Before you start silently cursing me and/or stitching a voodoo doll, you should know that this is not the "norm" in our house. A family member paid for our first cruise, and we won a second cruise while on board. Anyways, in the planning/preparation stages I was surprised by the number of people who assumed I would be leaving the baby at home. Sure, the idea of 5-7 days with just my husband, completely baby-free, sounds amazing at first. (Especially to him!) But the reality is, I am a first time mom. I still harbor too much anxiety about his care taking to just jet off for a week and leave him behind. Plus, we are a super tight knit family. When I am away from my son too long my heart hurts and my arms physically ache to hold him. My boobs balloon up to Pam Anderson size too, but that is a whole other issue in itself. At this point, 5-7 days away from him was out of the question.
However, my husband and I still needed a vacation. While you experienced parents know that vacationing with children is certainly not the same as vacationing as a couple, it can still be a very enjoyable experience. I promise!
For a solid week, we didn't have to worry about cleaning up the baby's messes, meal-planning, cooking, laundry, entertainment, cellphones ringing, or laptops dinging with each new email. Mommy got to visit the spa and Daddy got to tour the ship with the captain! We were even able to embark on crazy adventures like Parasailing, Horseback Riding through the ocean, and eating dinner without the baby! As a parent, that's as close to bliss as it gets.
Our zany adventures were made possible by the amazing nursery staff on board our Royal Caribbean ship. One of the main reasons that we picked the itineraries/ships that we did, was because of the on board nursery. Unless you plan on cruising with the Disney line (much more pricey!) it is important to research the quality and availability of childcare. Our little guy spent around 15 hours total in the nursery, and he had a blast! Royal Caribbean recently partnered with Fisher Price toys and Crayola, so they are stocked up with pretty much every toy/craft known to man. My son was in hog heaven! Every time we picked him up, the staff gave us a detailed report of everything he did and usually a few pictures he had colored as well. I also loved the fact that we were given a shipboard "cellphone" so we could call and check on him at any given moment.
When the baby wasn't in the nursery, he had fun exploring the various play areas, riding the carousel, "swimming" in the baby splash pad, meeting and greeting all the Dreamworks characters, dancing to the steel drum music, and watching the many shows and parades. Never a dull moment!
While on board, make sure to take advantage of the ship's photographers. There is no sitting fee, and there are dozens of opportunities to snag that perfect family or couple portrait. You can avoid the lines and grumpy baby meltdowns if you arrive around 5ish when the photographers are usually just finished setting up for the evening. The photographers are also very...understanding. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that on one particular photo shoot, with an ALL WHITE backdrop, the baby took a giant dump that somehow fell out of his diaper, out of his pants, and ONTO THE BACKDROP. Embarassing does not begin to cover it. Oy Vey!
The baby also had a blast at the different ports of call. Word to the wise, if you are visiting Nassau, a trip to Atlantis is a must. While I wasn't oober impressed with the customer service skills of the staff on property, the beautifully maintained property makes it easy to look past. Atlantis is home to an enormous aquarium full of all sorts of sea life. The baby and I were particularly fond of the ginormous manta rays! The property also offers dolphin and sea lion swims, a giant casino, and a fantastic kid's pool/splash zone.
Needless to say, by the end of our cruising adventures, mommy and baby were exhausted. But candidly, I think one of the best parts of vacationing is sneaking in a few good naps!
Helpful Tips For Traveling on a Cruise With A Tot:
- If money is no object, spring for a suite so that the baby can have his/her own room. If that is out of the question, ask about rooms with divider curtains or ocean view cabins in the very front of the ship. These front cabins are quieter and have a little bit more square footage because of the angled wall. The extra square footage might not seem like much, but it acts as an amazing play area and a great space for the pack and play/crib.
- Bring a small white noise maker. We found a little battery powered, egg shaped one for around $5. These make a world of difference in tight quarters. Especially if you and your spouse don't want to be stuck going to bed at 7:30 too!
- Research your ship and familiarize yourself with the various child-centered amenities. Our particular boat had a toy lending program, daily mommy and me music classes, large play areas, and a program that allowed passengers to pre-order diapers and baby food (rather than lugging it all on board).
- In stateroom categories lower than a suite, most bathrooms are only equipped with a small shower. Bring a small, blowup baby pool. You can usually find these for under $5, so you can just leave it on the ship when you disembark.
- Bring Baby Friendly Hand Sanitizer and Wipes. The reality is, everyone loves babies. Chances are, more than a few fellow passengers and/or crew will disregard the concept of personal space and lavish your baby with high fives, pats on the head, etc. They mean well, but who knows where those hands have been? If you have a secret sanitizing arsenal, you can relax a bit during little Junior's star moment, and just wipe the kid down on the sly later.
- Pack lightly! I realize that is a seemingly insurmountable task with a baby, but the lighter you pack, the more manageable the luggage. I wish I had video of my husband and I disembarking. He was dragging 3 heavy suitcases while I struggled to push the stroller and wrangle suitcases of my own. All that work, and we didn't wear half the outfits that we packed!
- Make your childcare reservations early and coordinate them with dinner/show reservations. This is especially pertinent on the bigger boats with thousands of fellow passengers. Try and make your childcare reservations as soon as you get on board, to avoid any disappointment.
- If your ship doesn't offer the shipboard cellphones, walkie talkies are a cheap and fun alternative for staying in touch. Sometimes if you end up on the same channel, you'll even overhear some funny communications between other families.
- RELAX. It's OK if the baby isn't exactly on schedule. A few less naps and a little later of a bedtime are probably going to be the reality on vacation. So don't fight it. Just enjoy your time. I promise that once you are home, your baby will quickly readjust.
- Finally, if you find a cruise line that you love, stick with them. There are often various perks of being a "return" customer. My husband and I always receive a booklet of valuable coupons for free drinks, discounts at the spa and casino, etc. Plus, we get priority boarding and disembarking. No standing in line for hours with a fussy baby!