Information (and Tips) for Cruising with Children

cruise towel animal

Cruising is a nice experience with children. One of the great advantages is that there are activities geared toward them, their interests and energy levels, etc.. which gives parents a little time to themselves. But before you load those little tikes in the car and head to the terminal, there are a few things you should know.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:  BOOKING & PRICING FOR CHILDREN:

  • Cruise fare is based on ‘passengers’. There is no child rate.  The 1st and 2nd passengers in a cabin will pay the higher fare. The 3rd and 4th will pay a lower fare, but the age of the passengers is not a factor. (some cruise lines divide the total by 3 or 4 just to make the number look better’… ha!)
  • Gratuities work the same way. They are assessed per passenger. You might even want to consider adding a little to the tips when the children come along.  As most moms know, cleaning up after children is MORE work, not less.  🙂
  • In booking cabins, be advised that cruise lines generally require at least one adult who is a legal parent or guardian per stateroom….  Some cruise lines say that ‘guardian’ must be 21….others require minimum age 16.  Read the fine print or ask.  🙂

Age Restrictions:

Cruise lines set their own policy about how young a passenger can be to cruise on their line.  If you wish to cruise with a child under 1 yr of age consult the cruise line website or make a phone call before booking.  If you can’t find this information anywhere else on the website, it WILL be in the passage contract…if you’re willing to read LOTS of fine print to find it.  Of course, a phone call is the quickest/easiest way.  🙂

Typically every stateroom must have at least 1 passenger over the age of 21. In the case of family groups, this age MIGHT be 16….or the requirement could be met with adjoining staterooms….parents in 1 room, teens in an adjoining room.  Again, this is a cruise line specific policy, so read websites or make phone calls to find out YOUR cruiseline’s policy.

Children & Passports:

Photo Credit: Robmadeo on FLickr CC Lic.

This topic can get really complicated.  The best way to make it ‘easy’ is to just say:  Children need a passport for travel outside of the country.   Now, within the official guidelines, there are lots of ‘if’s’….’except’s’….’this scenario’ and ‘that scenario’.  Honestly though, Make It Easy On Yourself…get the children a passport.  🙂   Children’s passports cost a little less, but they are only valid for 5 years (adult passports last 10 yrs).   You pay less, you get less.

Now, I’ll try to address this subject with all the ‘if’s’ etc… but be advised, your BEST information will come directly from the government website US State Dept:  Travel.state.gov.   or Passports for Minors Under 16

For round trip cruises departing from a US port and going to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean, children 15 and under are only required to have proof of citizenship (birth certificate).  A passport is not required…though it IS highly recommended –  Travel these days can be such a delicate situation….and if there was a need for medical transport or boarding an aircraft in a foreign country for any reason, a passport would be necessary.

For cruises departing from ports outside the US (and the same would apply to non-US Citizens when leaving THEIR country) that passport would be required to board the flight to get to the port and enter the country to begin with…  Obviously, a passport would be required to board the ship there as well.

 

NOTE: ALWAYS check passport expiration dates.  For cruises within US and Caribbean, passports much be valid for 90 days from the END of the cruise.  For travel to other countries, policies vary.  Find out more information at travel.state.gov

Applying for a Passport for Children

Consult the State Dept website Travel.state.gov –   Passports for Minors Under 16   for forms, required documentation, and procedures to apply for a passport for a minor child.  There are a lot of restrictions and hoops to jump through  (all in an effort to stop child abductions, sex trafficking etc…). For minors 15 and under, application will require permission from BOTH parents. The simplest way is for both parents to accompany the child when making application, however, if that is not possible, the website gives several other options. If your situation is unique (deceased, unavailable or uninvolved parent, et al.)  it can be a little intimidating at first, but don’t give up too quickly.  There ARE provisions made for families in these situations.  Just don’t wait until the last minute.  Give yourself plenty of time.

 

THE BOARDING PROCESS WITH CHILDREN:

  • Make sure your children (toddlers included) know their middle name.  They may be asked, as part of the customs process, and will need to be able to answer for themselves. (based on itinerary)  Practice this a few times before you arrive at the terminal.
  • THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!!  If a minor (17 and under) is traveling with only ONE parent….or without parents (i.e. with grandparents, or  family/friends) they will need special documentation (notarized letter of authorization)  from the non-traveling parent(s) in order to be allowed boarding.  In the case of a deceased parent, a death certificate will meet this requirement. This same documentation is required if a child has a different last name than the responsible legal adult.  This rule is taken VERY seriously.  There are NO exceptions!!  I’ve read more than one ‘tragic’ story of grandparents showing up at the terminal with the grandkids…or a divorced parent planning a big cruise for the kids in the summer, only to be denied boarding at the terminal.  Do Your Research And Come Prepared With Necessary Documentation!!!
  • Prepare the kids for the long lines and waits – or better yet, show up later –  Most our-cruise-2014-004passengers arrive at the terminal early to get on board as soon as possible.  If you arrive 2 1/2-3 hrs before sailing time, chances are you won’t deal with the huge crowds…much easier with children.  However, Don’t cut it too close!  ha!!

 

Medical needs:   When a child is separated from his or her parents, receiving  medical care can be complicated.  If children are traveling with a grandparent or other family members, they need a medical proxy/notarized letter from the non-traveling parent(s) authorizing emergency care. (Don’t forget dental care on this as well)  The letter should grant permission for care, and include the full name of the accompanying adult who will be making medical decisions, along with any allergies or health issues, health insurance information and social security number.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS ON BOARD:

  • Requirements/Restrictions:
    • Children Should be Healthy: Standards across the industry require that children be free of fever, discharge from nose/eyes, etc… to participate.  Reasons for this are ‘common sense’.   🙂
    • Counselors MAY not be allowed to administer medication/medical treatment or in some cases, change diapers/deal with potty training ‘accidents’.  This MAY also include inhalers. (policies vary by cruise line)   If your child requires medical care/medication, he/she either needs to know how to do this for him/herself or a knowledgeable adult needs to be with them in the children’s areas. Some cruise lines will feed the children; others require parents to pick their child up at mealtime. You will be briefed on all the cruise-specific policies when you bring your child the first time…. or you MAY be able to find that information on the website prior to your cruise.
    • There are Rules here too.  There are rules in the children’s/teen programs. They are NOT a ‘free-for-all”. Children are NOT allowed to be disruptive, disrespectful, unruly or destructive. If a child cannot handle these boundaries, you may be asked to remove the child from the activities/location.
  • Tipping the Staff in the Children’s Area:  These staff members are paid more than the wait staff, et al. throughout the ship. ‘To tip or not to tip’ is a personal preference. Keep in mind the ages of your children, how often they are utilizing the children’s activities and whether or not you have made special requests of childcare staff.
  • Sign In/Sign Out Privileges:  Some cruise lines allow parents to give children as young as age 9 the privilege of signing THEMSELVES in and out of the programs.  This is necessary for some of the activities, but you DO have the option to allow it for those situations but NOT at any other time. Before making a decision on this, PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
    • Cruise ships are like ‘mini-cities’.  Just as there are ‘nice’ people and ‘naughty’ people in our hometowns, there are ‘nice’ people and ‘naughty’ people on cruise ships. The cruise lines do not perform background checks on passengers and the ship is full of long corridors and cabins with doors that lock…   Also, because cruise lines cater to families with children it could be a perfect haven for those who wish to bring harm to children. There’s no need to travel in fear…just use wisdom and discretion as you set the requirements or restrictions for your children.   NOTE:  You can give your child in/out privileges ONLY during certain activities (i.e. the scavenger hunt)   so they can participate in those activities while not having sign in/sign out privileges throughout the entire cruise.  🙂
    • BEFORE I leave this topic:  This is NOT about whether your child is ‘old enough’, ‘mature enough’ or ‘trustworthy’ (so many parents use that as their reasoning.,..)  It’s about whether or not you trust the 3000+ other passengers (and staff) on that ship.   🙂
  • If you have a child who is shy or ‘slow to warm up to other kids’, encourage them to attend the opening session in the children’s program (or go early in the cruise)  so they can form friendships when everyone else is ‘new’ to the situation. If you wait too long, the other kids will have formed their friendships and it will be harder for your child to find his/her place….kind of like being the new kid in school mid-year.
  • If you want to be assured of family time, you can always require the kids spend a pre-determined amount of time (or certain times) with the family.  On the other hand, if you have a child who tends to cling to Mom and Dad, you could require them to spend certain times (or a certain amount of time) in the children’s programs.  Discuss all of this BEFORE Boarding Day  🙂
Picture of P and O Royal Princess cruise ship - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

Photo Credit: Freefoto.com CC Lic.

And Then There’s This:

  • Dining rooms have children’s menus.   🙂  A diligent waiter will offer it before you ask…but in case they don’t…..
  • Be diligent with the hand washing… If your children are old enough to try to limit what they touch (hand rails, elevator buttons, etc…) that’s the best way to keep Norovirus at bay.  If they’re too young to effectively do that, your ONLY recourse will be to be diligent hand washing….because as we all know, the little tikes are constantly touching their faces and putting their hands in their mouths.  Norovirus spreads from surfaces (handrails, door knobs, etc….) to the body via nose or mouth…
  • Seasickness:  Luckily, young children seem to have fewer problems with seasickness than adults do – but for the older kids, I highly recommend the Transderm patches.  (I don’t think preschoolers, et al can use them….check with your pediatrician)  These are available by prescription only.  Each box (prescription) contains 4 patches and each patch lasts 4-5 days. For longer cruises, the body often adjusts to the movement and doesn’t require a 2nd patch  though it’s a good idea to have one with you just in case.
  • BRING any over-the-counter meds that your child might need.  (allergy meds, decongestants, Tylenol, etc…) Children get sick easily and these are very expensive on the ship. SOME pediatricians may give you a wide spectrum antibiotic to take with you.  NOTE:  Amoxicillin can be purchased over the counter in Mexico.  Don’t forget something for Swimmer’s Ear – Though this isn’t a problem limited to children, they do seem to struggle with it more than adults.
  • Bring your own inexpensive water/beach toys if cruising to a beach area – sandbuckets/shovels, goggles, snorkles, inflatable beach ball, etc.  Get these at the Dollar Tree (for $1)  then give them to local children before leaving the beach.  This is not only ‘nice’…but frees up space in your suitcase for souvenirs.
  • Bring SEVERAL swimsuits for each child.  As difficult as it is to get an adult body into a wet swimsuit, it’s even harder to get a preschooler into one.  🙂
  • We allowed our kids to do some things on the ship that we wouldn’t normally allow…like unrestricted access to ice cream. Of course, we gave the parental ‘warning’ about gorging to the point of a tummy ache…. 🙂 (to no avail)  We had a child who HAD to learn that lesson the hard way  😦 but it was a lesson well-learned and a mistake never made again.
  • Establish the ‘spending policy’ with your kids BEFORE you go to eliminate the ‘begging’ that can easily taint the vacation experience for parents.  How about a spending allowance for older kids?? –money that they can spend however they wish, but when it’s gone…it’s gone.  Money works that way for adults…it should work that way for kids too.  🙂
  • This bears repeating – If family time on the cruise is important to you, REQUIRE that the kids spend certain times with you….  You decide:  meal times?  port days?  breakfast each morning?  Just make that decision and go over it with the children before you board the ship so there are no surprises.

Bottom Line:  Discuss your expectations with the children ahead of time to alleviate problems once you’re on the ship.

Our Family Policies For the Children (in case you’re interested….)

I would never presume to tell anyone else how to deal with their children….I just share this for your consideration.  Take what pertains to you and disregard anything that doesn’t.

We always went over these with our children en route to the ship….just to make sure parent and child were on the ‘same page’ when it came to expectations.   🙂

  • Proper Cruise Ship Behavior: 
    • The dining rooms require behavior expected in any nice restaurant.  (stay seated, inside voices, proper table manners, courteous to servers/waiters, etc…)
    • Safety: Walk, not run though the hallways/public areas of the ship.  No roughhousing or horseplay.  No running in the pool areas.  No climbing on anything outside of the children’s area.  Note to Parents:  It’s a big ocean and a long way to the nearest hospital….
    • Elevator Etiquette:  (THIS is a Big One!!!)  Elevators are a method to move from floor to floor…They are NOT a play area.  Allow elevators to empty before getting in.  Allow those in wheelchairs, using walkers or other assistive walking devices to board or exit first.
    • Respect and Courtesy:  Be ‘aware’, use common sense, and be courteous at all times. Hold doors open for people behind you. Watch where you walk and don’t cut people off.  Use inside voices.  Generally, be pleasant and kind.  🙂
    • Remember there are older people on cruise ships.  They may be unstable on their feet, using a walker or wheelchair.  A child running past them is not only scary, but might actually be dangerous.  Always be considerate and respectful of older people.
  • Use the Buddy System:  Always be with another person from our group, unless you are at the children’s program on board. Do not roam around alone.  Do not leave the area without an adult.
  • Cabins are for Families: Do not go into anyone else’s cabin, and do not let anyone else into our cabin. EVER!!!   Even with the door open.  NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!  This is one that would incite an “on board grounding” in our family if broken….
  • Emergency Muster: In a ship-wide emergency, if you are not with us, go immediately to our muster station, STAY THERE and wait for us. Do not go back to the cabin for a life jacket (even if the instructions on the PA system tell you to), and do not wander around trying to find us (your parents).  We will get your jacket and WE will find YOU….That’s! our! job!  🙂
  • As our children entered the teen years, we STILL had ‘rules’ for them to follow.  On our last ‘family cruise’, we asked our 17 yr old daughter to either be accompanied by us or her 16 yr old brother when walking around the ship.  It wasn’t about age, maturity or trustworthiness; it was about her PHYSICAL stature – and the fact that we didn’t feel confident she could defend herself in a physical confrontation……We felt like her brother could.  As it turned out, they never WANTED to go anywhere without each other, so it was never an issue – but the request (which she honored)  gave us some peace as parents.

Have fun with your kiddos!!  Just go over the rules, expectations and safety precautions beforehand….and you’ll have a WONDERFUL family cruise experience!

.Other Posts on Cruising:

 

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