Whether you're divorced, widowed, a single parent by choice or married but traveling without your spouse, traveling alone with kids can be overwhelming. A cruise is actually a great way to vacation as a solo adult with children, but first-time single parent cruisers often have a lot of questions and concerns before embarking. Let us ease your mind with our best single parent cruise advice and the answers to commonly asked questions.
Single-parent families need to provide the same government-issued IDs as everyone else -- whether that be a passport or birth certificate and photo I.D., depending on countries of origin and travel. Always check whether visas are required for your cruise itinerary.
Most cruise lines do not require a child travel consent form if a child is traveling with only one parent. However, if parent and child do not share a last name, many lines do require you to bring your child's passport and birth certificate as legal proof that you're related. Some cruise lines, such as Princess and Holland America, require children cruising with only one parent to provide a passport in order to cruise, even on closed-loop, round trip U.S. sailings where a birth certificate is otherwise acceptable travel documentation. (This is for emergency situations in which families might need to be debarked in a foreign country.) It's always a good idea for adoptive parents, legal guardians and separated or divorced parents to bring copies of legal documents showing their status, as a precaution.
Where you might need further documentation is with international flights to reach your cruise embarkation port. Canada and Mexico especially can be very strict about children traveling with just one parent; you will want to check with the U.S. State Department (or that of your home country) and the consulates of your destination countries about what documentation is required. Typically, you'll need a notarized letter of consent, signed by the other parent (include contact information), saying that you have permission to take your children out of the country on the specific dates and specific cruise and to sign activity waivers and make medical decisions for the child when traveling.
In many cases, you will not be asked to show documentation, but it's important to have.
If you are asked by airport or border officials for specific paperwork and you don't have it, you can be denied boarding or entrance into the foreign country until you produce it. Therefore, it's always best to take the time to acquire the documentation you might need, even if no one asks, than to skip it and find yourself making frantic last-minute arrangements or having to cancel your trip once you've gotten as far as the airport.
The same principle applies for your cruise. If a birth certificate or passport is required, and you do not bring the appropriate I.D., you can be prevented from boarding your ship.
The biggest concern we see on Cruise Critic's message boards are from parents who need a notarized consent letter for children traveling abroad but their child's other parent is deceased, completely out of the picture and unreachable, unwilling to cooperate or an anonymous sperm donor.
If the child's other parent is deceased, a copy of the birth certificate (showing both parents' name) and a copy of a death certificate should be sufficient. If you have legally acquired sole custody of your child, then a legal document stating that will need to be provided. If you're a single parent by choice, a copy of your child's birth certificate showing only one parent's name on it is acceptable as proof.
If the other spouse is refusing to cooperate, or you don't know how to get in touch but don't have sole custody, you might need to go to family court to get the legal documentation necessary to travel. As every case is different, you'll want to talk to a lawyer to determine what steps you need to take.
The first two passengers in a cruise cabin pay the full fare, regardless of age. That means single parents are stuck paying "adult" rates for one kid. The second and third child in the cabin will pay the extra-passenger fee (which is usually discounted off the regular price).
Most of the major, big-ship cruise lines are family-friendly, and offer drop-off activities for kids while cruising ages 3 to 17 -- for free -- in their kids clubs from morning until night. Some cruise ships also have extra-fee, drop-off nurseries for babies and toddlers. If you're dreaming of dropping your kids off and finally getting some "me time," know that not all kids enjoy the club scene, preferring instead to hang out with their families.
Singles parents can't trade off evening kid duty with a spouse, and you shouldn't leave your kids in a cabin alone while you live it up several decks away. Parents have two options for babysitting: late-night "parties" (essentially, group babysitting) in the club for an hourly per-kid fee, or in-cabin babysitting (for a higher fee) offered on a limited basis by only a few lines (namely Holland America and Celebrity).
If you're looking to socialize in port, or be in a group setting where someone else can keep an eye on your kids while you run to the bathroom, a ship-sponsored shore excursion can be an easy way to do cool activities as a single-parent family. However, ship tours can be pricy and not always a good match for young kids. You might find cheaper or more amenable options by booking independently run tours or doing your own activities in port, such as going to a beach. If you're nervous about managing multiple kids on your own but don't want to do a ship tour, use Cruise Critic's Roll Call feature to meet other families on your sailing and team up for a smaller group outing.
Most cruise lines let parents drop their kids off at the kids club and then leave the ship in port; others require one parent or guardian to remain onboard. Check with your cruise line for its specific policy. While some parents are uncomfortable leaving kids on the ship while they're in port, it's the only option for single moms and dads to do more grown-up tours, such as a wine tasting or scuba diving.
In the main dining room, tables for two or three are generally hard to come by if you prefer to eat just as a family. Instead, consider choosing set-time, assigned-seating dining and requesting a large table with other families. This will be more fun for your family than dining awkwardly with older couples or honeymooners, who might or might not like kids.
Buffets are great with older kids, but it can be difficult to get food for yourself and your young children while keeping track of everyone in a large venue all on your own. If you're looking for a casual option, single parents might find poolside grills or pizza counters to be more manageable. Alternately, look for casual, sit-down options like Royal Caribbean's Johnny Rockets or Norwegian's O'Sheehan's -- or opt for room service.
Most cruise lines offer single traveler meetups, but they're not specifically targeted at parents and might not take place at a parent-friendly time. Disney offers a "Cruisin' Solo Lunch" for adults 18+ that often draws a bunch of single parents, given Disney's family-friendly nature, but could also include college-age kids, as well.
Cruisers tend to be very friendly, with many passengers forming friendships for the length of the vacation or the rest of their lives. Some obvious places to strike up conversations include shore tours, adults-only sun decks or cafes and during trivia or other games. Use the Cruise Critic Roll Calls to meet others on your sailing and set up dinner dates or bar meetups with the folks you click with.