Top Tips for the best Alaska Cruise in 2015

Having spent 3 summers as Cruise staff on-board various Princess Cruises ships in Alaska, I am often asked for inside tips on what is the best Alaska cruise or land tour. Of course that depends on personal preferences.  But If I had to condense it down my 3 main tips would be…

Kathleen’s 3 Key Alaska Cruise Tips:

  1. Mid June to August is “peak” season for viewing wildlife in Alaska.  Food is plentiful, the salmon are running and you have the best chance of seeing whales, bears, eagles and more.
  2. Only two ships a day can enter Glacier Bay National Park – the must see destination of any Alaskan cruise.  Be sure you book an itinerary that includes Ketchikan and Glacier Bay to see the best of the Inside Passage.
  3. Take time to visit Denali National Park.If you are going all the way to Alaska, you should really add at least 3 days to your cruise to see Denali National Park.

I personally think the best two cruise lines in Alaska are Princess Cruises and Holland

America.  These 2 lines have been cruising Alaska for over 20 years.  They have the best environmental record and are therefore granted the most access to Glacier Bay.

If you are planning a Cruisetour to see Denali National Park, I would definitely choose a Princess Cruisetour.  Princess owns and operate their own train that leave directly from the port in Whittier to Denali.  It is a glass domed luxury train with nature guides & commentary on board, observation decks, dining cars and plenty of room to walk around.  They also own and operate their own resorts in Denali…those those of us that like upscale comfort in a rustic and natural setting.

Use our free on-line planning tool to find your next Alaskan Cruise

Or Call Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel – Cruise Planners 407-951-8485

Posted in Alaska, Alaskan Cruises, All-inclusive Reosrts, family cruises, family vacations, Group travel, Princess Cruises, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacations | Leave a comment

Are Cruise Vacations “All-inclusive”?

As an update to my blog on all-inclusive vacations, I am seeing a trend among cruise lines

AMA Waterways River Cruises

AMA Waterways River Cruises

to offer a more all-inclusive packages.  Leading this trend are river cruises, like AMA Waterways that includes, shore excursions, free bottled water and  complimentary beer & wine at lunch & dinner in its cruise price.

Oceania periodically offers “Free Airfare” and On-board cash promotions  that make for a more all-inclusive package.Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Princess all offer pre-paid beverage packages so guests can “build” an all-inclusive package.

Beaches all-inclusive Family resort

An all-inclusive resort is a holiday resort that includes a minimum of three meals daily, soft drinks, most alcoholic drinks, gratuities and possibly other services in the price. Many also offer sports and other activities included in the price as well. They are often located in warmer regions. The all-inclusive model originated in the Club Med resorts, which were founded by the Belgian Gérard Blitz. (Wikipedia)

Today, there are several all-inclusive resort brands including Sandals (for adults only), Beaches (for families) in the Caribbean as well as several all-inclusive brands in Mexico. Palace Resorts, Iberostar, and Dreams, among others

Vacation Sticker Shock

So are Cruise Vacations all-inclusive?   Not necessarily.  Although cruise ships include more services than most hotels, very few cruise ships are technically all-inclusive.  All cruise lines include meals and entertainment in the base cruise fare, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, shore excursions, spa services, gratuities and upscale dining venues are an additional charge.  An exception is that some of the Luxury cruise lines, like Regent Seven Seas, do offer an all-inclusive cruise vacation experience.

Range of pricing from a la carte to all-inclusive

What is the best value?

That depends on the traveler, the number in their party, their tastes and preferences.  Many people traveling with families, like cruises or all-inclusive resorts because they are not nickled and dimed for snacks and activities for the kids.  Many couples that are looking for “fun in the sun” also like all-inclusive resorts and consider the included bar drinks a great value.

Let me know your all-inclusive resort experience.  Are you Pro or Con?

Posted in All-inclusive Reosrts, Caribbean Cruises, family vacations, Luxury Cruises, Vacations | 2 Comments

Inside Look at the New Disney Fantasy

This week I took my first look at the new  Disney Fantasy cruise ship in Port Canaveral.  It was thorough 5-hour guided tour of the entire ship (as only Disney can do it).  But I appreciate the chance to see not only all the public spaces, but most of the cabin categories and a chance to sample the food as well.

What I like best:

Grand Lobby

Suite

Disney builds elegant ships.  If you are familiar with Walt Disney World …think Grand Floridian Resort and not Toon TownDisney Cruise Line builds beautiful ships with hand milled woodwork, marble and artisan quality details throughout.  The décor and attention to detail makes these some of the most beautiful ships afloat.

Disney for Adults

Disney for Adults.  Don’t dismiss a Disney Cruise because you think it will be over-run by kids.  These are purpose built ships with areas designed for kids and separate pools, lounges, restaurants and entertainment for adults-only.

For the kid in all of us!  Disney magic appeals to the kid in all of us, which makes this one of my top recommendations for multi-generational travel.  Grandparents will enjoy this cruise as much as the kids (so mom & dad can relax too!)

Not so much:

The food was disappointing, but then we ate lunch in the buffet and not in a restaurant.  I was hoping to have a restaurant meal because I’ve been hearing mixed reviews from clients lately on food quality.  This is surprising to me since one of the best meals I’ve ever had at sea was on-board the Disney Magic in 2002.

Kathleen in DCL terminal

The Fantasy is a big ship.  At 128,000 tons with a capacity of 4,000 passengers, the Fantasy is a big Ship.  Since I prefer smaller ships, The Disney Magic is still my favorite Disney Ship because of her smaller size, more intimate cruise experience and art deco design that is reminiscent of the grand age of cruising. But this is a personal preference that won’t keep me from recommending Disney Fantasy cruise to guests that like the bigger ships.

For more information on planning a Disney Cruise vacation contact:

Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel – Cruise Planners

407-951-8485

 

Posted in Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Deals, Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, family cruises, family vacations, Group travel, New Ships, Uncategorized, Vacations | Leave a comment

Top Tips for Planning a Christmas Cruise

Caribbean Christmas

Is a Holiday Cruise a Good idea?  With  proper planning a Holiday cruise for the whole family can be a great way to combine gift giving, family time together and stress free travel for an unforgettable Christmas or Hanukkah vacation that will create memories for a lifetime.

Crew getting Palm Island ready for Christmas

After working several Christmas & New Year holidays on-board ship as Ast. Cruise Director, I can say that the holidays were a very festive and fun time to be on-board.  There was a different energy amongst the officers, crew and passengers at this time of year that started when the trees were trimmed and the ships were decorated.

What to Expect

Will it feel like Christmas? There is plenty of “Christmas” decorations, music and menus on-board, but not exclusively.  Most ships represent the 3 major winter holidays in their programming: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza.

Are there religious services? Most cruise lines offer religious services for both Jewish and Christian passengers during the holidays.

Disney Cruise Christmas

Are the ships over-run with children? Since it is school holidays, there will be many children on-board. If you are traveling without children and want more of an adult cruise, try a premium line like Princess Cruises, Holland America, or Celebrity  Cruises or a luxury cruise lines like Crystal, Seabourn or Regent Seven Seas.

If you are traveling with grandchildren, choose a ship like Disney Cruise Line that knows how to take care of children well and has plenty of adult-only pools and entertainment areas.  Plan early since Disney Holiday cruises sell out fast!

Top Planning Tips for  a Holiday Cruise

  • Book early, especially if you want family suites or staterooms that can accommodate 4-5 people, as they tend to fill fast.
  • Use a Travel Agent. Especially at this time of year, don’t take a chance with your Holidays… engage the expertise of a cruise specialist that knows the pros and cons of each cruise line and individual ships.
  • Buy Trip Insurance that covers travel delays and other trip interruptions for peace of mind -especially at this time of year when travel is heavy and weather can be a problem causing delays in reaching your ship.
  • Arrive a day early and add at least one night in a Hotel, so that you and your luggage arrive in plenty of time to board your ship. You don’t want to spend your Christmas vacation wearing the same clothes you flew in!

Holiday Cruises are still available for 2014 

Gift the ultimate holiday gift…. a Caribbean cruise for the whole family!  Here is a sample of 2014 December cruises that still have availability.

For more help planning your Holiday Cruise, contact:

Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel – Cruise Planners

407-951-8485

Posted in Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Deals, Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, family cruises, family vacations, Group travel, Luxury Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacations | Leave a comment

Best Cruise Deals for Singles

Avoiding the Single Cruise Supplement

Cruise vacations are great choices for single travelers.  You can travel alone, but enjoy the company of fellow cruisers for meals, entertainment and excursions.  However, if travel schedules don’t allow a friend or companion to join you, you will pay more for a single cabin.

Unlike hotel rooms, cruise fares are usually quoted “per person” (not per cabin) and the advertised per person rate is usually based on “Double occupancy.”   Therefore, you are likely to be charged an additional “Single Supplement” up to 200% of stated cruise fares if you are traveling solo and want your own cabin.

A few cruise lines are beginning to cater to singles and here are a few companies that offer better value for single cruisers:

Best cruise ships for singles:

NCL Single Studio cabin

  1. Norwegian Epic Single Studio cabins
  2. Avalon River Cruises waive single supplement on select sailings
  3. Azamara Cruise Club offers a reduced Single Supplement of only 125%
  4. Hurtigruten does not charge a single supplement on it’s Norwegian cruises

Other choices for single cruisers

European River Cruises

Find a travel companion through your local clubs, churches and professional associations.  Some travel agents specialize and host single cruises and will match you up with an unknown cabin mate.

If sharing a cabin with a stranger sounds a little risky, look for local Cruise Meet-Ups in your area that focus on bringing like minded people together that are interested in Cruising.  You have a chance to meet other singles and decide if you would be compatible cabin mates.

Of course you can find cruise deals on any cruise line that can make the single-supplement a non- issue.  If you can travel at off-peak season or are willing to choose a lower category– you can find great fares.  Also, consider Carnival Cruise Lines.  Carnival targets first time cruisers, offers generally low rates that attracts younger cruisers and can be an affordable choice for single cruisers despite the single supplement.

For personal help planning your next cruise, contact:

Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel -Cruise Planners

407-951-8485

Posted in Cruise Deals, Cruises, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cheap Summer Cruises to the Caribbean…Great Value or Great Risk?

When is the Best Time to Cruise in the Caribbean? 

Turks & Caicos

Ever wonder why there are such cheap cruises to the Caribbean during the summer?  The main reason is that it is Hurricane season in the Caribbean!  Years ago, all cruise ships left the Caribbean for more favorable summer destinations – like Alaska and Europe.  But with the huge growth in the cruise industry, several cruise lines stay in the Caribbean year-round.

Caribbean High Season:  The best time for a Caribbean cruise is January – April.  The seas are calm and the weather is beautiful, so therefore the fares are highest.  However, cruise deals can be found by your travel agent.  Good agents often reserve blocks of cabins on peak sailings, before they go on-sale to the public. (Agents often negotiation extra amenities on these sailings than you can get directly with Cruise Line or Expedia).

Caribbean “Shoulder Season”:  December and May are considered “Shoulder” months  or the next best time to cruise in the Caribbean.  So if you are looking for discounted cruise fares,  consider  December or May sailings for good value AND a better chance of good weather and calm seas.  Early December is one of my favorite times for a Caribbean cruise (see pics below from my last December cruise).  Not only can I find great fares, but it gives me a “serenity break” during the Holiday marathon from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Summer Season – Cruiser beware!  There is a down-side to those cheap summer fares. Hurricane season runs from June 1 – November 22 in Florida and the Caribbean, with September being a particularly active month in my experience.  You need to know your risks upfront and/or buy trip insurance that allows you to cancel anytime.

Summer Caribbean Cruises – Pros Summer Caribbean cruises – Cons
  • Cheaper rates & special offers
  • Today’s larger ships more stable in rough weather than smaller ships from the past
  • Better time for families with school age kids to travel
  • Carnival, Royal Caribbean & other well-know brands are available
  • Hurricanes & Tropical storms can result in missed ports, delays and cruise cancellations
  • Even without major storms, count on more rainy weather will impact your beach vacation
  • Rough weather can make cruise uncomfortable for passengers subject to motion sickness

Bottom Line:  If you really want to take the kids to the Caribbean for summer vacation and don’t mind the rain…you can get some great deals.  But if the possibility of a cancelled, delayed or re-routed cruise would ruin your family vacation – don’t risk it.

Royal Caribbean Monarch of the Seas Dec. 7-10, 2012.  If I tempted you with my pics of a December cruise, come join us for a cruise weekend this Dec. 7-10, 2012!  I’ll be cruising to the Bahamas for a quick getaway with Friends, family and staff on the Royal Caribbean Monarch of the Seas.  See our website for more information or to book on-line.

Posted in Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Deals, Cruises, family cruises, family vacations, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacations | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Tips for Planning a Group Cruise

Cruise vacations are a great choice for group travel 

Cruises are a great choice for group travel

Since I have family and friends spread across the U.S., getting everyone together in one location is a special treat that doesn’t happen very often. Extended family vacations take advance planning to accommodate different ages, interests and budgets, but are well worth it.  The only down-side of group travel can be the large amount of daily group negotiation and decision making about everything from where to eat, what activities everyone wants to do and when to do it. This is why I’ve become a great fan of group cruises for family reunions and get togethers.

Cruise vacations offer something for everyone 

All ages enjoy cruising

They appeal to travelers of all ages, offer various levels and types of activity, and allow people with different budgets to still vacation together. Your group is contained in one place, everyone can set their own on-board agenda, and you can plan to spend time together and have time to enjoy time on your own.

My Top 10 tips – for a successful family & friends group cruise

  1. Choose a group leader
  2. Consider your group’s interests and needs
  3. Choose the Best Cruise for the whole group
  4. Book 9-12 months in advance….really!
  5. Use a travel agent for best value
  6. Communication in writing
  7. Develop a calendar of key dates
  8. Discuss how you want to handle shore excursions before traveling
  9. Arrive a day early to city of embarkation
  10. Plan a daily meeting time to regroup on-board ship

Why are these important?  Read more….

  1. Choose a group leader. Whether the leader is self-appointed or chosen, it is important to have one person in charge of group communications, trip details and booking information.  The leader shares their research and information so that other travelers don’t have to repeat work, such as looking for cruise fares or remembering when payments are due.
  2. List your group’s interests and needs.  The key to a successful group cruise is to

    Consider Family Interests

    make your group’s interests and needs a priority.  Write down key factors, like ages, interests, school or work vacations and budget constraints.

  3. Choosing the Best Cruise for your group.
    • Destination.  The time of year targeted to travel and group interests will help guide destination choice.  If you are looking for a summer vacation, Alaska, Europe or Hawaii are good choices.  (The Caribbean during the summer hurricane season is not the best choice).
    • Cruise Line. The destination narrows down your choice of ships, and from the options available, you can select the ship that best suits the budget, interests and personality of the group.  Just like hotels, cruise ships are classed by amenities, service and price.  If you need a lower cost cruise and like informal, relaxed family fun than Norwegian Caribbean or Carnival may be a good choice.  If your group prefers better level of amenities, service and dining…Princess or Disney Cruise Line is a better choice.  See “Choosing the Best Cruise Ship” to see how the different cruise lines compare.
  4. Book 9-12 months in advance….really!  You should start planning a year ahead of time to give everyone in our group time to get vacation time and budget for the trip. Early bookings are a must for: High season and vacation times (Summer, Holidays and School vacations).  Securing multiple staterooms and any connecting cabins in the same area. For choice cabins on newest ships
  5. Use a travel agent for best value.  Use a cruise specialist to help you do some of the legwork get the best deal.  They are no cost to travelers and provide personal knowledge and insider information on best ships and itineraries.  Travel Agents have access to rates and special offers due to the high volume of cruises booked that you will not have.  They can also help negotiate special amenities for your group. These could include free berths, on-board credits, upgraded cabins, discounts for group leaders or other perks. Depending on the number of people in your party, you also could get free photos, cocktail parties or private meeting spaces.   The agent can send individual invoices to the folks in the group and remind them of key deadlines so the group leader doesn’t have to.
  6. Communication in writing .  It can be email, but it is important to get key information and deadlines in writing.  If you merely rely on phone calls and informal chats, it’s inevitable that some piece of info about the cruise arrangements will get misinterpreted, a deadline will be forgotten, or some other frustrating communication lapse will leave a member of your group pouting. Because of that, it’s best to send out trip details and discuss plans via e-mail.
  7. Develop a calendar of key dates.  Knowing how busy people are, it will be helpful to send your fellow travelers a calendar noting payment due dates, the “opening day” for booking shore excursions through the cruise line and deadlines for filling out passenger information forms online.
  8. Discuss how you want to handle shore excursions.  I find it best to share information on various port excursions to see who in the group have similar interests.  But not everyone has to go on the same excursion.  Some group members may prefer historic sight seeing, some may prefer water sports or more strenuous activities, others may want to go shopping and others may not leave the ship.  There is something for everyone in most destinations.
  9. Arrive a day early.  It is best to arrive the day before embarkation to allow for any flight delays, missing luggage or jet lag.  This will allow you to start your cruise off less stressed.  Adding a pre-hotel stay to a cruise is easy and gives you more time exploring the port destination. Consider planning a Bon Voyage cocktail party or dinner get together to celebrate the start of your vacation.
  10. Plan daily meeting time to regroup onboard ship.  Since roaming charges on cell phones can be astronomical, some groups opt for walkie-talkies to stay in touch on-board ship.  Another simple way to stay in touch is to plan ahead to meet daily.  Even if your group splits up to pursue activities, you can meet for dinner to share the day’s adventures and coordinate next day’s schedules.   On sea days, you might want to meet twice, like dinner and 2pm on the pool deck.

Remember, a group leader is a volunteer, not an employee.  So with these simple tips, the group can have a great trip and the leader can relax and have fun too.

For help planning your next group vacation contact:

Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel – Cruise Planners

407-951-8485

Posted in Cruise Deals, Cruises, family cruises, family vacations, Group travel, Meeting Planning, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacations | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beach Weddings – My New Favorite Location

Best Beach Wedding Location – Marco Island

Sunset Wedding on Marco Island

If you are planning a wedding – I have a new favorite location for a beach-front wedding – Marco Beach Ocean Resort.  It has the perfect western facing location for a sunset ceremony with breath-taking sunsets.  Even sunset photos from my iPhone turned out great.

I found this wonderful resort by accident.  It was the “over-flow” hotel for a conference my husband was attending at a nearby Marriott. I was tagging along for some beach time and am so glad we ended up at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort –  a new favorite of mine!

I loved our 1 bedroom suite

Full dis-claimer…I am NOT a fan of hotels for weddings or hotel ballrooms for receptions.  But the Marco Beach Ocean Resort, is a small 98-suite boutique resort hotel that offers 83 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom suites. All feature a kitchen and balcony with views of the Gulf of Mexico or garden terraces. The 5th floor has garden views, but floor 6 and higher have ocean views.  Even in July, I enjoyed having breakfast on the balcony.

What I like about Marco Beach Ocean Resort as a Wedding destination:

Beach Wedding Ceremony

  • Western facing beach with gorgeous sunsets
  • Year round destination option
  • Small Boutique suite-only hotel
  • Excellent service – a 4 Diamond hotel rating
  • Full service Spa in hotel with full menu of treatments
  • Small Ballroom with Ocean View with banquet seating for 122 people
  • Proximity to Southwest Florida International Airport  (RSW)

    Walk way from hotel to beach

Marco Ocean Beach Resort offers a true “Destination Wedding.” If you want one location for your rehearsal dinner, spa day for your brides maids, a breath-taking ceremony setting and a reception ballroom with ocean views and 4 diamond service…this resort offers an elegant and romantic location for small to medium size wedding parties.

My only unknown was food quality.  I would definitely recommend a food tasting before selecting this hotel.  I did not get a chance to eat in the dining room and was not impressed with the quality of the room service food.

Get married by land and honeymoon by sea 

If you want to leave the wedding party behind for your honeymoon, you are just 30 minutes away from RSW international airport – your gateway to honeymoon cruise destinations world-wide. A honeymoon cruise is the perfect way to relax and start your new life together.  Cruise Planners even offer a Cruise Gift Registry so guests can contribute to your dream honeymoon!

And of course if you ever need help planning a wedding or group vacation, call Cruise Planners at Sea – your land and sea vacation specialist!

Kathleen Peters (407) 951-8485

email: kmpeters@cruiseplanners.com

or visit our website at http://www.Dreamz2go.com

 

Posted in Cruises, Honeymoon cruises, Princess Cruises, Uncategorized, Wedding Destinations, Weddings & Honeymoons at Sea | Leave a comment

Best Cruise Ship Inspections Scores in 2012

When planning a cruise vacation, you may not  think about checking with the CDC, but hopefully your travel agent does.  Cruise ships are a safe and clean vacation choice, but with any large number of people in a confined space, cleanliness is too important to take for granted.

Star Princess

With the Noro virus being second only to the common cold in prevalence, Cruise Ship cleanliness is important.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) created a Vessel Sanitation Program to help the cruise ship industry prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal  illnesses on cruise ships.

Vessel Sanitation Report Cards for 2012- year to date.

The Center For Disease Control (CDC) performs unannounced inspections, which are conducted twice a year and required for any cruise ship with an international itinerary calling at a U.S. port. Vessels are evaluated proper food handling, preparation and storage procedures, and overall galley cleanliness. Ships’ potable water supplies used in spas and pools are evaluated, as well.

Ships scoring a Perfect 100 so far  this year:

Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line

  • Disney Dream
  • Disney Fantasy

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Carnival Liberty
  • Carnival Dream
  • Carnival Freedom
  • Carnival Sensation
  • Carnival Pride

Royal Caribbean

  • Jewel of the Seas
  • Serenade of the Seas
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Mariner of the Seas

Princess Cruises

Caribbean Princess

  • Diamond Princess
  • Star Princess
  • Caribbean Princess

Holland America Line

  • Volendam
  •  Niew Amesterdam
  • Eurodam
  • Statendam

Norwegian Caribbean 

  •  Norwegian Sun

Crystal Cruises

  • Crystal Symphony

Oceania Cruise Line

  • Marina

Not Good Enough

The following 2 ships are on my watch list right now as they received the lowest scores of 2012(<85 considered NOT satisfactory by CDC).

  1. Carnival Ecstasy (Feb) 89
  2. Holland America Rotterdam (Apr) 86

For help planning your next cruise vacation contact:

Kathleen Peters, KMP Travel – Cruise Planners

407-951-8485

Posted in Disney Cruise Line, family cruises, family vacations, Group travel, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Uncategorized, Vacations | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baby Onboard!

This is such a great article on traveling with infants and toddlers by Luisa Frey-Gaynor, I’m reprinting in its entirety!  Enjoy, Kathleen

Baby on Board? The ABCs of Cruising With an Infant or ToddlerLuisa Frey-Gaynor

Posted by Fodor’s Editors on September 17, 2007 at 10:33:25 AM EDT
UPDATED: February 3, 2012

Baby On-board

Traveling with a baby can be intimidating at first. From adjusting your baby to new schedules and cribs while on the road to figuring out how to pack all the baby gear, a new parent may consider it easier to stay at home than travel with an infant or toddler.

However, if you prepare properly, there’s no reason why parents should give up traveling with little ones. In fact, cruising is a great vacation option for those with infants and toddlers since parents get to see many destinations while only having to unpack all the baby gear once. Also, babies are often doted on by the stewards and waiters, who are far from home and their families. In addition, it’s easy for parents to tag-team while on a ship. While one is watching the little one, the other spouse can sun at the pool, work out at the gym, or enjoy the ship’s casino or shows at night.

Another good reason to cruise with an infant is that a few cruise lines offer discounted fares for those under two years. These include Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, and Princess Cruises. Prices and policies vary greatly; check with each line for details.

After many cruises with an infant or toddler in tow, we’ve gained many insider tips on how to choose a cruise line, including what to pack for your infant/toddler, and on board strategies so that it’s smooth sailing for all family members, big and small. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Baby’s Needs

Diapers not allowed: If you’re cruising to a warm weather destination, you’ll be expecting to take your little one into the ship’s pool. However, all cruise lines except Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean do not allow diapers or swim diapers in their pools in accordance with Center for Disease Control’s sanitary codes. On the Disney Magic, the Mickey pool has a separate filtration system in its “ears.” Thus non-potty trained children are allowed in this area since it can be easily emptied, cleaned and filled if there is a diaper accident. On the Disney Wonder, toddlers can enjoy Mickey’s Splash Zone, a 385-square-foot play area with interactive fountains. Royal Caribbean also offers a Baby Splash Zone on certain ships such as the Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, and Allure of the Seas.

Verandahs: While verandahs cost more, they are well worth it if you have a baby or toddler who naps daily. While your little one is napping inside, you can sit on the balcony and catch some sea breezes and sunshine. This beats being stuck inside a dark cabin on a glorious day at sea. Prices for verandahs vary greatly, depending on the cruise line, length of itinerary, and ship.

Baby baths: Most ships only have bathtubs — the preferred way to bathe an infant or toddler — in their most expensive categories of cabins and suites. Hence, chances are that you will have to hold your baby in your arms and have your spouse use the hand held shower nozzle to bathe your child. Alternatively, Disney ships have bathtubs in all cabins.

Choosing the Right Cruise Line

The most family friendly cruise lines are: Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises. Here’s why:

Kid Friendly Ships

Disney Cruise Line: In addition to bathtubs in all cabins, Disney Cruise Line offers a nursery for infants and toddlers. Little ones must be 12 weeks or older to cruise with DCL. The Flounders Reef nursery charges $6 per hour for first child, and $5 per hour for each additional child. Plan to make reservations in advance or soon after boarding.

Carnival Cruise Lines: Carnival is the only cruise line (other than Cunard’s nannies) in which its youth counselors change diapers of non-potty trained tots. The line’s youth program, Camp Carnival, starts at age two while most others began at age three.

Royal Caribbean International: For those between 6 and 36 months in age, Royal Caribbean International features Royal Babies and Royal Tots programming. Little ones (accompanied by a caregiver) can participant in these free, 45 minute play sessions that focus on parent/child bonding through Crayola workshops and a Fisher Price toy-lending program. RCI also has a nursery for infants and toddlers; cost is $8 per hour. In addition, RCI offers a Babies 2 Go! program that allows parents to pre-order Huggies diapers, wipes, and cream, as well as organic Gerber baby food to their room both before and throughout their cruise.

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity offers a Toddler Time program geared towards children under the age of 3 that engages infants and toddlers with interactive, age-appropriate toys and activities. To participate in organized activities, children must be potty-trained, but parents can supervise in the event they are not. In addition, private stateroom babysitting is available for children at least 12 months in age.

Holland America Line: HAL has a very unique baby supply service. Supplies, including formula, diapers, baby food, and wipes, can be ordered no later than 90 days ahead of time through HAL and will be delivered to your cabin upon arrival, eliminating having to transport your own.

Cunard Line: Cunard’s British nannies do change diapers and bottle feed children (12 to 23 months old) in their nursery. The youth program is for kids one year and older. (They do not have to be potty trained). The minimum age for transatlantic cruises is 12 months, though some itineraries allow for passengers as young as six months.

Norwegian Cruise Line: NCL offers an Under 2 Zoo play area designed specifically for toddlers; parental supervision is required. While there is no private in-room babysitting available, group babysitting is offered. However, youth counselors do not change diapers; instead, parents are given beepers in case a diaper change is needed.

Princess Cruises: While Princess youth counselors do not change diapers and the youth program is for those over three years old, Princess does allow those under three years to play with the toys in the youth room as long as they are supervised by a caregiver.

Getting Ready to Hit the Decks

After you book your cruise, consider asking your cruise line about the following:

Crib: Make sure you or your travel agent reserve a crib (complimentary) ahead of time so that it’ll be delivered to your stateroom on embarkation day.

Dinner seating: Request your preferred dinner seating time at the time of booking or soon thereafter. (First seating is usually around 6 p.m.; second is 8:15 or 8:30 p.m.) With most tots, first seating works best since it ends well before their bedtime.

Laundry: Tots go through a lot of clothes. Ask the cruise line if the ship you’re sailing on has public laundry facilities to cut down on the amount of baby clothes you need to pack. All Disney and Princess ships have public laundry facilities, as does Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

Strollers: Carnival and Disney have strollers on board. If you bring your own, umbrella strollers work best since they take up less room in crowded public rooms and also when storing them in your cabin. Disney strollers are free but limited in number, and require a $200 deposit, which is returned when the guest upon return of the stroller. Carnival offers strollers for a flat rate of $30 for the entire time on cruises lasting five or more days. For shorter three or four-day cruises, there is a daily fee of $8/day.

Packing Tips

Traveling with an infant or toddler demands bringing lots of baby gear. The following are some of the most important things to bring on board with you. A great way to transport them is to fill a big box with these supplies and check it in as luggage if you are flying to the embarkation port. Then, once upon the ship, empty the supplies into your cabin and then ask your room steward to throw away the box for you since your supplies will be used up in time for the trip home.

Formula/bottles: If your baby is on formula, you must bring your own, along with bottles. We suggest you bring powdered formula and buy bottled water aboard ship. Also, bring disposable bottle liners. That way, you only have to wash out the bottle nipples daily. Make sure you bring a small amount of dish detergent for cleaning them.

Baby food: Some cruise lines will puree certain types of foods for little ones. We suggest, though, bringing jarred baby food from home for the entire cruise.

Diapers/wipes: Disney and Princess have a very limited amount of diapers and other baby supplies for sale in their shops. Thus, on most lines, you need to bring a supply of diapers and wipes to last your child the entire cruise. Before your cruise, count how many diapers your youngster uses on a daily basis and multiply this by the number of days you’ll be on the road.

Onboard Advice

Now that you’ve arrived on board your cruise ship, you may want to look into some helpful services and baby gear that are available on the ship:

Babysitting: Many cruise lines offer private babysitting, but make sure you confirm availability in advance with your desired cruise line. Most ships require that you reserve your requested hours ahead of time. You can either go to the guest relations desk soon after embarking to make your request, or check online to see if you can reserve hours before departure. Usually babysitters are paid directly in cash, but some lines, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, allow you to charge the service directly to your onboard account. If you cruise aboard Disney, reserve desired baby care times in the nursery. Costs for babysitting vary; check with individual cruise lines for details.

Life vest: Check in your stateroom closet to see if there is an infant’s or child’s life vest. If not, when the room steward comes by on embarkation day to introduce him/herself, make sure you request an appropriately sized life vest.

High chairs: You don’t have to reserve high chairs ahead of time. In the buffet areas, ask a bus boy to get you one. At dinner in the main dining room, your waiter will set it up nightly for you once you request a hair chair from him on the first night of your cruise.

Shore excursions: Do your homework prior to leaving home. Check out what attractions can be reached independently via walking/stroller from the port. Many excursions sold through the cruise lines last too long for babies and toddlers. Instead, in warm weather destinations, opt for a taxi ride to a beach. Rent an umbrella there for your baby and you can return to the ship whenever your little one is ready. Note that for those desiring to take an infant or toddler on a shore excursion sold through the cruise lines, some lines do not charge for lap children and/or charge a discounted rate for children. Discounts vary greatly per line and per excursion.

Leisure time strategies: The beauty of a cruise is that it is a safe, contained environment, making it easy for couples to take turns enjoying the ship and watching baby. Try to keep to your child’s regular nap and sleep schedule while on board in order to keep them happy.

Change your expectations: If this is your first time traveling as a parent, you must change your expectations before departing. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to do what you want when you want, as on past vacations, since you now have a little one whose tummy and sleep schedule are often in control. However, you will have plenty of quality time to enjoy your child. Make sure you bring along some of his or her favorite books along with small, easy-to-pack toys. Most importantly, bring your camera to capture those unforgettable moments of childhood discovery.

Luisa Frey-Gaynor

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