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. If you are wondering where to start, you have come to the right place. We have collected the best cruise hacks, tips, and sage advice out there to help you plan and execute an unforgettable family cruise. It is all here in our latest guide of Top 20 Family Cruise Tips. From planning the trip to stepping onboard the ship, these tips will never steer you wrong.
Our Top 20 Family Cruise Tips
Tips For Planning Your Family Cruise
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, gambling, 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.
Be Sure to Compare All of the Cruise Lines and Ships
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 tend to have many of the bells and whistles you have seen on the commercials. Newer ships tend to 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.
One of the Newest (and Largest) Cruise Ships in the World
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!
Get Help When Planning Your Cruise
Purchase travel insurance – Airline delays, lost baggage, issues at the port, bad weather once at sea, 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 several advantages to doing so, and depending on the activity or destination, booking with the cruise line might be the easiest and most efficient, though not always the cheapest. Need help planning? Check out our Shore Excursion Planning Guide.
Pre-Book Shore Excursions Before They Sell Out
Pack the essentials and leave the rest behind – Depending on your family 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, we have some further packing tips when it comes to destination specific cruise wear 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 “mature” nightly entertainment should be accommodated during your vacation. Trust us, the little ones won’t mind spending time in the kids’ programs either.
Family Fun for All Ages
Tips for Having a Memorable Family Cruise
Arrive a day early – The first mistake many families make on their first cruise is rushing to get to the ship. Plan a pre-cruise day and fly (or drive) down to the ship’s homeport a day earlier. 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.
Relaxing Poolside during a Pre-Cruise Hotel 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 to let that vacation begin.
Get To Know the Different Venues on the Ship on Your First Day Aboard
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. For those calls, you can check out our shore excursion reviews.
Top Family Cruise Tips – Make Sure to Get off the Ship in Port
Get involved with some of the children’s activities – Your family will get a daily activities 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 and you are invited. 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 this is what your kids prefer.
Do you have any other cruise tips for families that you want to share? Drop us an anchor below with your suggestions to help the whole family have a great vacation.