Tips for Family Cruises

mom and daughter on a cruise together enjoying the jacuzzi and viewby Stacey Schifferdecker

My mother-in-law has been talking about for years – taking my family and my sister-in-law’s family for a cruise. But the timing never worked out until now. This year, for the first time ever, my children’s schools and my nephews’ schools have spring break the same week. So hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Mexico we go. I am a vacation planner junky, so naturally I am hip-deep in research about the best way to enjoy our cruise and keep six kids ranging in age from 7 (the only girl) to 14 happy and healthy for a week. So here is what I have learned – check back with me in March to see how the reality lives up to the research.

Which Cruise Line to Choose?
Which cruise line to choose was the first question we had. Of course, your departure location helps narrow this choice. Unless you have unlimited time and money for your vacation, you will likely choose the departure port that is nearest your home. The major ports for cruise ship departures in North America are
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Brooklyn
  • Cape Liberty NJ
  • Manhattan
  • Montreal
  • Norfolk
  • Philadelphia
  • Quebec
  • Anchorage
  • Honolulu
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Vancouver
  • Charleston
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Jacksonville
  • Miami
  • Mobile
  • New Orleans
  • Port Canaveral
  • San Juan
  • Tampa
  • Galveston
  • Long Beach
  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
Not every cruise line ships out of every port. For example, we are cruising out of Galveston, which narrowed our cruise line options to four: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, or Celebrity.
Once you decide on your departure point, other factors may help narrow your cruise line choices even more:
  • Your date of departure
  • How long a cruise you want to take
  • What ports of call you want to visit
What about Children’s Programs?
Of course, since you are cruising with your children, another question that will affect your choice of cruise lines is what facilities and programs are available for children. All the major cruise lines are now courting family cruisers and have special programs and activities for children and teens. Everything from family suites to casual dining hours, baby swimming pools, rock climbing walls, and supervised children’s activities are now available from most cruise lines. You can check each cruise line’s web site or ask your travel agent about specific amenities for families and children. Some specific questions to ask include:
  • What ages do children need to be to participate in children’s programs?
  • What time do the children’s programs run? Is after-hour babysitting available?
  • Are children divided into separate groups by age?
  • What qualifications do the leaders of the children’s programs have (education, experience, background checks)?
  • What security methods are used to keep children safe in the children’s center and to ensure they are only picked up by authorized adults?
  • What is the ratio of children to adult staff in the children’s center?
  • Is a third/fourth passenger rate available for children staying in the same room as their parents?
  • Are family suites or connecting rooms available?
  • Is a children’s menu available?
  • Is open meal seating available?
  • What family activities are available, both onboard the ship and at port?
  • Are wading pools available for young children?
  • Are facilities such as rock climbing walls and game rooms available for older children and teens?
  • Are cribs available?
  • Are beepers available if the children’s counselors need to contact a parent quickly?
  • Do the children’s programs include activities for special needs children?
  • Do the cabins have a television?
  • Will there be special movies or live entertainment that children will enjoy?
How Much Will a Cruise Cost?
As vacations go, cruises can be relatively inexpensive. They definitely cost more than camping out at the state park, but less than a week on-site at Disney World! Remember that the price includes your room, meals, entertainment and activities, some beverages, use of facilities, and the onboard children’s programs. The price does not include shore excursions, tips, alcoholic drinks, or after-hours babysitting. Soft drinks are included on some cruise lines. Don't forget, Disney has its own cruises you might want to check out.
The exact cost of your cruise depends on how long it is and what type of room you reserve. To save money, book early – or, if you can handle spontaneity – look for last-minute cruise deals.
If you haven’t done a lot of traveling, don’t forget to include the price of passports for everyone into your vacation budget. Even youngsters need passports now anytime you leave the United States.
Happy cruising!

Biography
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.

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