Cruising with Kids: The Pros and Cons of a Family Vacation at Sea

Ever gotten stressed when organising a vacation? If you think choosing where to go, packing the essentials and making your connections are taxing on your own then try doing it with a family in tow! However, according to a recent Netmums survey, 70% of mothers who took part believe that, despite the vast amount of planning and invariable snags along the way, taking a vacation with the kids is an invaluable way to spend time together as a family.

With US News voting Yosemite National Park and Disney World, Orlando amongst the top 5 American family vacations, it seems like family friendly resorts and outdoor activities rank highly when it comes to deciding where to go. But in the last ten years an unlikely type of vacation has steadily been gaining popularity with families. WeJustGotBack claim that there has been a reported 50% rise in under 3’s on cruise vacations – be that be a long trip to Europe or the Caribbean on a gigantic, luxurious liner or a relaxed, internal river cruise along some of America’s most beautiful waterways.

When you think of cruises, many people picture an exclusive, glamorous, adult environment and it’s true, many big cruise liners (such as Windstar and SeaDream) do cater solely for adults. But many companies have now recognised the potential market for families who’d like to stretch their sea legs and, as such, several major cruise liners have made giant leaps in facilitating breaks for children. But would you consider taking your little ones on a cruising vacation? Here are some pros and cons to consider.

(+) A Fun Way to Travel

When taking a family vacation, the travelling part can often become tedious, boring and stressful for kids and grown ups alike. The beauty of cruising vacations is that reaching your destination(s) is part of the fun. There is so much for kids to do on board cruise ships including sporting tournaments, arts and crafts, parties and a variety of water based entertainment in swimming pools and aqua parks. The vast majority of family cruise liners offer babysitting services and kids clubs so you’ll be free to enjoy some adult time too.

(+) Safety

After horror stories like that of the Costa Concordia back in February, some parents could be forgiven for thinking cruises aren’t the safest option for family vacations. But images of your little one slipping through the railings aren’t necessarily accurate – cruise liners take the safety of kids of all ages very seriously and, as such, most balconies in rooms are plexiglass and railings throughout the ship are far too narrow for any child to fall through. In addition to this, many of the major family cruise lines such as Disney Cruises, Norwegian and Carnival offer complimentary walkie talkies or ‘sea phones’ to enable kids to keep in contact with their parents as they roam the ship. Families are always encouraged to arrange meeting times/stations should they plan to spend time apart, and in some instances liners insist that under 12’s wear wristbands imprinted with their respective ‘meeting stations’ should they become lost. So despite being surrounded by the deep, dark sea cruise liners are actually a very safe place to take your kids.

(+) Convenience

Taking a cruise means only unpacking once. Depending on what sort of a cruise you pick, your family can visit a multitude of destinations with the ease and convenience that you simply don’t get from other vacations. Even if you choose a simple river cruise, the glorious scenery that you pass is both educational and beautiful and gives you the opportunity to dock in ports that the bigger cruise liners can’t get into.

Aside from this, you don’t need to worry about where you’ll be eating and how much dinner will cost each night because it’s all pre-paid for and arranged. Really, all you need to do is turn up and enjoy yourself!

(-) Not Baby-Friendly

Despite being child friendly, many cruise liners (even family ones) are unable to cater fully for babies and young toddlers. Due to the sanitary filter system on cruise liners, many will not allow children who aren’t potty trained to go into the swimming pool(s) even if they are wearing swim diapers. Navigating your way around a cruise ship full of long corridors and narrow stairwells with a buggy is also tricky and you should be aware that there is a lot of waiting involved in cruise vacations – whether that’s waiting in line for dinner or waiting to embark/disembark the ship. This can sometimes be tiresome for small children.

Major cruise liners such as Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruises do make an effort to cater for babies with nurseries, equipment and activity sessions but you should consider whether  you can get over the practical difficulties of cruising with small children or if you should wait until they’re a little older.

(-) Seasickness

Studies show that women and children are more likely to suffer from seasickness – although interestingly, children under 2 have demonstrated immunity to it. If your child suffers from motion sickness then are more likely to become seasick and the vomiting, stomach cramps and general lethargy that goes with it could put a major dampener on your vacation. Larger cruise liners are often more stable in choppy seas so consider using one of these if you think you may have a sickly child on board. Similarly, pulse regulating wristbands and ginger based foods are cheap, drug free methods that are thought to relieve nausea associated with seasickness.

(-) Expensive

You should always check what, if any, facilities and activities for your children are included in the overall cruise price. Added extras can end up costing a lot of money. Although young children won’t make use of the facilities or eat as much as adults, you shouldn’t presume that their trip will be free. Every person on board the ship (however small they are) usually has to pay port taxes and fees when you dock. This is in conjunction with government law. So be aware of any unexpected costs from cruising with your kids.