Cruising with Kids – 10 Tips for Total Family Sanity.
1. Get out the map, learn the language. This is an activity the whole family can participate in that sets the stage for cultural appreciation and awareness. A cruise is wonderful because you don’t necessarily have to put much thought into where you go. But personally, I feel we’re all more respectful and safer when we realize our adventure is in someone else’s neighborhood. When my tween jumped into a cab with Grandma and Grandpa to head back to the pier she greeted the driver, asked him how he was, told them her name and asked to go to the ‘porto’. We’d simply started listening to language C.D’s in the car on our commute to school to gain a little bit of language but this taste makes my kids hungry for more. They gain a deep connection to the world around them not just an view from the outside. Make maps fun, buy a paper world map, hang it on your wall before you go. You’d be surprised how many questions you’ll get when kids begin to visualize the concept of travel. Research flags, greetings, food, customs anything to maximize the color and texture of their adventure. Also checkout: learn before you go. Tip: hang your map in your stateroom. Cruising covers a lot of distance fast and can be a bit of a blur. Also kids can mark off the countries of people they meet. Cruise staff are very friendly and multi-cultural. A little info can make a shy child braver and a bold child more courteous.
2. Build Investment – Cruising is relatively affordable but excursions can break the bank. Who doesn’t want to surf, zip line, snorkel or pet a monkey? (Okay I don’t need to pet a monkey but you get my drift.) My husband announced that if our ten-year old wanted to go on an excursion of her choice she could save up the money and one of us would tag along. He completely understands how hard it is to have a toddler and a tween on the same vacation. He volunteered himself to hang by the pool and read while I went exploring with my daughter. This was a fabulous solution on so many levels. My daughter threw herself into the concept, creating a chart with credits and debits where mom and dad could add to her “account” whenever work was done. (Thank you Mrs. Davidson for this valuable money lesson and it’s simple but practical application.) I loved watching her put so much work into our dolphin adventure. This stopped being a typical vacation and truly became something she owned. At every point in the day if there was a decision to be made (within reason) she was in charge. Snorkel vs. Paddle board? Spend $30 on a picture of you kissing a dolphin or save that money to shop back at port? She’s a great kid but that buy-in brought out the best in her attitude.
3. Book Excursions ahead of time with local groups. Our three year old was four feet tall. He’s gotten to do some crazy things because he’s so big, bumper cars, water slides, laser tag. He’s also spent his whole life hearing ‘he’s HOW OLD?’ By booking our excursion through a local website we saved money and sidestepped the boat’s age restriction. Our cave-tubing adventure had been highly recommended by a friend and did not disappoint. Tip: When they tell you to wear shoes that don’t come off –they mean it. If you forget you can rent water shoes from them for $3.00. The bus ride into the country is informative, the hike through the jungle is very unique complete with river crossings, the float was fun and educational and the meal at the end is delicious and completes your dive into a new culture. It’s an excellent way to experience Belize.
4. Keep it Simple. If you don’t want to pay much for your adventure but do want to get off the boat try a beach club or restaurant. A little research on family friendly beaches helped me find Pez Quadro in Playa Del Carmen. Based on what we learned we took the shuttle to the third (or fourth) stop and grabbed a palapa by the beach. We payed a fraction of the beach club experience. Simply ordering a la carte, hung out like a local and got to try out our Spanish. The kids had simple sand toys and a ball. Great for making new friends in a foreign place. Tip: Balloons are also excellent travel gear when you have kids. They take up NO space in your suitcase and can create a quick game on the fly.
5. You CAN take it with you. Everyone knows how grouchy a hungry toddler or parent can get. If it’s wanting to skip the early morning rush or room service late at night. Our cruise staff was more than accommodating when we brought our meals to the pool deck to catch the movie by the pool. Grabbed yogurt and fruit so little ones could nap or recharge Grandpa while he’s doing much needed babysitting duty. I got pretty good filling up plates and bringing them to our people instead of making the people come to the food.
6.BYOB Most cruises allow you to bring on one bottle of wine per adult. This was a fabulous tip. Honestly, slight sea sickness and the cost of drinks made me glad I didn’t drink much on the boat. This became a fabulous option. We ordered room service one night and opened a bottle with family. We also brought our own bottle to the main dining room and they took care of the rest. Tip: take a cocktail making class at a fancy bar for a good price you get to learn how to mix drinks and sample your favorite.
7. Get a simple waterproof phone pouch. You’re wearing a lanyard all the time anyway might as well stick your phone in it and get those great shots. On several occasions I handed my phone to family so that I could parent my children through different countries. It was fun to see myself in some of the shots! It survived cave tubing, the pool, a dolphin day and a day at the beach. Seriously, when Nana tripped and fell in the ocean the phone came through unharmed! Plus you don’t have to pay a fortune for all the cruise photo’s if you can freely carry your own.
8. Play bags & scavenger hunts. The first night my three-year-old asked to go to the dining room with everyone. I thought for sure he’d want to go to the kids-zone. So I packed a purse full of Lego men. My mother reminded me I was on a cruise I didn’t really need a purse but who wants to be dressed up for dinner carrying a ziplock with cars and legos. He actually had a great time with us and the staff chatted with him, brought him bread and didn’t mind the wiggles and mess. Scavenger hunts are my other secret weapon. You can make one up on the fly, download them from Pinterest for museums, parks, beaches or participate in the one the staff put one. The crew on a boat is from all over the world. Take a map of the globe in your stateroom, every time you meet a crew member ask them where their from and scratch it off your map. It’s a great way to learn geography and have your kids engage. For that last 30 minutes of dinner when you want to talk but the kids want to wiggle. A simple scavenger hunt within sight of you can fill in the time and be tasked to different kids with different ages. I have been known to give away a $1 to the winner.
9. Family friendly sea sickness tips: Most over the counter drugs for sea sickness are different kinds of anti-histamines which often means they make you sleepy. Green apple works for little while. Peppermint tea with milk and sugar is always available for free in the coffee shop is fabulous for motion sickness of all ages. Pregnancy pops or ginger chews can also be handy for tummy’s big or small.
10.Workout/breakfast date–This was a huge gift for family cruising. In the mornings the kids were keen to go to kids programs or with Nana & Papa. Everyone was fresh with great attitudes. Nate and I would go for a walk, try a class or a piece of equipment, grab breakfast together and get a little reading by the pool. By 10:30 I felt like I’d gotten excellent time with my guy, a little time for myself and was ready to see the family.
Got any tips for cruising with family? Never stop exploring~