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When we travel and vacation as a family, it’s nice to have a break from my day-to-day household tasks. Or to be more specific, I want to get away from food prep and cleanup. Sure, I’m happy enough to eat breakfast in the room and pack a picnic lunch, but when the budget and situation allows, I love to have a break from prepping dinner, stocking a kitchen, following a recipe, and washing a million dishes! (And when the budget or situation doesn’t allow, then I prefer easy, low-prep options. But that’s a different post entirely!)
Since I don’t want to mess with meals, cruises and all-inclusive hotels/resorts are VERY appealing to me! But which is better when you’re traveling with kids? A cruise or all-inclusive? Now that we’ve tried them both, let me share my comparison with you.
Part 1: Cruising with Kids
For reference, my parents generously took us on a cruise for Christmas when our oldest daughter was 15-months-old, and I was two months pregnant with baby #2.
The food. Many cruise lines are famous for their food choices. Lobster. Lamb. A chocolate buffet. Free room service. Nate loves cruises because he can shamelessly ask for (and eat) two desserts at dinner and then hit up the soft serve ice cream machine right before bed. (Oh, how I hope our kids get his metabolism!)
And because the food options seem limitless, there’s a good chance that even the health nuts and picky eaters in your family will be satisfied. I’m not a fan of kids’ menus, so we skipped the chicken fingers and french fries and ordered tilapia for our tot. The waiter raised his eyebrows the first night, but then quickly learned that our daughter (who has a very adventurous appetite) would really and truly eat and enjoy the fish. And since it was included with her ticket, why not?
Fanfare. Cruise lines put a lot of effort into making you feel like you’re on the vacation of a lifetime. The entire trip is a big celebration. And since everyone on board starts and ends their vacation at the same time, there’s a natural progression of fun. At an all-inclusive, however, my family may arrive on Monday and your family may not arrive until Thursday. There’s no place for a grand welcome party or a big closing celebration. Know what I mean?
Price. There are good deals to be found with cruises. Since meals, accommodation, and transportation are included the daily price per person can/should be very low.
Entertainment. Clowns, comedians, musicians, dance classes, rock climbing walls, water slides, casinos, and figure skating shows. Cruises take great pride in providing a wide variety of entertainment options.
Destinations. If you want to visit multiple countries or ports, cruising is the way to go. A cruise ship will ferry you around to different islands in the Carribean or to different beaches and cities in Europe while you stay comfortably settled in your floating stateroom. It’s a convenient way to move!
Pool restrictions. Cruise pools are subject to CDC rules, and tots who aren’t potty trained aren’t allowed in the main pools. However, a few cruise lines offer wade pools and splash pads for little ones. Read the fine print before you go so that you’re not disappointed.
Motion sickness. I get horribly motion sick (This is especially sad since I’m married to a guy who flies a small plane! Some of my flights with him have been brutal.) After a few days on the ship, I (usually) adjust and “get my sea legs.” However, it’s no fun to be stuck in the dining room on the first night feeling like you’re going puke as the ship rocks and rolls. Interestingly, when we cruised during my first trimester of my pregnancy, I felt fantastic! I could eat whatever I craved, and I didn’t have to deal with the things that revolted me at home like fixing chicken, looking at leftovers, and opening the fridge.
Price. Didn’t I mention this in the “pro” section earlier? Sure, there are some great deals on cruises. But you still have to add in tips, taxes, port fees, and extras like excursions and drinks.
Along with that, kids aren’t free. You mean we had to pay for our little 15-month-old?! Unfortunately, yes. There are some “kids cruise free!” specials and packages that give discounts for the third and fourth people in each stateroom. However, more often than not, kids and babies pay adult price. Yikes!
Small rooms. While I would love to stay in one of the ginormous two-room suites, there’s no way I’m willing to pay for that kind of luxury. We’ll stick to the tiny interior
dorm state rooms. We’re pretty creative with our sleeping arrangements during travel, so we make it work. One upgrade I might consider: a balcony. It would be nice to sit outside while our little ones nap or sleep inside. It’s easy to feel trapped if your little ones take long afternoon naps, and you’re stuck in your room all afternoon.
Crowded common areas. Sure, the boats are big. But there are thousands of people on board! The boat will feel crowded when you can’t find a lounge chair or you wait for twenty minutes to climb the rock wall or start a round of mini golf.
Safety. Am I the only one who can vividly picture a tot falling overboard? No? Before our cruise, I even went so far as to email the cruise company to ask how high the rails were. In the end, it wasn’t a big deal. We only let her toddle in secure, indoor locations.
No bathtub. If your little one is used to bathing in the tub, then you might want to practice bathing in the shower before you go. Also, I’ve heard (but haven’t tried) that a little inflatable tub or pool works as a bathtub substitute. Like this: Mommy’s Helper Inflatable Bath Tub Froggie Collection,
Conclusion: Will we continue to cruise with kids? Absolutely! I’m up for cramming two little ones in a small room in exchange for entertainment, good food, and the chance to visit multiple destinations. I think it’s a good use of our vacation days and dollars, and I would love to cruise with my kids again.
However, given the choice, would we prefer an all-inclusive resort? Good question! Check out this post for the answer: All-Inclusive Vacations–Do Kids Belong at Resorts?
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16 thoughts on “What to Know Before You Cruise with Kids–The Good, The Bad, and The Yummy”
Thanks for the tips! We’re going on our first cruise next Summer for our 10 year anniversary. We won’t be taking the kids with us this time, but we’re using it as a “trial run” to see if it’s something we’d like to attempt with our 4 boys (7 and under)! Needless to say, ANY trip with all of us is an adventure 🙂 Looking forward to your thoughts on the all-inclusive resorts! We took them to Disney this year and had a fabulous time at our resort!
How fun! Ooo….that makes me want to plan a cruise for OUR 10th anniversary! (We’re a year behind you.) 4 boys, 7 and under?! All I can say is that you’re AMAZING!!!
We took our older two on a cruise a few months ago, and it was so awesome! It was the first time we took kids with us, and I feel like it is the best way to travel with little ones. We went to Maui last year, and while Maui is hard to top, it was so pricey! Every meal for all six of us was so much money. I loved having everything included on the cruise. We can’t wait for our next one. Great post!
Meals for six? Yikes! Maybe you need to take a cruise to Maui!!! Ha! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Allison. 🙂
Glad you founf my blog – your’s is awesome! Another one for me to follow 🙂
On cruises – MSC does not charge for kids – they are always free. They mostly cruise Europe, but do cruise out of Miami as well. Its a European line so some small differences compared to American lines, but the price is a fraction of any other cruise.
Glad we connected, Adam! We seriously considered MSC cruises. But the limited destinations deterred us. Maybe it’s time for us to explore that option again!
Love this post! We took our 14 month old on a cruise last December. Got a crazy good deal on last minute Disney cruise. He sailed for free and they had a bathtub! I totally understand the rail anxiety. I was nervous beforehand but once onboard I realized we had nothing to worry about since there were so many great indoor areas for him to walk around.
Bathtub AND kids cruise free??? Sweet deal! And you’re so right. There are lots of indoor options for toddling. No need to be scared! 🙂
I love your tips on no bathtub and crowded areas – so true! I remember taking our 18 month old on a cruise and there wasn’t anywhere to change his diaper in our room so we had to set up a changing station on the bed. Which was fine until he decided that he couldn’t wait for the next diaper to be on before having to go — needless to say, we had a wonderful porter who totally understood why we needed out sheets changed AGAIN that day 🙂 I will say that the staff on the boat can make or break a cruise – we had some wonderful folks who were great with kids both in the dining room and with our cabin set-up — it really helps parents with young kids to feel more at ease when the staff loves to interact with the child.
Such good points, @Jacquie! I had forgotten about the lack of diaper-changing space! And you’re absolutely right about the wait staff making all of the difference. Thankfully, we’ve had great customer care and service on all of our cruises. I think that’s another thing that cruise lines pride themselves on.