Family Cruises Provide Something for Everyone

There’s no need to leave the kids at home when you can plan a family cruise vacation that satisfies all in the family.


Some time around February, I start to get very, very cranky. The prairie winter is long and brown and windy, without even a little snow or sleet to make things interesting.

I’ll sit in my family room in the dark at 5:30 p.m., and watch as gorgeous tropical beaches flash on the TV screen, during commercials for cruise lines.

Happy, sun-kissed families frolic on the decks of huge ocean liners, dunking one another in pools and eating enormous buffet-style meals.

They had me at “buffet.”

I’d love to try a cruise—I think it would be a perfect fit for my personality. Everything in one place, and as many meals as you can eat.

Ideal, really.

In fact, Emmeline and I were invited to go on a Disney cruise with my sister and her family, but I declined. Did I really want to fly through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with a 3-year-old—by myself—in the dead of winter?

Better yet, did I want to risk a grumpy, seasick kid? After all, she’s never been to sea, and I had no idea what to expect from a Caribbean cruise.

My mom sealed the deal for me, when she mentioned that most cruises require you to surrender your luggage upon boarding, and that in some cases it took as long as 12 hours for her to get her bags again. No thanks.

Family Activities

Although I turned my sister down, my curiosity was piqued. How exactly does one cruise with the kiddies?

Lyan Sierra-Caro, corporate communications account executive for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, says there’s no reason you shouldn’t consider taking your children on a cruise.

“All of our ships offer activities and games that the whole family can participate in,” says the Miami–based Sierra-Caro.

Onboard activities can range from ice skating rinks to rock climbing walls to mini-golf, she adds, and the pools are a great place for the kids to spend time, as well.

But beware: Many cruise lines require kids who swim in the pools to be potty-trained. Check with the company before you make that reservation, especially if not being able to use the pool is a deal-breaker for you.

Potty training can also come into play if you’re hoping to catch a few rays and read People while your child attends the organized activities that some cruise ships offer.

These supervised “day camps” generally require that children be at least 3 years old and potty trained.

Consider Cabin Size

While you’re asking about the pool and kids’ activity policies, be sure to inquire about your accommodations. Cabin styles may vary, both in size and amenities. Consider, for instance, that many ships do not offer economy-priced cabins with bathtubs.

You may also want to ask if the ship offers portable cribs, if your child is not yet sleeping in a bed.

Sierra-Caro says parents should consider cabin size when booking a reservation.

“Depending on the age of the child and the type of accommodations a parent is looking for, this can range from an inside cabin to a suite,” she says. “For example, families who have teenagers may want to book them in a separate stateroom to allow them more privacy.”

If being able to give your child an actual bath is a priority, you’ll need to ask about rooms that do have tubs. Otherwise, prepare your child in advance by introducing them to the shower at home, or bathe with them once you are aboard the ship.

I don’t know about you, but in our house taking a shower is a major treat. You’d think the child was experiencing a five-star spa treatment.

Meal Time

Speaking of five-star experiences, dining on any of the major cruise lines is a culinary treat. Ships offer a huge range of dining options, but are perhaps most well known for those formal sit-down dinners where, à la The Love Boat, everyone is dressed to the nines and sipping Champagne.

My kid likes to color on the tablecloth and eat grilled cheese for every meal. Does that mean I’ll miss out on having cocktails with Julie and Gopher?

Not according to Sierra-Caro. She says that children are always welcome in the formal dining room on Royal Caribbean cruises, but adds that, “depending on the age of the child, it might make more sense for parents to have dinner during the early seating.”

As with any travel experience, knowing your children and understanding their needs and quirks is the key to an enjoyable trip. Cruises vary greatly in duration and destinations, and you’ll want to make sure you take your kid’s personality into account.

So let’s recap—pools, great meals in great restaurants, tropical ports of call and lots of fun stuff for kids. What’s not to like?

Might be worth braving Chicago-O’Hare after all. 

Themes: Family Travel, Cruises

Activities: Boating

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