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5 Family Cruise Mistakes You’ll Really Want To Avoid

Avoid Cruise Mistakes | photo of sad young man on beachWant to increase your chances of having the most fabulous family cruise vacation possible with your kids? Then get acquainted with these five common cruise mistakes and plan to avoid them.  Some of these cruise mistakes aren’t entirely obvious, but they can make the difference between a fully satisfying vacation and one filled with many regrets. So avoid these few pitfalls and sail off to an awesome time.

1. Biggest Cruise Mistake: Picking The Wrong Cruise Ship.

One of the biggest cruise mistakes you can make in your cruise planning is paying insufficient attention to whether the ship you’re sailing is a good fit for your family. Some ships are created and staffed with children in mind. They have amenities actually developed to appeal and enhance the experience of families traveling with children.  While some other ships may barely be child-tolerant. Any family-friendly amenities that exist are an afterthought if they’re included at all. 

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Choose a family-friendly cruise ship.

If you are sailing with children, your family will have a more enjoyable vacation if you actually choose a ship that strives to be family-friendly, and that offers amenities that are most relevant to your family’s needs.

What makes a particular cruise family-friendly? A ship that has features and programming designed to enhance the vacation experience of folks traveling with their kids. And, that has a range of programs or activities that cover your particular age group.

Key Things To Look For:

  • a variety of age-appropriate activities
  • group activities for families
  • potential childcare options

Let’s discuss.

Are there age-appropriate activities available for the kids that you are actually sailing with?

Some ships may have fantastic on-board activities like elaborate water parks, climbing experiences, escape rooms, mystery dinner theater, virtual reality experiences, bowling, skating, bumper cars, and now go-karts and the like. But, they may be light on the options for the preschool or toddler set. Many features that look awesomely fun on paper or a website may have height and/or age restrictions. If the primary options available for the 3-5 year old set is seven days of colors, blocks, and videos and nothing is offered for kids under 3, a family traveling with 2 kids under 5 will probably be much happier on a different ship.

Are there designated family activities?

Also, look for whether the ship offers activities geared for the whole family to enjoy together. For instance, there could be activities organized by the cruise staff like family gameshow nights and pool events. Or, special events organized by kids’ club staff like family lego nights. Or, there may be group-oriented attractions like laser tag.

Are there potential childcare options?

Even if you think that you won’t actually use childcare, there are several reasons why it’s a good idea to at least keep the option open. For instance, perhaps you want to grab some quality time in the spa (usually no kids allowed). Or, perhaps you’ll want to catch a show that’s not really suitable for kids. And, of course, there’s good old-fashioned date night.

Mainstream cruise lines that are typically viewed as truly family-friendly: Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, MSC. But they certainly aren’t alone.

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Upscale family-friendly options?

cruise mistakes | family staring over railing of ship

Although many of the “tolerant” vs “friendly” cruise ships seem to fall more on the luxury end of the spectrum, you can still find luxury style cruise ship experiences with truly family-friendly amenities. For instance, you have the cruise within a cruise experience offered by Norwegian Cruises (through The Haven) and MSC Cruises (through The Yacht Club). On the ships that offer those programs, guests are essentially booked in a secluded exclusive area of the ship filled with lots of upscale amenities. Yet, they also have access to all of the well-regarded family and child oriented amenities found in the main ship – such as kids club and water parks.

You will also find cruise lines such as Hapag Lloyd Cruises that tout a traditional luxury cruise experience while also offering many bells and whistles for families. So, for instance, this German cruise has a ship that targets the English-speaking market (Europa 2). The Europa 2 is a 516 passenger all-suites ship with dedicated facilities for children across three different age groups: Knopf Club for ages 2-3; Kids’ Club for ages 4 to 10; and Teens’ Club for ages 11 to 15. These different facilities provide a range of age-appropriate activities such as a ball pit and sensory wall, creative studio workshop, science lab, climbing wall, gaming consoles, karaoke, and a teen lounge. The ship offers a “late riser service for parents” on sea days where kids are picked up from their suite and whisked away so that parents can sleep in.

Family-friendly river cruises?

Alternatively, some ships that typically do not cater to families with children may have special sailings or themed cruises throughout the year that could provide appealing options for families. For instance, most river cruises typically don’t court families with kids throughout the year. However, Uniworld offers a Multigenerational Family-Friendly Cruise Program on select itineraries during the winter holidays and summer months. The Generations cruises include programming designed for children including hands-on culinary activities, shore excursions, art-based activities, and other educational and cultural pursuits. These cruises also include onboard child-oriented amenities including a lounge and game room with Playstation, games, movies and local treats. During the Generations cruises, two Family Hosts supervise and coordinate all activities for Junior Cruisers (ages 4 to 12) and Young Cruisers (ages 13 to 18). If you’d like more suggestions for finding a family-friendly river cruise check out Are river cruises good for families?

For more information about other cruise lines that might be right for your family.  Download our free summary of youth programs and policies for dozens of cruise lines.

2. Waiting Too Long To Nail Down Your Dinner Plans.

Dinner will be included in any cruise package. But, failing to create an actual plan for dinner falls on the list of big cruise mistakes. You need to think about how your family wants to enjoy dinner and make an actual plan. 

Avoid Cruise Mistakes | photo of cranky child waiting for dinnerMost cruise ships will typically provided a variety of dining options – fixed seating in a designated venue, flexible seating (e.g, anytime or choice) in the main dining rooms or other designated venues, specialty restaurants, and one or more buffets.

For families traveling with younger children, the safest course of action is to take the option for an early fixed time seating in the main dining area (if such an option is offered). Particularly if you have small kids who are used to eating on the early side.  This way you are guaranteed dinner at a set time every night without extra waiting. But you still have the option to branch out to try specialty dining or buffet without penalty. And, some ships will even facilitate speedy service for young cruisers and pick up by cruise ship staff to escort to the youth club.

But, if you prefer a non-fixed seating option, find out before you sail how the ship handles seating and reservations. Will you need to make reservations on most nights? Can you make reservations before setting foot on the ship?

Waiting can leave unpleasant options.

So why is this on the potential fail list of cruise mistakes? Because if you fail to make a plan, you may be left with only poor and undesirable options. For instance, eating dinner after 9:00 p.m. Or, standing for extended periods of time in a line waiting for the chance to be seated.

If you’re not planning to rely on fixed seating, then you need to make your reservations at the first possible opportunity.  Either online (best option) or as soon as you step foot on the ship. And you need to go ahead and book a plan for every night of the cruise.

Whatever your preference, you want to avoid being forced to dine in the buffet every night because that’s the only time that works. 

3. Not Planning For In-room Entertainment.

The amount of time you spend in your room will vary based on the personalities of your family. But it’s a given that some amount of downtime will be spent in the room. Even if it is just a matter of getting ready for dinner in the evenings. Failing to plan ahead for this downtime falls on the list of potential cruise mistakes.

Avoiding Family Cruise Mistakes | photo of 2 kids playing with small toys on floorThe in-room time often coincides with the witching hour for many kids. When the day has been long but is not yet over. When they may be tired but unwilling or unable to nap. Or, perhaps you just need some quiet time of your own. Or the chance to shower and dress in peace. Whatever the case may be, have a plan for being able to facilitate some quiet low key playtime in the room. For instance, bring some coloring books, a favorite puzzle, or some small floor toys. Another option could be a child-friendly tablet.

On some ships, the youth clubs may have a toy lending program. So regardless of whether you pack some small toys and books, you should check out these options as well. This allows you to have a small collection of toys that you can keep in your room for as long as the duration of your cruise and return on the last night.

Also, don’t assume that the television in your room will necessarily be a good option for downtime. The channel selection will be quite limited, and depending on the cruise line,  the channel presumptively being offered for kids may not be one that you like.

4. Poorly Planned Shore Excursions Make For Big Cruise Mistakes.

Avoid Cruise Mistakes | photo of unhappy couple in marina with thumbs downA big part of your cruise vacation and budget will involve shore excursions. So you want to choose wisely. Just because a given excursion allows children of a certain age to participate doesn’t mean that the excursion as a whole will actually be a good one for families traveling with children. Failing to vet whether individual shore excursions meet your family’s needs falls on the list of potential cruise mistakes.

Items that require close attention.

As you are perusing your options, pay close attention to any detailed descriptions of the potential excursions. Written descriptions typically include the mode of transportation, the level of physical activity, and the total length of the excursion, including any required travel time.

You should pay attention to any information provided about travel times and assess whether your family is up to it. For instance, is it a 5-hour excursion that involves two hours of travel each way? What is the mode of travel – a long bus ride where you are seated the entire time? A catamaran or small boat where refreshments are offered, and you can walk around? Will there be long walks over uneven ground that is not conducive to a stroller, or small, tired feet? If for some reason your crew poops out midway through the excursion, you may not be able to terminate your participation early (at least not easily), so you should consider the overall stamina of your group in advance.


Keep your options open.

And, don’t automatically limit your options to only those offered by the cruise line.

If you look beyond the cruise line’s options for shore excursions, you may find better options that are a better fit for your family. They will also likely be cheaper. And, independent shore excursions may also involve smaller groups with more comfortable modes of transportation. Where you control more of the schedule. This can be ideal for families traveling with children. The internet offers many free ways to check out alternative excursion options. You can start your research with a planning & review site like Viator to find an array of good options for your family. They have many different filtering tools, including the ability to focus on kid-friendly tours.
Discover and save on things to do with your kids. Plus Reserve Now and Pay Later

Related Content: How To Actually Plan Affordable Family Shore Excursions With Remarkable Ease

5. Not Having A Plan For Vigilant Hand-washing.

avoid cruise mistakes | photo of child washing handsA frequently expressed concern regarding cruising is fear of outbreaks of norovirus. Fortunately, such outbreaks do not happen often. But, sadly, when they do, they can be quite ugly.

I’ll fess up. I am particularly focused on this issue because I once had the very sad misfortune of sailing on a ship that was ravaged by norovirus. And, because someone in our travel party showed symptoms, we were quarantined in our cabin for several days.  And then, after one day of freedom, a second person showed symptoms so we were quarantined again. Not surprisingly, that sailing easily rates as the most miserable cruise we have ever had. 

The best defense against norovirus.

According to the experts, the absolute best-known defense against norovirus is frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water. And, the focus should be on the actual washing of the hands. Not just applying some soap and some water. It is the actual rubbing of the hands under running water that cleans away the virus. (Wash for at least 20 full seconds. And, don’t forget to thoroughly dry.)

So why is this listed with the cruise mistakes and potential fail? After all, we should all presumably be washing our hands in our everyday lives, so why would this be markedly different? For starters, you may inadvertently be creating obstacles to vigilante hand-washing that don’t exist at home.

Making hand-washing easy.

You want to make handwashing as simple and easy as possible for everyone in the family. So keep in mind that the bathroom in your stateroom will likely have bar soap. If you usually use liquid or foam soap at home, then you should pack some along for your cruise bathroom. Make the process a familiar one and easy to remember. You don’t want folks shorting the soap because they think it’s icky.

Also, if your child is too short to comfortably reach the faucet, have a plan for that. Is there a small carry-on bag that could be used as a footstool? If so, keep it close to the bathroom. Did you bring along a booster seat? Perhaps that could be another alternative.

If you aren’t concerned about traveling light and have some extra room in your luggage, you could consider bringing a folding travel step stool. It can be used as a toilet assist as well as help with reaching the faucet. Or, you can plan to supervise all hand-washing and lift your child up as necessary. Regardless, have some plan in place that can be used consistently every time.

Closing Thoughts:

These aren’t the worst cruise mistakes that you could make. But, they are easy ones to miss, and easily avoidable. By planning ahead to avoid them, you greatly increase your chances of staying happy and healthy on your cruise.

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