Cruising with your family can be great but if you haven’t done it before you may not know what to expect and it might even feel a little daunting. We certainly didn’t know what to expect when boarding our first ship with as 3 and 4 years old in tow. So for those of you lucky enough to be embarking on a family cruise, I have put together a list of first time family cruise tips for both before booking and after booking your cruise.
11 first time family cruise tips
Before you book
Sunrise : Tips for first time family cruisers
1. Think about the cruise line.
Do some research on who you are or might want to cruise with. Think about your family needs, the age of your children, etc. We cruised with P&O and they were fantastic there is very little I could fault and their kids club is wonderful. That said I think our children would have benefitted more from cruise liners such as Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line just because of the facilities they have for children of all ages. On Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, for example, they have an entire deck dedicated to entertaining children. They offer more than just kids club’. P&O Britannia was a family-friendly ship and had our children been a little older it might not have been such an issue as they did run activities throughout the day, just not ones our three and four years old could make the most of.
Some routes are notoriously choppy, even when sailing in the summer. For example, if you’re sailing from the U.K or in Europe the Bay of Biscay is known for choppy seas, even in the summer but especially in the winter months. If you suffer from motion sickness you may want to consider what cruise itinerary you opt for. That said you can purchase anti-sickness tablets onboard most ships or get ahead of the game and take them before embarking. I would certainly recommend taking them a few days before departure as they can take a few days to work. I watched my significant other sit with his head between his knees for a few days of our transatlantic crossing waiting for the tablets to kick in.
Whilst we are on the topic of the cruise itinerary and route you might want to consider the amount of ‘sea days’ the itinerary consists of. Sea days are exactly that, days spent at sea on the ship with no disembarking or dry land. For inexperienced or first time cruisers a large number of sea days may be a bit much, especially when travelling with family and you have children to entertain. There is, of course, plenty to do on cruise ships and if you’re on a particularly family-friendly ship there will be a lot of child-focused activities, not to mention kids clubs, which are generally open most of the day on sea days. That said it can still be a bit tiresome spending long stretches at sea.
We have spent a total of seven straight days at sea when crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean, with a three and four old. I would do it again because the Caribbean is worth waiting for however given my preference one or two sea days would be enough.
4. Cabin position
Cabin – Tips for first time family cruisers
When booking our first cruise I was told by the wonderfully helpful P&O staff that we should have a mid-ship cabin as it is less likely to feel the motion, ergo seasickness. We did, therefore, book a midship cabin and I am glad we did. Not least because we have sailed through some choppy seas but because it was so handy for getting places throughout the ship. Again if motion sickness is something that you suffer from, try to avoid the front of the ship as that is generally the most turbulent
5. Cabin Grade
Balcony – Tips for first time family cruisers
Generally speaking, you can book the following cabins, inside, sea view, balcony or suite. There are some variations within these categories and sometimes more superior rooms available but as a rule of thumb, these are your options.
Inside cabins are just that, on the inside of the ship with no window. For our first cruise, we choose this, not knowing any better. In all fairness, it suited us fine. We all slept well it was nice and dark and it served it’s purpose. You don’t spend a great deal of time in your cabin after all. That said we have decided we wouldn’t stay in an inside cabin again.
Outside cabins or sea view cabins are on the outside of the ship with a window. You don’t have a balcony but you do get natural light and something to look at. If balconies are a concern of yours when travelling with young children this may be the one for you.
Balcony cabins. Exactly what it says a cabin with a balcony. It will come down to personal preference as to whether you feel comfortable having a balcony with your children. Some ships provide safety nets but this will be specific to certain cruise lines. The only thing I would say is that cabins can be quite small and a balcony is essentially an extra space. You could tuck your smalls ones up in bed and sit on the balcony with your partner and enjoy that glass of wine. Weather and itinerary permitting of course.
Suites. These are bigger rooms, usually with a sofa or seating area and of course a larger balcony. We’re still working our way up to one of these.
A tip – some ships of interior windows or balconies. The larger ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas had a promenade running down the middle. Interior windows and balconies look over the promenade as opposed to the sea
After you have booked
Black tie night/formal night.
Black tie nights on cruise ships are big business. The frequency of them vary from cruise line to the itinerary but make no mistake they are exactly what you think. You have to be in your black-tie attire else you cannot dine or drink it certain parts of the ship -the buffet is free game FYI. Now when I say black tie, I mean BLACK TIE. Bow ties, ball gowns, suits and smart shoes. What is more, everybody does it. So if you’re wondering around the communal, black-tie free, parts of the ship in your jeans and token Ralph polo you will feel underdressed and like you shouldn’t be out. Take it from me, dress to impress.
Once you have booked or sometimes as you are booking you may be offered a dining preference for the standard restaurants. Some ships have fixed seating times, an early sitting around 6.30 and a later sitting around 8 o’clock. Some ships also offer ‘freedom dining’. I.e you can turn up at any time you want, sometimes with a surcharge. Having a young family we have always opted for freedom dining but the only drawback can be that if the restaurant is busy you may be given a pager to return when a table becomes available. It can also be possible to amend your dining time once onboard – I do believe we were allocated late dining on one of our cruises however on speaking to the restaurant staff we were able to change it to freedom dining and the majority of the time the kids ate at the ‘kids dinner’ anyway.
Some ships offer a shared seating policy. I.e. you can sit on a larger table with other people, usually the same people each night. My grandmother LOVED this because she is social and a little noisy. Us, on the other hand, don’t like it. The last thing we want is the added pressure of making our children sit on a table with adults they don’t know and being expected to behave, like adults. We also clarify our dining preference (to dine alone) when arranging our meals.
Anti bac gel
You are likely to see plenty of this around the ship and you will want to use it. I also tend to have my own in my bag. A large number of people all in close proximity sometimes for days at a time can make the spreading of bugs, coughs, colds and who knows what else frighteningly easy. You can never be too careful on this one.
Tips can be a bit of a minefield onboard, Some cruise lines have ‘pre-paid gratuities’ which you have to pay on booking. This money is then added a pot a shared out amongst staff, apparently. Sometimes ships add a set gratuity to your onboard bill. Some ships let you remove this (if you specifically ask to) others don’t. Others don’t charge gratuities at all but then it may be ‘expected’ once onboard. A little like it is when you eat out. You will definitely want to check out your cruise lines tipping policy and factor it into your booking or on board spending.
9. The safety briefing
A bit of a pain but it is compulsory by international maritime law. You will all be required to give up 15 minutes or so of your time to listen to some really loud signals. Every passenger’s cruise card is scanned on arrival so they will know if you’re not there and they won’t start without you. Just suck it up and go.
10. Sail away parties
Before I had cruised I didn’t believe what I heard about these. That parties happen on deck when you set sail from most (not all) ports. The first one I really took part in was when we set sail from Bergen and it was an eye-opener. Everybody joins in and has a great time. I have brilliant memories of a sail away party from St Maarten and my three year old jumping around dancing to Status Quo in the Caribbean sunshine. For a glimpse of these sail-away parties, you can check out my channel where I have made several vlogs of our cruises and of course included these sail-away parties.
Do it – I snuck an extra in
My final tip, just do it! I am yet to meet anybody who said they don’t like a cruise. Yes, some may be better than others but you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who hasn’t enjoyed it. In fact once onboard or you will hear is people telling you just how many cruises they have been on.
What we like most about cruising, as a family is that it is so easy. Life is made simple once on board and so much is taken care of and done for you and you get to visit so many different places you might not have. We absolutely cannot wait for our next cruise. So much so we are trying to book another that is even sooner.
If you want to find out more about cruising with kids or family holidays in general then I run a facebook page for Family holidays – Ideas Tips and Adviceor visit my website https://tammymum.com. Visit my Youtube channel here to catch our cruise vlog