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All our Tips and Tricks for Going on a Family Cruise

February 14, 2020

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We just got back from a 5-day cruise with our family, and after sharing a couple bits and pieces of the trip, you guys had so many questions about taking a cruise with your family!

Justin and I have been on several cruises, just with adults, but this was the first with our kids. We all had the BEST time and I would highly recommend it! If you’ve never cruised before it can be intimidating knowing where to start, what to expect, how to get it all booked, what excursions to do, etc. So hopefully this breakdown of our trip will help answer some of your questions.

Video created by McKenzie Jenks Films

We decided back in October to give our kids this cruise as their Christmas gift. So instead of regular presents, we gave them some things for the cruise (swimsuits, goggles, suitcases, etc). And we had a puzzle made with a picture of our cruise ship and the words “We’re going on a cruise! February 3-7). We put a few pieces of the puzzle in each stocking and after opening all the other presents, they put the puzzle together.

Our Cruise Details

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Dates of Travel: February 3-7, 2020

Itinerary: 4 Night Bahamas & Perfect Day Cruise

Port Canaveral, FL > Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas > Nassau, Bahamas > Port Canaveral, FL

Excursions: Thrill Waterpark at CocoCay and Atlantis Waterpark in Nassau

Your Questions Answered

I asked y’all on Instagram what questions you had about cruising. I’ll try to answer all those questions by category here.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Going on a cruise is a unique experience. There are thousands of people on a giant floating hotel going through the ocean. Typically, you make several port stops and are able to see multiple locations in one trip. As with any kind of travel, there are pros and cons. Here are some worth mentioning.

PROS: All-inclusive food and entertainment! With kids, this part was amazing. When we eat out or travel with our kids it’s so hard to gauge how hungry they actually are and how much food to order. On a cruise, all the food is included in the price of your stateroom (aside from premium restaurants that you pay extra for – which we’ve never done). So it’s great that everyone can try as many things as they’d like, go back for seconds, grab snacks whenever they’re hungry, and you don’t have to worry about paying for any of it!

Entertainment is also free. This will vary depending on the ship, but we enjoyed rock climbing, water slides, flowrider, mini golf, ice skating shows, variety shows, swimming pools, and hot tubs.

It’s also fun that you can experience multiple destinations on a cruise, as you typically make several port stops.

There is very little planning required for a cruise since most of the food and entertainment are enjoyed on the ship. You do need to plan for your excursions and any day trips you want to take at the port stops, but other than that, you book your stateroom and the vast majority of the planning is done for you.

CONS: There are a lot of people on a cruise ship at one time and the rooms and spaces are small.

Is it crowded? Yes and no. There are times when you’re surrounded by big groups of people (like when you’re eating at the buffet or out by the main pool during a belly flop competition) and times when you feel pretty alone (like in the early evening when you go to the adults-only pool area and sit in a padded chair overlooking the ocean).

If you are really bothered by big groups of people or small spaces, it probably won’t be your cup of tea. The rooms are very small (you are on a boat), but we spend very little time in the stateroom. It’s basically a place to sleep, shower, and dress. There are plenty of other places on the ship to hang out that afford your more space and things to do.

Large ships are quite stable, but if you have issues with motion sickness, that is a consideration. I only felt the boat swaying and moving on one of our “at sea” days. Other than that, it felt completely stable. Motion sickness medicine or patches can definitely help with that, though!

TAKING KIDS

AGES: You may wonder at what age it’s best to take kids, whether to take them at all, if it’s appropriate for them, etc. Justin and I have been on several cruises with adults only, and had a great time. We loved cruising so much, we though it would make a great family vacation with our kids (mostly because of all the PROS listed above).

At the time of this cruise, our kids are 5, 7, 9 and 11. It felt like a great age to take them! They’re all strong swimmers, so that put us at ease a little, no one is napping or in diapers, and they all still have similar interests. If your kids are in different age groups, there’s no reason you can’t still go and have a great time! Of course it would be more demanding on you, as a parent, if you have a baby or toddler on board. They wouldn’t be able to participate in as many things and would require an adjusted schedule for naps and bedtime, but if you go in knowing that, I think you’d be fine.

For most of the activities on our boat and on the offshore excursions, the height requirement was 48″. Our 5-year-old is only about 42″, so he wasn’t able to participate in a lot. But we found the things he could do and would just divide into groups and take turns staying with him.

ON-BOARD CHILDCARE: Our boat had an amazing kids club program. They had special play zones for babies/toddlers, kids 3-5, kids 6-8, and kids 9-11. Their services are free (unless you utilize late-night after hours care). We registered at the kids club when we boarded the ship, but didn’t try it out until our first at-sea day. On our excursion days, we were off the ship for the majority of the day anyway. When we did finally have the kids go, they had a blast! My older kids are especially picky with childcare and they were begging to go back. Royal Caribbean really invests in their kids clubs and they were full of great counselors, fun games and entertaining arts and crafts projects.

SAFETY: I didn’t feel unsafe with kids on the boat at all. There were tall railings (that angled inward) and plexiglass on any area that would be of concern for climbing and falling overboard.

I also didn’t feel there was anything inappropriate for children on our ship. Granted, we didn’t go to the casino or clubs at night, but in general it was extremely kid-friendly and appropriate. Of course, this would vary by ship. We also didn’t have any issues with noise around our cabin (granted we were down low on the second floor). We never heard anything at night that woke anyone up either.

ALLERGIES: Our boat seemed very allergy-friendly. In their buffet, they had an entire section dedicated to “gluten-free”. They also had every food labeled and the things that contained nuts were clearly labeled. If your child has allergies other than gluten or nut, it could be tricky to navigate. I’m sure the crew would be happy to order them special food, but it would be an added challenge.

DOCUMENTS NEEDED: I can’t speak for all cruises, but on ours, the kids didn’t need passports. Their birth certificates were sufficient. So Justin and I took our passports and just brought the kids birth certificates.

WHAT TO PACK

We always try to keep packing very simple when we’re going on family trips. We took 5 carry-on size bags for our family of 6. I packed swimsuits and cover-ups, pajamas, a few casual outfits (for walking around the boat in the evening when we wouldn’t be swimming anymore), underwear, one fancier outfit (for the more formal dinner), and a sweatshirt. I also packed plenty of sunscreen, goggles, glasses, hats, etc.

I packed all of our toiletries in this 4-compartment toiletry bag, which was so nice because I just hung it behind out closet door so it didn’t take up any counter space.

I also packed my makeup (which I only used for the formal dinner) in this small travel bag.

I would recommend bringing a backpack. We used it around the ship to carry sunglasses, put coverups in when we were swimming, books, water bottles, sunscreen, etc. We also took our backpack on our excursion off the boat and both places we stopped had lockers to store it in.

I would also highly recommend a waterproof phone case. It was SO fun and convenient to have. I put my phone in it when we were at the waterparks and was able to take videos and pictures on the slides, underwater, etc. It was small enough that I could just wear it around my neck – even on the water slides. It was also a great place to store a credit card, sea pass or a little cash.

The only thing we DIDN’T pack that I wish I would have is mini shampoo and conditioner containers. I brought kids shampoo, but nothing for me. The boat just had a dispenser in the shower with a shampoo/body wash mix, which wasn’t great for my thick mane.

HOW TO BOOK

If you’ve never been on a cruise before, it’s hard to know where to begin! My advice would be to shop your cruise based on the ship and type of experience you want. We are partial to Royal Caribbean because it’s clean, family-friendly, has great entertainment, and great customer service. I wouldn’t recommend finding the cheapest cruise out there because you’ll get what you pay for. Not all cruises are created equal. I’ve heard amazing things about Disney cruises as well, but when I looked into it, it was about double the cost.

We started our search by looking at all of Royal Caribbean’s ships and deciding what SHIP we wanted to cruise on. We also knew we wanted to go to Royal Caribbean’s Island, CoCo Cay, so that narrowed it down for us. We booked about 4 months before the cruise when there was a good promotion going on (just get on their email list to be notified of deals). You could also go through a travel agent, which would be helpful if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, but we just booked online. There’s also typically a period where you can get a full refund, so that’s good.

Most cruise ship staterooms can fit up to 5 people. Because we’re a family of 6, we had to book 2 staterooms. But they were adjoining, so it worked out great. We had them set up 2 bunkbeds in one room and then we had a king bed in the other. You could also look into 3 smaller staterooms, which could save even more money. But only 2 rooms can be adjoining. On this cruise we had a window to the outside, but on our other cruises we’ve had interior rooms. I wouldn’t pay more just to get a window, since for us we’re basically only sleeping and getting ready in the room.

COST

Understandably, a lot of you were interested in what it cost a family of 6 to go on a cruise. Of course there are a lot of contributing factors that will affect the cost (duration, cruise line, how many staterooms you book, excursions, flight cost, etc). But hopefully this will give you a rough idea of what to expect.

This is a list of ALL our costs. From airport snacks, to Uber rides, to drink packages, to tips, this is everything.

DescriptionQuantityCostTotal
Cruise Stateroom2$1,453.15$2,906.30
Soda Package2$30.68$61.36
CocoCay Waterpark Pass6$24.99$149.94
Adult Atlantis Waterpark Pass2$148.99$297.98
Child Atlantis Waterpark Pass4$103.99$415.96
Flight from RDU – MCO6$11.20$67.20
Breakfast at RDU Airport$22.52
Uber from Airport to Cruise$95.70
Locker Fee at Atlantis$17.00
Lunch at Atlantis$40.47
Uber from Cruise to Airport$142.74
Movie6$10.50$63.00
Lunch at MCO Airport$38.25
Treats at Airport$10.58
TOTAL$4,329.00

* We used Delta miles to pay for most of this flight, which is why our flight was only $11.20 per person – without miles it would have cost $181.20 per person

* We had several hours after we got off the cruise before our flight so we took a slight detour to go to a movie at a theater by the airport

Conclusion

We LOVED every minute of our cruise. From the boat, to the destinations, to the duration, I wouldn’t change anything. There’s a lot to evaluate when deciding whether a cruise would be a good vacation for your family or not, but hopefully this gives you something to think about! If you have any questions that went unanswered, please leave them in a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer!


This post was NOT sponsored by Royal Caribbean, although I wish it was! We have just had many great experiences with their cruise line over the years.


I like to hang out on Instagram and share more in-depth tutorials on everything I’m make, create and organize.  Come be a part of our Home & Kind Instagram community.

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  1. Lindsey says:

    Do you think the Atlantis water park was worth the extra money? We’re cruising next January and debating if we’ll add on!

    • Brittney says:

      It’s hard to know … it is pretty amazing. If we were to only choose one water park to go to, I’d probably choose Atlantis because it has so many unique things about it. Also, I’ve heard of some people getting a reservation at the hotel for that day (because it comes with free water passes) and sometimes that can save money. There’s also a more inexpensive hotel across the street that gives Atlantis tickets with a hotel stay so people will book there just to get the passes – so those are things to look into for sure. Also, I’d want to make sure you have a full day there. If you only have a few hours it’s probably not worth the cost.

  2. Nadia says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!
    It is sooo helpful, really want to take my family on one of these, just waiting 2 more years for youngest to turn 5! Which I think would be a perfect age to go with older siblings! And thank you for the transparency of the cost, it’s soo very helpful!
    I’ve been with Royal Caribbean on my honey moon, would love to go back with 4 kids:-)!

  3. Kaylynn says:

    We’re going on the same cruise in July! Was gratuity/tips included in the price of the staterooms or was that additional? Also, when did you book your excursions? For some reason, the price of CocoCay is $113/person for us… way more than $25! I’m wondering if we should wait and the price will drop or if it’ll just be more expensive in the summer months. Thanks for putting together this post and for your input! It’s really helpful for a first-time cruiser like me!

  4. Rachel Stowell says:

    What an amazing trip! Thanks for all the info! How did you get your coco cay passed for so cheap?! We got ours on Black Friday, and they were still $89!

  5. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for such a great breakdown! How did you feed all 6 breakfast at the airport for $22? Everything is so expensive there!

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