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Cruising With Kids: Must Haves (and Do Withouts)

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This post is long overdue, as we returned from our Cruise 2016 in early May! But life happened, as it always does, and this got away from me for a bit.

Luckily, I’d jotted down some notes while we were still on the cruise so I wouldn’t forget. And I now present to you a list of “Must Haves” and “Do Withouts” for cruising with young children. Note, this is only from our own experience so I can’t necessarily comment on cruising with older children/adolescents. For reference, our kids (twins) were almost four years old at the time of our cruise.

Cruising With Kids:  Must Haves

  • Nightlight:  The cabins get pretty dark when the lights are out, so unless you want to sleep with lights on (or the kids in your bed, if they’re afraid of the dark), a nightlight is a great idea. Honestly, this is one I would recommend even just for adults because if you ever wake in the night and need to use the restroom, a nightlight will prevent you from tripping over unfamiliar terrain!
  • Multi-Outlet Power Strip:  This was absolutely invaluable for us, as outlets are at an absolute premium in the staterooms! We only had a single outlet and TONS of electronics to juggle (laptop charger, cell phone charger, tablet charger for the kids, hair straightener, hair dryer, curling iron, etc. etc. etc.) I do not know what we would have done without the power strip!
  • Beach Toys and Puddle Jumpers:  If you have young kids, it’s highly likely that most of your excursions will be beach-based (since many of the high adventure options have minimum age requirements). The problem is that the beach gets boring quickly for kiddos without entertainment, and anything sold by the port or on the beach is crazy-overpriced! We picked up a $5 bucket from Walmart that included lots of sand toys (shapers, scrapers, shovels, etc.) and it worked like a charm. The puddle jumpers were also clutch because it allowed the kids to safely wade into the water with a bit of a “safety net” (for those unfamiliar, puddle jumpers are similar to life vests, but designed for young children. Safety note: you absolutely still need to supervise, of course!!!).
  • Bottled Water and (Non-Alcoholic) Drinks: So, we cruised on Royal Caribbean. Every cruise line has its own rules so ask your cruise line to be sure. Royal Caribbean’s website states that they do NOT allow beverages to be brought on board. That being said, I read lots of blogs/websites/chat rooms where people said they brought on non-alcoholic beverages with no problem. We decided to chance it and see what would happen. We brought a full case of water and a 6-pack of soda. We had absolutely no problem going through security – no need to hide it or anything, we just set it right on the scanner and had no issues. This was fantastic because the waters on the ship are crazy pricey (like $4/bottle), and we didn’t buy a soda package so it was nice to have a couple sodas on the trip. You can also bring one bottle of wine per stateroom (again, see your cruise line’s policies). To me, the water was the biggest thing because it wasn’t always easy to get to water otherwise, especially on our excursions and exploring the different ports. We went through the entire case of water in the week we were on our cruise.
  • Snacks:  This would be nice even for adults, but with young children it was practically a requirement! Our kids wake up hungry IMMEDIATELY! It was nice to throw them a granola bar as we got dressed and made our way to the dining hall. Same is true around dinner time and even later in the evening before bedtime. We brought a variety of snacks (granola bars, cheddar bunnies, fruit leather, etc. etc.) and went through everything while on the cruise, having to re-stock on some snacks while in Mexico! Another tip is to grab some snacks from the dining hall. For instance, I’d always take an extra mini box of cereal in the morning and give it to the girls during the day as a snack (they eat it dry, without milk). Soo thankful for those Cheerios (and the girls loved their first experience with fruit loops!)
  • Cash: We had saved up all this money for our trip, but ended up bringing a pretty small amount of actual cash on the ship and we wished we’d brought more because we ended up having to use an ATM for additional cash. Not only is cash nice for tips (and I’d suggest bringing lots of $1’s for tipping porters, shuttle drivers, and really anyone handling your bags), but you also have to have cash if you want to gamble. We’re not huge on gambling, but we like a little Black Jack and the one night we hit up the casino we succumbed to the pricey ATM fees so we could pull out the cash to play. You’ll also want cash to tip the waitstaff and room attendant at the end of the trip. Note that a standard 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill (which goes on whatever card you have on file), but having worked for many years in the service industry, I wanted to tip a couple specific people over and above the 18% minimum. For that, you need cash.
  • Backpack:  To carry all your money, IDs, snacks, waters, etc. I much prefer a backpack over a big beach bag or diaper bag because I like that it requires no hands and doesn’t have to be juggled with a lot of other things. Just slip it on and you’re ready to go!

 

Perhaps equally as important as the “Must Have” list is the list of items that you should not bother bringing!!! Save the space in your suitcase for something more important!

Cruising With Kids: Do Withouts

  • Binoculars:  We actually bought a new pair of binoculars just for our trip after reading several sites that suggested them. Total waste of money and space, we didn’t use them a single time! This might be different for adults traveling without kids who are able to attend all the evening events. We only went to a single night-time show and really didn’t feel the need for the binoculars. Plus, it’s enough just trying to keep the kids quiet and in their seats. No time or space to deal with binoculars.
  • Empty Re-usable Water Bottle: I brought this thinking it would be valuable for our excursions. Turns out, since we were able to bring our case of waters, I never once used the reusable bottle. Plus, all the water stations on the ship had big signs prohibiting the filling of re-usable water bottles for health reasons. You’d be limited to filling it in your bathroom sink, which I never wanted to do because I swear the water tasted funny.
  • Sunhat: Another thing I bought specifically for this trip that was a total waste. With all the wind on the upper decks, I couldn’t keep a big sunhat on my head! And it was large and bulky and challenging to get around (especially considering all the kid toys, snacks, towels, etc. that I was also toting around). I ended up taking it to the beach at our first port and the wind just basically destroyed the thing. Stick to using sunscreen as your form of sun protection and leave the big floppy hat at home.
  • Walkie Talkies: Again, I bought this after seeing other reviews that recommended them. The problem is that the cruise limits the strength of the walkie talkies you can use and, in our experience, we were not able to hear each other unless we were already in very close proximity. Plus, we kept picking up other peoples’ conversations no matter what channel we tried to use. They also woke the kids up from a nap one day when they started crackling with someone else’s conversation. Cell phones don’t work either, so you just have to resort to the good old days pre-cell-phone when you would plan out in advance meeting times and places, etc. Note that room-to-room calling is free, so that helps!
  • Lots of Shoes: I really limited the number of shoes I took, but I still had 5 pair (tennis shoes, 2 pairs of fancy shoes, and 2 pairs of sandals/flip-flips). Even though I thought I’d been space conscious with shoes, I ended up basically living in a single pair of sandals the entire trip. I never once put on my tennis shoes, and only wore 1 of my fancy pairs of shoes. The other 99% of the time I stayed in my comfy sandals.
  • Ice Chest:  I brought a small ice chest for our drinks, again, based on recommendations of fellow travelers. However, in our experience it was totally unnecessary. We had a mini-fridge in our stateroom so we just put our drinks in it to keep cold. The ice chest ended up being used by our kids as a stepping stool to reach the toilet (so I guess it wasn’t entirely pointless….just not used for its intended purpose).

 

Those were our experiences, but I’d love to hear from others too!

What item was a “must have” on your cruise and what item do you think you could have done without?

Ashley

Texan at heart; Arizonan on paper. Lover of running, cheese, camping, and family (fur-family included!). Blogger, motivated to get out of debt YESTERDAY! Follow along with my journey!

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8 Comments

  • Reply CanadianKate |

    We cruise in a completely different manner so have different recommendations. First, we are on board for a minimum of 20 days so that means your shoe recommendation is what I do. But we don’t have kids with us so need the good walking shoes for long excursions into jungles.

    Most of your other comments were dead on. For our cruise line (Silversea) the water/soda, tipping our handled differently since they are included and cans of soda are put out around the ship for people to help themselves to. Binoculars and umbrellas are in the cabin so you don’t have to bring your own. At the gang plank in port, water and beach towels are there for you to grab on your way out. But that’s a high end cruise line.

    Your ports will make a difference as to the refillable bottle. If you have US, Australian or NZ ports, you’ll be able to refill while ashore, saving the cost of drinks while walking around.

    As for sunhat, I can’t disagree with you more. Obviously your fancy beach hat was useless but we own Tilley hats and they give us excellent protection, have a system to stay on your head, and look attractive (I travel with additional hat bands so my hat can match my outfit.)

    They provide protection from rain as well as the sun, cut glare, keep my face and back of my neck from burning, provide shade to make me feel cooler, and a bit of warmth on cool nights.

    We live in our hats, not only when traveling but even at home. My grandmother, father, uncle and aunt all had skin cancers removed so I started using mine at a young age (30) and the added bonus is the lack of sun damage to my skin makes me look younger now at 56, plus fewer lines around the eyes from squinting in the bright sun.

    Everyone in our family (all adults) has a Tilley except our son. He took his to Australia when he went there for a year but lost it quickly. He ended up replacing it with a kangaroo leather hat in the same design and wears that all the time.

    • Reply Anonymous |

      Pretentious much? Lol! What does any of this have to do with traveling on a budget? I’ll keep this in mind next time I take a 3 week cruise

      • Reply CanadianKate |

        Valid Point. Sorry.

        OTOH, after years of living debt free and frugally, washing out milk bags (in this part of Canada milk is sold in plastic bags) to use them to freeze leftovers, shopping from thrift stores, not drinking, not smoking, not following fashion trends, choosing to not own a cottage or fancy car, choosing to not over-schedule our lives with expensive activities, and dozens of other daily choices that save between pennies and dollars to $$$, we finally are guilt-free enjoying our passion of travel.

        I may be on Silversea but I’m wearing thrift store and Walmart clothes, sensible shoes and a decent sun hat so I don’t need expensive surgery to look young.

        The ability to live life as you want is the biggest benefit of living debt free. Suddenly all sorts of choices are open to you because you are no longer tied down by the anchor of debt. My choice of cruise line is just one of those choices.

        • Reply Susan |

          As Dave Ramsay says, “Live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” Enjoy!

  • Reply Amy |

    Thanks for the great advice we are cruising for the first time in August with our 9,7, and 3 year old.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Good luck! You’ll have to let me know how it goes! Another thing I didn’t even touch on here were the kids’ activities. We were really impressed with the activities our ship provided (starting at potty-trained 3 year olds and older). Plus the childcare was included so it was “free” as part of the cruise. We only used it a couple times in the early evening (my sister has a 2 year old and since he wasn’t old enough to go, it felt weird to dish off our kids and then go spend time with my sister’s kid). But if all your kids are old enough, that’s a great option if you want to do an adult-only activity/see an adult show/etc.

  • Reply Susan |

    Great advice. In a balcony room, those binoculars do come in very handy.

    If you do choose to use a refillable bottle on a ship, you just need to fill up a drinking glass with your beverage of choice and then use that glass to fill up your bottle. They just don’t want passenger’s bottles touching the nozzle of the dispenser.

    One point I need to make though – PLEASE make sure that any power strips you bring on a ship do not have surge protection – the electrical wiring of a ship is not like that of land-based structures.

    http://www.uscg.mil/tvncoe/Documents/safetyalerts/SurgeProtectiveDevices.pdf

  • Reply Christy |

    We have cruised four times so far with my nine year old, with another one coming up after Thanksgiving. We do always bring some cheap beach toys. If space is at a premium, there are life jackets available on the ship, and at the private island, but not at all beach locations. Just be careful with the puddle jumpers, I have seen kids at our pool wiggle out of them in under five seconds! I prefer the normal life vests that don’t inhibit their arm movements either.

    A couple of the ships we have been on have a nightlight mode in the cabin lights so check on that, or we have left the bathroom light on and cracked the door. We do use the binoculars a lot on our verandah to look at ships and sometimes marine life off in the distance. Unless we are on a Disney cruise where they have ‘wave phones’, we do use our walkie-talkies a LOT… and probably will do even more on our upcoming cruise since my son is nine and will be able to check himself out of the kids’ club for the first time.

    We do bring in-room snacks, but also order room service to be delivered about the time we want to get up. We get coffee, chocolate milk, and some pastries to munch on and enjoy on the balcony before going up for breakfast. Many ships will let you bring on sodas, and there is a limited amount of alcohol…. different lines have different rules. We never buy the soda package, my son was content with the water, tea, and lemonade offered for free.

    I think I brought a pair of flip-flops, “Keens” for walking, and one pair of nicer sandals for dinner. We do use the small soft-sided cooler to carry drinks when we are ashore… cheaper to get some from a convenience store and carry than to order at a beachfront location. And we normally rent a scooter to get around the island when we are ashore so it gives you some freedom to go where you want.

    We bring a power strip when it is allowed, but check your cruise documents, many do not allow extension cords and they may be confiscated (but you can pick up anything that is after the cruise is over).

    We also bring large insulated cups to get drinks when we are at the pool. They get hot quickly in the regular cups from the drink station.

So, what do you think ?