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 frolic 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.
Because cruises have plenty of port stops, you’re not actually stuck on the boat the entire time. However, Alaska not being exactly baby-friendly, we couldn’t bring him on a good chunk of the activities offered (apparently you have to be super quiet when bear watching, so as to actually see some bears).
But we could bring him on hikes, so hike we did, learning about the local nature, flora and fauna. There were also several whale-watching excursions that allowed babies on board. And couple of times, we just wandered around the ports in search of a playground, going shopping for souvenirs or hitting up some of the local cafes and restaurants.
At the end of the trip, I was looking forward to finally docking. If there’s one thing parents know about traveling with children, it’s not exactly full of R&R and I needed a little vacation from the vacation. Still, I was beyond surprised at how seamless the whole adventure had been. If I were to go on another cruise with my child, I’d probably either wait until my kid was old enough to enjoy the kid’s club and activities, or I’d take a line that provided daycare for babies and toddlers.
But it was definitely worth it, and we have some great pictures to prove he was there—especially useful since he’ll never remember his first (and perhaps only) visit to Alaska. Oh, and that ubiquitous cruise ship photographer? Pose for him every chance you get, so you’ll actually have at least one picture of the whole family together. Totally worth the extra $15.
10 Tips for Cruising With Baby
- Almost all cruise ships have adjoining rooms so you can book your baby in his own cabin. If this isn’t an option, look for “family staterooms.” Disney offers a room where a curtain separates the living area and the sleeping quarters so you can have some semblance of privacy.
- Find out of your child is old enough for the kid’s clubs. If not, see if they offer one-on-one babysitting services during the day, as well as the evening. (Most of them do, enabling you to escape to the gym or go on a childless excursion while in port. Sitters are never allowed to take babies off the boat.)
- Don’t fret if you didn’t bring everything—most ships sell diapers, baby food, and will even clean your bottles for you. Become fast friends with your steward—you’ll need to know his name because you’ll be asking him for things like warm milk or a quick bottle wash throughout the trip. You can also always stock up on anything you need in port.
- Know that with the exception of Disney cruise lines (which has a special filtration system), most babies in swim diapers are not allowed in cruise ship pools for sanitary reasons. Many of them do have kiddie pools, but your child needs to be potty trained. You might consider bringing your own blow up pool if you’ll be on deck often with the baby.
- Bring your own stroller. Disney offers strollers for rent, but the rest of the cruise lines do not.
- Book your evening sitters as soon as you’ve boarded and are settled in. You don’t know how many are available, or how many other passengers have children looking to snag up the available sitters.
- Only Holland America and some Disney lines have a bathtub in every room—the others only have them in their more expensive suites. However, almost all showers have handheld nozzles, which makes bathing a baby in the shower a bit easier.
- Look at the list of excursions ahead of time, and find which ones you’ll be able to do with babies or children. If they don’t specify, contact them yourself and ask. These days, you can book most of them in advance online.
- Mini fridges are available on almost all the newer ships. Ours didn’t have one, so to keep milk cold, we had our steward fill our ice bucket each day, and would just chill it (snagged from the cereal section at the buffet in the morning) on ice as though it were a fine Chablis .
- Be considerate of fellow shipmates. Unless you’re on a family cruise where children are the norm, not everyone wants a wild toddler around them all the time. Assess the environment, and if it doesn’t seem baby friendly (like the lovely café/library on ours), go elsewhere.