Updated September 16, 2018
The ideal family cruise will provide opportunities for every member of the family to have fun. The kids’ club and related youth programming offered by the cruise ship can be a key part of making that happen. For one thing, those programs provide an array of activities and facilities throughout the cruise that appeal to a wide range of youngsters. And, while the kids enjoy the youth program activities, their grown ups have the chance to pursue their own agenda. Win-win. So, can you find these same types of opportunities when cruising with a baby? Yes, but it may take a little more work. (Read our related posts on our resource page to find more tips on cruising with a baby.)
Summary of Childcare Options
One key challenge with cruising with a baby is identifying cruise ships that have childcare and play options for babies and toddlers. While almost all major cruise lines have a kids’ club and youth programs that welcome kids that are at least 3 years old (with a few starting at age 2), options for kids under two are less common. That said, they do exist, and parents can find a variety of options with some advanced planning.
When evaluating options, you should distinguish between options that require a parent or caregiver to stay, and options that allow parents to drop off their kids. Many cruise lines will offer play facilities or play times where parents can come play with their kids along with other families. For instance, Celebrity cruises offers “Toddler Time,” which is a designated play period when parents bring kids under 3 to interact with other kids and families. Celebrity provides the play space and a variety of appropriate toys. Similarly, Norwegian Cruise Line offers a “Guppies Program” for children under 3 that requires parent participation. The Program includes both open play sessions and hosted activities.
The distinction between drop-off care and activities that require parent participation may not matter to some folks, but having at least the option to have some grown-up time on your own can be a big benefit when cruising with a baby. Currently, there are eight cruise lines that offer true drop-off options for babies and toddlers. You will find descriptions of these programs below. Programs vary from those offering a few hours a day to those offering full day and evening care. If you are planning on cruising with a baby in tow, these cruise lines may be the best place to start your search. (For a comprehensive summary of the different youth programs and policies across 65+ cruise lines, download a free copy of our Reference Guide to Cruise Line Youth Programs & Policies. Click Here! )
Please note that most of services open to kids under age two will involve some type of fee. Only Cunard and P&O Cruises offers free services for babies and toddlers. You should also note that specific opening/closing times may vary based on itinerary, so you confirm specifics directly with the cruise line as to a particular sailing.
Cruise Lines Offering Day & Evening Services
Carnival – Carnival’s regular kids’ club is open to children aged two and above. For kids under two, it offers a limited paid drop off service for a fee of $6.75/hour + 15% gratuity. On sea days, during “Under 2” time, parents have a two-hour window from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. For port days, the available window expands to essentially the first four hours that the ship is in port. Also, Carnival offers regular fee-based group babysitting in the evenings via its Night Owls program. Unlike the daytime kids’ club, this service is open to all kids, including infants and toddlers age 6 months and older.
Celebrity – Celebrity offers paid in-room babysitting for children 12 months or older, subject to availability. Families may use this service while the ship is in port and during the evenings. This is one of the very few cruise lines that permits traditional in-room babysitting. The service includes 2 sitters for up to 3 children for $19/hour. This service requires 24-hour advance notice.
Disney – All Disney ships have a nursery that provides drop-off care for children ages 6 months to 3 years for an hourly fee. The nursery requires advanced reservations.
MSC Cruises — MSC Cruises offers a very limited drop-off service for infants– MSC Babycare Service. On sea days, children between the ages of 1 and 3 can be dropped off during two periods: 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (These hours have expanded! The original early period was one hour between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.)
Update (2018): One of the newest ships from MSC, MSC Seaside, offers substantially expanded nursery services. Find out more in Our Top 10 Reasons MSC Seaside Rocks Family Cruising.
Norwegian – NCL has one ship with a drop off nursery at this time. The Norwegian Escape offers drop-off care for children 6 months to 3 years in its Guppies Nursery for a fee. All other Norwegian ships have designated play times that require a parent to stay.
Royal Caribbean – Most of Royal Caribbean’s newer ships have a dedicated Royal Babies & Tots Nursery that provides drop-off care for infants and toddlers ages 6 to 36 months. Fees apply ($6/hour during the day; $8/hour in evening). Royal Caribbean also offers paid in-room sitting for children ages 1 and up through its Sitters at Sea program. Sitters will bring their own set of toys and will keep a log of activities. This service assigns sitters on a first come first served basis. Families must make reservations at least 24 hours in advance. (Update: Royal Caribbean will be ending its Sitters at Sea program as of 9/30/2018.)
Cruise Lines Offering Evening-Only Services
Cunard — Cunard’s regular youth program starts at age two. For children younger than two, it offers a free Night Nursery for children ages 6 months to 23 months from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., on a first-come, first–served basis.
P&O Cruises — This cruise line offers a complimentary Night Nursery for children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years from 6:00 p.m. through 2:00 a.m. Spaces are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
One final tip: If you are cruising with a baby on a ship that requires advanced booking for infant and toddler child care, you should try to nail down availability on your first day on the ship. Cruise ships usually have limited slots that can fill up very quickly — particularly on holiday or other special event sailings.
Would you like more information about options for cruising with kids across more than 65 different cruise lines, including small ships, luxury cruises and river cruises? Download a free copy of our Reference Guide to Cruise Line Youth Programs & Policies. Click Here!