It is my humble oppinion that one of the most bothersome afflictions for a tied-down parent is that of wanderlust- loving to travel, loving to explore, needing to roam. Before I was married with kids (which happened before I even graduated college!) I had been to over 15 different countries, visited over 20 of our beautiful States, lived across the world in Japan, backpacked Europe with my best friend, and enjoyed experiences some people can only dream about. I’m blessed, of that I am sure.
Fast forward to now and the only wandering I’m doing these days is back and fourth across the state visiting family separated by too many miles. Bills pile up, vacation days dwindle away and the weeks run together in a way that makes real “travel” seem impossible. Strangely, this is the first year that I’ve ever had to make that cross-state drive by myself (can I still say by myself with the kids and the dog but without Brandon?) and I’ve done it twice so far this year. Might seem like no big deal to some, but for me- it’s huge! All that time alone in the car left me feeling very adventurous and hopeful that I can take my family on adventures around the world just like my parents did for my brothers and me. Could I (could we) be carefree parents, rolling with the punches, embracing the trials of vacations with kids in tow? Would it be worth it?
(We’re home so I can safely say) it’s totally worth it, folks. I’m not sure any of my family members would really describe me as carefree and rolling with the punches though BUT…
We were blessed with an invitation to accompany my husband’s mother’s side of the family on a week-long cruise to the Bahamas- (the MAhamas as we now call them thanks to Lilly). We were psyched at the prospect of an awesome vacation but even more excited to spend time together with our loved ones and our girls and get to experience the kids’ enjoying their first big trip together.
Planner that I am, I spent weeks reading forums and blog posts about cruising with babies. I was looking for insider tips, advice, recommendations and warnings. Turned out to be a pretty big waste of time because *most* of the tips and advice shouted “DON’T TAKE BABIES ON CRUISES” in bold capital letters and I was panicking.
Guess what, nay sayers? We baby-cruisers had a BLAST. That’s probably more of a nod to my sweet little girls than anything else (they were really beyond awesome)but I still find it my civic duty to share my own tips for cruising with babies and toddlers (and LOVING it) at the end of this post. For now, enjoy some of our favorite memories and stories from an unforgettable trip…the first, of many, trips away from the US of A!
Pools ON a ship?! She was amazed.
…and in love with the “hot pools”.
One of many quiet, sister moments.
And more than a few Daddy-thinks-your-going-overboard heart-attack moments.
The particular part of the ship featured in these particular photographs was really the only part that had true ship rails- not clear plexi walls- surrounding the perimeter. I have little to no fear around boats and water having grown up on many (Dad’s a sailor and all that jazz), but Brandon was far less at ease. I knew those grubby little feet wouldn’t slip off the rail and she was up long enough for me to snap a picture and scoop her down. So a grand total of 2.5 seconds. But yes. These ships aren’t baby proof, people. The kids could definitely *technically* slip overboard. It’s even possible that Grace could slide through the space between the plexi and the deck of the upper floors but we never tested the theory On a safety note, there are steps EVERYWHERE for kids to climb and fall off of, but for the most part, I really wasn’t that worried.
Mommy always knows they are safe.
Special time with Uncle Casey, missed him oh so much.
Can you think of any better place to play?
Little Gracie should be hired as the official mascot for Carnival Cruise Line. Step aside Freddy Fun Ship, your replacement has arrived. I kid you not this girl was famous on-board our vessel. Everyone knew her. Everyone wanted to wave to her, talk to her, introduce her to other people, sign with her. Everywhere we went we heard little whispered, “look, LOOK! That’s Gracie, the little baby I was telling you about.” Multiple strangers approached Brandon saying things like, “I don’t normally do this, but I have to tell you that baby is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen.” And Grace would bat her lashes in agreement. The dancers loved her at every show and she soaked up the attention. Most morning were spent cruising up and down the rows and rows of lounge chairs on the top deck. She’d walk as far as she could, tipping and rocking with the waves, and stop at each and every chair to chat with people, wave, blow kisses and point. She’s a little showoff. Doesn’t help that she’s the size of a 6 month old with the spunk, charm, and skills of a 1 and a 1/2 year old. She’s just that kind of kid.
Exploring the Bahamian beaches.
I’m not exactly sure how she does it, but Grammy is able to get Gracie to fall asleep on the beach. She is patient and calm and somehow able to get Grace settled down enough to close her eyes and nap. Uncle Casey was more than happy to nap with her, enjoying some particularly calm company of sleeping babies.
And this girl. My heavens, this girl. Played and played and played in the sand on each beach. Totally comfortable. Totally content. She didn’t need any help, she didn’t ask for anything, and she really built some sweet sand castles. Plus, my no-longer-a-baby-brave-girl walked her cute little butt way out into the ocean (by herself!) and let us carry her around in the deep water to see fish and cool off. She was bowled over by waves, splashed by her family members, and beaten down with sun. But we were blown away with her newfound water confidence. I’m so proud of her. And I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget the look on her face when I suggested she sneak a little pee-pee in the ocean if she REALLY had to go potty and couldn’t. That suggestion kind of blew her mind and she’s carrying it around in her heart like a precious secret.
And the Bahamian beer, of course.
What a super tired beach girl looks like.
And of course the moments caught on my cell… God bless iPhone.
You can find the whole set on my IG feed @sweetersidemom. I Instagram everything- SO not sorry.
So anyway, in no particular order… here are my:
Tips and Tricks for Cruising With Young Children
1. If possible, DRIVE to your port thus allowing more leeway in the packing department- no restrictions on liquids, number and size of luggage articles, and it’s CHEAPER. Duh. Of course this isn’t possible or practical for all, but if it is, definitely take advantage.
2. Bring you stroller and carseat- great for cruising around the boat decks and also great places for baby and toddler to nap/eat lunch ect. We’re lucky that our littlest can literally sleep all night in her carseat. This was a lifesaver.
3. Bring enough clothes for 2 or 3 daily outfit changes. I know my kids well enough by now to know and expect a necessary outfit change after every meal- that equals three outfits per day per child. Or be dirty. Usually the latter is fine with me but I decided I wanted lots of “my kids are clean and dressed cutely” pictures instead of a lighter suitcase.
- In the same regard, pack a few bags of the soft-sided-duffle variety. These fold up flat and can be nested into other suitcases and slid under the beds- lots of extra room in your cabin when the bags are out of the way.
- Unpack AS SOON AS YOU GET ON THE BOAT. (Before the lifeboat drill) Seriously, listen to me about this. I am a non-unpacker and have no issues living out of a suitcase. But with two kids, so much kid stuff, and so little space, it felt freeing to assign everything a place and be organized all week.
Random things to pack:
- Power strip (there is only one outlet in your stateroom)
- Medicine (kids and adults) You know, incase your mostly toothless, almost 1 1/2 year old decides to get a molar.
- Band aids (you have to BUY them on the boat if you forget)
- Squeeze pouch baby food/applesauce and good purse snacks like granola bars, gummies, trail mix etc.
- Soda or juice (each person can bring 12 bottles of liquids and neither of those are free on the ship)
- Cheap beach towels (if you lose the ones given to you in your room they are $22 each to replace)
4. Make your own “excursions” by getting a taxi to a free beach close to port. These were generally $5-$7/person (babies were free), and our cabbies definitely took us to beautiful beaches. This was SO MUCH BETTER than attempting guided tours and excursions from the boat that ran anywhere from $100-200 per person INCLUDING the kids. Crazy right?! We wouldn’t have lasted the duration of those excursions anyway with naps and such. Our kids were plenty happy to play on the beach for half a day relaxing in the sand. And so was I!
5. Attempt what I am calling “nap flexibility”. Coming from a normal routine of VERY regimented naps- this was hard for me. But guess what? Totally fine for our girls. Not only did they shift down to 1 nap (or no nap)/day, they also napped in the stroller, carseat, or (our favorite) under a lounge chair on the pool deck. This allowed us all to remain outside even when one or both of the kids needed to sleep.
6. Bring small surprises for dinner. This genius-ness brought to you courtesy of my mother in law who had a new small trinket for Lilly each night at dinner. It was usually enough to keep her occupied and happy before her dinner came and was a fun nightly tradition that Lilly thought was really special- nothing crazy, things like dollar store coloring books, stickers and mini note pads etc. but it was awesome.
7. Take advantage of the kids activities. Our cruise had “Kids Camp” that Lilly was literally BEGGING to go to each day. She thought this was one of the most special parts of the cruise and loved every minute she spent there. She also loved the singing and dancing shows each night (our cousin is the AWESOME lead singer on Carnival Pride so it was extra fun to see her) but even on nights when the shows started at 9 or even 10p.m. Both girls stayed awake to watch every minute.
8. If you have a non-potty trained child, beware that they are not allowed in the pool for obvious sanitary reasons. We solved this problem by (buying and) using our sand toys and Bucket-O-Beer buckets and filling them with ice and water for Gracie to play with next to our lounge chairs. She loved it and it cooled her off enough not to care about the pool.
9. Something I wish I had done for my three year old was prepare her for the boarding process. She epically FREAKED OUT when they put her precious puppy, Guinness, through the x-ray belt and it took her a long time to recover from that. She totally panicked and it honestly scared the living daylights out of her. Then, she had a really hard time getting through the lifeboat drill and hearing the person on the loudspeaker discuss “fires” and “emergencies” and “life saving measures”. She’s old enough to know what those words mean and asked many concerned questions. No big deal BUT I know if I had talked to her about these things ahead of time it would have all been easier.
10. If you have an iPhone, put it on airplane and keep it on and in your pocket for pictures. Great quality, tiny size, easily carried. I only pulled out my big camera around dinner time and twice on the beach but still have a beautiful full set of pictures to remember our vacation.
11. Bring something to do during downtime (nap time) that you usually can’t do at home. No cooking or cleaning on a cruise so my reccommendations are A) Take naps too B) Bring a few books you’ve been dying to read C) Finish a crochet or knitting project or (my personal favorite) D) Keep an instant vacation scrap book and update it while you are in your room during nap time/bed time or whatever time you spend relaxing in your stateroom. I’ll have a whole separate blog post on how I create my vacation scrap books DURING my vacation- they are addicting!
12. BRING TOYS. Seriously. I know that might sound ridiculous when you’ll be on a ship brimming with activities and pools and fun stuff, but kids are kids and they still need stuff to play with (duh). Even with endless amounts of family members and activities, I’ve found that kids still benefit from having things to play with either by themselves or together to focus their attention. Our favorite this trip were:
- our girls’ iPad
- the Instax Mini 8 Polaroid camera I got for Lilly off of eBay
- a huge new coloring book filled with simple activities and stickers
- a Nano Pet (what! you know you loved them as a kid) tragically, ours didn’t end up working (stupid eBay seller, I am sending bad Karma your way) but Grace thought it was awesome… haha
- animal figurines
- beach toys
- mini notebook and pen
- pretend cell phone for Gracie
- pretend camera for Gracie
- and don’t forget the lovies!!! (We lost Gracie’s giraffe paci and it was such a pain in the butt. Before we left I breifly considered bringing both of the two that we have but figured there was only a slim chance of losing it. Big mistake. We had other paci’s with us but that one is her favorite.)
13. Need something? ASK! Cruises are known especially for their incredible attention to their guests- I have never experienced human beings going above and beyond the way they do for you on a cruise. Of course they are working for your money (that’s PRE-PAYED in the cost of your cruise, by the way. But seriously, the staff are genuinely nice. Example: Lilly wanted to meet the captain, alone (as in NOT wait in the line of regular cruise go-ers waiting to take pictures with him on Captain’s dinner night), to give him a picture she drew of her entire family with him. So SHE asked the Maitre-di of our dining room if she could give the Captain her drawing. DURING dinner that he was in charge of, this man took her little hand in his and walked her all the way down to the main cruise atrium to personally introduce her to the Captain and his crew. The Captain picked her up and listened while she explained her whole drawing, gave him a hug, shook hands with the rest of the crew and yelled, “Gotta go tell my Dad I met you!” before running back to the dining room. Our room steward carefully arranged Lilly’s puppies/animals/sunglasses into the mix of towel animals each night which Lilly LOVED. And probably every member of the crew on-board knew Gracie by name and said hi to her and Lilly every chance they got. I could go on and on with examples. It was phenomenal.
14. Try to establish spousal code for meltdown moments. Somehow (and I really don’t know how), Brandon and I have an unspoken agreement that neither of us are frustrated, angry, upset, sick, impatient, or tired (insert any negative emotion) at the same time. Agree that you will trade responsibilities, take turns dealing with kid-drama, and attempt to adjust accordingly WITHOUT fighting each other. If you can sense your hubs needs a break, take the kids to get ice cream while he relaxes in the Adults Only Serenity Lounge (!!). If you are about to LOSE YOUR SHIT, have your spouse pop those suckers in the stroller while you get a drink by the pool. One of the nicer perks of a cruise is that you don’t HAVE to all be in the same place all at the same time.
15. PARTICIPATE IN THE “NICE” DINNERS! If you are worried about your kids behavior (daydreaming of their heathenistic restaurant ways?) rest assured that cruise staff are prepared to handle anything your kids can dish out. Mess, crying, picking food choices- they will taylor dinner exactly to your child and get their meals out asap. There is usually a big dance and song production in the middle of dinner to serve as a distraction and it’s super fun for kids. If all else fails, bring your ipad/laptop/cell phone and send those kiddos right under the table cloth to have a “dinner fort” and watch a movie without disturbing anyone or causing any trouble at all. We chose the early seating (each evening at 6 o’clock) and it was the perfect time for our kids. We had awesome, busy days, still squeezed in naps for the most part, then had a lovely dinner followed by a late night. Loved it!
16. Hit the consignment sale racks for special “cruise clothes” for your kids. You just spent a fortune on a wonderful vacation. DON’T spend a fortune on outfits for your little ones that they may wear once or twice (or God forbid ruin altogether) during your trip. I got almost ALL of the outfits you see in our photos at our local consignment “summer clearance clearout” event at the beginning of spring. I guess they were clearing out old summer stock to make space for the new stuff people were bringing in. Granted, I didn’t know we were going a cruise at that point but I was tucking all my finds away for another beach vacation we are going on later this summer. Regular prices for dresses and outfits were about $6-$9 each. Everything on the sale racks was a whopping 50% off! That means all those precious dresses and outfits my kids wore cost a total of about $50 give or take. Here’s my advice for consignment sale shopping:
- look for unique labels
- look for still attached store tags (obviously this denotes a never worn item)
- look for matching sets so you have complete outfits (you’ll even often find matching outfits in various sizes from other parents who dressed their kids the same!)
- Treasure hunt! Skip the stuff you see every day at Target and Baby’s R Us. Find the different stuff!
17. Unless you have a special stateroom (or are traveling via Disney Cruise Line), your room will most likely NOT have a bath tub. This is no big deal for our kids since we shower them from the time they are born and it’s nothing new. But if this is a major concern, I’d definitely practice washing their hair and such in the shower. We certainly didn’t stick to a shower-every-single-day regimen but kids are kids and need to be cleaned… even if it’s an occasional thing The shower head is usually a detachable kind that kids have fun holding onto, so that’s a plus!
**Above all, I gathered that most of the anxiety expressed from other parents came from the expectation that the cruise would somehow be “more relaxing” than real life. If you think about it, you never stop being a parent and enjoying the many obligations that this lovely profession entails- but you might as well enjoy it a hell of a lot more on a cruise! No cooking, no cleaning, beautiful scenery, no work. It’s like parenting on steroids- only the good parts.
Cruised with kids?! Leave me a comment with anything you’d like me to add to this list! I’m dreaming of a Disney cruise someday (maybe when I’m sure our brood of miscreants is truly complete) so I’ll tuck this all away for another trip.
Ta ta for now.
Back to real life
P.S. I owe you a cookie if you made it to the end of this blog post. Holy long-ness.