TIPS ON BOOKING A FAMILY CRUISE
Q: Any suggestions for booking air on your cruise?
A: It's important to arrange your own air or pay the deviation fee to have some input on the cruise line's air arrangements. Often, if the cruise line is booking your air, they may book you inconvenient flight times or multiple connections, which are difficult when traveling with a child or infant. in the past few years, the cruise lines are not offering air 'packages' as much as they used to so getting air independently has become more popular.
Q: How can I get a discount price on a Disney cruise?
A: If you can cruise during an off week, which means times other than school holiday periods, you can get rates that are much lower than during school vacations.
Q: What is a 'guarantee' cabin?
A: With a guaranteed room, space within a specific category is reserved for you. However, bed configurations may differ slightly within that price range, which may not work for you if you are traveling with a child who is too young to sleep in an upper berth. With an assigned room, you will be booked in a specific room with the exact berth configuration you ask for. this is why I generally advise booking an assigned cabin when travelling with children.
Q: What do you think about booking a stateroom if you're cruising with older children and teens?
A: One good option is to book rooms across the hall from each other - adults get an outside, more expensive cabin and the kids get an inside, cheaper cabin. That way, the kids have some freedom as well as an additional bathroom, while still being within our sight. Make sure you bring an infant monitor with you. You can leave the kids' monitor on all the time which can give you peace of mind.
Q: Which are the best lines to book when traveling with a family of five?
A: Norwegian Cruise Line has newer ships with many options for larger families. They also have connecting family style staterooms that are located near the children's program area.
Carnival ships have staterooms that accommodate families of five. Typically, the cabin configuration is two lower beds, two upper berths and a rollaway. Some suites also accommodate five, and a typical configuration is two lower beds, a sofa bed that accommodates two, and a rollaway.
Disney: There is a wide variety of options for larger families ranging from the family suites to many other cabin categories that connect.
Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean now offers family staterooms that can accommodate five people (some up to 6) on all their ships, and higher end family suites that can accommodate up to 8 people. Recently the new Oasis and Allure were outfitted with regular balcony staterooms that can accommodate five people!
Q: Our three year old is not fully potty trained yet. Will he be able to participate in the youth program for those three years and older?
A: The only youth counselors who change diapers are those at Carnival Cruise Lines. Children age two and older can participate in Camp Carnival.
While the counselors in Disney Cruise Line's nursery change diapers of the infants and toddlers, children must be three years old and fully potty trained to participate in the free youth program.
All other lines that offer a youth program start at age three -- including Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian and Celebrity -- will only allow potty-trained children to participate. Royal Caribbean does have a 'Royal Babies' program which includes a play program for ages 6 months - 2 years, though it is a parent-participant time.
Q: My child is just a month away from being three years old. Will she be able to participate in the youth program that starts at age three?
A: Generally not. Youth counselors receive the ship's manifest, which lists the birth dates of all passengers. Thus you can't really pull the wool over their eyes even if your child is almost -- but not quite -- old enough for the youth program. You can always ask the counselors for an exception once aboard ship, but don't book a cruise expecting that your child can participate in the youth program unless they are truly the age that is required.
Q: Is there a youth program on port days?
A: Yes, on most cruise lines. Many youth programs, however, offer more limited activities when the ship is in port compared to the evenings and on sea days.
Q: Will the youth program open early enough on port days so that my child can stay there while I go on an early morning excursion?
A: Some lines, such as Royal Caribbean, adjust the hours of the youth program so that it opens up one half hour prior to the first shore excursion departure.
Q: I just heard that Princess Cruises no longer accepts children as young as two years in the youth program. Is this true?
A: Yes, Princess Cruises' youth program now is for those three years and older.
Q: Is Celebrity Cruises' youth program offered year-round?
A: While most major cruise lines that offer a youth program have youth counselors on board year-round (Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Costa Cruises), Celebrity's program is offered only seasonally. This means that Celebrity has a youth program during major holidays and the summer. However, they also have a youth counselor on board when there are 12 or more children booked on a cruise. Check the status prior to booking your cruise.
Q: Are there bed rails available for toddlers?
A: None of the cruise lines seems to provide large bed bars like you would use at home for a toddler. I suggest bringing your own -- you can buy a collapsible one from Safety 1st. Since they are collapsible, they will fit into a large suitcase for travel purposes. My daughter used to fall out of the beds a lot on ships, so we carried the bed bar with us for many years!
Q: I'm concerned that my child might fall overboard. What are the railings on the ships like?
A: Most modern cruise ships have plexiglass covering the rails so that it would not be easy for your child to fall overboard. Most railings are waist or chest high on an adult, so a child would have to climb to that height to try to jump overboard! Of course, as when traveling anywhere, you must keep a watchful eye on your child while at sea, but falling overboard is not a major concern aboard most conventional ships today.