Our Editors’ Ultimate List of Cruise Tips & Tricks for Families
Avoid a hefty cellphone bill, maximize your kids club time, and get the excursions you want on your next family cruise
Taking a cruise seems like an easy vacation, right? Pack your stuff, get on a ship, and let the fun come to you. While we’d love to tell you this is all there is to it, in reality, there are variables that’ll make or break your entire trip. We’ve gathered a few cruise tips and tricks that will take your vacation from good to unforgettable (show times matter), so before you pack it up and head to the open seas, double-check our list that’ll have you prepped and ready to sail with your crew.
Cruise Tip 1: Do your research.
Your kids’ age will play a role in which cruise you decide to book. Cruise lines offer different amenities, so look at companies and packages before booking your trip. For example, Disney Cruise Line is one of the best for families with kids ages ten and under, while Royal Caribbean has fun and entertainment that tends to be more appealing for teens and young adults. Holland America Line offers loads of local information and learning opportunities so that you really get to know the area you are visiting.
Cruise Tip 2: Book your excursions in advance.
This is part of the research, but it’s just as important. Decide which excursions are appropriate for your kids’ ages and book them before you get on the ship. If you wait until you arrive at a port town, the tours, water sports, and other adventures are often completely booked.
Cruise Tip 3: Pay attention to dining and show times when booking your cruise.
This is important to consider when cruising with kids. Do your kids need to eat early? Are they good with a kiddie dinner and evening at the kids club? Do you want to eat and then see a show as a family? These are all questions you’ll need to ask yourself (and your kids) before you book your dinner time.
Related: Everything to Know About Disney Cruise Line’s New ‘Disney Wish’ Ship
Cruise Tip 4: Arrive at your disembarkation port a day early (at least).
Getting off an airplane and on a cruise ship on the same day can be incredibly stressful. If possible, arrange to arrive a day ahead of time. That way, you’ll be calm and ready to go when it’s time to board the ship.
Cruise Tip 5: Pack a carry-on bag for embarkment day.
Your luggage will be taken on board ahead of you and dropped off at your stateroom, but you might not have access to it for several hours. Pack your carry-on accordingly; swimsuits, snacks, sunscreen, diapers, and a change of clothes.
Cruise Tip 6: Download the cruise app.
This will give you tons of important information: what restaurants are open, which shows are playing and when, when activities are happening, and what you need to know when you get on and off the ship at a port. Usually, this is also where you can add your credit card information, view your cruise folio via the app and sign up for excursions and events that come with extra charges,
Related: A Holland America Alaska Cruise Should Be on Your Family’s Bucket List
Cruise Tip 7: Use the kids club (a lot).
Most cruise ships have great kids’ club that stays open late. Your kids will be under constant supervision and constantly entertained with games, challenges, arts and crafts, and more. Some cruise line kids’ clubs will even escort your child to and from dinner for you.
Cruise Tip 8: Check the dress code.
Some cruise lines require upscale dress codes for certain nights. Some dress codes vary by night and dining location.
Related: 7 Reasons an UnCruise Is Just the Off-Grid Adventure Your Family Needs
Cruise Tip 9: Find out where the food is.
The onboard restaurants open and close at various times of the day, but there is always something to eat if your family is hungry. And, if you can’t find something, head back to your stateroom for room service. Many cruise lines offer a 24-hour service.
Cruise tip 10: Consider the tight living arrangements.
Unless you’re splurging on a suite, you’ll likely have a family stateroom, which isn’t usually very roomy. You’ll have to fit everyone, and the luggage, in this small space, so talk about being respectful and staying tidy before you go. You might also consider bringing storage organizers like an over-the-door shoe hanger or packing cubes with outfits already picked out, so you can store the suitcases for the duration of your trip. This is a situation where the answer to the never-ending vacation question of “to unpack or not unpack” is to unpack.
Cruise Tip 11: Keep your phone on airplane mode.
There’s nothing worse than coming home from a cruise to a massive cellphone bill. Whether you plan to use the ship’s WiFi or not, as soon as you get onboard, put your cellphone in airplane mode. This way you won’t accidentally start roaming while at sea. This can be a very expensive lesson to learn.
Cruise Tip 12: Save room in your suitcase and get the laundry service.
If your ship offers a laundry service, it can really be a space saver for your luggage. Usually, there’s a 24-hour turnaround and everything comes back fresh and folded. On a recent one-week Holland America Line cruise, this service cost $49 for the entire week. Very reasonable!
Cruise Tip 13: Make note of the embarkation times.
Don’t be those people you can see all over YouTube literally RUNNING for their cruise ship as it takes off from the dock. Embarkation times are not a suggestion. Make sure you allow plenty of time to return to the ship on port days.
—Additional reporting by Kate Loweth