For many moms and dads, the notion of spending a week (or longer) with the kids in a cramped stateroom on a floating hotel in the middle of nowhere is the farthest thing from a vacation. This doesn’t mean they’re bad parents; it just means they’ve been going about this whole family-friendly cruising thing all wrong.
In reality, cruising with the kids can be great fun—provided you make sure you choose a ship and itinerary with all the right touches for families.
The first consideration: Room size. It almost goes without saying that the bigger the stateroom, the better. Naturally, however, larger cabins are more expensive. A number of cruise lines including Disney Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises have tried to help families solve this problem by offering rooms with curtains and/or partitions that separate the bedroom area (where Mom and Dad usually sleep) from the living area (where the little ones usually sleep). Carnival Cruise Lines has taken a different approach: spacious family staterooms with two bathrooms—one for the parents and one for the kids.
(It’s worth noting that balconies also can help diffuse claustrophobia that might result from having the entire family in one tiny room. Just make sure the balconies are safe, and that your kids know what it means to be safe while they’re playing on them.)
Next on your checklist: Designated kid-oriented areas that are legitimately cool. I’m not talking about arcade rooms here—those should be a given. Instead, I’m referring to other kid-friendly spots: movie rooms, outdoor play areas, etc.
Royal Caribbean made headlines recently when it unveiled a number of child-specific programs on the Oasis of the Seas. The Youth Zone boasts an indoor playground. The H2O Zone is a shipboard water park, complete with water slides. The (complimentary) Adventure Ocean Clubs run activities including ice cream socials and scavenger hunts. Put simply, for kids, riding this ship is like going to summer camp. That’s the kind of experience you want them to have.
Food is a strong No. 3 on the list, though it’s not as important as you initially might think. Yes, ships should have kid-specific menu items and/or special kid-friendly menus. That said, with a literal smorgasbord of food options on each of these ships, it’s likely that even the pickiest little eaters will find something at each meal.
Many friends who cruise with kids frequently say they appreciate variety in restaurant formats (cafeteria-style, buffet, etc.) as much as variety in types of food. This might be something to consider, especially if your kids are accustomed to eating at off-times (or separately from you).
Finally, choose a cruise that actually stops en route, and be sure to round up the kids and actually get off the ship.
These stops serve two purposes: They break up the trip and they give restless little legs a chance to get out and explore. Even if you don’t sign up for a formal shore excursion, even if you just take the kids and wander around a port of call, the change of scenery will recharge the kiddos for the next part of the journey at sea.
Who knows? You all might also learn something as you’re out and about. Those are the kinds of discoveries that make a good family vacation great.