Are you preparing for your first family cruise? Have you cruised before as a couple but now plan on taking the kids along for the trip? No matter how many vacations you have taken, preparing for a cruise with the family can feel stressful. There is so much to consider. We have collected the best cruise hacks, travel tips, and sage advice to help you plan and execute an unforgettable family cruise. From planning the trip to stepping onboard the ship, it is all here in our Top 20 Family Cruise Tips for 2019.
Our Top 20 Family Cruise Tips for 2019
Create a Vacation Budget
The cruise fare is only part of the total vacation costs. There will be additional costs associated with the trip. These include transportation to and from the ship, onboard expenses (like alcoholic beverages and shopping), as well as costs for tours and ashore activities. Knowing how much you have to spend in total will help you decide on a cruise line and ship that you can reasonably afford.
Review Cruise Lines and Cruise Ships Carefully
Each cruise line has its own unique clientele and style of cruising. Even within brands, there can be wide variability in onboard amenities, restaurants, food, and entertainment. So, picking the right cruise line and cruise ship is key. You can read cruise reviews or search through different forums to get more information on each option you are considering. You are bound to find the perfect ship for you and the rest of your family.
Let Your Kids Be Part of the Decision Process
We tend to find families that review ships together have a better overall experience. If you are looking to surprise your kids with a trip that is okay, but if you always do a family vacation then have them involved in the review process. Helping to decide on the perfect ship, the kids can give their opinions on programs and onboard amenities. This will help get them excited for the trip and relieve some of your worries about the cruise.
Consider a Newer Ship with More Amenities
If you can swing it, a newer ship might be a better option for a family cruise. Especially if this is your first time at sea. The newer ships (from all brands) tend to have many of the bells and whistles you have seen on the commercials. Newer ships will have things like water slides, celebrity restaurants, fancy sports decks, and signature entertainment. They can cost a bit more for all of these extras, but you (and your kids) will certainly love all of the onboard activities and options.
Book at Least 6 Months in Advance
Most cruisers book at least 6 months in advance. We tend to book more than a year out for our cruises. The earlier you book, the better the deal you will get. Plus, you will have more options to choose from for cabin type and location. If the prices change, you can always get an adjustment. Plus, with the other tasks like securing airfare and packing, you will want to leave yourself plenty of time to get everything accomplished.
Use a Cruise Planner or Travel Agent
Using a trusted travel agent, preferably one who specializes in cruises, will help you navigate the waters. They can help with the ship review process as well as the cabin selection process. While cruise fares are often set by the cruise line, certified cruise specialists will often be able to get you special “perks” as well. These include onboard credit, specialty dinners, or complimentary gratuities. Ultimately, using a travel agent will save you money!
Purchase Travel Insurance
Airline delays, lost baggage, issues at the port, medical emergencies, these are just some of the reasons why travel insurance is always a good idea. You can find good deals through several reputable companies online. Check with your travel agent as they too might have comparable rates. You normally have 7- 14 days from booking to add travel insurance from the cruise company to your reservation. Therefore, don’t feel pressured right at the moment of booking. Do some research, and be informed about which policy is best for your family.
Make Sure to Reserve Onboard Activities Before Sailing
Many of the newer ships offer onboard shows and events that can be “pre-booked” before boarding. These might include shows in the main theater, dinner at specialty restaurants, or other things such as internet or beverage packages. Make sure to check your online cruise planner about 90 days out to begin selecting these coveted reservations. Don’t wait until onboard to reserve your selections as the best times do sellout quickly, and you will often pay more once onboard for packages.
Book Tours and Shore Excursions Pre-Cruise
When it comes to booking ahead of time, you should also make plans to select your tours and port of call activities before boarding the ship. If your family travels well, there are plenty of options for private tours and other activities that you can book with third party vendors or directly with the tour companies themselves. Or, you can book your tours directly through the cruise company. There are advantages to each. Booking with the cruise line might be the easiest and most efficient, though they are not usually the cheapest.
Pack the Essentials and Leave the Rest Behind
Depending on your family’s needs and ages of your children, what you will need to pack can vary somewhat. We have several packing tips to help ensure you bring only what is really necessary. These include some must-haves in your carry-on, as well as some small items you will want for your cabin and while ashore. Depending on where you are traveling, you may need some further packing tips when it comes to destination specific cruise outfits too.
Plan Some Family and Some Adult Time During the Trip
This is a family trip, so you will want to be together to enjoy the variety of family-friendly things that made you pick this cruise in the first place. But, mom and dad will want some time to themselves as well. Scheduling a couple’s massage, a specialty dinner for two, or checking out the “adult” nightly entertainment should be accommodated during your vacation. Trust us, the little ones won’t mind spending time in the kids’ programs either.
Arrive a Day Early
The first mistake many families make on their first cruise is rushing to get to the ship. We recommend flying (or driving) down to the ship’s homeport a day early. This will give you (and especially the kids) time to recover from travel fatigue and give you some breathing room in case of delays or travel issues that are never part of anyone’s planning process. Remember, the ship is going to leave with or without you, so why risk missing the ship. We have plenty of great pre-cruise hotel suggestions in our Hotel Reviews and Best Places to Stay.
Set Some Ground Rules with Your Children Before Boarding the Ship
You know your children better than anybody else. So, before boarding, set some ground rules about behavior, expectations, daily routines, etc. No matter if your kids are 7 or 17, once they are on the ship, they may feel like the rules no longer apply. It is vacation, so feel free to ditch the typical house rules, but still establish your expectations for the vacation ahead of time.
Bring a Carry-on with You on Embarkation Day
If you pack like we do, you will have some larger luggage that you can check at the cruise terminal (which will be delivered to your room later in the day). But, you should also plan to take a carry-on with you through security. Along with packing any necessary medications, passports, and essential cruise documents, be sure to bring some other necessities like your bathing suits, sun tan lotion, and your camera.
Explore the Ship on Your First Day
We have had the same embarkation day rituals for years, and they never fails us. Of course, you don’t have to be as regimented as we are, but starting the cruise off on the right foot is key. Explore the ship with your kids, and try to avoid the buffet at lunch time as it will be quite crowded. Instead, check out the onboard amenities, sports decks, other indoor areas. Once you have a feel for the ship and its layout, it is time for the vacation to begin.
Register Your Kids for the Onboard Children’s Club
Even if you don’t think your kids will want to be part of the onboard children’s programs, register them on day 1. Here, you will get to meet the staff, see the facilities, and your kids will get to meet some of the other children their age on the ship. Older kids will have the same meet-ups in the teen areas too. Kids will also be given a color coded wrist band that will guide staff to your child’s muster station in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Eat Dinner Together as a Family
We are always surprised by how many cruisers don’t plan appropriately for dinner. Yes, there are many options available from scheduled dinner times, to flexible options, the buffet, or specialty restaurants. No matter what your family prefers, you should plan at least some dinners together and perhaps a few as just a couple. This will save some stress especially on port days. You can always change up the plan along the way if the kids are not cooperating.
Get off the Ship at Port
There are times you might want to stay on the ship when at a port of call, but for the most part, getting off the ship will break things up. You don’t need to purchase a tour or shore excursion, or even stay off the ship for very long. Sometimes a walk around the port, a quick local lunch, or an island tour is all you need. Other ports of call may require more time to explore the various cultural, historical, culinary, or adventurous options that exist just beyond the ship.
Get Involved with Some of the Children’s Activities
Your family will get a daily activity guide for the ship and for the children’s programs. There are often organized demonstrations or group activities/shows that the staff and your children coordinate. Make sure to support the activity staff and your kids by attending these events. Of course, you can always just spend time on the pool deck as a family if that is what your kids prefer. In terms of the amenities onboard the ship, plan to enjoy them early on in the cruise, as the lines will certainly be longer later in the week.
Do you have any other family cruise tips that you want to share? Drop us an anchor below with your suggestions to help the whole family have a great vacation.