Our family enjoys cruising, and over the years I’ve collected some of my favorite tips, ideas, and must-have items to pack when taking a cruise. If you’re planning a cruise with kids, here are some things to consider before boarding the cruise ship of your choice.
Cruise cabins are small, and cruise bathrooms are even smaller.
If you’ve ever been in an RV, you’ll be prepared for the compact, efficient use of space you’ll find in cruise ship cabins. We’ve sailed on multiple cruise lines over the years, and in each case, table and countertop space in the bathroom was extremely limited.
Here’s a photo of my sons enjoying some ice cream in our cabin aboard the Norwegian Pearl. Believe it or not, this little room actually sleeps four! What looks like a double bed is actually two twin beds. There’s a trundle bed underneath that which pops up to fit between both twin beds, and there’s a drop-down bunk bed on the wall. Compare the above photo to the next photo, which shows all of our beds turned down for the evening:
Yes, the cabin is wall-to-wall beds when all four beds are open! As you may imagine, with four people and four suitcases in this room, the space starts to feel even smaller. It’s very important to set up one location to hold all of your important items — everything from key cards to wallets to phones and more. Four people will likely never find enough room on the cabin’s small vanity and table for all of their important gear.
An over-the-door shoe holder with clear pockets takes up very little space in your luggage, but it’s invaluable for holding toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair accessories, makeup, cell phones, key cards, excursion tickets, and anything you’d normally toss on a table at the end of the day. These fold up compactly, and they give you so much visible, accessible space. We hang ours over the bathroom door, and each member of our family gets their own column on the organizer.
A beach flag gives your family a visible meeting point.
When your ship is in port, it’s highly likely you’ll want to hit the beach. Whether you’re headed to a public beach or staking out a spot on your ship’s private island, there may be at least 3,000 other cruisers hitting the sand at the same time you are! Our sons were just three and five years old when we first took them on a cruise, and we wanted to give them a visual sight point that they could reference if they were ever separated from us.
Years ago, we purchased a beach flag, and it has been invaluable to us on every cruise we’ve taken. It’s got a collapsible fiberglass pole, and it fits in a carry-on suitcase. Our beach flag deserves its own passport by now, as it’s been to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Mexico, the Caymans, and other tropical destinations! Not only is the flag wonderful for the kids to use as a reference point, it’s great for us adults too, as it helps us locate our towels and lounge chairs after we come in from swimming in the ocean.
While the flag we own is no longer being made, here’s a similar one on Amazon featuring a flamingo design! This style of flag is known as a “feather flag” or “swooper flag,” and you can find additional styles and sizes on Amazon.
Another idea? On a cruise to Norwegian’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay, I saw a family that brought a tall, inflatable palm tree that they set up to use as their beach meeting point!
Purchase inflatable toys before your trip.
Speaking of inflatables, if your kids would enjoy having inflatable tubes, rafts, or beach balls to play with in the ocean, buy them at a discount before your trip and bring them in your luggage. Depending on which port you’re in, tube rental can be pricey, and we’ve also been to port destinations that ran out of rental tubes. These things are nearly flat when deflated, and they take up next to no room in your luggage.
Taking an excursion? Consider this.
Your cruise line will offer many excursion opportunities as add-ons to your trip. Typically, excursions cost a little more when you book directly through the cruise line versus booking your own excursions in port. We have gone horseback riding in the surf, parasailing, and even taken a Mayan ruins tour.
We have done excursions both on our own and through the cruise lines, but here’s why you may want to spend a little more to book through your cruise line: If for any reason you are late returning to the ship, the ship will wait in port for you if you are part of a ship-sponsored excursion or tour. If you’ve gone out on your own and do not get back to port in time, the ship will not wait for you..!
If you’re headed to a destination that’s within walking distance of your port, it’s likely that you can get back on time on your own. However, some excursions may take you 30-60 minutes away from the ship’s port, and you may be at the mercy of local taxis and water transportation whose sense of urgency may not be the same as yours.
On our trip to the Bahamas, we booked a private island day through Norwegian Cruise Line and spent the day enjoying all kinds of island activities. At the end of our day, the island’s water taxi arrived to pick us up 45 minutes later than planned. We nervous Americans told our boat captain that we were getting very close to sailing time. He smiled and waved his hand nonchalantly, saying “Ahh, you’re on Bahamas time now!”
We would definitely have missed the boat (quite literally!) had we not booked that excursion through Norwegian. Happily, our ship was still waiting for us in port, as well as for all of the other Norwegian guests who were on the same private beach excursion.
Local currency makes a great souvenir.
Our children have collected everything from Bahamian dollars to pesos to Caymanian coins on past cruises. If you buy something in port, just ask for your change in local currency. Jamaica was particularly funny, because at the time of our visit, 110 Jamaican dollars equaled one US dollar! My youngest son said to his brother, “We should start a business here! We would already be rich!”
Consider hurricane season! Really.
We have cruised during hurricane season on multiple occasions. While there is a chance that your cruise may be cancelled or rerouted, cruising at this time of the year is less expensive than sailing during peak times. Only once was our cruise rerouted due to a hurricane.
In 2012, we had booked a cruise to the Bahamas, but the islands sustained some damage from a hurricane that year. When we boarded the ship, an announcement was made that we were now headed to Cozumel, Mexico! It ended up being a blessing in disguise, because we went somewhere new and had a wonderful time. We’ve since cruised to Cozumel again — this time, by choice.
Don’t forget to pack power, time, safety, and air.
- A power strip. Most cruise cabins we’ve sailed in have had one single outlet in the bathroom and a pair of outlets near the table. I travel with a phone, laptop, and tablet myself, not to mention all of my family’s devices. Otherwise, we’d constantly be playing “musical outlets.”
- A travel alarm clock and a watch. The only clock in our cabin aboard the Norwegian Pearl was an LCD display on the room’s phone, which isn’t visible in the dark. We also found that there are very few clocks in public areas of the ship, and the time on your cellphone does not always display accurately once you’re in international waters. (We’ve been on cruises where my cellphone showed a time 4-6 hours ahead of the actual time.) I rarely wear a watch when I’m not traveling, but I always do on a cruise.
- A small first aid kit. While your ship will likely have a medical station aboard, prepare for some sticker shock if you visit it. On our second cruise, my son cut his finger on one of the railings. We stopped by the medical station, and they offered us a Band-Aid — for $30.00. It turns out that $30.00 was the minimum charge for any kind of medical attention. Luckily, we had some in our luggage, but now we always make sure to pack a first-aid kit when we cruise.
- Travel-size air freshener spray. With four people in a ship’s cabin, things can get stuffy — especially if you are staying in an interior cabin with no windows or balcony. Add four people sharing the same bathroom for days and days, and… well, you get the idea. You will not regret packing this, but you may regret not packing it.
Whether you’re taking your first cruise or are a regular cruiser, I hope these tips help you plan your next vacation at sea! We love cruising with our children, and we’ve found that cruising has been a wonderful way to see parts of the world that we may not have planned an entire trip around. Norwegian Cruise Lines sails to many popular Caribbean destinations, as well as to their own private islands. I’ve found that I enjoy the private islands immensely, as those island days just seem to linger on at an unhurried, leisurely pace.
I also find it so relaxing to sit on the deck while the ship is at sea and see the water meeting the sky in every direction. You truly get a sense of just how big our world is when the ocean is the only thing you can see for miles and miles. Happy cruising!