A primary benefit of a family vacation is having the opportunity to enjoy some quality family time together. But that does not mean that every minute of the vacation requires 100% togetherness. There may be several situations where it makes the most sense to split up. And, when it comes to visiting ports of call during a cruise vacation, there may be times where it’s better for everyone if you leave one or more of your kids on the cruise ship in port. Know when it makes the most sense to have the kids skip the excursions.
First Confirm You Can Leave The Cruise Ship In Port Without Your Kids In Tow.
As a preliminary matter, when deciding whether to leave your kids on the cruise ship in port, you will first need to know the applicable policies on leaving kids on board. More specifically, you’ll want to know whether the kids’ club will be open while the ship is in port. And, you’ll want to know whether the ship has policies requiring an adult to stay on the ship. Or, whether there may be extra fees involved.
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Policies for Young Children
By way of example, parents sailing on Carnival can generally leave their kids in the children’s club while they venture into port. However, some other issues kick in if your children are under the age of 2. Parents may leave children under the age of 2 in the kids’ club while they leave the ship, but only for a limited and specific window of time (about four hours).
And, as for kids two and older, parents generally can leave kids all day on the cruise ship in port unless their child is over the age of 3 and needs diapers. Carnival has a rule that it will not change diapers for kids over the age of 3. So, if your child fits that description, an adult will need to remain on board to be available to respond to pages. Norwegian has a similar rule requiring that, in some instances, a parent must remain on board and accessible while the cruise ship is in port.
Also, you should check on whether you will incur additional fees. Some programs, such as Celebrity, may assess an hourly fee for using the kids’ club on port days.
Rules For Older Children
What about families with older kids who could stay by themselves for some period of time? You should check out whether the youth club will be open and nail down what rules apply regarding sign-out privileges. Will your child be allowed to sign in and out of the kids’ club while the ship is in port? And, are you comfortable with that?
Also, you should find out what rules exist about minors leaving the ship on their own. For example, on Carnival, children ages 16 or older can leave the cruise ship in port without a parent or guardian. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can have the ship’s security department raise the age limit for your family.
1. Leave Your Kids On Ship When They Are Too Young For Your Preferred Excursion.
When you are setting up shore excursions, sometimes the best options, or the ones that you really want to do, have age restrictions that exclude your child. For instance, excursions that involve playing with dolphins or manatees typically restrict participation to kids 5 and older. Likewise, excursions involving descending deep into the water such as SNUBA or SCUBA may require participants be at least 12. And, excursions that revolve around alcohol, such as tequila tasting, often restrict participation to folks over 18 or 21.
Rather than skip the excursion altogether, particularly if it is an activity unique to your destination, you could consider leaving young children behind.
2. Leave Your Kids When They Are Too Young For Both You And Your Child To Enjoy The Excursion.
Some excursions may not have an age restriction or recommendation that necessarily excludes your child, but you nevertheless may not feel comfortable with your individual child’s participation.
Zip-lining immediately comes to mind as a good example. Some zip line excursions may permit kids as young as 5 or 6 to participate. But that may be an activity that you know your child won’t enjoy, or alternatively an activity that you know you would not enjoy having your child do. If the net result will be a stressful excursion rather than a fun excursion, the kids’ club would be the better option.
3. Leave Your Child On The Cruise Ship In Port If He Will Be Bored, Cranky Or Overly Tired.
Some excursions may be uninteresting to young or younger children, but they are excursions you personally don’t want to miss. For instance, excursions that may involve long travel times on a bus with restricted movement. Excursions centered around knowledge and appreciation of certain historic and political events. Or, excursions that involve more walking, climbing, or other physical activity than your child can handle.
So, rather than dragging around a bored and cranky or tired child, you could consider leaving her on board to enjoy some playtime with other kids.
4. Leave Your Kid On The Cruise Ship In Port When The Excursion Is Otherwise Too Expensive.
Shore excursions can be rather expensive. And there may be several occasions where the per-person price does not remotely justify taking along a disinterested and non-engaged child. Shore excursions will often have reduced prices for younger children, and some won’t charge for really young kids at all. But, in instances where a young child has to pay without any meaningful reduction, it’s worth taking a hard look at the cost/benefit ratio. Is the extra price worth the benefit of all staying together? For a short shore excursion in a non-exotic local, the answer could easily be no.
A good example of this would be an expensive cooking class. Or, an expensive excursion that largely involves multiple deep ocean snorkeling stops. Stops for which your younger child will probably have to stay on the boat most of the time, and another adult will have to stay with him.
5. Leave Your Child On Board When You Have Safety Concerns.
There are some activities and destinations that you may feel perfectly comfortable experiencing as an adult, but that raise red flags when thinking about including your kids. For example, some types of water activities. Activities that involve climbing rough terrain, or other daredevil or adventure activities. Or, perhaps, you want to stroll through a busy crowded market without worrying about your child wandering off or being lured away.
Additional Tips & Considerations:
If you do plan to leave your child on the cruise ship in port, follow these tips so that everyone’s plans for the day will run smoothly.
(1) Always leave key information with ship staff.
If you leave your child in the kids’ club on board, be sure to let the youth counselors know that you will be physically leaving the ship. You should provide them with your tour information, and with your cell phone number, or another way to contact you. And, if you have other travel companions, leave their contact information as back-up.
(2) Take The Ship’s Contact Information With You.
Communication is a two-way street. Before you leave the ship, be sure to get the phone number for the kid’s club and take it with you. That way you can check in later during the day if you’re so inclined. And, if appropriate, this may also give you a chance to briefly touch base with your child.
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(3) Plan to return long before the ship leaves port.
You always want to plan excursions with the expectation that you will make it back before the ship sails without you. But this is especially true if you are leaving one of your kids on the cruise ship in port. You should leave a very wide margin for returning before the ship leaves (as in 2 hours or more).
In this instance, it would probably be best to book your excursion through the cruise line, rather than go the independent route. Because you absolutely don’t want to get left behind for any reason. Although the larger third-party tour providers will have a “guarantee” that they will get you back to the ship or pay the associated expenses if they don’t, that’s not completely comforting in this situation. The fact that someone will pay any of your expenses for catching up with the ship doesn’t mean as much if your kids are still left on board without you. Obviously, you don’t want to be that distraught mom collapsing on the pier as you watch the cruise ship sail away with your kids.
Everyone should have the opportunity to have a great time on your family vacation. And sometimes that means splitting up. Leaving your child on the ship while it is in port can be a great choice for both you and your child. One that your child may actually enjoy more than tagging along with you. So keep this option in mind as you are perusing potential excursions.