Jul 29, 2023

Cruising with a Baby: What to Know From Someone Who's Done It

If you’re a new parent — or already a parent with a new addition to your family — then the thought of a vacation has definitely crossed your mind. After sleepless nights and days consumed with caring for your baby, the thought of taking a cruise and relaxing a bit is enticing.

And in fact, a cruise vacation is one of the best trips you can take with a small child. No matter where you go on the ship, you are only a few minutes from your room. That makes it perfect for midday naps, means you don't have to carry around a ton of baby supplies, and there is plenty to see and do without going far.

But what's it really like to cruise with a baby? Take it from someone that's experienced it firsthand. There's a learning curve to the vacation, and it is definitely different than the experience of cruising without a kid. That said, it's still a great way to travel.

Here's everything you need to know…

While you may not realize it, there are several items you should know right off the bat if you want to cruise with a small child.

Age Restrictions for BabiesThe absolute first thing you should know is if you can even take your baby on a cruise. Cruise lines (including the major players like Royal Caribbean and Carnival) require the child be at least six months old on the day of embarkation for most cases. Yes, you can book the cruise when the child is younger, but they must be at least that age by cruise day.

If you are sailing on a transatlantic, transpacific, or a Hawaii cruise, then your baby must be at least 12 months old at the time of sailing.

These age restrictions are put in place for medical purposes. Given the special care needed for infants in case they get sick or injured, cruise lines don't want children of the most vulnerable ages to be stuck at sea for extended periods of time.

Passport/Documentation for InfantsWe recommend adults have a passport when they cruise. But do you really need to go through the trouble of getting a passport for an infant? The answer is no, if you are a sailing on a closed-loop cruise (one that begins and ends in the same homeport).

If on a closed-loop cruise, the only documentation you will need a government-issued birth certificate. For children under the age of 16, you don't need to have any photo identification. You will show the birth certificate at check-in on your first day and when passing through immigration when debarking the cruise back at home.

Cruise Fares & Gratuities for BabiesThere's good news and bad news when it comes to cruise fares for babies. The bad news is that yes, you will be charged for having a baby in your room. The good news is that the rate for a third (or fourth) person in a cabin is significantly less. For example, if your cruise fare is about $500 per person for the first two adults in the room, then the cruise fare for a third person will only be a fraction of that. Still, it does cost something.

As for gratuities, some cruise lines expect you to pay tips for the child and some do not. For example, Carnival's policy is that any guests under two years old are not expected to have gratuities added to their account. Royal Caribbean, however, automatically applies gratuities for everyone — including babies. Norwegian charges gratuities only on children three years and older.

Keep this extra charge in mind when shopping for cruise deals.

Cribs, Formula, Diapers, and Other Baby SuppliesOne of the biggest headaches of traveling with a baby is all the extra things you need to bring with you. Cruise lines do make it easier by supplying some items, but you’re still going to be packing extra if you bring a baby.

Cribs/Sleeping Areas: Cruise lines make it easier by providing a crib or sleeping area for your child at no extra charge. You should call the cruise line well in advance (2+ weeks from your cruise date) to request a crib be placed in your room. But you don't have to bring a "pack and play" on your cruise!

High Chairs: High chairs are available in dining areas, just like in a restaurant. If you don't see one, simply ask the waitstaff for assistance.

Strollers: While some lines might offer stroller rental, we would recommend you always bring your own stroller from home. Kids (and parents) are used to their own strollers. The last thing you want is a stroller that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to ruin any outing on your trip. In particular, we suggest small, lightweight "umbrella" strollers — not the big jogging strollers like you would have around the neighborhood. Space is at a premium on the ship, so keep it light.

Diapers/Formula/Other Supplies: Anything your baby consumes, you should bring from home. This includes any formula, snacks, diapers, wipes, rash ointment, baby shampoo and more. There might be items available for purchase on the ship (and there definitely will be in port), but it's best to bring the items you know and trust from home. Also, pack enough for an extra day or two just in case you run out early.

When you are on your cruise, your cabin is your home away from home. Traveling with a small child, you’ll likely spend a ton of time in the room. Between naps, some feedings, and the kid's early bedtime, we found ourselves back in the room much more than when we’ve cruised without a baby.

For that reason, we definitely suggest booking a cabin with a balcony. Balconies offer a place for mom and dad to escape to while the baby is sleeping, yet still be able to keep an eye on things. In addition, balconies offer an important source of fresh air — a must-have given how easily stinky diapers can smell up a tiny cabin.

Safety in the CabinIn our experience, cruise cabins are pretty safe for babies and don't require much childproofing. Plugs were up high where children couldn't reach. There are no stoves or other hot spots to worry about. Furniture isn't easily toppled over since things are secured for a rocking ship. Balconies offer full protection from falling — a full sheet of tempered glass means there are no gaps a child could crawl through.

In general, cabins are babyproofed.

The only real issues are with drawers/doors and cleanliness.

Our child loved to open and close drawers and doors. Every cabin has a built-in system of closets and drawers that are easily reached no matter how tall your child is. We found that our son wanted to constantly open drawers, use them to stand up, and then accidentally smash his fingers when he closed them again. The bathroom door also had pieces of trim with extremely sharp edges that were within his reach.

For the most part our cabin was clean to the eye. But just like any hotel room, there are out-of-the-way spots that you can only see when you are down on the ground like a baby. Spots in corners and behind furniture were dirty. Your kid will find these spots! It's not the end of the world, but be prepared.

SleepingAs mentioned above, the cruise line will provide a crib/pack-n-play at no extra charge. You should contact them a couple of weeks in advance of your trip to let them know you’ll need one. Don't just assume they will put on in the cabin.

The cribs supplied on our cruises have been perfectly fine, albeit utilitarian. The one below featured a base mat wrapped in a regular sheet. Our child had no problem going to sleep in his normal "butt up" position.

We’ve had our child sleep in his own room since he was about two weeks old. In general he is a good sleeper, but he does wake up a couple of times a night, crying for about a minute before settling back down to sleep. Being in the same room — and in close quarters to other passengers — caused for some restless nights.

For one, instead of hearing our baby grunt or cry over a low-volume baby monitor, the sounds were right in our ear. That meant any sound woke us up. In addition, when our son cried in the middle of the night, we jumped up to calm him immediately to keep from disturbing our ship neighbors instead of letting him settle himself back down.

Frankly, sleeping in the same room as our baby was the worst part of the cruise. It took us back to the first months of having a newborn when we were up several hours each night trying to keep him quiet and calm.

One tip we can offer: Pack some clothespins or other clips to secure the sheet to the crib's mat. The sheet on the crib would come undone, instead of fitting tight against the mat.

BathingCabin showers make it easy to bath your baby. Almost every cabin comes with a handheld sprayer that you can use to wash your kid. There's no need to bring a bath chair or anything else. Assuming your child can sit up, you can just sit them on the floor of the shower to give a bath.

Even if your child is a great eater, you might be anxious about dining on a cruise with your kiddo. After all, no one wants to be that family with the loud, messy eater.

On our cruises, we’ve actually avoided the main dining room altogether. Dining in the main dining room each evening is a rather formal process with several different courses. A long, drawn-out meal is not the best environment for a happy baby — or other diners. For everyone's sake, we simply ate in the buffet or other "grab and go" venues for our meals.

Often we would grab a meal and take it back to the cabin to eat. There are plenty of places on cruise ships to eat that are less formal than the evening dining room, so we never felt out of place in these venues.

All the dining areas will have highchairs available for you to use. Since our child loved eating finger foods like cut bananas or other fruit, he usually made a mess when he ate. We brought along a silicon mat that sticks to any flat surface. With this we could place his food on the mat for him to eat without worrying about making a mess (or picking up germs) from the actual table. It was a lifesaver.

On days when we were in port or for baby mealtimes where we didn't want to eat, we would always pack a bottle with formula and his baby food. When it was time to eat, we simply fed him in his stroller.

If you have a kid who is a little older, then there is no shortage of things for them to do. Most major cruise lines have kids areas have allow parents to drop off their children and offer all sorts of activities. The problem is that these areas cater to older kids.

For example, Carnival doesn't offer full-time drop-off of kids under two years old (there are times when you can stay and play with your child in the kids area), so be prepared to spend a lot of time with your child. Royal Caribbean does offer drop-off kids that are six months to three years old. With this program — available on most ships — you can drop your child off to be watched for an hourly fee. The staff will entertain and watch your child, providing a ton of kid-friendly things to do.

In general, you should be prepared to spend a lot of time doing things with your baby in tow. Thankfully at this age, kids are still pretty easy to keep entertained. Our child was very social, so simply walking around the ship looking at all the new people kept him interested (and other passengers took an interest in him as well).

On sea days, we often just found an empty spot on the deck to let him crawl around, explore, and play with toys without bothering other passengers. Other times there are baby-friendly things to do that were put on by the cruise line. This includes events like character dress-ups and small parades for the little ones. Many ships (especially newer ones) also have designated areas where kids still in diapers can splash in the water by the pool.

As well, even if you can't drop off your little ones in the kid areas, there are times when they allow parents to bring their kids to play — as long as the parents stay and supervised the child.

While the vast majority of activities put on by the cruise line won't be aimed specifically at children, they are usually still welcome to attend and can have a good time. Things like ice-sculpting and the "hairy chest" contest are fun for all ages. Fortunately, small infants don't need a ton of entertainment to stay occupied. Often just the new sights and sounds around the ship are enough to keep them busy.

Visiting ports of call with a baby requires a lot more planning than you might be used to. For one, you have to be sure and pack everything you would need while out and about. It's not easy just to run to the store if your forget something.

You also have to be very careful in planning excursions that your small child can handle. If you are traveling to the Caribbean, be prepared for the heat and humidity to zap them of energy extremely fast. As well, you’ll need to be considerate of naptimes and feeding times unless you actually like traveling with an irritated baby!

Given the headache of trying to plan around a baby's schedule, the best thing to do is make it easy on yourself and your kid by doing something simple like heading to beaches near the cruise ship on port days. That way we didn't have to shell out a lot of money for an excursion while we might be tending to a sleeping baby or having to stop and feed him. You also didn't have to go far and could make it back to the ship quickly if needed.

In particular, take advantage of the port areas that have everything you need — shops, restaurants, and often pools — right next to the ship.

One other smart thing to do? Time your exit off the ship to give you the most time possible without feeding or napping. While most people got off right when the ship docked, we liked to wait until after our kid's first nap. Then we fed him before setting off. This gave more time to enjoy off the ship without having plan around naps and feeding time.

One other thing you should know is that ports of calls aren't going to cater to families with young children. Taxis likely won't have a place for a car seat; you’ll need to carry your baby on your lap. Don't expect to find changing tables in every restroom. And some restaurants may not have high chairs. If you are worried about having facilities catering to your baby, your best bet is to stick around the more Americanized parts of town such as the area right near the cruise port.

It's safe to say we all love our kids, but that doesn't mean we want to be around them 24/7, especially on vacation. So are you able to get away from your child for a few hours?

The answer is yes, but it can vary wildly. As mentioned before, some lines like Royal Caribbean offer areas where kids can be dropped off to be supervised. The staff will entertain and watch your child, providing a ton of kid-friendly things to do. They also provide a phone you carry in case you need to be contacted.

Other lines limit their supervised time to only certain parts of the cruise or don't offer it at all for smaller children.

For instance, when we sailed Royal Caribbean, we dropped our kid off for only about 30 minutes before the staff called to let us know we needed to pick him up as they couldn't get him calmed down.

And when we traveled aboard Carnival, we had our child with us the entire time. That meant we turned in early each night when our kid went to bed. We would often spend the evening sitting on the balcony with a couple of drinks or catching up with our shows on Netflix.

Yes, we would have rather gone to a quiet dinner, caught a show or hit the casino, but those are the sacrifices you have to make when you sail with an infant.

Sailing with a baby is a completely different experience than cruising without a kid. While we’ve offered a ton of tips above, here are some other things we’ve learned after sailing multiple times with a baby:

The Heat and Humidity Drain KidsEven when it's not that hot in the Caribbean, the combination of sun and humidity can zap a baby's energy. Don't be surprised if after only a short time outside your child is ready for another nap. Be sure to offer them plenty of shade to keep them from getting exhausted.

Kids Wear a Muster LegbandMom and Dad will have an assigned muster station printed on their room key. Babies will get a legband to wear for their trip with the muster station listed on it. This way, if you are separated then the crew knows where you take your kid in an emergency.

Make Sure You Receive a Kid's Life JacketEvery room will have life jackets in it, but you should receive a smaller kid's life jacket upon arrival. If there's not one in your cabin closet already, just ask your room steward to provide one.

Order Bottled Water to Your RoomMost cruise lines are stingy on bringing bottled water, but do let you order it to your cabin. We suggest getting a couple of cases. This way you will always have water to make your baby's formula instead of having to go to the ship's restaurants to fill up.

Rooms Have In-Cabin RefrigeratorsWe’ve never seen a cabin that didn't have a fridge, but have heard they do exist on some older ships. Having a refrigerator is good if your are still breast-feeding/pumping as it gives you a place to store milk after you pump.

Bring an Outlet AdapterBetween nightlights, sound machines, and portable fans, you might bring a lot of electronics when cruise with your baby. However, most cabins only have one or two plugs. For that reason, we suggest an outlet adapter that will give you multiple outlets for all your baby's gear. They are cheap and convenient.

Bring a Lightweight, Small StrollerWe have a large comfy jogging stroller at home, but opted to cruise with a much smaller, foldable stroller. We definitely recommend bringing one of these types of strollers. Ships can be narrow and with so many people on board, it's difficult to navigate a large stroller. Plus, you can also just fold it up and put it in the cabin closet when not in use.

Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen (And Aloe!)Every parent knows to pack sunscreen. The sun is much stronger at lower latitudes, meaning your baby can burn in as little as five minutes. Use sunscreen religiously. And if do see a burn, be sure to have some soothing aloe on hand to help treat sunburn.

More on Family Cruising:

a cruise vacation is one of the best trips you can take with a small child Age Restrictions for Babies Passport/Documentation for Infants the only documentation you will need a government-issued birth certificate Cruise Fares & Gratuities for Babies Cribs, Formula, Diapers, and Other Baby Supplies Safety in the Cabin Sleeping Frankly, sleeping in the same room as our baby was the worst part of the cruise. Bathing a silicon mat that sticks to any flat surface The Heat and Humidity Drain Kids Kids Wear a Muster Legband Make Sure You Receive a Kid's Life Jacket Order Bottled Water to Your Room Rooms Have In-Cabin Refrigerators Bring an Outlet Adapter an outlet adapter Bring a Lightweight, Small Stroller a much smaller, foldable stroller Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen (And Aloe!) More on Family Cruising: Camp Ocean (Carnival's Kid Area): What to Know Before Your Kids Go 41 Must-Have Tips for Cruising With Babies, Toddlers, or Small Kids 17 Things to Always Pack When Cruising With Kids 39 Useful Things to Pack (17 You Wouldn't Think Of) Park & Cruise Hotels for Every Port in America 107 Best Cruise Tips, Secrets, Tricks, and Freebies