There’s nothing like a cruise for a family vacation. It’s easy. No packing and unpacking. Tons of entertainment for every age. And food options guaranteed to please the pickiest of eaters.
But even the best of intentions can go awry. Like when my daughter, Lucy, and I recently sailed on Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas. It departs out of Cape Liberty, just minutes from Manhattan. An easy getaway — or so we thought.
The GPS said it would take just 30 minutes to drive there from Brooklyn. More than two hours later, we arrived at the port, worried that the ship would be setting sail without us. Luckily, we had time to spare.
But it goes to show that even the most experienced travelers can sometimes make mistakes. Lesson learned here: Never cut it close with a cruise ship, or you might find yourself flying to the next port or missing the trip altogether.
While we were onboard the ship, I chatted with a number of experts and got their insider tips for how to make the most of a family cruise.
Tip 1: Choose your ship wisely
I always let my kids do a lot of research. Kids are really savvy on computers, and they have their opinions about the things that excite them. With this cruise, we literally came because it has the iFly technology. My kids have been obsessed with it. I would book an entire cruise based on just that. — Kim-Marie Evans, founder of Luxury Travel Mom, mother of four
Cruise lines have their own personalities, just like families do. You want to pick a cruise line that fits your family’s personality. If your family is very adventurous and you like to do wild and crazy things, a line like Royal Caribbean is great because they have these first-at-sea amazing experiences like bumper cars and sky diving and surfing on the ship. You have other cruise lines that have characters onboard and are suited to much smaller kids. Don’t just look at the price and the itinerary, look at the personality of the cruise line. — Suzanne Kelleher, family vacations expert at About.com, mother of three
With five kids, I love to make sure our cruise has a ton of activities. Keep everybody busy, and everybody’s happy. — Audrey McClelland, founder of MomGenerations.com, mother of five
The critical question when you’re planning the vacation is, are my kids going to have a great time? And if they are, I’m going to have a great time. — Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, father of two
Tip 3: Get the lay of the land
My favorite thing that we like to do when we’re getting ready for a cruise is we start planning ahead. But when we’re onboard we plan out our itinerary. We sit down at breakfast, we look at all of the things we’d like to see and do, where we’d like to eat, and then at the end of the day we get to talk about all of those things that we did. — Lissa Poirot, editor in chief of Family Vacation Critic, mother of two
Part of the way we design our ships is to make them easy to get around, so there are a few obvious locations everybody always knows. We like to have what is the equivalent of a town center. So I can say to my children, my gorgeous grandchildren, go have a good time, and come back and I’ll be here in such and such a place. — Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, father of four, grandfather of five
Tip 4: Remember, food rules
I have the pickiest eaters on the planet, so I love a cruise with lots of dining options and a buffet, because you can find something for everybody. — Audrey McClelland, founder of MomGenerations.com, mother of five
Kids and food is a mystery to itself. My oldest son, who is 11, is a sushi connoisseur. My 6-year-old has periods where he will only eat a certain type of food all of the time. So food is important, because you want the kids to be eating and you want them to have their energy levels so you don’t have any meltdowns. It’s important to make sure that the experience can really cater to your children. — Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, father of two
Tip 5: Let the kids take charge
My top tip when traveling with kids, especially on a cruise, is to let them find the activities that they’re going to fall in love with. You can’t look at an itinerary and anticipate what your children’s favorite activity is going to be. You need to let them explore the ship, and what they find will probably surprise you. It’s not usually the flashiest adventure that the cruise has to offer. It might be the simplest thing, like the Ping-Pong table that’s next to the soft-serve ice cream machine. — Kim-Marie Evans, founder of Luxury Travel Mom, mother of four
What I love about being on a cruise is that I can roam the ship and do my own thing and I don’t have to see my parents all the time, even though I’m on a family vacation with them. — Zoe McElroy, teen cruiser
Tip 6: Make sure the ship has Wi-Fi
I love social media and I also love staying in touch with my friends, so I think it’s important to choose a cruise that has Wi-Fi so that I can talk to them through Snapchat or Facetime or Facebook or anything like that while I’m in the middle of the ocean. — Zoe McElroy, teen cruiser
Tip 7: Bring reinforcements
I have five kids, so I love to bring Grandma and Grandpa on a cruise with us. There’s power in numbers, and an extra set of hands is always welcome. — Audrey McClelland
Tip 8: Pack wisely
One of the hardest things is to pack for a cruise, because you’ve got limited space. So I give the kids a drawer and say to them, “This is all the space you have — let’s fit what you might have in it.” I tell them that they don’t need all of the toys and all of the gadgets because there’s going to be so much to do on the trip. — Lissa Poirot
On the day of your cruise, it’s really important to know that when you arrive at the pier you’re going to give your luggage to the porter and you’re not going to see that bag until the afternoon or later. But the minute you get on the cruise, you can start having fun, so what you need is a carry-on bag that has your bathing suits, anything that you need to have fun those first few hours of the cruise. — Suzanne Kelleher
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