By Gillian Telling
A boat. A walking baby. Stuck at sea for several days. Um, really? If you’re anything like me (for the most part, fairly sane), you probably think the idea of going on a cruise with your energetic baby or toddler sounds like a logistical nightmare. Where will the crib go? How will they be able to run around without falling overboard? Where will you buy diapers if you run out? All valid concerns, and ones that literally kept me up at night in the weeks before I set sail from Seward, Alaska to Vancouver on a 1,400 passenger Holland America cruise line.
My husband had to go for work, and was allowed to bring us along. I was excited for my first cruise, but in regards to bringing along baby, I was petrified. I pretty much expected the worst. The trip actually did start out pretty badly—somewhere at Newark airport, in between the TSA testing our milk for explosives and rushing for coffee, we lost our son’s beloved Lamby. It was early, we were grumpy, and I resorted to digging through airport garbage cans looking for the thing like a crazy lady. “This trip is going to be torture!” I thought, as I tore through old newspapers and empty soda cans.
So you can imagine I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover bringing baby on board turned out to be a pretty easy way to travel. Ok, so we weren’t on the most family friendly itinerary (turns out most toddlers would much rather frolick in the pool with Mickey Mouse than visit eagle sanctuaries in chilly Alaska), but it all turned out to be both simple and fun. It helped that the staff were beyond accommodating, and seemed to take a legitimate interest in our child and his well-being. Upon check in, the travel crib was all set up in our adjoining room, an infant life vest was hung up on the wall, and a towel shaped like a moose sat on the bed. “And will you be needing a babysitter tonight?” they asked us. Why, yes, yes we would! Later, after our son was tucked into bed for the night, one of the guest services workers came over and watched TV in our room while we went off to dinner. The in-room sitter service was $10 an hour, actually cheaper than what we pay at home.
From the first night, our evenings were set—baby went down, sitter came in, and we sped off to have drinks, dinner, and maybe catch part of the evening show or gamble in the casino. At these times, we actually felt like we were on a legit, pre-baby vacation, especially since we got dressed up to go out in the evenings. (I even wore heels. High ones.) But the daytimes were a little harder to structure, and required some creativity on our part. Unfortunately, our baby was too young to attend HAL, the ship’s cool looking kids club. (Tip: On Holland America, the kids clubs start at 3 years old, and they also need to be potty trained.) However, they did let us check out some toys, which was great considering we only had room in our luggage to bring a coloring book and some matchbox cars for daily entertainment. We got a giant tub of Legos, and wandered the boat until we found an empty conference room and let the wild child run amok in there for a while once a day. We also took really long regular walks around the deck—the loops felt repetitive, but a couple of whale and dolphin sightings were distracting enough, and it was nice to get fresh air and exercise.
Another great discovery was the rooftop tennis court. It was usually empty, and had glass walls around the sides to ensure tennis balls or little children didn’t go over the edges. This was our “safe place” to let our boy run around on deck outside, and we had as much fun gently hitting balls back and forth as he had chasing them down and then throwing them at us. There was also an upper deck, tiki-themed “Teen Club.” We did not heed the “No Adults Allowed” warning sign and checked it out one day—it was completely empty of teens and covered with astro-turf, making it a great place to kick a soccer ball around and bang on tables shaped like bongos.