I know what you are thinking…going on a cruise with a baby is not a vacation. Well, you’re right; it’s not a “sit back and relax” kind of trip, but we had such a great time cruising with our 1-year-old and creating memories. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s totally possible and really not all that stressful to take your little one on a cruise. Below I have some tips for cruising with a baby: from finding the best cruise line/ship, to what to pack and expect while onboard!
When booking a cruise with a baby, note that most lines will charge for babies as full-priced adults; however, some do offer “kids sail for free” or “3rd and 4th passenger” promotions often.
We booked our cruise with Royal Caribbean with their kid’s free special, but other lines offer kids promos, including MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Holland America.
Typically we prefer to sail on the newest ships to be able to experience more onboard; however, Royal Caribbean seems to offer their kids promo on older vessels. This year we sailed on the Grandeur of the Seas from Baltimore, which is probably the smallest ship we’ve ever been on, but we enjoyed our time! The boat first took sail in 1996 and has been renovated since. It’s actually leaving RC’s fleet in 2021 and being replaced by the Enchantment of the Seas for Baltimore sailings.
Our ship departed out of Baltimore, Maryland with 2 stops to the Bahamas (Nassau and RC’s private island), Charleston, SC and Orlando, FL. I was looking for a cruise that had a little beach action and a little city action, so this was a perfect itinerary for us.
Overall, I’m very impressed with how accommodating Royal Caribbean and the Grandeur staff were for babies. During our booking process, we were able to request a playpen directly from the cruise line. They even had playpen sheets! I brought our own sheets, but stupidly grabbed crib sheets instead of the playpen size and of course they didn’t fit. If possible, I would also recommend booking a balcony room, as these rooms are generally a bit larger. Having a balcony is perfect to escape to while the little one is napping.
In addition to the playpen, our ship had a ton of high chairs available in both the dining room and the buffet. These weren’t typical high chairs you see in restaurants but full-on high chairs with a tabletop, which was extremely convenient when feeding Elliott.
Another impressive accommodation was beach strollers. One of our stops was to the new Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s new private island in the Bahamas. We were super impressed with the fact that they had beach strollers available free of charge! This stroller has giant sand wheels so that you can use it on the sand/beach. We were able to hang out on the beach and use this awesome stroller all day. Elliott napped for 2 hours! It perfectly covered the sun and allowed him to sleep in the shade.
One area I was anxious about was food accommodations. Elliott has a cow’s milk allergy, so we have to avoid milk products (cheese, butter, etc.), so I was a bit nervous feeding him on this trip. While the buffet didn’t list allergy information on the signs (they totally should), the dining room did and was very accommodating to his allergy. Every night we got to look at the next nights’ dinner menu and order a specific meal for Elliott. Our head waiter and team were amazing! They made custom, no salt, no dairy meals for him. They always made sure he had avocado for breakfast, steamed veggies for dinner and fruit for dessert. I hear they will also mash food upon request! We brought some baby food with us just in case, but used it mainly during snack time, or when we were away from the ship during port days.
Lastly, most cruise lines offer babysitting services on board. Our ship had a nursery and charged $6-$8 per hour (depending on the time of the day). They also offered free childcare for children over 3! We didn’t take advantage of the babysitting services this time, but it is an excellent option. What we did take advantage of was the open play area for babies (located in the nursery during certain hours). Especially on sea days, we would go up to the nursery and play. The room was lined with mats, and the staff would lay out new toys each day. We met a few parents and babies this way as well!
Another piece I was a bit nervous about was how to get around on port days with a baby. I wanted to be able to explore each stop (without being stuck near the ship), and I wasn’t sure how to do this with all of the baby gear needed. After much research, I learned that it is easier to get around via public transportation. It is better to travel with a baby via a city bus (or subway) than any other means of transportation. You don’t have to bring a car seat, and public transportation is typically safer than taxis, cars, Ubers, etc. The best method of traveling with a baby on public transit is to wear them in a carrier or hold them. For the rest of our travels, we always used our BabyZen YOYO stroller. I love this stroller, as it is small and folds easily. Perfect for a small cruise ship cabin!
For our first stop in Nassau, Bahamas, we decided to venture from the cruise port to Cable Beach. To do this, we took the city bus with the locals. We grabbed our Baby Bjorn but didn’t end up using it on the bus since it was sitting room only. I held Elliott on my lap for the 15-minute ride to the beach. Using the city bus was simple and easy!
During our last cruise stop in Charleston, SC, we did end up using Uber and taking our car seat. We were running late and were worried we didn’t have as much time to use the bus. Thankfully, our infant car seat clips into the stroller! If you are using a convertible car seat that doesn’t clip into a stroller, public transportation is a must if you need to travel further and don’t want to be stuck with your car seat.
As a side note, since we are still using the infant car seat we decided to bring it along to make our overall travels easier. I mentioned this in my last traveling with baby post, but we ask the check-in counter at the airport if the plane is full. If not, they always let us take our car seat onboard free of charge! If it is, we typically do a gate check. So far, we have only flown with the nuna PIPA infant car seat, which clips into our travel stroller, the BabyZen YOYO. The YOYO also folds into a backpack size using this travel bag. It fits into the overhead compartment making it extremely easy to get on and off the plane. I love these both! If you are looking for an infant car seat, check out my review.
Packing was probably my biggest challenge with this whole trip. I’m an over-packer at heart, so this trip was no different. My 1-year-olds suitcase was significantly bigger than my husband’s!
I wanted to share a few non-traditional items that I would recommend on top of the general packing necessities:
- Baby dishes/Bottles/Nursing gear
- We are in the sippy cup stage and like these!
- Tupperware – I grabbed 2 containers with lids so that we could pack snacks and leftovers easily. We used these daily.
- Placemats– Full disclosure, we didn’t end up needing these because the highchairs on our ship came with a tabletop, but not all cruise lines have this! The placemats are convenient for feeding your baby with a basic high chair.
- Bibs – We prefer to use a full-body bib. These keep Elliott’s outfits clean. Ikea also has nice ones for cheap!
- Dishwashing soap- I brought a small bottle of dishwashing liquid in this bottle.
- Sanitizing face and hand wipes
- Baby detergent – We actually didn’t pack this, but I wish we had. Our first day onboard, Elliott broke out in a rash. I’m not sure what caused it, but I was wondering if it was from the cruise detergent since he slept on their sheets. I wish we had brought a little bottle of baby laundry detergent to do any of his laundry as necessary.
- Sound machine – At home, Elliott sleeps with his Hatch Sound Machine, so we bought a portable one for traveling. This one is great because it’s small and easy to charge.
- Slumberpod – A blogger I follow and my girlfriend both raved about traveling with a Slumberpod, so I knew this was a must-have for our cruise. The Slumberpod is a blackout tent that goes over a playpen. It is 100% safe and was perfect for sharing a sleeping place. The Slumberpod kept Elliott in the dark, allowing him to sleep and nap better. It also had another unexpected feature as our balcony room was pretty drafty, the Slumberpod was perfect for sheltering Elliott from the cold breeze.
- Inflatable Bathtub – This is a must! Most cabins (unless you get a suite) have a tiny shower and no tub. We used our inflatable bathtub daily. Elliott loved it so much, we now use it at home as well.
- Portable highchair– This isn’t a must, but we did bring a high chair with us to use. We mainly used it in the cabin for snack time, but you could also take it to the beach. We’ve been using this at home as well!
- Travel stroller – I’ve raved about this stroller in my previous travel post, but this is the best stroller for traveling! As I mentioned above, the YOYO folds down into a backpack, so it’s easy to fly with and especially convenient for tiny staterooms aboard cruise ships.
- Baby Bjorn – Because of our BabyZen YOYO, we didn’t use the Baby Bjorn as much as I thought we would, but it was nice to have for the few times we did!
- Medicine – Pack medication for baby! I packed Tylenol, Zyrtec, gas relief drops, Saline Nose Spray, and a thermometer. Elliott got a fever our second to last day, so I was glad we had our Tylenol (although the ship had some as well).
My last tip when cruising with baby (or frankly when flying as well)– don’t pack more than a day’s worth of diapers with you. Just buy them before you board the ship (or arrive). We stopped at Walgreens before heading to the port and grabbed a large pack of diapers and a pack of water for the ship (make sure to print an extra luggage tag, so you can check it). This way, you don’t have to take up your entire luggage with diapers.
I hope these tips help you in making a decision on booking a cruise with your baby!