Cruising with a toddler
December 21, 2010 8:25 PM   Subscribe

We'd like to go on a family cruise in the second half of May: myself, my husband, Baby J and my parents. What will this be like? And also, got any specific recommendations?

Baby J will be 18 months old, and organized cruise activities for kids start for 3-year-olds and up. No problem, there are enough adults to hang with Junior at any given time while the others go off and do other stuff. Other than spending a lot of time at the pool, though, what can he be doing? Will we have to bring food for him? Will the sleep schedule go out the window? Argh. We have never travelled with him and I have no idea what to expect.

We're thinking of flying to LA from Vancouver and doing a 7-day Mexican Riviera cruise, but anything along the Pacific coast merits consideration. My parents have already done Alaska and would consider doing it again, but we're concerned that May might still be a little cold.

Any suggestions and tips that AskMeFites have will be much appreciated!
posted by sillymama to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What it is like is highly dependent on which cruise line you are going on. It sounds like you have already selected your carrier, so that may not matter, but some carriers are more family-friendly than others. I recommend looking for a ship that doesn't have a casino on board, I find that it changes the entire atmosphere (if what you're looking for is a family-friendly good time).
posted by arnicae at 9:58 PM on December 21, 2010

May in Southeast Alaska is the sunniest time of year and the temperatures can be quite pleasant, if not warm.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 10:04 PM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: All-in-all, I say that it is a bad idea based on having gone on the Baja cruise without a kid and now being a parent to a well-traveled-26 month old.

18 months is a tough age to travel. (We are the king and queen of planning trips based on our kids current state and then regretting it.)

(Based on our travel at 20 months...) At 18 months, he's old enough to walk and want to walk, so sitting for extended periods of time will be tough. Don't make any formal dining plans. I'd build in lots of time for playgrounds (which won't exist on the ship.) At 18 months all we did was go to playgrounds. Yes, swimming will be good (if it will be warm enough to swim on the ship in May. We went on that trip in December and we didn't even leave our cabin barely.) In terms of food, he won't be on "baby' food, and at least with our 20 month trip, we brought some faves on the plane, but as long as you have access to milk, cheese sticks, crackers, yogurt, cereal - you should be okay. I don't know if you will have constant access to these things. I doubt it. This would be a deal breaker for me. We STILL have to get a fridge at hotels for these foods. (And yes, sleep schedule will probably go out the window.)

Also don't assume that at 18-months, kiddo will be keen on hanging alone with the grandparents if he doesn't know them well.

Secondly, we've done that Baja trip. It wasn't that fun (IMHO), because you stop over and over at these weird touristy cities that are blocks of cruise people, Senor Frogs, Viagra shops, Starbucks, and wrestling masks. We were before we had a kid and we didn't like it. We had much much more fun on the Yucatan side of Mexico, both on a cruise and just for travel. You won't be able to do a stroller with ease on this stuff, and it is totally within the possibilities that at 18-months your kid will not be keen on the carrier. (We did a Mexico trip when our son was 13 months and he was like EFF this carrier the whole time.)

Yeah, sorry to be a party pooper, but I'd instead do a much more fun (IMHO) trip to a resort or cabana. You have a fridge. You have access to groceries for snacks. You could all go, relax, take in the sites, and trade off with junior (grandparents go to ruins while you guys stay on the beach with junior, during nap time, you guys go kayaking while grandparents read books and keep an eye on the monitor.) We've done these trips a few times now with a toddler and LOVE IT. We actually get to relax and enjoy ourselves while not creating havoc for our kid.
posted by k8t at 4:39 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been on about 15 cruises and the biggest tip I can give you is to head over to's message boards. They will definitely be able to point you in the direction of a kid-friendly ship, food info, etc. Ive seen people post photos of supplied cribs, etc on there for other parents.

As for dining, many cruise lines are starting to offer open seating at dinner vs. the standard set early or late. This might be a great option if you want a more flexible schedule. One thing I have noticed on cruises is that parents with strollers spend a lot of time waiting for the elevator since everything is on multiple decks. The older ships are not as well designed and cannot handle the traffic flow of a few thousand people as well as some of the newer ones.

I've done Alaska in June and felt it was quite cold. The itinerary you select should really be based on what you want to do off-ship. Alaska would be best for wildlife viewing/hiking, that kind of thing. If you want to go site-seeing, the Mayan Rivera has plenty of ruins and lots of nice beaches. If you just want to spend some time in the sun with your baby, consider staying on the boat one day when in port– the pool will be quiet & relaxing since most people get off, and you have everything you need right there.

Ive been on the Disney line once before, which was amazing and catered to the kids like no other, but they are pricey!
posted by halseyaa at 10:09 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Wow, we *just* got back from this exact trip. Flew from Seattle to San Diego for a week long Mexican Riviera trip with our 18 month old and the extended family.

My wife and I are not cruise or resort people by any stretch but we agreed to this because we thought A: this would be relatively easy travel with a toddler and B: it beat being cooped up with the family in my parents' suburban hellscape condo in Arizona. Overall, I would say it was not nearly as relaxing and easy as we'd hoped. (You may have noticed that this is a true for just about any kind of travel with a kid.) I would say our child is about average in terms of temperment and difficulty. He has traveled a lot in his brief life (about every 6 weeks) but we figured this would be pretty stress free compared to other places we've taken him -- in some obvious ways this was true but we didn't anticipate that some of the more difficult things about raising a toddler are greatly accentuated on a cruise ship.

Recall at this age you are a total slave to your child's schedule, and when it is time for the little person to have quiet time or sleep, one of you is going to be stuck in the cabin and the other of you will be stuck by themselves with family and, well, cruise people (think retired people and yahoo drunk people). This turned out to be no fun for either me or my wife. Particulary difficult was trying to have a sit down dinner with the family (on a cruise, this is a dress up affair and typically is a slow dinner that starts no earlier than 6 or 7 pm, right when the little dude wants to run around until he collapses into fussiness and sleep).

We also thought we'd have lots of free child care, and our family certainly offered, but generally we found that leaving our child in an unfamiliar environment with family members who perhaps weren't as attuned to his needs wasn't all that helpful. Basically, our baby sitting opportunities were limited to the times he was wide awake, playful and happy, or totally asleep -- i.e., the "good times" we didn't mind caring for him, the rest of the time we were just so busy trying to keep him entertained or fed -- which is a lot more difficult when you're limited to what you brought in a suitcase.

Definitely no organized activities for this age on the cruise we took and not anything that was particularly entertaining for him. We spent some time in the pool which was fun but we really couldn't take him to any shows which started after bed time. Generally, the staff was really good with him and if we needed a quick glass of milk or someone to clean up puke, they were all over it. My son is obsessed with vacuums right now and he got to vacuum the hallway every day on the trip.

As far as food goes, you have access to a pretty wide variety of food pretty much all the time. Our child tends to be a little fussy with food and this got *way* worse, probably just because he was in an unfamiliar environment and we were offering him lots of things he'd never had before. He basically didn't eat anything besides milk for the week. Didn't seem to bother him much but it's never fun to sit down with a toddler and then have him refuse everything you offer. I would recommend bringing a lot of familiar comforting foods.

Another thing to consider is Norwalk virus, a stomach flu that for some reason is highly transmissible on cruise ships. Most cruise lines take this very seriously with hand sanitizer everywhere and not letting passengers touch food in the buffet line, etc. At 18 months, most kids want to touch *everything* and then put their fingers immediately in their mouth. Sure enough, by midweek, our kid had about 24 hours of vomiting. He wasn't super sick and it was short lived, but the day we got home I got violently ill from vomiting and diarrhea and wound up in the hospital. Nothing happened to my wife or anyone else we traveled with.

Another annoying thing, and we didn't find out about this until we had committed to the trip, the cruise line charged us $500 to bring our kid. At the time we were outraged, he didn't take any extra space, barely eats anything, but afterwards I realized that the staff actually did have to do quite a bit extra for us because of the kid. Just be advised that this might be the case with whatever cruise line you're on.

We spent a little extra for a larger state room, our reasoning being that we were going to be stuck there for naps and early bed times. This turned out to be really nice, because we did spend lots of time there and it was good to have a balcony and a couch. You are definitely going to want a bath tub for the kid and you might need to spend a bit more to get one. They would have arranged a crib for us but we had a king size bed and our son sleeps with us.

It wasn't all bad, I really appreciated not being totally stuck with the relatives the entire time, especially in terms of avoiding all the advice about how we've been raising our child wrong that inevitably arises when your in-laws spend a week in close quarters with you. We always had an excuse to just get away if we needed. My wife and I did get to have a couple of dinners together. For shore excursions, we had decided that we weren't super interested in this, but we did make it off once and it worked out ok, you're only in port a brief period of time so it's not at all tempting to spend more time off ship than the child has patience for.

So in retrospect, there isn't much that is uniquely good about going on a cruise with a toddler but it is doable if there are other reasons to do it. I wouldn't do it again with a toddler, but it seems like it would be really super fun for when he's a little older and we might consider that.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:35 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: Oy. Literally everyone we've mentioned this to has either made a horrified face or suggested, diplomatically and not, that this is one of the dumber ideas I've ever had. We're still going on vacation, but it's now a choice between Hawaii or an all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta, which is much more familiar to us. Thanks for the honest input, people.
posted by sillymama at 12:28 PM on December 25, 2010

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