Cruising with an infant or toddler can be challenging if you’ve never done it before. Besides having to pack diapers, wipes and formula for a week (see Bringing the Baby article for packing tips), there is also the concern of what you will be able to do with your little one on board. Most cruise lines only open their youth programs to children over three years old who are toilet-trained. (See last month’s article, At Sea with Kids under Three, Part 1, for exceptions.)
However, I found that after I cruised with my infant son when he was seven months old, it got easier each time. In fact, my four-year-son has already been on seven cruises and he looks forward to them as much as we do. My husband and I have never been at a loss as to how to keep my son entertained, even when he was too young to participate in youth programs
Let’s face it: Any vacation with an infant or toddler will not be as relaxing (e.g. lounging on the beach with a good book) as it was before you had kids. But some cruise lines offer nurseries and private babysitting options so you and your spouse can get some much needed down time during your voyage. This article will discuss which lines offer these special services for infants and toddlers, as well as fun things to do with kids under three at sea on your own.
Both of Disney Cruise Line’s ships have a Flounder’s Reef Nursery. These well-equipped facilities are available on a reservations-only basis for children from 12 weeks to three years old. As soon as you board, head for the nursery to make reservations. When we used the facility three years ago, there was a waiting list for a few evenings. Since the line is careful not to overcrowd the facility, only a limited number of spots are available at any given time. The lead youth counselor on each ship generally does not book more than four infants to one counselor. However, when my son stayed at the nursery, it looked more like a very comfortable two-to-one ratio. The ratio for toddlers to counselors is six-to-one.
The facility is generally open from 5:30 p.m. to midnight daily; 1 to 4 p.m. on three days during the cruise; 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on two days of the cruise; and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on one sea day. The fee is $6 per hour for the first child; $5 for the second child. There is a minimum two-hour charge per visit. Make sure you bring diapers, wipes and bottles when you drop off your infant.
The nurseries feature a separate sleeping room with eight cribs, two strollers and 30 mats for toddlers. The playroom has a TV showing Disney movies, large age-appropriate toys, three swings, three bouncy chairs and several rocking chairs that were always put to good use. The counselors did not seem to get flustered when the little ones cried and they appeared very willing to rock a child on their laps until the baby calmed down. We were very pleased with the TLC that my then seven-month-old son received at the nursery.
If you’d like to test the waters in the nursery with your child, the line has a two-hour Family Time in the nursery on sea days. No reservations are necessary and parents are welcome to come to the nursery and stay during this time so their child can play with the many toys available there.
Not many cruise lines offer private, in-room babysitting these days for liability reasons. However, those that do include Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International.
Celebrity offers in-cabin babysitting for children six months and older for $8 per hour. Guests are asked to make requests at least 24 hours in advance through the guest relations desk.
Crystal Cruises also has in-room babysitting for children over six months. Hourly fees are $7.50 for one child; $10 for two children; and $12.50 for three. Guests should contact the concierge on board at least 24 hours ahead of time.
Holland America Line offers babysitting. Sitters are not restricted to keeping the children in the cabin as some other lines are. Hourly fees are $8 for the first child and $5 for the second.
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises provides babysitting only when a female crew member is available to perform babysitting outside of her regular ship duties. There is a $25 per hour fee.
Royal Caribbean offers in-cabin babysitting for those over six months old. Reserve a babysitter with guest relations as soon as you know your needs in order to secure a sitter. Fees are $8 per hour for up to two children in the same family, $10 for a maximum of three children in the same family.
Fisher Price Programs for Infants and Toddlers
This past year, Royal Caribbean introduced Fisher-Price Aqua Babies programs. These daily 45-minute interactive sessions are open to infants and toddlers age six months to 36 months and their caregivers. Aqua Babies gives those who are too young to participate in the youth program (which starts at 3 years for those who are potty trained) a chance for some activities tailored just for them. Most sessions, which are held at 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. for six-18 months and 19-36 months respectively, involve free play with a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys. Toward the end of each session, the youth counselor reads a book to the youngsters and also sings a song with them.
Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots are not swimming programs as the name implies. Both programs stress development of gross motor skills, with Aqua Babies focusing on self-discovery with Fisher-Price toys while Aqua Tots stresses social skills like sharing. The line delivers daily child development informational sheets from Fisher-Price to staterooms of families with children under 3 years old.
I also noticed a number of new fleet-wide family activities when we were on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. The one we enjoyed most was the family disco, held nightly right after first seating dinner. We really enjoyed this fun family activity before the kids went off to their respective youth programs. Many families who showed up for the disco had children under three years old who were too young to participate in the line’s Adventure Ocean youth program. Thus, this was a welcome activity for these little ones and their parents. Other activities open to all ages included the family inky toss, a deck game involving Adventure Ocean’s octopus mascot.
Big ships are best for toddlers since their architecture and design alone often entertain little ones. I recall a Holland America cruise when my son was two and how he loved it when my older daughter took him to the entry of the restaurant during our long dinners. The doors, when open, formed a triangle where Ethan loved to hide. On a Caribbean Princess cruise, Ethan loved going up and down the people mover ramp to Skywalkers disco during the day. And on most newer, bigger ships, the glass elevators are great to ride with toddlers and pre-schoolers...just for the fun of it!
Unfortunately, most ships do not allow children with diapers into their pools for health reasons. While usually no one stands by the pools to check this, signs posted say that diapers are not allowed even in splash pools. Disney Cruise Line is one of the few exceptions. The starboard ear (the one with the fountain) of the kids’ Mickey pool has a different filtration system than the rest of the pool and thus tots in diapers are allowed in that area. Some creative parents from the CruiseMates.com message board bought a tiny blow-up pool for their infants and filled it up with a small amount of water so their little one could cool off on deck.
While most cruise lines do not allow children in the youth room if they are under the specified starting age, Princess Cruises does. Parents must stay with their little ones the whole time, but kids are welcome to play with the toys in the youth room and use the Little Tykes bikes on the deck area outside. We found this a big help when we cruised with my son on Princess when he was two years old.
On any cruise, I strongly suggest bringing small toys, picture books or stickers to help fill in the down time. For example, you can purchase books which fold out to a tree house and come with Winnie the Pooh characters, etc. Also, some paper, a small paint brush and watercolors will go far. There are even miniature cans of Play Doh that are good to travel with.
While it’s hard to pack light when you travel with kids under three, cruises are a great way to go with little ones. You only have to unpack once, yet you get to see various destinations all over the world. If you get a verandah cabin, you can also view changing, beautiful scenery while your child naps. Not a bad way to go! PART 1
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