What To Pack For A Cruise: The Helpful List You Need

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesCRUISE TIPS, Packing

Cast your cruise packing worries aside! This list for families has what to pack for a cruise with kids without missing essentials or overpacking.

What to pack for a cruise | photo of family luggage waiting in foyer


If you’re new to the wonderful world of family cruising, questions about what to pack for a cruise are likely lurking somewhere in the back (or front) of your mind. Whether it’s making sure that you don’t forget anything, or wanting to make the most efficient use of space in your luggage and stateroom. Even if you’ve done it a few times, you may be curious in comparing notes for ideas on what could be done differently.

Over the past 10+ years, we’ve been on dozens of cruises with kids and most of them have been to warm weather destinations. And, at this point, our basic packing list is fairly settled. With maybe the occasional tweak depending on what activities we plan to do.  So, whether you’re planning a 7 day Caribbean cruise or a 14+ day cruise of the South Pacific, the following tips and checklist will have you ready to go in no time. Read on to find out exactly what you should consider packing for your next family cruise. (We’ve also compiled this information into a handy family checklist. See below.) 

What To Pack For A Cruise: Basic Clothing

Something that you should keep in mind if you are new to cruising is that you will probably use more clothes than usual because you will likely be changing more than once a day (for at least some if not all of your cruise days). You will have a wide range of fun activities to choose from, many of which have different clothing and/or footwear requirements. Even if you plan on spending most of your time on the beach or at the pool, you will probably change clothes for dinner after washing off that chlorine or saltwater.

Depending on the size of your travel party, packing for multiple wardrobe changes can quickly expand your suitcase count. You can streamline this by making a plan for doing laundry. Check out our post on doing laundry on a cruise ship for more information.

Everyone has their own style of dress and preferences for dressing their children. So it’s not that helpful to try and set out a detailed itemized list. In this instance, one size does not fit all.  Instead, here are some general rules of thumb to use for planning purposes and selecting which wardrobe items you want to pack.

* Casual day outfits

Plan to pack one outfit for each day of your cruise for each person in your family. These would be your everyday items such as shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sundresses, etc.

If you are planning to work out, include exercise clothes as well. Depending on the size of your ship, you will have access to some kind of track for walking or jogging. And, you will also likely find a complete on-board fitness gym with modern equipment. The ship may also offer fitness classes as part of the amenities. Potentially for an additional fee.

* Evening outfits

Plan to pack an evening outfit for each night of cruise of your cruise as well. Although many cruise lines have flexible dress codes these days, generally there will still be some basic rules about clothing in the main dining room – particularly for adults. How strictly these are enforced varies widely. But generally, the younger the child the lesser the expectations. And the expectations change depending on the venue and time of day. For the buffet, you can pretty much wear what you want. For speciality dining, people tend to dress much more nicely. And, for all venues, if you dine on the earlier side, things are much lower key.

Appropriate evening attire for non-formal nights would include items such as collared shirt and long pants, skirts, dresses, blouses, dressy tank tops. For kids, you can easily plan on respectable shorts or jeans. Some of the items that you pack for your casual days can serve double duty in the evening.

Scroll down for more information on what to pack specifically for formal nights.

* Pajamas

However many pajamas that you usually go through in a week at home should be fine on the ship. But bring extra pajamas if you have kids in diapers or who are still accident prone.

* Underwear

Include appropriate regular underwear for each family member. And throw in a few extra to account for wardrobe changes.

* Accessories

Include whatever accessories are consistent with your personal style. Items such as scarfs, handbag, casual jewelry, etc. And, you should include for each person, a lightweight jacket/poncho that can be tucked away for rainy days or cooler nights.


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Cruise Packing For Formal Nights

You can check in advance as to how many formal nights your cruise will have, but assume 2 for a 7 night cruise. Your participation is optional. But if you plan to opt out, then you should plan to dine in a venue where it’s not being observed – like the buffet, pool area, or room service. That said, you should really consider doing at least one. It can be more fun than you think, and it’s a great way to get some nice family photos. (There will be photographers set up throughout the ship and walking through the dining room. No obligation to actually purchase.)

If you plan to dress-up for formal night, include the following for each person:

  • Suit or better for men/boys – don’t forget the dress shirts.
  • Cocktail-style dress or better for women/girls
  • Ties (men/boys)
  • Appropriate evening accessories – jewelry, purse, etc.
  • Specialty underwear (if necessary)
  • Trouser socks/hosiery (as necessary)

You should also note that some cruise lines have the option for renting formal as well. But this should be arranged in advance.

Cruise Packing: Shoes 

If your schedule of activities will include any variety, you’re going to need to pack more than one pair of shoes. So your itemized list of what to pack for a cruise should factor that in. Consider packing the following sets of shoes for each person:

  • comfortable walking around shoes
  • closed toe shoes (some activities may require)
  • shoes for beach/pool (flip flops, water sandals, etc.)
  • formal night shoes
  • dressy/casual shoes (for non-formal nights)
  • shoes for gym/track (if applicable)

So, as an example, for each child, I usually end up packing a pair of all purpose “active” sandals that can be worn all day, including evenings; a pair of water sandals/shoes; and a pair of dress shoes.

Cruise Packing | photo of mom and daughter packing for vacation

Cruise Packing: Beach/Pool

If you’re sailing on a warm weather cruise, then you will likely be spending some quality time at the beach and/or pool. So when deciding what to pack for a cruise, don’t forget these key items for water fun.

  • Swimsuits (recommend 3 – 1 wet, 1 drying, 1 extra in case you end up doing the beach and the pool int same day, and don’t want to crawl back into a wet suit.
  • Swimsuit cover-up
  • Floaties/swim vest (for kids) 
  • Sand toys (for beach )
  • Goggles
  • Hat

Related Content:  6 Items To Absolutely Include On Your Family’s Caribbean Cruise 

Cruise Packing: Sundries/Toiletries

You will likely have some very basic toiletries in your cabin. This will include hand soap and some version of something called shampoo. And, possibly something that can be used for body wash. It is unlikely that these items will be of the quality that you usually use and like. (If you are in a suite or a concierge level cabin, you will have more items and nicer quality.) Your list of what to pack for a cruise should include your own favorite toiletries.

Although you will also have the option to purchase items through the on-board shops, these will likely be very expensive and can often run out. So pack the following items that can be shared among family members:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Travel-size lotion
  • Sanitary products
  • Favorite medications
  • Travel-size hand sanitizer
  • Small laundry soap (if don’t want to use onboard laundry service) 
  • Wrinkle away spray
  • Preferred shower gel
  • Shower cap
  • Shaving items
  • toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Preferred shampoo/conditioner
  • Non-perishable snacks (for travel days and/or shore excursions)

Cruise Packing: Electronics/Gear

In deciding what to pack for a cruise, these items are all optional. But, they’re highly recommended useful items for your cruise packing.

  • Day pack/beach bag (something to use during port calls)
  • Outlet expander (read more about this must have cruise accessory
  • Tablets (fully loaded)
  • Extra batteries for anything important
  • Extra headphones
  • Camera (if not using smart phone)
  • A watch/timepiece that won’t auto set (so can remain on “ship time”)
  • A watch/timepiece for kids that are self-signers, or who are allowed to navigate ship independently (so they know when to meet you)

What To Pack For A Cruise: Organization

There are several items that you can pack to help make your cruise ship room more comfortable and make the most of the space available to you. So consider including these items when deciding what to pack for your cruise.

  • Magnets – clip/clamp style
  • Back of the door shoe organizer – for the bathroom to store toiletries and other small items
  • Hanging closet organizer
  • Lanyards with ID card holders (available on-board, but not cheap)
  • Laundry bags

What to pack for a cruise| photo of mom and baby packing

What To Pack For A Cruise With Babies/Toddlers 

Depending on which cruise line you are sailing, you may be able to get some of  your basic baby gear on board and cut down on your cruise packing. You should also check out our post on essential items to pack when cruising with a baby and our Resource Page for going on a cruise with a baby.

  • Foldable compact umbrella stroller
  • Bottle brush
  • Small bottle of dish soap
  • Portable bottle sanitizer (not required; water in bathroom should get hot enough)
  • Extra baby food or formula 
  • An abundance of diapers (add a few more than you think you’ll need)
  • Extra wipes
  • Favorite OTC medications
  • Favorite non-perishable snacks

 


Would you like this information about what to pack for your cruise in a handy checklist? Download our one-page 2018/2019 Family Cruise Packing Checklist!


Want more detailed guidance on planning an awesome family cruise?  Check out Elaine’s book, The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids (available in print and digital at Amazon).


6 Useful Tips You Need To Know On Florida Cruise Ports

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesCRUISE PLANNING, CRUISE TIPS, Disembarkation, Embarkation, PORTS & EXCURSIONS

Florida cruise ports are the busiest cruise ports in the world. Find out what you need to know to save time, money and aggravation.


Florida Cruise Ports | photo of cruise ships in Miami port


Florida has some of the busiest cruise ports in the world. More passengers sail out of Florida cruise ports than anywhere else in the world. Florida has six different cruise ports. If you are going on a Caribbean cruise, odds are real high your sailing will depart from Florida. (But, Florida cruise ports also host ships sailing to other parts of the world.)  Here are some key tips that you should know to help you save money, time and aggravation.

1. Check Flights To Cities Other Than Your Actual Port City For Better Value. 

Of Florida’s six separate cruise ports, three receive the lion’s share of traffic. The Florida cruise ports that handle the most cruise passengers each year are Miami, Port Canaveral (Orlando) and Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale). Collectively, these three ports see more than 12.5 million cruise passengers each year.

Each of these Florida cruise ports has at least one major airport within an hour’s drive. But sometimes the most obvious airport may not actually be your best option for kicking off your cruise. Depending on where you live, the price for air tickets may be cheaper if you fly to a nearby city and drive the remaining distance. You can often find affordable shuttle services to cover that distance. Or, you may find that taking a car service or renting a car still yields overall cheaper travel costs. Also, if you investigate options at other Florida airports, you may find more convenient travel times to fit your schedule.

If you do exercise your option to fly to an alternative airport for your cruise, make sure that you make prior arrangements for a ride to take you from the airport to the other city.

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port in Miami

More than five million passengers each year start their cruises from the Miami cruise port, making it the busiest cruise port in the world. Indeed, it has been dubbed the “Cruise Capital of the World.” In addition to very popular Caribbean itineraries, you can also sail on cruises stopping throughout Latin America, and you’ll also find cruises departing for Europe.

If you fly into the Miami International Airport, the distance to the Miami cruise port is 10 Miles (about 18 minutes).  The distance to the Miami port from the Orlando airport is 230 miles (or approximately 3 1/2 hours). And, the distance to the Miami cruise port from the Fort Lauderdale airport is 30 miles (about 45 minutes). 

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port in Fort Lauderdale

If you fly into Fort Lauderdale, the distance to Port Everglades is 6 miles (about 15-20 minutes). and the distance from Miami Airport to Port Everglades is 31 miles (about 40-45 minutes).  The distance from Orlando to Port Everglades is 215 miles (or approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes).

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port Near Orlando

If you fly into Orlando, the distance to Port Canaveral is 46 miles (or approximately 42 minutes). Three other commercial airports service the area near Port Canaveral. Melbourne International Airport (about 26 miles), Orlando Sanford International Airport (about 64 miles), and Daytona Beach International Airport (about 74 miles).  

Miami Airport to Port Canaveral is 220 miles (about 3 hours and 15 minutes). And, the distance to Port Canaveral from Fort Lauderdale is 196 miles (just under 3 hours). The Tampa airport also provides another viable option. The distance from the Tampa International Airport to Port Canaveral is 136 miles (about 2 hours 15 minutes).



Reaching The Florida Cruise Port in Tampa

What about Tampa? The Tampa cruise terminal is less busier than its sister cruise ports. For one thing, because of logistics, the largest cruise ships can’t sail from that port. But nevertheless, in 2018, traffic for the Tampa cruise port hit over 1 million passengers for the first time.

The distance from the Tampa airport to the Tampa cruise port is 10 miles (about 20 minutes). The distance from the Orlando International Airport to the Tampa cruise terminal is 86 miles (about 1 hour and 30 minutes).

As for the other two major Florida cruise ports, flying into Tampa does not provide much of a viable option, unless you really have as one of your goals exploring more of the state of Florida. The distance from Tampa International Airport to Port Everglades is just under 4 hours and the distance to Miami is about 4 hours and 15 minutes.


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Smaller Florida Cruise Ports

And, to complete the list, we should also mention that Florida hosts two smaller cruise ports with much more limited service. Carnival Cruise lines currently has one ship that sails from the Jacksonville cruise port. And, the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line sails short two night cruises from the Palm Beach cruise port to the Bahamas.

The Jacksonville Airport is about 12 miles (20 minutes) from the Jacksonville cruise port. The closest alternative city would be Orlando, where the airport is about 2 1/2 hours away from the Jacksonville port. Likewise, the Palm Beach International Airport is about 12 miles (20 minutes) to the Palm Beach cruise port. But, since it is much farther south than Jacksonville, it is also readily accessible from Miami, which is about an 1 1/2 hour drive, and Fort Lauderdale, which is about an hour and 10 minutes.

2. You Can Save Money By Skipping The Hotel.

Conventional wisdom says that you should arrive at least a day before your cruise departure date, if you will be flying into your embarkation city. And this is clearly sound advice. However, in many circumstances, it can also be reasonable to make a different choice.

Depending on where you live, it is entirely possible to fly into and out of Florida on the same day as your embarkation and disembarkation dates with ample time to spare. One big advantage of doing so is saving money on hotel. We have done this many times.  However, this is not for the faint of heart.

You can minimize potential problems if you can book nonstop flights. Trying to switch plans en route adds more opportunities for things to go wrong. And, you should try to take the earliest flight that’s practical. If your flight is scheduled to land at least 4 hours before boarding for the ship closes, that provides a nice buffer.

Although we have done this many times without incident, we have some travel companions on a recent cruise out of Tampa who weren’t quite so lucky. This family flew from their home state in the middle of the country on a flight itinerary that required one change of planes. If everything had gone according to plan, they would have arrived in Tampa several hours before the ship was scheduled to depart. But, several things went awry including weather delays, mechanical problems, and a plane rerouting. They ended up taking 3 different planes that day and stopping in two cities along the way. While they ultimately made it the ship before sail away, they did so without any luggage. They did persevere and have a wonderful time, but this does provide a cautionary tale.


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3. When Booking A Hotel, Stick Close To The Port.

If booking a hotel, choose one close to the port (rather than the airport or mid-city).

In the ideal world, you will have plenty of time to get from any hotel in town to the port. But, in reality, lots of unexpected and uncontrollable things happen. Like construction, traffic delays, and road hazards. Or a pre-embarkation shopping trip that goes awry. It is much better to have a shorter distance to cover on embarkation day.

Each of the major Florida cruise port cities have excellent hotel options:

4. Pre-Arrange Rides To Avoid Taxi Lines And Excessive Waiting.

You can save a lot of frustration and aggravation if you pre-arrange rides to the cruise port, particularly if you are arriving from the airport. This is actually a great embarkation tip for almost any embarkation city, not just the cruise ports in Florida.  This allows you to start off with a more relaxing vacation. Rather than standing in a line, in the heat, with cranky kids, waiting for a taxi that’s the right size for your party.

5. Don’t Assume That Guys Offering “Taxi” Service Mean Private Rides.

Here’s a disembarkation tip that is particularly relevant for Florida cruise ports. If you have not pre-arranged a ride to the airport, either through the cruise line or a third party service, you will step outside looking for a taxi. Now in many large cities, you will often find legitimate car service guys hanging around asking people if they want rides because something happened to their original fare. If you step outside and get approached by someone who otherwise looks legitimate, be sure to ask if it is a private ride or a group taxi. Often times, the term “taxi” may be used loosely, and it’s actually a shuttle van.

We missed a plane with this mistake. We had done the early morning walk off the ship so that we could catch an early flight in Miami. They loaded all of our luggage into the cargo trailer. We stepped into a van and there was already one guy in it. That was fine since we were all going to the airport. But what we did not realize was that the driver would proceed to drive by several other terminals looking for additional fares. And, since we weren’t full, the driver made a whole other loop around the port for a second try.

Turns out that the guy who first approached us worked for a shuttle company. And the shuttle company had someone stationed at each terminal to solicit folks and hustle them into the van. Although this team of folks was moving rather efficiently, it still added an extra 20-30 minutes that we hadn’t expected.

6. Porters At Disembarkation Ports Won’t Wait With You Once You Exit The Terminal.

This is something that may not be obvious to everyone. It certainly wasn’t obvious to me at first. When you are leaving your cruise ship, there will usually be porters with luggage carts running around to help you collect your luggage from the discharge area.  (They work for tips.) They will wait with you in line and walk with you through customs. The porters will walk you all the way to curbside pick up or the taxi line. But they will not continue to wait with you once you have stepped foot outside the terminal. They will deposit your luggage at the curb and return inside.

So why is this worth mentioning? If you have a significant amount of luggage, it is yet another reason to arrange for a ride ahead of time. You don’t want to have to struggle with your luggage through a long taxi line (without the benefit of a cart); nor is it ideal to have your luggage deposited near the front of the line to wait for you – when you are dozens of people deep in the line. The terminal areas in the major Florida cruise ports are very busy, and it is not a comfortable feeling to have all of your luggage beyond arm’s reach.

***

Florida provides great opportunities for kicking off your fun-filled family vacation. And, incorporating these simple steps in your advanced planning will help you sail off and return smoothly.


How To Plan An Awesome Family Cruise You’ll Love

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesCRUISE PLANNING

If you have never sailed on a cruise before, you can easily be overwhelmed by the number of available options for cruises and the numerous decisions points embedded in making a selection. This guide walks through exactly what you need to do to select and plan a cruise that’s just right for your family. You have several key decisions to make. Read on to learn the details and the factors that go into making each one.

Plan A Cruise | Photo of embarkation ramp to cruise ship

1. Strongly Consider Using A Travel Agent When You Plan A Cruise.

These days, you can make almost all of your family vacation plans online cheaply and efficiently using websites like Orbitz, Tripadvisor.com, and Expedia.  But when it comes to planning a cruise vacation, consider getting assistance from a travel agent. 

Here’s the basic scoop: There’s a reason why more than 70% of cruisers work with a cruise specialist when booking their trips. Unlike some of your other family travel, booking a cruise on your own without agent assistance will not save you either time or money. And, and you may well miss out on some promotional perks that would add additional value to your trip. As well as missing out on the opportunity to take advantage of subsequent fare drops and sales.

Selecting a travel agent

If you decide to use a travel agent, you should work with an agent who specializes in cruises. They are extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of your trip and can make informed suggestions.

If  you don’t have a personal referral, you can search for agents in your area on the websites of relevant professional organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) (focus on cruise specialists) or Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

When you are consulting with a prospective agent, find out whether she has firsthand experience with the brands or ships that interest you. A true cruise specialist has actually been onboard various ships and can provide firsthand advice about the different options available. You should expect something more than the ability to read and summarize from cruise line documentation.


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2. Plan A Cruise: Decide When You Want To Sail.

Deciding on the time of year that you want to sail will help narrow your options as you plan a cruise. Cruising for certain parts of the world can be very seasonal. So, if you are limited to a certain time window (e.g., you are restricted to certain time of year because of school/holiday schedule), and/or if you have your heart set on visiting certain places, this will influence the range of options available to you.

Year-Round Options

Stated broadly, you can generally sail Caribbean, Australian, and Hawaiian itineraries year-round. For the Caribbean, peak season runs December through April. Hurricane season runs June through November (with most storms concentrated in August, September, and October). Australia is also a year-round cruise destination. For Hawaii, while you have year-round options for sailings, only Norwegian Cruise Line offers sailings during the summer. High season for Hawaii runs from late December through April.

Seasonal Options

For Mediterranean itineraries and Alaskan itineraries, the bulk of options will be available in the spring and summer. The Alaskan cruise season runs May to September. High season runs June through August. And while there are some instances of year-round options in the Mediterranean, most sailings run spring through fall. For those families that are constrained by school schedules, all of the foregoing itineraries could be viable options for summer break.

Notable itineraries that are largely unavailable in the summer are the Panama Canal, Central America, and South America. Also, options for Far East Asia and Southeast Asia can be very limited. For the Panama Canal, the season runs October to April. For South America, the season runs November to early May. Most Asian itineraries run November through May.


This post may contain affiliate links that could result in payment of a commission to this website (at no additional cost to you). Visit our Disclosures Page for more information.


3. Pick Your Departure Port. 

The cruise lines have established numerous departure ports across the United States. Thus, you have many options from which to choose when you plan a cruise. This can play an important role in budgeting when you plan a cruise. You can gain substantial savings on your cruise vacation by choosing a location close to home that is drivable. Or, choosing a port reached by a cheap flight. Alternatively, you can select a more distant departure city and build a few extra vacation days around it.

Many ports have cruises leaving for the Caribbean, e.g., New Jersey, Baltimore, Galveston, and New Orleans. But if you want to maximize the available options, your best starting point is Florida. Every major cruise line has at least one ship departing from a Florida port.  The five different Florida cruise ports are in Fort Lauderdale-Port Everglades, Jacksonville, Miami, Port Canaveral, and Tampa.



Outside of Florida, the following major ports all host several ships from different cruise lines.  

Along the East Coast:
  • Baltimore, Maryland (Carnival and Royal Caribbean)
  • Bayonne, New Jersey (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity)
  • Boston, Massachusetts (Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean)
  • New York, New York (Carnival, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea)
Along the West Coast:  
  • Los Angeles, California (Carnival, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Cunard, Silversea)
  • San Diego, California (Celebrity, Holland America, Disney, Norwegian)
  • San Francisco, California (Cunard, Celebrity, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas)
  • Seattle, Washington (Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean)
Along the Gulf Coast:
  • Galveston, Texas (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Disney)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean)

Outside of North America, there are also ports across the world for more adventurous travel. For instance, many Mediterranean cruises depart from Barcelona, Rome (Civitavecchia), and Venice; Asia cruises depart from major cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo; and Australia/New Zealand cruises depart from Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.

Plan A Cruise | Photo of mother and daughter standing at cruise deck railing enjoying the view.

4. Decide How Long You Want To Cruise.

How much time do you have to vacation? Is there a school calendar to work around? A good starting point is the standard 7-day itinerary. Seven days can be sufficient time to see a few ports, experience a couple of sea days, and gain meaningful exposure to cruising as a vacation. If you are cautious about this new experience, you can also find options for 3 and 4 day cruises.

Also, when you are reviewing potential itineraries, you should note the number of port days vs. sea days and whether there are any “overnights” in port. The actual ports visited will have their obvious appeal (or not), but there is also much to love about sea days. Some itineraries may also include an “overnight” stay in port. This gives you the opportunity to explore more of the city and surrounding environs while still having a place to sleep.

5. Plan A Cruise Within Your Budget.

The amount of money that you have available to spend on a family vacation obviously plays a big role in deciding which cruise to purchase. Here are some general strategies to consider when trying to maximize the stretch of your cruise vacation dollars when you plan a cruise. For more money-saving tips, check out our post on Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars.

If you are working with a limited or less flexible budget, the first factor to consider is your departure port. Consider driving to a port that is relatively nearby – a day’s drive or less.  The savings in airfare and hotel should be substantial.

If you are looking for the best deals, you should try to book early – as in 9-12 months or more in advance. These are usually the best rates available, and you can continue to benefit from any additional price drops or promotions that occur later in the year. You should also look at options during “Wave Season,” which runs from January through March. During this period, cruise lines present their most aggressive offers for the upcoming year. 

Finally, investigate itineraries on older ships. Cruises on older ships are usually much cheaper than the sailings on whatever the latest addition to the cruise line fleet happens to be. Many times these older ships have been recently refurbished or upgraded and can provide great value.

6. Select Your Cruise Destination. 

Plan a cruise | Two boys looking at world map and choosing destinations.You can plan a cruise that will take you to almost any part of the world. Looking for relaxing beach escape? Culture and art? More focused on the resort aspect than any particular destination? You can plan a cruise to some destination that will fit almost every taste. Popular regions include the Caribbean, Alaska, the Mediterranean, Hawaii, South/Central America, Asia, and Australia/New Zealand/ South Pacific. 

Here are some quick tips and insights on the most popular itineraries for North American travelers.

Plan A Cruise With A Caribbean Itinerary

The Caribbean and Bahamas are the top destinations for cruisers – attracting more than 35% of travelers. You can book a Caribbean cruise at virtually any time of the year. And there is a wide range of itineraries from 3 or 4 days to 14 days or more (using back-to-back sailings, which some people love).

Related Content: 15 Things Families Should Know For An Amazing Havana Cruise

If the Caribbean appeals to you, you will have a wide range of ships and cruise lines, and a wide range of price points from which to choose. The Caribbean generally is a very accessible location. It is a great option for first time cruisers, and for families traveling with small children.

Crowding can be a downside of choosing a Caribbean itinerary during certain times of the year. There can be 3, 4 or 5 ships docked on the same day – collectively disembarking 10,000 passengers to visit the shops, sites, and complicating traffic. (For example, the Cozumel Port.)  You should also be mindful that many times itineraries change during hurricane season. Sometimes these changes are announced in advance (close to departure), but sometimes changes are made after you have already started sailing.

Types of Caribbean Itineraries

Caribbean cruise itineraries generally fall into three categories: Eastern, Western, and Southern. They break out roughly in the following ways:

The Eastern Caribbean has the largest number of departure port options. It sees cruises departing from Florida, Puerto Rico, and several other ports along the Eastern seaboard. Eastern itineraries commonly include ports in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, Grand Turk, St. Bart’s, Antigua, Anguilla, and Dominica. 

The Western Caribbean itineraries can be reached from the Florida ports, as well as New Orleans and Galveston. Western itineraries commonly include Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Honduras, and Belize.

The Southern Caribbean itineraries have ports that require more travel time to navigate. Thus, these cruises tend to be longer in duration. Also, the primary U.S. departure port is San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ships also depart from Barbados and St. Martin. Ports on the Southern itineraries commonly include Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, and Grenadines.

Plan a Cruise With A Mediterranean/European Itinerary

A Mediterranean cruise can be a uniquely enriching cultural experience where you and your family have the opportunity to sample a wide range of “bucket list” experiences. It is an obvious understatement to say that Europe is filled with incomparable art, culture, and history. A cruise ship can be a very convenient and efficient way to travel through Europe with small children in tow. It is on these itineraries that having a floating hotel resort as a base can considerably reduce your travel stressors – no trains, no internal flights, no noticeable passport or customs issues.

One of the biggest downsides, however, is that it can be much more expensive to cruise Europe, particularly in the peak summer months. First, you have to get there. A ticket to Barcelona or Venice will be substantially more expensive than a ticket to Florida. Air tickets for 3 or 4 people to Europe during the summer can get pretty expensive fairly quickly. Even if you are fortunate enough to have access to frequent flier tickets, the mileage awards will often come with some type of premium. Moreover, prices within Europe are generally more expensive than in the Caribbean, and this can be exacerbated by currency exchange rates.

Plan A Cruise To Alaska

Alaska is another popular bucket list destination that provides an opportunity for a great cruise itinerary. More than half of the visitors to Alaska arrive by cruise ship.

Alaska, which is often referred to as the last great frontier, is a very large territory dominated by thousands of acres of untamed wilderness and a smattering of cities/towns. Some towns can only be easily reached by the water. The massive glaciers and stunning marine wildlife provide a unique backdrop for a family cruise. The natural wildlife both in sea and on land is its own attraction – humpback whales, Orcas, sea otters, seals, sea lions, wild salmon, moose, grizzly, and polar bears, as well as the largest population of bald eagles in the country. Many outdoor adventures can be found: stunning mountain hikes, dog sledding, fishing, kayaking, and various helicopter excursions only scratch the surface of what’s available.

The Alaska Cruise season runs from May through September. Everything shuts down on a certain date because of weather and habitability issues. There are two primary routes: the “Inside Passage,” which usually runs round-trip from either Seattle or Vancouver; and the “Cross-the-Gulf” itinerary, which involves starting or ending in Anchorage from either Seward or Whittier. 

If you find this itinerary appealing, be sure to check out our guide to planning your best Alaska cruise.

Cruising More Exotic Itineraries

The itineraries discussed above generally represent the mainstream in family cruising. But, there are literally hundreds of other ports around the globe that can be visited by cruise ship and they offer a gamut of varied experiences.

Other areas of the world that host numerous sailings throughout the year include Hawaii, the Panama Canal and Central America, South America, Antarctica, Mexican Riviera, Canada & New England, Canary Islands, Australia/New Zealand, the South Pacific, numerous countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

7. Select Your Cruise Line & Ship.

For families traveling with infants or toddlers, you should pay special attention to any restrictions on the ages of passengers. These restrictions vary across the different lines and different itineraries. Some cruise lines require a minimum of 12 months for all itineraries; some will allow children as young as 6 months on certain itineraries. Generally, cruises that involve long itineraries with many sea days will have higher age restrictions. A typical Caribbean itinerary will more likely to have a lower restriction.

Do You want a “family friendly” cruise?

What makes a particular cruise family-friendly? At bottom, it is a ship that has features and programming designed to enhance the vacation experience of folks traveling with their kids. It is a ship that truly welcomes and seeks out families as opposed to simply tolerating or accommodating them. Some things to look for: Are there age appropriate activities available? What are the childcare options and opportunities for some adult-only time? Are there activities geared for the whole family to enjoy together? What other features make life easier for families?

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If you review the numerous travel publications and blogs available, you will find a consensus view as to the most family-friendly cruises: Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian (NCL). High marks often also go to Celebrity, Holland America, and Princess. (Focusing on U.S.-based market.)

When researching your cruise options, a good place to start is by assessing the kids’ club options and kids’ programming available on-board. Most kid programs start at age 3, and some start as early as 2. Generally, the primary kids’ club will offer free programming during the daytime and early evening. The cruise lines have varying policies as to what extent kids’ club is available on port days, and whether parents may leave their children on-board while they leave the ship.

Character Promotions & Tie-Ins.

Also, for kids’ programming, certain cruise lines have various character tie-ins and character opportunities. On such cruises, there will usually be a breakfast option that can be reserved where characters participate (sometimes for a fee). There will often be numerous opportunities throughout the ship to meet the various characters and take photos. There may be parades and other character-related entertainment. Some characters will also make appearances at kids’ club activities.

Current character tie-ins:

  • Disney – Numerous beloved Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Phineas and Ferb. Elsa and Anna from Frozen. Marvel Superheroes. Various Disney princesses. Star Wars Day at Sea.
  • Royal Caribbean—Main characters from popular DreamWorks movies such as the main characters from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, and Trolls.
  • Carnival – Characters from Dr. Seuss stories such as the cat from Cat in the Hat, along with Thing 1 and Thing 2.
  • MSC Cruises – Legos.

Think About The Size Of The Ship

In recent years, the major cruise lines have been rolling out larger jumbo size cruise ships that can hold 4,000-5,000+ passengers plus a crew of 1500-2000. The biggest of the big right now is Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, followed closely by its sister ships – Harmony, Oasis and Allure. Megaships from other lines include Norwegian’s Bliss, Joy, Epic, Escape, Breakaway and Getaway; Carnival’s Horizon, Vista and Breeze; Disney’s Dream and Fantasy

The newer ships have been designed and built with dedicated facilities and activities for children. They also have a wider variety of stateroom configurations designed to accommodate families. The megaships tend to be the most family-friendly ships with the most varied and interesting programming that appeals to a wide range of passengers. Offerings may include elaborate water parks, rock climbing, zip lines, bumper cars, ice and roller-skating, surf simulators, 3D movie theaters, go-cart tracks, bungee jumping, and much more.

By contrast, some of the major cruise lines also have ships that serve 1,000 or less. These smaller ships are able to visit places the big ships cannot, but they do not generally offer special activities for small children. For more details for families sailing smaller ships, check out Mom Aboard’s Best Small Ship Cruises To Take With Your Kids

8. Select Your Cruise Cabin.

The type of cabin you choose could have the biggest impact on your budget. A family traveling in an inside cabin will likely pay thousands of dollars less than one traveling on the same ship, same itinerary in a balcony room or suite. 

Your choice of cruise cabin can also have a huge impact on your family’s comfort level. Other factors to consider when choosing a cruise cabin include: whether you want access to natural light (interior rooms have no windows); whether you require direct access to fresh air (requires at least a balcony); and the size of your travel party.

When you plan a cruise, you can reserve a specific cabin. If you have concerns about motion sickness, the location of your cabin may assist in addressing that. Generally, you will want cabins that have less of a tendency to magnify the motion of the ship. So, you would want one of the lower levels and a room closer to mid-ship. 

Likewise, if you have noise concerns, you should avoid the decks that are directly below the pool deck, and rooms that are in close proximity to bars, lounges, and other high traffic areas. Also, cabins that are located on the lower decks and toward one of the extreme ends of the ship are more likely to hear the ship’s mechanical noises.

Related Content: 9 Remarkably Easy Tips To Make Family Cruise Ship Rooms Cozy

Types of accommodations

Inside staterooms

Inside staterooms are rooms without windows. They are usually the smallest sized cabin and will have the cheapest rate.

Oceanview

An oceanview room will be similar in size to an inside cabin, but will have a window or a porthole. This provides the benefit of natural light and somewhat of a view. But the actual size of window varies based on the ship. It could be a small, obstructed porthole. 

Balcony

A traditional balcony cabin will be similar to an oceanview cabin, but it will have an attached private deck that you can physically access. It will typically have at least a table and a couple of chairs. It may also include loungers and other furniture. Advantages of a balcony room include access to fresh air and extra space to roam, which can be good during nap times or when you want a bit of quiet. 

Suites

Suites are typically larger cabins that, at a minimum, will have a defined living space that is separate from the sleeping area. There will typically be a comfortable balcony, and several premium amenities. Most ships will have several different types of suites with increasing levels of size and price. Suites often start out at double the cost of a balcony room per person. 

9. Take A Hard Look At Travel Insurance.

Regardless of whether you book a non-refundable cruise or one that has some flexibility, there will be some deadline after which you will not be able to make any additional changes without substantial financial penalties. A wide range of life events can pop, up or things that can go wrong in the several months before a cruise. Given the relative expense, it’s wise to purchase some type of travel cruise insurance when you plan a cruise.

Note that not all policies are created equal and you do not necessarily have to purchase directly from the cruise line. In many instances, the cruise line offering may not be your best option.

Common features of a comprehensive policy include coverage for trip interruption, trip cancellation, trip delay or missed connections, baggage loss or delay, medical expenses, medical evacuation, repatriation, involuntary job loss, or pregnancy. A good policy will extend coverage when these events happen to you, or you have to cancel because the event happens to a travel companion. You will also want a policy that provides full reimbursement regardless of when a cancellation occurs.

10. Chart Your Next Steps.

Once you’ve booked your cruise, get ready for a great adventure! But, no matter what cruise you ultimately book, you will still have some additional decisions to make that will greatly shape you cruise vacation and will influence how much you actually spend. Some of the biggest decisions in this regard involve booking shore excursions. And, deciding what onboard packages to buy like drink packages.

We have several posts on shore excursions that can help you sort out those decisions. And, you should also check out our post on cruise line drink packages. We also have advice on cruise accessories to pack, and cruise mistakes to avoid.

Closing Thoughts:

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Also, for more comprehensive information about cruising with kids, get the book: The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids.