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Updated September 20, 2018
Parents, you can thank me. I have taken my baby on a cruise so you don't have to.
OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. Family cruising is ideal when the kids are elementary school age and older, but when I took my first kid on his first cruise at the age of 1, I realized that cruising with babies younger than 2 is a very different story. As I sat in a darkened cruise ship cabin, listening to my son breathe as he napped while Grandma was out enjoying the ship, I started thinking about reasons why you might not want to cruise with your baby.
Don't get me wrong: Cruising with a baby is definitely doable, especially on the right ship with an accommodating kid. (Mine was not the accommodating kind.) In my experience, ship staff can be extraordinarily baby-friendly; on my first cruise with baby, they made a point to say hi to my son and didn't get upset about the messes he made. I have great photos of him in his tuxedo onesie on formal night, and I'll always have the memories of celebrating his first birthday on his first Alaska cruise (complete with a cake smash in the main dining room). He enjoyed pushing our umbrella stroller around the pool deck and down the cabin hallways. But between you and me, I needed a serious vacation after that cruise.
Here, then, are nine reasons to think twice before taking the little one on a cruise. Of course, you might decide that it's still worth the extra hassle to get yourselves out to sea or to have a family vacation with the rest of your clan. Babies change quickly at different ages, and your kid's temperament combined with ship amenities and ports of call can have a big impact on your enjoyment of a cruise. It makes a world of difference if your little one will sleep in a stroller. But even if you are dead set on setting sail with your under-2, consider my advice -- if for no other reason than preparing for the realities of cruising with a baby.
1. Babies don't sail free.
With the exception of a few lines that have standard "kids sail free" deals and occasional promotions, you have to pay the going third-person rate for a baby sharing a cabin with mom and dad. That can be a hefty sum for a trip the baby is not going to remember.
2. You can't pack light.
With the stroller, the car seat, the bag of baby food and snacks, the bottles, sippy cups, multiple outfits per day and toys, you might need a Sherpa to get through the airport with all your baby's gear. You'll have to think creatively about how you're going to physically carry all the bags; it's not like Junior can help. Babies don't travel light.
3. It's not a vacation for mom and dad.
Some of the best parts of cruising are not cooking, cleaning or doing laundry for a week. Cruise with a baby, and you might be washing bottles and sippy cups at least once a day, spending a morning in port washing clothes, and bringing your own food to the lido buffet for breakfast and lunch. With all that extra vacation work, at least you don't have to wash all the linens babies soil or hose down the high chair after every meal.
4. Cruise ships aren't baby-proof.
My active kid wanted to explore everything. Unfortunately, open railings on the pool deck, decorative pebbles in the planters and high-traffic stairways don't make for the safest play places for babies lacking self-preservation instincts. Unless your ship has a designated area for infants, you might be hard pressed to find a good place for baby to play. The cabin is your best bet; otherwise, look for unused public rooms or low-trafficked lobby areas.
5. Cribs make cabins even smaller.
Think your cabin is snug? Try sticking a full-size Pack 'n Play in the middle of it. Oh, and you have to squeeze the stroller in whatever free corner is left. (Tip: Leave the full-size jogging stroller at home.) It makes co-sleeping look really appealing.
6. No nightlife for you.
Most babies and toddlers go to sleep early, and if your child won't sleep in a stroller or a carrier on the go, someone has to remain in the cabin with the sleeping angel at all times. Without extended family to take shifts, mom and dad typically end up switching up who gets to go out at night and who ends up asleep by 9 p.m. after sitting in a darkened room for hours. Some ships have a dividing curtain (or you can rig one with strong magnetic hooks and an opaque shower curtain) so you can keep some lights on without disturbing baby. Even better, some ships have a nursery where you can put baby down -- if he or she will go to sleep in a communal space and transfer easily back to the crib at midnight.
7. The cruise schedule doesn't always match baby's schedule.
If your baby isn't a stroller napper (mine isn't), embark/debark days and shore excursions can be difficult to manage. For example, embarkation day can be a nightmare if you have to delay naptime for check-in, but cabins aren't accessible immediately after boarding. And if you're lucky enough to breeze into your room, there's no guarantee the Pack 'n Play will be set up until evening turndown. Touring in port can also be a logistical challenge if you have to keep returning to the ship for a rest. And, oh yeah, expect baby's sleeping and eating patterns and schedules to get messed up during the trip.
8. Babies can't use the pool.
This one applies even if you have the world's most accommodating child who will sleep anywhere and on anything. With the exception of certain ships with splash zones for the diaper set (like some Royal Caribbean and Disney ships), kids can't use the pools unless they're toilet trained. That makes sea days in the Caribbean or Mexico less fun -- unless you plan on schlepping and filling an inflatable tub/pool.
9. Most cruise cabins don't have bathtubs.
Book Disney or a suite for bathtub access. Otherwise baby better like sponge baths or showers. Mine discovered during his first sponge bath in the shower that he could remove the drain cover and reach inside the dark recesses of the drain. That was the end of the sponge bath, and I'm not sure he ever got entirely clean for the rest of the cruise. Again, consider the inflatable tub/pool. Then again, as long as you wash baby's hands and face, she can probably get away with a week of no bathing.