Quick tips: cruising with little ones

Over the summer we took a big family trip. We decided to do a Mediterranean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines as this was the easiest way to organize so many people. There were 18 of us in total from both of our families – parents, siblings, cousins and beyond. With so many varying ages, schedules and preferences, a cruise was easy to coordinate and gave us the flexibility to vacation together, and still be able to split into smaller groups sometimes too. Cruising is a special type of travel with unique preparations and planning so there are different things you need to consider before embarking on a cruise, especially if bringing along a baby and toddler.

 Orlo (7 months old) cruising through the Bay of Kotor
Orlo (7 months old) cruising through the Bay of Kotor

Steve and I cruised together before, but this was our first time with the boys. We are no experts, but here are some tips based on things we learned that could be useful to you.

What to know before cruising with a baby or toddler

  • Typically you have to pay full price for kids on cruises, the same cost as an adult, even babies. However, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and some others occasionally offer promotions where the 3rd and 4th guests inside a stateroom sail for free. We were specifically looking for this deal because paying 2x the fare was a whole lot more reasonable than 4x the fare. We wouldn’t have picked a cruise otherwise.
  • Traveling with kids isn’t easy. Carrying luggage, unpacking and repacking and keeping track of everyone’s belongings can be taxing. If you like to jump from destination to destination dealing with luggage can be a headache (though packing light helps!). A cruise can be a great option that allows you to stay settled with little ones in one room but still see different destinations.
  • You don’t need to bring any type of baby bed, they will provide a Pack ’n Play type of crib upon request.
 Our niece relaxing on deck
Our niece relaxing on deck
  • You can pre-order diapers and wipes before the cruise to be placed in your room. It’s expensive, but can be worth the convenience for some. We were in Venice for a few days prior to departure and found a grocery store selling very reasonably priced diapers so we stocked up for the cruise there.
  • Typically we recommend packing light as you can purchase almost anything you need for a baby on the go (there are babies all over the world, of course), but a cruise is a little different. Sometimes you’re on the ship for more than a day, and you may only stop at small islands or remote places. There are some medical services and a small shop on board, but they won’t necessarily carry what you prefer for your baby. We found diapers, cream, wipes and more baby things all over the world without issue. If you want to feel a little more comfortable though and not have to go hunting for baby items when in port, bring a little extra of this and that and just in case items. Though cruise cabins are tiny so try to leave the big things at home!
  • If you’re particular about baby’s formula or baby food, make sure you pack plenty as cruises only carry very limited supplies and port shops vary.
  • They offered to puree fresh food for us (e.g., pureed potatoes at the steakhouse) for the babies.
 Elden (2.5 years old) watching for other boats
Elden (2.5 years old) watching for other boats
  • Bring a stroller, even if you won’t use one at the stops, it can still be really useful for getting around the large ship. A baby carrier is also helpful to keep baby close while navigating a crowded ship and for those non-stroller-friendly ports.
  • Children who are not potty-trained are not allowed in cruise ship pools.
  • Allow yourself extra time to get back to the boat before it’s scheduled to depart as with kids you never know what might slow you down, and some of the ports have longer lines to re-board.
  • Bring a little laundry detergent in case you need to wash some small baby items in the sink/bath. We had a bathtub and used it multiple times for washing things as the laundry services were really pricey.
  • We found the cruise ship library a good place to hang out with the kids when we wanted to gather but had enough sun already.
  • Infants must be 6+ months old before cruising, or 12+ months old if sailing on a cruise with three or more consecutive days at sea. We booked before Orlo was born (they let us book with a tentative name and birthdate), so we had to make sure he would be at least six months old even if he arrived past his due date.

LOWLIGHTS of our Mediterranean Cruise with a baby and toddler

There are pros and cons to most anything, including cruising with little ones. Read below for some drawbacks to cruising with babies in general and specific to our cruise experience.

  • If you want to keep a regular early bedtime for your baby, you’ll probably be on the hook for sitting in a dark quiet room watching the baby. There’s not much else you can do since the rooms are so tiny. Instead, you can try to have baby fall asleep in a stroller so you can stay out a little later. We pushed their bedtime back a little bit, we were already on a later schedule in Europe anyway.
  • We were in a new destination every day with only 1 day at sea. It was great to see all these beautiful places, but it was exhausting. We would be up late and then have to wake up super early. Since you’re only in port for a short amount of time, we would run around real quick trying to squeeze everything in. Rushing with little ones doesn’t always work, so you may miss out on some things.
  • For some ports, you have to take tender boats from the ship to the island/port. The tender boat ticketing process needs to be revamped. On our cruise, you had to stand in line earlier the same day to receive tender tickets. They begin with boat 1 and go up from there, the boats leave in numerical order, so you want the lowest number in order to get the most time in port. For one destination, staff told everyone they would begin handing out tickets for tender boats at 8:30am. We had someone from our group get in line at 7am and received tickets for boat 4, and someone else in line at 8:30am and they got tickets for boat 13.
  • Only a couple months before the cruise they sent us an email notifying us that they got rid of the children’s pool and changed that area to an adult-only experience. They also removed the waterslides. This was really disappointing since the main pool was tiny and overcrowded as there was nowhere else to go. Some fellow passengers seemed annoyed by kids in the main pool, but they took away the kids pool so the kids had no choice.
  • Despite many children onboard the ship, Norwegian Star, itself is not very kid-friendly. There are a few attempts, but they are clearly catering to adults alone and not keeping families in mind.
  • Overall we were not impressed with the food or service. Our room steward was great, and at a high-level plenty of staff were nice. Up close though there were many mistakes, super slow service (especially painful with little ones), confused conversations, billing issues and lack of accommodation.

HIGHLIGHTS of our Mediterranean Cruise with a baby and toddler

Overall the cruise ship and service were a bit lacking, but the itinerary and time with family more than made up for it. We had a ton of fun overall and saw so many beautiful places.

  • We did a 7-night Mediterranean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines. We departed Venice, then stopped in Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Greece; Santorini, Greece; Mykonos, Greece; and Dubrovnik, Croatia. It was gorgeous sailing through the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean Sea. The itinerary was great!
  • We booked a mini-suite and enjoyed the extra space, bathtub, and balcony. The cruise was in the middle of our round the world trip, and it was the longest amount of time we spent in one hotel room. Not having to unpack, repack and lug our stuff after only a few days was super nice.
  • We spent a few nights in Venice prior to embarking, definitely a neat place to cruise in and out of.
  • Many of the ship staff members were excited to have the babies on board and regularly interacted with them playfully.
  • Elden had so much fun with so many family members on board, he constantly asks to go back on the cruise.
 Leaving Venice at the start of the cruise
Leaving Venice at the start of the cruise

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