Cruising is fun for the entire family, and other large groups. However, what about the littlest cruisers? If you’re planning a cruise for a family reunion, wedding party or other gathering, then the odds are good that one of your guests has a little bundle of joy or toddler who they’ll need to bring along. Or, you may be part of a set of new parents who’ve just had their first child and are looking to take their first family vacation.
The good news is that babies are allowed on cruise ships, as long as they’re over 6 months old. The exception to this is if the itinerary has the ship at sea for over three consecutive days. If your cruise spends this much time away from land, then children will need to be at least 12 months old on the day of departure to board. This is a universal regulation on all mainstream lines, and it mostly applies to Hawaiian and transatlantic cruises. Out of Port Canaveral, cruises that spend more than three days at sea are rare. They’re limited to a handful of transatlantic and repositioning cruises by Disney and Norwegian Cruise Lines.
And Baby Makes Three
The first thing you need to be aware of is that kids, no matter how young, count as a third person. Meaning that they can come on board for a lower price than an adult, but it’s still a cost that will seem absurdly large for someone so small. You’ll also need to bring enough of your child’s food, formula and diapers along for the entire cruise. While some cruise lines do offer baby food and diaper programs, they’re relatively expensive and not universal. If your child is a picky eater or has sensitive skin, you’ll be better off sticking with what works at home.
While cruise lines have youth programs that cover kids who range in age from toddlers all the way through to teenagers, children under 3 years old are in their own class and aren’t covered by youth programs. Carnival Cruise Lines is the exception and has a youth program with a lower minimum age limit of two years, but kids under the age limit (whatever age it is) on all cruises won’t be eligible for drop-off service. This means they will require supervision from their parents and families at all times on the cruise. This isn’t as much of a problem when cruising with a group of family members, but when new parents are trying to have something a little more intimate, it can put a damper on things.
Some ships do have specialized facilities and staff to let parents enjoy at least part of their vacation without a baby in tow, but these are not universal across the entire industry. Meaning that even if the line offers this service, it might not be available on your particular ship. More widespread are programs where the cruise line will arrange for a supply of baby food and diapers for your child for an extra fee. Be aware, though, if your child has a sensitive stomach or sensitive skin, then you’re probably better off sticking with what you know from home. Another thing to consider is that a child this young might find travel overwhelming and the tastes of home may be a comfort. A thing to take note of is that most cruise lines are no longer willing to puree food for infants. This has to do with food allergies and the difficulties in ensuring that blenders don’t contain trace amounts of nuts or other allergens.
Some lines and ships do make an extra effort to care for families with very young children, however
Ships with Specialized Care
Disney is the cruise line that started family cruising. Their ships launched with some of the first nurseries at sea. All Disney ships have a nursery. On the Disney Wonder, it’s called Flounder’s Reef, and on the other three ships it’s called “It’s a Small World”. Children from 6 months to 3 years old can be dropped off on an hourly basis for an hourly fee. The staff will care for them, lay them down for naps, and let parents enjoy dinner or other amenities without worry. It’s available only by reservation and is on a first-come, first-served basis, so spaces can fill up quickly. If you have an infant and want to enjoy the dining at Remy’s or Palo, then you’ll want to book nursery time along with your dinner reservation.
Another cruise line that embraced bringing infants and toddlers along is Royal Caribbean. Since the Freedom of the Seas debuted in 2006, Royal’s ships have been built with a nursery area. The caveat is that older ships weren’t. If an older ship has a nursery, it was put in as part of a remodel, meaning that space and service may be limited. At Port Canaveral, for instance, the Freedom of the Seas and the soon-to-arrive Oasis of the Seas have nurseries, while the beloved Port Canaveral staple Enchantment of the Seas and it’s replacement Majesty of the Seas do not. On the Crown and Anchor’s big ships, the nursery is highly rated and spacious. Like Disney, it offers a drop-off sitting service for the little ones and is available for an hourly fee on a first-come, first-served basis.
Regardless of whether there’s a nursery aboard or not, there’s usually a complimentary play area where parents can bring their infants and toddlers, which is provided by the line. On the Majesty of the Seas, it’s right outside of adventure ocean. This service creates time for bonding and spares parents from filling up their luggage with lots of toys. There are also puppet shows and other diversions that are also complimentary for the little tykes. These are highly produced numbers that may surprise you with the quality of their execution, and it’s something the entire family can watch together.
Both Disney and Royal Caribbean offer babysitting services inside of your stateroom. Like the nursery, it’s on an hourly basis and availability is limited. Neither the nursery nor in-room-sitting on either cruise line can be booked before you get on the ship, so you will want to get to the guest services desk and book them when you first get onboard. Probably for the same night(s) you’ve scheduled specialty dining.
Neither one of these babysitting services are common in the cruise industry. The other two lines sailing out of Port Canaveral don’t have these spaces dedicated to younger children on their ships homeported there. While Norwegian Cruise Lines does maintain a nursery, it’s only aboard a single ship: the Escape sailing from Miami. If you or a member of your cruise group has an infant, it’s not impossible to sail aboard a Carnival or Norwegian ship. It just takes more foresight and planning.
Too Young for the Youth Group
NCL does offer fleetwide programs for tots. “Guppies Open Play” provides toys, balls, games and other activities that parents and their toddlers can do together. “Guppies Hosted” are activities hosted by a crew member. Neither of these are drop-off services, so at least one parent will have to supervise. There’s also no in-stateroom babysitting service on Norwegian ships.
Carnival Cruise Lines is another line that lacks nurseries and in-stateroom babysitting services. However, it does have a more inclusive youth program for young cruisers. The minimum cut off is 2-years of age instead of 3. The key difference is that the youth staff will change your child’s diapers, so potty training isn’t a requirement to enter. You will have to supply diapers and baby wipes to the staff dropping your 2-year-old off, though. The lack of sitting services doesn’t make these cruise lines impossible to sail on, especially if you’re sailing with a large group and can split sitting duties with a grandparent or another relative.
Transportation – Getting to the Ship & Excursions
The other challenge facing cruisers with young children is transportation. It’s important to bring a booster / car seat to the cruise for a number of reasons. First, when flying to the cruise port it’s important to keep the child safe in the seat. It’s equally important to keep them secure during the shuttle, cab, or any transportation from the airport to Port Canaveral, and vice versa. Lastly, if you plan on doing a fun excursion at a port-of-call that requires transportation to the main destination, it’s highly recommended to place any infant in their booster seat. Those roads can be a lot more bumpy than they are used to.
Go Port Canaveral has you covered on all your accommodation and transportation needs for your next Port Canaveral cruise. Why settle with just transportation? The kids need some enjoyment with all that traveling. The all-in-one Fly Snooze Cruise package takes care of the airport transportation, hotel needs, and cruise transfers for one low price. A widely popular one for children is the Florida Hotel because the unique Crayola Experience & American Girl stores are within walking distance. The Snooze Park Cruise packages are perfect for those families driving in. Again, the Florida Mall is a great choice because the package includes free security gated parking and transportation to the ship and back to the Florida Hotel parking lot!
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Go Port Canaveral Official Travel Provider and has been republished here with permission by Go Port Canaveral.