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Cruising with children.Advice and packing list.

27/12/2010 22:29




I've said this before and I'll repeat it here: knowing what to expect, and what not to,  can make the difference between having a wonderful vacation, versus a disappointing one.  Never is this more true than when planning a cruise with our children.You have to realize up front, that this cruise will not be the same experience it would have been without them.  It's going to take careful planning, and possibly as much work as play.  But a true Cruise Addict is likely to feel that cruising is worth the effort, and no other vacation will do. So before you get your heart set on cruising with your little one, let me eliminate a few potentialmisconceptions.To start with, know that there are minimum age limits for: boarding the ship, swimming in the pools and participation in the children's program. All cruise lines have a minimum age for a baby to be allowed onboard.  This is usually somewhere between three to twelve months.  Be certain to verify that your little one will meet the designated age with the cruise line that you choose. Then once onboard your child may still not be old enough to swim in the pool or attend the kids program. In the case of the pool, it's more a matter of their being potty trained vs. being a particular age..  Yes, you will find "Little Swimmers" on the Child's Packing list, but this is strictly for the beach.  As a rule, children must be potty trained to enter the water on board.And last, while most ships do have wonderful children's programs, not all do. Of those that do, they are time and age limited. And they usually do not allow unaccompanied tots in diapers.  Some offer limited baby-sitting services, but that is for a fee. Research your cruise line, so that you know what to expect before you book.Just know that this will be a vacation WITH your child, and not away from him. If you adopt the attitude  that the goal is to create memories for you and your child, you may both look back on this as your best vacation ever.Next: Before you put any money down, be sure you have, or will be able to obtain all necessary identification, and documentation that your child will need.  In most cases the children will need the same documentation as if they were adults.That is likely to be either a passport, or (for someYour child's memorable moment may even be a familiar figure: Theodore Tugboat, helping the ships through Halifax Harbor.itineraries) a birth certificate and government issued photo ID. (Photo IDs for children can usually be obtained at your local BMV.)If only one parent is traveling with the child, you may also need a notarized letter of permission from the child's other parent allowing the child to travel with you. Similarly, if the child possesses a different surname, for what ever reason, it could require that you have the child's birth certificate showing parentage, adoption papers, legal custody papers, divorce decree, or death certificate of a deceased spouse, to explain your situation.  The same notarized permission requirements apply if the child is not your own.Your full service travel agent, or the cruise line itself, should be able to tell you what documents you need.  Still I recommend you refer to the government's web page for a definitive statement of legal requirements, (or for confirmation of that information.). Additionally you will want to have proof of permission to obtain medical care for the child, should an emergency situation arise.  (See sample medical/travel consent form, below.)And, if you are taking along someone else's child, be sure you have a copy of their medical history, including their allergy and immunization record; and parental and doctor contact information, just in case of a medical emergency. I am assuming here that you already know this information about your own child traveling with you.  If not, write it down and take it with you.


The next consideration when cruising with a young child is the selection of your cabin.  You obviously want both space and safety. Unfortunately these are almost mutually exclusive properties in ship's cabins.  As always, when dealing with small children, safety trumps space.  So with that in mind, you will want to avoid balcony cabins. You don't want to be in a balcony cabin when you discover your toddler's talent for climbing. If your kids are a bit older, consider getting two inside cabins, instead of a single larger one.  The cost of two insides won't be a lot more than that of a larger cabin with the additional third and fourth passenger fares added in, but will have the huge benefit of an extra bathroom.Often parents of older children want a balcony for themselves and an inside for the teens.  Unfortunately this usually puts the kids across the hall from Mom and Dad. This might be a little worrisome if you aren't sure Missy and Junior are mature enough to handle that much independence.  Your solution can be found, if you plan early enough, and choose your ship wisely. You will find that some ships have a few (very few) adjoining cabins where one is a veranda, and the connecting cabin is an inside.  (For an example: Look at the Carnival Miracle's cabins 5105 and 5107.)  Always read your deck plans carefully.And if your child is going to be participating in the onboard children's program, save some footwork by choosing a cabin nearer to the designated youth areas (Camp Carnival, Adventure Ocean, etc.)  These also are shown on the deck plans.In the days before the cruise get your children involved in the planning.  This trip will be a big event in their lives. They will get more out of the experience if they know what to expect.  Tell them about the ports of call, and have them read up on the locations and cultures.  Let them help choose the excursions. Just remember that simply spending time on a beach can be a grand adventure for a kid.  You won't necessarily need a lot of expensive excursions to keep them occupied.For a much more successful snorkel experience for your child, consider buying him/her their own child size snorkel and mask before the cruise. The excursion operators and beach rental shops may not have enough sizes to fit their smaller faces and mouths. I also, strongly recommend purchasing the "dry" type of snorkel, that blocks water from entering the top of the tube, thus preventing aspiration of sea water.


Consider the child's schedule when choosing your airline flights or car travel time.  Will it be better to fly during nap or sleep time, versus while he's awake?  Will he then sleep through the trip, or be horribly cranky, because he's tired and is not in his own bed.  You know your child better than anyone. Choose what will work for him.On the evening before you leave home, once all your bags are packed, tape a note to the bags, addressed to yourself:  Whatever else you do, DO NOT FORGET your child's favorite blankie, binkie, dolly or stuffed toy, or whatever is their chosen security item.  I promise you, that a vacation with your little one, minus her beloved "dog-dog", will be no one's idea of fun.Arrive at the airport early: Allow yourself time to feed your little one before you get on the plane, time to visit the bathroom, and to make a last diaper change.  Bathroom visits and diaper changes are extremely difficult on the plane. Also use this time to purchase water or milk for use on the plane.  Don't forget that long trek from security checkpoint to your gate may take quite a while with little ones in tow.One last note about the flying experience: The busy airport, with the serious security personel and the noisy plane, all can be frightening to the unprepared child. When my nephew Ben was a small boy, he was seriously freaked out by seeing Blue, his beloved stuffed whale, be carried down the conveyer and disappear into the black jaws of the security scanner. It was a traumatic experience for a toddler, that he remembers years later.  His folks really wished they had thought to point out in advance, how everything  was coming back out the other side of the x-ray machine.... In general, for younger children a discussion of what to expect at the airport and on the plane, and perhaps a little play acting rehearsal, might be good preparation for this new experience.


On the ship, your children will be issued a sign and sail card, just like the adults.  It is used for them to board and debark the ship, and to use as a room key the same as for adults. You can decline or disable their ability to charge on it, if you wish.  Either way, consider buying them a holder of some type for it.  There are plastic sleeves on a neck cord, (similar to a name tag), and small water safes on a string. Always, some type of card holder is available for purchase in the ships shop. A simple lanyard with a hook will do nicely. (Have the  people at the pursers desk punch a hole in the card for you. They'll know where to place the hole, without interfering with the card's function.When booking your cruise, be sure to take into account the timing of meals on the ship. Late seating is often not held until eight PM.  So if you must do traditional dining, early seating is likely a better choice for children. But if your ship offers it, freestyle dining (eating when and where you want) is an easy fit, and popular choice for families with children.If your child can go through a half-dozen story books a night, you'll never be able to carry all he needs for the week. So, once on the ship, make the library an early stop on embarkation day.  They have some children's books, but not tons. Get there early and take out several books now, then return them mid-week.  If you wait till they're tired of the one's you brought, there may be nothing left.If the teen/kids daily planner is not in your cabin, stop by the purser's desk and ask for one, or ask your room steward to provide one daily. There are plenty of activities happening on the ship that children will enjoy, not the least of which is the children's program. Most mainstream cruise lines have one, but some are only active during school break time. (Verify before you book if this will be important to you).  For some kids, participation in the children's program is the highlight of the cruise. Encourage your child to give it a try.Make note of when the teen / kids welcome aboard meeting takes place. Be sure they go to at least that first meeting. This is when all the young people onboard meet each other for the first time. Missing the first meeting is akin to missing the first day of school. No child wants to be the odd-man-out, which happens when all the other kids get to know each other on the first day, and one is absent.  BTW, parents need to attend that first day meeting also.If you have older children, who will be going about the ship on their own, consider bringing a pair walkie-talkies, so Mom and Dad can track them down at any time. And it might be wise to set a designated meeting place on board, in case other efforts to stay in touch fail.Amongst all the shipboard activities, consider scheduling some quiet time for the little ones.  A little quiet time playing a board game in the ship's game room, or just reading or playing or napping in the cabin can forestall those over-tired or over stimulated child melt downs, that can ruin dinner or the rest of your evening. 


If your child is still eating baby food, you may have a challenge ahead of you.  Many ships don't carry baby food, or much in the way of infant needs. You may find diapers in the ship's shop, but there's no telling what size, or brand, to say nothing about the high price. So you will want verify what your ship will have, and otherwise you'll need to pack what you need.Kids manage to get dirty doing anything, so taking enough clothes will be no small task either. Be aware that some ships have laundry facilities, but many do not. Verify this with your cruise line, before counting on their availability.Also, it helps to take advantage of the laundry specials that most ships offer. They often offer a special sometime from mid-week to near the end of the cruise that offers to do "all the clothing you can stuff into the laundry bag" for only $15 or $20.   With small children, that can be quite a lot of clothes, and it really is a small amount to pay for precious time to spend with your family. Also be aware, that if you're in a suite, some cruise lines even offer free laundry service as a suite perk.

In general, anything you would pack for an adult, you will need to pack for a child too. As for clothing, anything an adult would need, the child will likely need more.




____ BABY'S CARRY-ON: aka the diaper bag.  Preferably choose a back pack type for ease of carrying, and fill with the usual baby/child supplies:

____ Baby Formula (Powdered type travels easier, and is no problem going through security.  It is recommended you buy bottled water once past the check point to mix the powder, as the airplane's tap water is not necessarily safe for drinking or for rinsing your baby's bottle.)

____ Small soft sided cooler bag and ice packs to keep breast milk or formula cold.)

The TSA does allow exceptions to the  3 oz. liquid limit, for baby formula, juice and breast milk in carry on bags, but only in amounts sufficient to last the duration of your flight.  Be prepared to show and declare these liquids at security. I suggest you read the TSA web page for definitive information.  For regular milk, it is suggested you purchase this at the airport after you are past the security check-point.

____ Bottles/nipples/covers

____ Pacifier

____ Snacks for the flight

____ Diapers.

____ Plastic bags for used diapers/soiled clothes

____ Wipes

____ Change of clothing

(Take enough of everything to last through delays.)

____ Books

____ Toys

____ Blanket

____ Child size neck pillow

____ Ear Planes for Children - will minimize ear discomfort during the flight. 

____ Child safe decongestant - (Also helps to minimize ear discomfort during the flight.  Always ask your doctor first before giving children any medication.)

____ Chewing gum serves the same purpose for the older kids.

One more hint to reduce the pain of ear pressure changes for your child: While Mom and Dad can try to equalize the air pressure in their ear by yawning and swallowing, a baby can't.  So feed the baby their bottle, or offer a pacifier, while the plane is ascending and descending.

____ Stroller / Compact umbrella type stroller.

____ Car SeatYou will need to have booked and paid for a separate seat on the plane for the infant, if you wish to use a car seat for your child.

They sell car seats that combine with a wheel assembly, to become a stroller. Also Sit and Stroll car seats convert from seat to stroller without detaching anything. Either would be perfect for flying.  Keep it with you as you go though security, instead of checking it with the luggage.  You can use the seat on the plane, and if necessary, just check the wheel assembly at the gate.  BTW Most airlines have no checked baggage charge for gate checking a stroller, or car seat, but some do. I recommend you verify your airline's policy before you go. (Be certain to have an identification tag on your stroller or car seat before letting either out of your possession.)

____ Flight Vests - Another option for safe flying, if you don't want to be lugging that car seat along.  Child flight vests attach to the parents own seat belt, while the younger child is on the parent's lap. 

 ____ A "Cares Harness" restraint is yet another choice for toddlers (>22lbs)  and up.  While pricey, it allows for the child to be secured in his own seat without the use of a car seat.When your toddler gets a little older, change that back-pack diaper bag in for a child size wheeled carryon, and let the child help pack it; and let him pull it through the airport himself.  He'll love it, especially if he knows that his "woobie" and a few new toys in there.  The school aged child's carry-on will have similar items as the baby version, just minus the diapers, bottles and "woobie". 


____ CLOTHING: (Numbers of each item vary according to length of cruise.)

____ Tees / shirts

____ Pants

____ Dresses

(Don't forget to include some clothing suitable for formal night).

____ Shorts

____ Underwear, for the potty trained.

____ Disposable diapers, for those not potty trained.

____ Swimsuits (Consider buying the new UV protected swimsuits for your little ones. They cover more and are great for shielding tender skin from the strong rays of the Caribbean sun. They usually look more like play clothes, so can serve double duty, used for other activities.)

____ Little Swimmers (swim diapers) 

____ Pajamas or Sleepers

____ Slippers

____ Blankets (for infants)

____ Blanket sleeper (If you use one on your child in cool sleeping weather, bring that too.  Ship cabins are frequently very cool.)

____ Bibs

____ Hats

____ Socks

____ Shoes

____ Sandals / Flip-flops

____ Water shoes

____ Beach cover-up 

Don't forget to pack her beach hat and plenty of child safe sunscreen

____ Rain wear 

____ Jacket 


____ Baby / child shampoo  

____ Child hair detangler

____ Child safe tooth paste

____ Child tooth brush

____ Child safe soap

____ Hair brush and comb

____ Baby wipes

____ Diaper rash cream


____ Jars of baby food

____ Powdered formula (If your child can not drink regular milk)

____ Bottles with nipples and covers

____ Sipper cups

____ Child size spoons/forks

____ Juice boxes / reusable drink containers

____ Lidded plastic food containers: So you can take food from the buffet on excursions.

____ Pacifiers


____ Night light

____ Bottle brush

____ Dish washing liquid, sample size

____ Port a Crib (Verify with your cruise line, whether they will have these for use in your cabin, before you go through the trouble of packing this, or before leaving it home. Be aware, they may not guarantee availability.)

____ A few sani-sheet pads for the bed.

____ Plastic bags (preferably sealable) for disposing of used diapers in the room.

____ Laundry detergent for those accidents that the diaper didn't contain.

 MEDICATIONS:  Almost any medication you need, you will have to bring the child version of it.:

____ Children's acetaminophen

____ Children's cold medication

____ Pain relief/ antiseptic ointment

____ Band-Aids

____ Child thermometer

____ Child safe after-sun lotion.

Any other medications you occasionally use for your child (for diarrhea, ear infections, Benedryl, Diaper ointment, etc)


____ Lots of child safe sunscreen

____ Swim ear plugs

____ Inflatable water / beach toysSimply spending time on a beach can be a grand adventure for a kid.

____ Wet wipes

____ Hand cleaner.

____ Lidded plastic food containers: So you can take food from the buffet on excursions

____ Baby carrier (Front sling or papoose style)

____ Beach bucket and shovel. (It takes up room now and is inexpensive, so you could probably just buy it there. Consider it a souvenir. Besides, you will have lots of extra room in your home going luggage, once the diapers are used up)


In general you're going to have to keep the infant occupied by yourself. The same applies to older children, until they get involved the onboard kid's program. To that end, you need to come prepared with:

____ Books / Bedtime story books, (If you can bring a Kindle with lots of children's stories, it’ll sure save weight in your luggage)

____ Sticker books and coloring books with crayons/markers

____ Travel versions of favorite games.

____ Leapster or Gameboy and cartridges

____ Portable DVD player, and DVDs

____ Audio books and player

____ Playing cards

____ Homework, pens, pencils, paper etc.

____ 2 way radios (For older children to stay in touch, while on the ship)

Generally, any toys that are small, quiet and easy to pack, and don't involve lots of pieces.