Family life

10 things to think about before booking a family cruise

First time cruising as a family? From on-board diapers to food allergies, we've got you covered on what you need to know.

1. Age requirements at on-board kids’ clubs

Most cruise lines require children to be at least three and toilet trained to participate in complimentary drop-off kids’ clubs— Carnival’s Camp Ocean is the exception, accepting kids as young as two.

2. Daycare for kids under three

Babies must be at least six months old (12 months on transatlantic and Hawaii itineraries) to cruise, and daycare options vary from ship to ship, but generally cost $6-$10 US per hour. Disney welcomes babies and toddlers in its nurseries (reserve a space before embarking) and Royal Caribbean has a Royal Babies & Tots Nursery on select ships. The Norwegian Escape features a Guppies Nursery and MSC offers limited hours of care (ages one to three) in its Mini Club.

3. In-cabin babysitting

Only Royal Caribbean offers it between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. on a first come, first served basis, with at least 24 hours notice ($19 US per hour for up to three kids 12 months and older in the same family).

4. Cruising while pregnant

You’ll only be able to board if you’re less than 24 weeks—for the entire cruise, not just at embarkation.

5. Cribs and bath tubs

Most ships provide some sort of portable cribs or Pack ’n Plays free of charge, but check with your cruise line ahead of booking and then reserve one as soon as your fare is paid in full, as they’re subject to availability. Only Disney ships feature bath tubs in standard cabins; on other lines you’ll need to upgrade to a mini suite or pack an inflatable tub.

6. Formula, diapers and wipes

Disney ships have these items available in on-board shops (Carnival has diapers and wipes), while Royal Caribbean’s Babies 2 Go program lets passengers pre-order Huggies diapers, wipes and cream as well as Gerber organic baby food to be delivered to their cabin (prices are higher than at home, though).

7. Nighttime group activities for kids

Ships offer this, but you’ll be charged an hourly fee (typically $8 to $10 US per child): Royal Caribbean provides group child care in its Adventure Ocean (on select ships); Norwegian has a Late Night Fun Zone for kids three to 12 from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Carnival offers a Night Owls program from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for kids under 11; MSC has “Kids Around the Clock” activities for children aged three to 11 from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and Princess offers group babysitting from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for kids three to 12.

8. Kids’ pools

All Disney ships feature a pool area for kids aged four to 14, as well as splash zones where younger tots can cool off while wearing swim diapers. Select Royal Caribbean ships feature an H2O Zone for kids as well as a Baby Splash Zone for little ones in diapers. Norwegian’s Breakaway-class ships have a Kids’ Aqua Park (nobody who still needs swim diapers allowed), while Carnival ships have child-dedicated pools and splash zones (but again, not for diaper-wearers). MSC’s Aqua Park is family-oriented but not limited to kids.

9. Food allergies

Most cruise lines do have protocols for handling food allergies. Most request that Guest Services be notified about severe allergies before you embark and that all allergies be brought to your head server’s attention on day one of your cruise so you can review menu selections ahead of time.

10. Luggage delivery

How long it will take for your luggage to get to your cabin varies by port and by ship, but you’ll most likely be aboard for several hours before it’s delivered. Pack a carry-on with everything you’ll need for infants and younger children (such as diapers, formula, medication, swim suits) in the interim.

A version of this article appeared in our January 2017 issue, titled “10 things to know before you book a cruise,” pg. 63.

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