If you’re looking for a truly baby-friendly cruise, then you should seek out cruises with childcare for babies. The ideal family cruise provides opportunities for every member of the family to have fun, including the ones under age 3.
Most large cruise ships offer an array of activities and facilities throughout the cruise that appeal to a wide range of youngsters. But very few offer services targeted to babies and toddlers. Here’s a rundown on the ones that do. (Read our related posts on our resource page to find more tips on planning your best cruise with a baby.)
Summary of Options For Cruises With Childcare For Babies
One key challenge with cruising with a baby is identifying ships that have cruise childcare and play options for babies and toddlers. While almost all major cruise lines have a kids’ club and youth programs for 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.
Types of Cruise Childcare: Drop-Off Care vs. Baby Playtime
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.
In contrast, “drop-off care” is just what it sounds like. A cruise daycare where parents can safely leave children under the care of trained cruise line employees.
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 cruises with childcare that includes true drop-off options for babies on at least one ship. If you are planning on cruising with a baby in tow, these cruise lines may be the best place to start your search. You will find descriptions of these programs below.
Scope of Programs
You should also consider when a particular cruise offers childcare. Cruises with childcare have a variety of programming hours. Some offer a few hours a day. Others may offer full day and evening care. If you think you will only need an occasional break, then evening only hours might be perfect for you. Or, you may know that you have one or two excursions in mind that your baby can’t enjoy. In such a case, you should look at the more robust programs.
Please note that most of services open to kids under age two will involve some type of fee. Only Cunard and P&O Cruises offer 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.
Cruises With Childcare: Day & Evening Services
Carnival Cruise Childcare
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. The night owl group babysitting starts at age 6 months. Pillows, blankets, and cribs will be provided as needed. The program runs each evening from 10p.m. until 3:00 a.m.
Celebrity Cruise Childcare
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. (Although its sister cruise line Royal Caribbean recently discontinued a similar program, Celebrity still advertises this service on its website as of June 2019.)
Disney Cruise Childcare
All Disney ships offer some version of It’s a Small World Nursery. The nursery provides drop-off care for children ages 6 months to 3 years for an hourly fee. This program requires advanced reservations.The charge is $9/hour for the first child and $8/hour for additional kids.
The nursery includes a separate quiet nap area complete with cribs. And, Disney ships offer a range of other special amenities for its youngest passengers. You can find out more details in our post on the best family cruise ships for toddlers.
MSC Cruises Childcare
MSC Cruises generally offers a 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.) MSC also offers a special laundry service for babies where you can have infant clothes sanitized with special cleansing agents.
One of the newest ships from MSC, MSC Seaside, offers substantially expanded nursery services. The Babycare service typically runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 5:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m. on port days. On sea days, Babycare service runs 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Find out more in Our Top 10 Reasons MSC Seaside Rocks Family Cruising.
Norwegian Cruise Childcare
Norwegian Cruises offers cruises with childcare, but only one ship has 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 Daycare
Most of Royal Caribbean’s newer ships have a dedicated Royal Babies & Tots Nursery. These nurseries provide drop-off care for infants and toddlers ages 6 to 36 months. Fees apply ($6/hour during the day; $8/hour in the evening).
Royal Caribbean previously offered paid in-room sitting for children ages 1 and up through its Sitters at Sea program. But that program was discontinued in 2018.
Cruises With Childcare: 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 Nurseryfor 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.
Closing Tip On Cruise Childcare
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.
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