For parents that want to escape it all, lift nary a finger for meal preparation, eliminate the risk of getting lost on the way to the next destination, and never be more than a moment away from some form of entertainment, a snack, a restroom, or even a doctor–cruising is where it’s at. But before booking that next best bargain cruise you see advertised, make sure the cruise line really provides all the pluses you’re hoping for–including an environment where your family will feel comfortable and welcome.
Remember, not all cruise lines cater to families with babies or small children, and some may only allow a limited number of children or infants on each sailing. Here are some important things to know before you book a cruise with a baby or toddler.
Five Things You Should Know Before Booking a Cruise with a Baby or Toddler
1. Babies Don’t Always Get Price Breaks–or Benefits.
Unless otherwise noted, the cruise prices you see advertised are quoted as a per person rate, based on two people traveling together and staying in a room designed to fit no more than two passengers. Virtually all cruise lines charge a fee for an additional person, called a third- or fourth-passenger rate, even if that person is not yet eating solid foods and shares a bed with his parents.
Third- and fourth-passenger rates are generally less than the primary passenger rates, but unlike flying with an infant on your lap, they can make the cost of cruising with a baby jump–without giving you any additional cabin space or meals your child can actually eat. Sometimes you will see “Kids Cruise Free” offers on select sailings, but at present, only two cruise lines allow infants or children to cruise “free” on every sailing (they are still charged port taxes and government fees), and one is holding on to very low flat-rate pricing for young cruisers.
- Cunard Cruise Line always allows infants (specified as children under 2 years) to cruise for only the cost of port taxes and fees. www.cunard.com
- MSC Cruises always allows children through 11 years old to cruise for only port taxes and fees (and children 12 to 17 years receive a children’s discount) www.msccruisesusa.com
- Disney Cruise Line always allows children under 3 years to cruise at a drastically discounted flat rate based on the length of the cruise (and not by accommodations) and offers a children’s discount for kids from 3 to 12 years. www.disneycruise.com
Important note: Keep in mind that these free and discounted children’s fares only apply when the children travel as a 3rd or 4th passenger sharing a cabin with two paid adults, and in the case of booking two connected cabins, you would still need to pay the adult rate x 2 for each cabin, or pay a single supplement.
2. Your Tot May Be Too Young to Cruise.
Each cruise line has its own minimum age requirement for passengers, so be sure to check the fine print before booking any cruise with your baby (all minimum age requirements for cruising, along with childcare options and kids’ clubs, are included in the Cruise Lines Comparison Table in Part VII of Travels with Baby).
Six months is a very common minimum age among the family-friendly cruise lines, though Disney Cruise Line accepts infants as young as 12 weeks and MSC Cruises may also on some cruises (call to confirm specific sailing). The minimum age can also vary based on the cruise itinerary, with a 1 year minimum age requirement for most cruises calling on “exotic” destinations (eg. South America, Asia, etc.) or Trans-Atlantic or Trans-Pacific sailings.
3. Diapers Can Make a Big Difference.
Regardless of age, many cruise ship kids’ clubs and drop-off/nursery childcare options do not accept children still in diapers—nor those still wearing pull-ups. Some exceptions include:
- Disney, which offers a nursery with childcare for infants as young as 12 weeks;
- Cunard, which provides a nursery with childcare for children 6 months+;
- and Norwegian Cruise Line, which provides nursery care for children 6 months+ on the Norwegian Escape ship only, and from 3 years and older on other Norwegian ships, though parents of children still in diapers or pull ups must remain onboard with a nursery pager and be available to come change diapers/pullups when needed (Norwegian Escape nursery staff will change diapers).
What’s more, the vast majority of cruise ships do not allow children still needing swim diapers in their swimming or splash pools.
PSSST! Don’t miss the related feature Ten Things You Should Know Before Planning a Cruise with Kids at our sister site, Family Travel 411, for even more tips!
4. “Family-Friendly Cabins” May Not Be So for Kids under 4 Years
For basic indoor staterooms and most no-frills cabins sleeping more than two people, the extra 3rd and 4th berths may actually fold out from the wall. If you want to take advantage of these for toddlers rather than use up precious floor space, reduce roll-off risk with an easy-to-pack inflatable bed rail (recommended for 2 years and older, BPA- and pthalate-free). Note: Your cruise line may say bed rails are available, but there will be a limited number onboard.
5. You Might Want to BYOB(athtub)
Far and away, most cruise ship cabins have a shower only and unless your cabin description clearly spells out there is a bathtub, don’t expect to find one in your wee cabin restroom. So for babies too big to bathe in the sink, you’ll need to make other plans.
Rather than cling to a slippery baby in the shower, you might prefer to pack along your own travel-friendly inflatable baby bathtub. It takes up little space in the suitcase and can be used in the bottom of your shower when it’s time to scrub-a-dub-dub. Add a few toys and it may also double as a compact activity center in your cabin.
For more help planning all facets of your first cruise with a baby or toddler…
…from picking the cruise line, cruise, and cabin to packing and planning port excursions, see Part VII: Travels by Cruise Ship in Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
And for more help planning a family cruise with kids of all ages…
…see Ten Things You Should Know Before Planning a Cruise with Kids at our sister site, Family Travel 411.
Have you subscribed to Travels with Baby Tips?
More tips and advice are on the way! For help for planning travel with a baby–or toddler or preschooler, order or download your copy of the award-winning Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
What?! Your kids aren’t babies anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411