When Sandy and I booked our cruise in June of 2017, we had a daughter that didn't walk, was generally happy, and slept through the night.
Fast forward to our cruise in March 2018, and Sarah walks and runs, throws wild temper tantrums, and screams herself sleep. In general we had a great trip. However, there are a few areas where cruising and traveling with a toddler was much different than at more of the newborn/infant stage. Read about our trip to Mexico here and here. The post for tips for an all-inclusive resort with babies is here
This was the first category on our last travel with kids post, and I'm starting here because, in my mind, it is the most important.
Sandy and I like having a schedule and sticking to it. This has become more true since having Sarah. To have a successful cruise with a toddler, I would recommend trying to stick to a similar schedule that your normally practice at home.
This can be hard when there are both sea days and port days. But try your best. When we were on Great Stirrup Cay, which is usually one of the best days of a cruise, we left at noon to head back to the ship so Sarah could nap.
One of the most important parts of a cruise is selecting your cabin. For our vacation on the Epic, we chose to stay in a balcony cabin. We thought that it would be nice to have the balcony to sit on after we put Sarah down.
I don't think we anticipated the unique set up of the cabins, and there was only one small area to set up the pack and play. And luckily, the pack and play that was provided was a travel sized one, so it barely fit. However, to get to the balcony, you had to climb up on the bed/seating area. It was a tight squeeze.
To be honest, when we went to my mom and grandma's interior cabin, it would have been better suited to have a pack and play set up. There was more space to maneuver than our cabin. But it didn't have access to a balcony to relax on. Like everything else in life, there are trade-offs.
We're lucky to have a daughter that loves to eat. Just look at her belly! We knew finding food that she liked wouldn't be a problem. But trying to figure out mealtimes (especially dinner) resulted in a bigger issue.
Before the cruise, we assumed that breakfast and most lunches would be in the buffet. On the Epic, we always had a high chair soon after we arrived at the buffet. There was a good selection of options. Cheerios, scrambled eggs, and fruit at breakfast. For lunch there were always different options including grilled chicken, veggies, and items like that.
One of our favorite things to do on a cruise is get dinner in the main dining room. With Norwegian's "freestyle" dining, that meant we didn't have a set time. However, we knew we would be eating on the earlier side of things. Sarah usually eats around 5:45, so we would aimed to be at dinner by 6 each night.
The first night we were there, we realized that sitting down for dinner at 6pm wasn't going to cut it. For the rest of the trip, what we would do is have someone in our group stay with Sarah outside the restaurant until 6:15 or so. The rest of the group would sit down and order by 6pm, so our food would start arriving right when Sarah sat down. This method worked better, but it still wasn't bullet proof.
A problem that we ran into was constantly having different wait staff due to Norwegian not having a set "dining time". That's not to say the servers weren't helpful. But after a few days with the same wait staff on other cruise lines I've been on, they begin to know your preferences. Each night, we needed to tell the servers on NCL to move it along, because our daughter was getting cranky.
That all being said, there was a good kids menu in the main dining room that we ordered off of for Sarah. We also got her ice cream a few nights as a special treat.
There were multiple areas for parents to bring their kids on the Epic. For kids 6 months - 3 years old, there was the Guppies area. For children 3-12. there was the Splash Academy. And ages 13-17 there was Entourage. From what we heard, kids really liked both of these options.
With Sarah only being 17 months old at the time of sailing, we went to the Guppies area. We knew beforehand that we wouldn't be able to leave her there with staff. It was a decent sized room, with lots of toys. There was open play for the whole day, and then twice a day there were scheduled activities. Once in the morning, around 9am, and then in the evening at 5pm.
The scheduled activities were fun. The ship staff came and sang songs and had fun activities. We went to them almost every day. It was great in the evening to take her so one of us could shower and get ready for dinner.
Most large cruise lines have kids program. I'd highly recommend making sure that your cruise has one if you are traveling with a toddler (or any kids for that matter).
We usually camped out by the splash pad each day we were at sea. I don't think before that we realized how much we would like it, but it was one of our favorite places on the trip.
Sarah was the perfect age to have fun. The water was only a few inches deep, mostly like a wading pool. There was a slide, and a few spray areas, We had brought a few small, plastic toys. A pail, shovel, and a few boats. Sarah had a great time playing with them in the splash pad.
There wasn't a lifeguard, but there were staff walking around. Multiple times when older kids were starting to take over the splash pad, the staff told them to get out. We were impressed with this!
Extra Set of Hands
We were lucky enough to travel on the cruise with my mom and grandma. We don't live near family, so they both jumped at the chance to come on it with us. Having them to help out was awesome. I'm not saying that it couldn't have been done without them. But having them made things a lot easier.
Even though we didn't rely on them too much, they both took turns watching Sarah when she took her afternoon nap so Sandy and I could sit on the deck and relax. One night my mom watched Sarah, and Sandy and I went out to dinner on our own. Things like this were nice to have help with.
In the end, the trip was a lot of fun. We would definitely cruise with a toddler again!
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