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Baby on Board? The ABCs of Cruising With an Infant or Toddler

UPDATED: February 3, 2012

Traveling with a baby can be intimidating at first. From adjusting your baby to new schedules and cribs while on the road to figuring out how to pack all the baby gear, a new parent may consider it easier to stay at home than travel with an infant or toddler.

However, if you prepare properly, there’s no reason why parents should give up traveling with little ones. In fact, cruising is a great vacation option for those with infants and toddlers since parents get to see many destinations while only having to unpack all the baby gear once. Also, babies are often doted on by the stewards and waiters, who are far from home and their families. In addition, it’s easy for parents to tag-team while on a ship. While one is watching the little one, the other spouse can sun at the pool, work out at the gym, or enjoy the ship’s casino or shows at night.

Another good reason to cruise with an infant is that a few cruise lines offer discounted fares for those under two years. These include Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, and Princess Cruises. Prices and policies vary greatly; check with each line for details.

After many cruises with an infant or toddler in tow, we’ve gained many insider tips on how to choose a cruise line, including what to pack for your infant/toddler, and on board strategies so that it’s smooth sailing for all family members, big and small. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Baby’s Needs

Diapers not allowed: If you’re cruising to a warm weather destination, you’ll be expecting to take your little one into the ship’s pool. However, all cruise lines except Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean do not allow diapers or swim diapers in their pools in accordance with Center for Disease Control’s sanitary codes. On the Disney Magic, the Mickey pool has a separate filtration system in its “ears.” Thus non-potty trained children are allowed in this area since it can be easily emptied, cleaned and filled if there is a diaper accident. On the Disney Wonder, toddlers can enjoy Mickey’s Splash Zone, a 385-square-foot play area with interactive fountains. Royal Caribbean also offers a Baby Splash Zone on certain ships such as the Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, and Allure of the Seas.

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Verandahs: While verandahs cost more, they are well worth it if you have a baby or toddler who naps daily. While your little one is napping inside, you can sit on the balcony and catch some sea breezes and sunshine. This beats being stuck inside a dark cabin on a glorious day at sea. Prices for verandahs vary greatly, depending on the cruise line, length of itinerary, and ship.

Baby baths: Most ships only have bathtubs — the preferred way to bathe an infant or toddler — in their most expensive categories of cabins and suites. Hence, chances are that you will have to hold your baby in your arms and have your spouse use the hand held shower nozzle to bathe your child. Alternatively, Disney ships have bathtubs in all cabins.

Choosing the Right Cruise Line

The most family friendly cruise lines are: Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises. Here’s why:

Disney Cruise Line: In addition to bathtubs in all cabins, Disney Cruise Line offers a nursery for infants and toddlers. Little ones must be 12 weeks or older to cruise with DCL. The Flounders Reef nursery charges $6 per hour for first child, and $5 per hour for each additional child. Plan to make reservations in advance or soon after boarding.

Carnival Cruise Lines: Carnival is the only cruise line (other than Cunard’s nannies) in which its youth counselors change diapers of non-potty trained tots. The line’s youth program, Camp Carnival, starts at age two while most others began at age three.

Royal Caribbean International: For those between 6 and 36 months in age, Royal Caribbean International features Royal Babies and Royal Tots programming. Little ones (accompanied by a caregiver) can participant in these free, 45 minute play sessions that focus on parent/child bonding through Crayola workshops and a Fisher Price toy-lending program. RCI also has a nursery for infants and toddlers; cost is $8 per hour. In addition, RCI offers a Babies 2 Go! program that allows parents to pre-order Huggies diapers, wipes, and cream, as well as organic Gerber baby food to their room both before and throughout their cruise.

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity offers a Toddler Time program geared towards children under the age of 3 that engages infants and toddlers with interactive, age-appropriate toys and activities. To participate in organized activities, children must be potty-trained, but parents can supervise in the event they are not. In addition, private stateroom babysitting is available for children at least 12 months in age.

Holland America Line: HAL has a very unique baby supply service. Supplies, including formula, diapers, baby food, and wipes, can be ordered no later than 90 days ahead of time through HAL and will be delivered to your cabin upon arrival, eliminating having to transport your own.

Cunard Line: Cunard’s British nannies do change diapers and bottle feed children (12 to 23 months old) in their nursery. The youth program is for kids one year and older. (They do not have to be potty trained). The minimum age for transatlantic cruises is 12 months, though some itineraries allow for passengers as young as six months.

Norwegian Cruise Line: NCL offers an Under 2 Zoo play area designed specifically for toddlers; parental supervision is required. While there is no private in-room babysitting available, group babysitting is offered. However, youth counselors do not change diapers; instead, parents are given beepers in case a diaper change is needed.

Princess Cruises: While Princess youth counselors do not change diapers and the youth program is for those over three years old, Princess does allow those under three years to play with the toys in the youth room as long as they are supervised by a caregiver.

Getting Ready to Hit the Decks

After you book your cruise, consider asking your cruise line about the following:

Crib: Make sure you or your travel agent reserve a crib (complimentary) ahead of time so that it’ll be delivered to your stateroom on embarkation day.

Dinner seating: Request your preferred dinner seating time at the time of booking or soon thereafter. (First seating is usually around 6 p.m.; second is 8:15 or 8:30 p.m.) With most tots, first seating works best since it ends well before their bedtime.

Laundry: Tots go through a lot of clothes. Ask the cruise line if the ship you’re sailing on has public laundry facilities to cut down on the amount of baby clothes you need to pack. All Disney and Princess ships have public laundry facilities, as does Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

Strollers: Carnival and Disney have strollers on board. If you bring your own, umbrella strollers work best since they take up less room in crowded public rooms and also when storing them in your cabin. Disney strollers are free but limited in number, and require a $200 deposit, which is returned when the guest upon return of the stroller. Carnival offers strollers for a flat rate of $30 for the entire time on cruises lasting five or more days. For shorter three or four-day cruises, there is a daily fee of $8/day.

Packing Tips

Traveling with an infant or toddler demands bringing lots of baby gear. The following are some of the most important things to bring on board with you. A great way to transport them is to fill a big box with these supplies and check it in as luggage if you are flying to the embarkation port. Then, once upon the ship, empty the supplies into your cabin and then ask your room steward to throw away the box for you since your supplies will be used up in time for the trip home.

Formula/bottles: If your baby is on formula, you must bring your own, along with bottles. We suggest you bring powdered formula and buy bottled water aboard ship. Also, bring disposable bottle liners. That way, you only have to wash out the bottle nipples daily. Make sure you bring a small amount of dish detergent for cleaning them.

Baby food: Some cruise lines will puree certain types of foods for little ones. We suggest, though, bringing jarred baby food from home for the entire cruise.

Diapers/wipes: Disney and Princess have a very limited amount of diapers and other baby supplies for sale in their shops. Thus, on most lines, you need to bring a supply of diapers and wipes to last your child the entire cruise. Before your cruise, count how many diapers your youngster uses on a daily basis and multiply this by the number of days you’ll be on the road.

Onboard Advice

Now that you’ve arrived on board your cruise ship, you may want to look into some helpful services and baby gear that are available on the ship:

Babysitting: Many cruise lines offer private babysitting, but make sure you confirm availability in advance with your desired cruise line. Most ships require that you reserve your requested hours ahead of time. You can either go to the guest relations desk soon after embarking to make your request, or check online to see if you can reserve hours before departure. Usually babysitters are paid directly in cash, but some lines, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, allow you to charge the service directly to your onboard account. If you cruise aboard Disney, reserve desired baby care times in the nursery. Costs for babysitting vary; check with individual cruise lines for details.

Life vest: Check in your stateroom closet to see if there is an infant’s or child’s life vest. If not, when the room steward comes by on embarkation day to introduce him/herself, make sure you request an appropriately sized life vest.

High chairs: You don’t have to reserve high chairs ahead of time. In the buffet areas, ask a bus boy to get you one. At dinner in the main dining room, your waiter will set it up nightly for you once you request a hair chair from him on the first night of your cruise.

Shore excursions: Do your homework prior to leaving home. Check out what attractions can be reached independently via walking/stroller from the port. Many excursions sold through the cruise lines last too long for babies and toddlers. Instead, in warm weather destinations, opt for a taxi ride to a beach. Rent an umbrella there for your baby and you can return to the ship whenever your little one is ready. Note that for those desiring to take an infant or toddler on a shore excursion sold through the cruise lines, some lines do not charge for lap children and/or charge a discounted rate for children. Discounts vary greatly per line and per excursion.

Leisure time strategies: The beauty of a cruise is that it is a safe, contained environment, making it easy for couples to take turns enjoying the ship and watching baby. Try to keep to your child’s regular nap and sleep schedule while on board in order to keep them happy.

Change your expectations: If this is your first time traveling as a parent, you must change your expectations before departing. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to do what you want when you want, as on past vacations, since you now have a little one whose tummy and sleep schedule are often in control. However, you will have plenty of quality time to enjoy your child. Make sure you bring along some of his or her favorite books along with small, easy-to-pack toys. Most importantly, bring your camera to capture those unforgettable moments of childhood discovery.

Luisa Frey-Gaynor

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