a few snacks to have stowed in your bag for days where you disembark…boxes of cereal are great snacks beachside! Caroline Murphy from SmartyPantsMama
46. Specialty coffee at the designated coffee shops onboard comes with an extra fee, but the pastries, sandwiches and other food at these venues are often free. While some specialty items (like chocolate-covered strawberries) will have a charge, don’t assume all the small bites do. CruiseCritic.com
47. Pack a few snacks/water/soft drinks from home. We didn’t realize we were permitted to do this on our first cruise but we didn’t make that mistake on our second cruise. (Check with the rules of your individual cruise) Tonya Prater of The Traveling Praters
48. On embarkation day, most people head straight to the buffet to have lunch and wait for their cabins to open. It’s a mob scene. But many cruise ships have alternative venues open — the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crewmember or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal. CruiseCritic.com
49. Don’t know which night to make specialty dinner reservations? The main dining room menus are planned for the week, and the purser’s desk often has access to those menus. Ask to see them so you can decide which nights are less appealing and which you don’t want to miss, and plan your cruise accordingly. CruiseCritic.com
50. It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses — but what do you do if you don’t finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night, even for dinner in another onboard venue. CruiseCritic.com
Best tip of all:
Have an amazing trip – don’t worry about the people around you – let it go – relax – and don’t look at your onboard credit account!
Other great Cruise Articles you may enjoy:
An Open Letter to the Carnival Magic Employees