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Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Cruising with kids in 2021

In:
14 Oct 2021

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Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise with kids is different than without kids due to all the different rules for them. I just sailed with my kids to get a sense of what it's like.

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What it's like to go on a cruise with unvaccinated kids right now

In:
12 Oct 2021

The cruise ship restart process has seen plenty of policy changes along the way, and while many aspects have gotten more predictable, going on a cruise with kids that are not old enough to be vaccinated is one part of the experience that is a bit different.

I'm going on my first cruise: Here's what I think I should do | Royal Caribbean Blog

While I have been on quite a few cruises since Royal Caribbean restarted operations in June, my kids have mostly not been with me since school restarted very shortly after cruises did.

I took the kids on two sailings in early June, but that was before the Delta variant hit the United States hard, and I wanted to see what it was like to take unvaccinated kids on a cruise now.

To that point, we booked a 3-night cruise on Mariner of the Seas to see what the experience is like for vaccinated parents taking their unvaccinated kids onboard.

Pre-cruise testing

Royal Caribbean will now require passengers to get a Covid test no more than 2 days before their cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

Luckily for us, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased the pre-cruise test protocols a few weeks before our cruise, which made things simpler.

Unvaccinated kids have up to 3 days before their cruise to get either a PCR or antigen test before their cruise. The only restrictions are the test cannot be done on embarkation day, and they cannot do the at-home test.

I scheduled my kids to get a complimentary test at CVS.  Using my recommendations for getting a pre-cruise Covid test, I booked an appointment exactly 13 days before I needed it and had no problem finding a CVS location less than 30 minutes away that would do an antigen test for them after school.

Royal Caribbean will now require passengers to get a Covid test no more than 2 days before their cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

I've done many tests at CVS because it's complimentary and easy to schedule in advance, and this was no different. We were in and out of CVS in less than 15 minutes for both kids, and test results emailed back in less than hour.

If you're wondering, my wife and I did the at-home test with the Abbott BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test and it was even easier than CVS.

Check-in

The biggest difference in protocols for going on a cruise with unvaccinated kids is the test required on embarkation day.

For vaccinated guests, the pre-cruise test is sufficient, but unvaccinated kids have to get an additional test at the cruise terminal on the first day of the cruise.

In the weeks leading up to your cruise, Royal Caribbean will email you with a way to register the kids for the test, which is complimentary.

ACFE3096-B4E4-4E6C-A427-0B5AB612A2D3.jpeg

After walking into the terminal to do the pre-check-in and through security, families head into the luggage area to get their kids tested.

Just like CVS, the nurse checks you in and administers the test.  No "brain tickler" as we had feared, just shallow nose swab. 

After that, they instruct you to have a seat and wait for your results.  An estimate of 40 minutes is how long it should take to process.

In our case, one of my kids' test came back almost exactly 40 minutes after we took the test, but my other daughter's test was invalid (which means they have to run the test again).  

We ended up waiting about 90 minutes in total while the test could be re-run again.

Even without the invalid test scenario, I don't know why anyone would want to have their test done at the terminal. It's a lot of wasted time that you could be onboard, and I would gladly prefer to get my test done on my own and be able to get onboard the ship faster on embarkation day.

I understand that getting a test is a bit of a challenge, but with at-home tests or a little bit of foot work to get an appointment in advance, I would never advocate getting the test done at the terminal if you have a choice. The fear of missing out on that first day is just too much.

Masks

Vaccinated or not, you have to wear a mask while indoors and can remove the mask while outdoors, in your stateroom, or while dining.

Kids cannot go into the unvaccinated only areas of the ship, where masks can be removed, but these are almost all bars, lounges, or the casino.  These are areas of the ships my kids rarely hung out at pre-Covid.

The biggest difference I saw her was bingo was for vaccinated only, which was not the case on our Adventure of the Seas cruise in June. I took it as an omen to avoid spending money on bingo I likely would have lost, but it was one instance where the rule stopped our plans.

Dining

Chef's Table | Royal Caribbean Blog

Another significant change for cruising with kids is there are certain venues you cannot go into, including dining.

Restaurants like Izumi and many bars are only for fully vaccinated guests.

My kids love Izumi, so unfortunately we had to forgo dining there.

Mariner of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Sea Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

More problematic is the fact kids cannot walk through vaccinated only zones, which means kids cannot walk through Deck 4 of Mariner of the Seas because the casino and Schooner Bar are for vaccinated only. 

Luckily, kids can still dine at the other specialty restaurants onboard, and we had a nice meal at Jamie's Italian, Chops Grille, and the main dining room.

For the main dining room, deck 4 has areas for all parties (vaccinated and those with unvaccinated children.)  My Time Dining is not available to unvaccinated children, which is not a problem for us since we always do traditional dining.  Of course, that may be a problem if you prefer My Time Dining.

I think the biggest issue was simply not being able to dine at Izumi. I wish we could have taken them to Izumi, but understand the reasoning for that being vaccinated only as there is no way to socially distance at the hibachi tables.

Adventure Ocean

Our experience with Adventure Ocean was identical to our cruise in June on Adventure of the Seas.

Adventure Ocean operates on a limited capacity, and each family is only allowed to sign up for a certain amount of sessions on the first day of the cruise.

On this 3-night sailing, Voyagers (9-11 years old) were limited to one session sign up, whereas Explorers (6-8) were able to register two sessions. 

They allowed us to sign up for other sessions later on, and it was never an issue in our case to get our kids into Adventure Ocean while on Mariner.  We did encounter more demand for Adventure Ocean back in June, as more families opted to use the service back then.

My advice for anyone who wants to use Adventure Ocean is to register on the first day in the afternoon when they hold their open house, and book as many sessions/hours you can up front.  Then ask when more hours will become available to book and be sure to sign up at that time.

Shore excursions

Another big hurdle for families is if you have unvaccinated kids, you can only get off the cruise ship if you have a Royal Caribbean shore excursion booked.

At Perfect Day at CocoCay, there are no restrictions because it is run by the cruise line. By far, visiting CocoCay is the easiest to plan day for families with kids.

Our only other port stop was Nassau, and we decided to stay onboard.

For our cruises coming up later this year with the kids, this restriction is particularly problematic and I foresee us leaving the kids in Adventure Ocean because if only the vaccinated people in your family wish to disembark, they can do so and tour on their own.

Depending on the port of call you visit and your kids' interests, there can be very limited options. On our Navigator of the Seas cruise in December, there are only three shore excursions to choose from in Puerto Vallarta.  Two of those three tours are for kids at least 12 years old.

While the shore excursion rule did not impact us for our 3-night cruise on Mariner of the Seas, it could prove to be a bigger problem on longer sailings.

Bottom line

Perfect Day at CocoCay | Royal Caribbean Blog

In short, cruising with my unvaccinated kids was still plenty fun, even with a few extra hurdles.

The embarkation day test was by far the worst issue we encountered, but even that was a fleeting issue.

I think the shore excursion limitation and the Adventure Ocean limited capacity have the potential to be problematic for some, depending on what you like to do and the itinerary you are on. I think some people will find this a major problem, while others may not mind at all. 

Mariner of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

Overall, I still felt much safer taking my kids on a cruise than sending them to school.  My kids underwent two different covid tests on the cruise, and strict mask wearing rules were in place.  At school, there are multiple calls from the principal each week about some student or staff member that tested positive for Covid-19 with absolutely no changes to address that there.

As a parent, I greatly appreciated the "bubble" Royal Caribbean created for all passengers, and compared to other land vacation alternatives that have no testing and/or vaccine requirements, the cruise lines are doing an admirable job.

Should you take your kids out of school for a cruise vacation?

In:
06 Aug 2020

If you’re a cruiser with kids, the day will come when you will face the question that has been the cause of many parent arguments: should you take the kids out of school in order to go on a cruise?

Before it leads to one parent sleeping on the couch after an epic fight over it, let’s take a closer look at the issues surrounding taking a child out of school.

While we’re specifically talking about cruising, most of these ideas apply to any vacation.

We all know that cruises are wonderful opportunities for kids.

  • They learn wonderful dinner etiquette. You can tell a cruiser’s child because they actually know what that extra fork is for. 

  • They learn to interact with strangers and how to hold conversations. Only cruisers know how quickly you can make friends while waiting in line at the buffet.

  • If they participate in the children’s program (like RC’s Adventure Ocean), they get practice in quickly making friendships and following the directions of new adults in charge. You’re in a blue shirt? I’ll do whatever you say!

  • Everyone understands that visiting a place is the best way to gain an appreciation of it, and cruising allows kids the opportunity to see many places they would otherwise never have had the opportunity to visit.

  • Gaining an appreciation of how much we have is easy when you visit places where people live a very different life from that of the child.

The list goes on and on. Cruises are wonderful opportunities for learning and creating curiosity, the driver of all learning.

While there are many benefits of cruising, those benefits must be weighed against the difficulties involved in missing school. 

It’s important to consider what missing school will mean for the family. For starters, the child will likely be tired, and yet there will be double the work to do. There’s  nothing like a whining, exhausted kid to ratchet up that post-cruise depression.

Additionally, no benefits of cruising are available only when the child is missing school. Those benefits are available during school vacation time as well. 

So, how are parents to decide what is right for their families?

Deciding to Go on Vacation During the School Year: Consider the ROI

Time is an investment in the same way money is. When considering whether to invest time in a cruise when a child would normally be in school, families need to weigh the costs and return on that time investment.

For some families, a special occasion is occurring. Perhaps the grandparents are celebrating a special anniversary or there is another family milestone, such as a destination wedding or even the scattering of ashes. Clearly, these cannot be put off until the next vacation. They are date-specific.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if a really good sale counts as a special occasion!

For some families, such as those with a parent in the military, the parent’s leave does not coincide with school vacations, and if the family is to be able to travel together, the child must miss school. This can happen with other occupations as well, so if you or your spouse have jobs where you can’t take vacation at more convenient times, the decision may be out of your hands.

Depending upon the child, you may want to bring him in on the decision. While parents sometimes assume that every child wants to go on a cruise, every now and then that won’t be the case.

Other Factors to Consider

The school’s policy on absences should factor into your decision. If they have a strict limit on the number of absences, a cruise may mean that your child has no wiggle room the rest of the year. 

For some high school students, a single unexcused absence can mean the loss of final exam exemptions (which is, according to most high school students, a fate worse than death).

Consider the time you’re leaving. Some instructional time is more valuable than other times. For example, you won’t want to be gone the week before state testing, when big projects are due, or right after holidays (which tend to be busy instructional times).

Good times to miss include a day or two before a scheduled vacation. For example, if your school district is open the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, any teacher will tell you that those days are not the most efficient learning days!

Children are different, and while one child may thrive missing a few days of school here and there, others will find the entire experience stressful. This is common in kids who are super conscientious, who have very strong relationships at school, or who need a strict schedule to function best.

While cruise fares may be lower during vacation times, when you are gone the school is losing money. Most schools receive payment based on the daily attendance. They still have to keep the lights on and the AC humming, even if your child isn’t there. This isn’t a reason not to go, but it’s something to keep in mind.

While you won’t be able to predict this, it’s possible that you will have another emergency come up, and you may regret burning up the teacher’s good will on a vacation when the child ends up missing another week of school due to another unforeseen circumstance.

Clearly, missing school becomes a bigger issue as the children get older. Missing a couple of days of Kindergarten is not as consequential as missing two days of calculus. Some high schools are on block schedules, where missing two days is like missing a week.

Things to Do Before You Go

Let’s say you’ve made the thoughtful decision to YOLO book it, and you’ve got your friendly neighborhood travel agent working on an epic cruise vacation for the fam. What steps should you take once the decision has been made?

The person to talk to right after the travel agent is the teacher. Let the teacher know you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. If you’ve got a special reason for going, let the teacher in on it. 

It definitely sounds better to tell the teacher that Grandma and Grandpa are celebrating their fortieth anniversary than that there was a Kids Sail Free deal you couldn’t pass up. If that’s the story, it’s best left unsaid. That can be our secret.

Don’t be surprised if in today’s digital world, the school may expect the child’s virtual participation, even if the child’s not physically in school. Just think of it as a great excuse to buy that souped up internet package.

Things to Ask Before You Go

Leaving for a cruise is the perfect time to do some pre-trip planning. In addition to making sure you’ve done your pre-cruise shopping, ask the teacher a few key questions.

Here are some ideas of questions you may wish to ask your child’s teacher:

  • Is there anything that my child can begin before we leave? 

  • If you don’t have the assignments ready before we leave, can you please share what topics you’ll be covering? (This will allow your child to watch videos on cell division instead of cute puppies – unless you can find a video of cute puppies talking about cell division. If your child is currently on Chapter 7 in the math textbook, you can safely assume they’re moving through the textbook in order. This is not true of all classes, though, so check!)

  • Do you have any preferred tutorial video sites for when my child is working independently? (Some teachers may have a preference, such as Khan Academy or the textbook’s website.)

  • When will the make-up work be due? (You’ll need this information to plan.)

  • Are there any assignments my child will miss that can’t easily be made up that we can offer something else in lieu of it? (For example, a child can’t do group work with other students, but may be able to create a slideshow about how the crew cleans a ship.)

Asking these questions helps your child have a better experience returning to school, and they also send a signal to the teacher that you are proactive and on top of it. That makes it more likely the student will have a smooth re-entry to class.

Avoid Making Assumptions about the Work You’re Given

Sometimes, parents get very little actual work to be made up and think, “Wow, they didn’t miss hardly anything! We should take little Tabitha out of school more often!”

In today’s classroom, less and less of the work of school can be sent home. More and more of it is collaborative learning that isn’t easily reproduceable. What you’re getting is just what could be distilled to a piece of paper or specific, solo assignment.

Today’s classroom is about learning even more than work in the form of paper and pencil assignments. It’s about groups being formed, group activities where a missing person causes issues for the entire group, and about creating a strong classroom community where questioning leads to deep thinking. 

If you get five pages of work for three days out of class, you can assume that the child missed a number of these kinds of learning experiences. 

That’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s something to keep in mind.

What to do During the Cruise

When you have a child returning to school immediately after the cruise, it’s important to try to return to a semi-normal schedule before the end of the cruise. You may want to switch away from that 8:30pm dining time the last night or two if that’s normally the child’s bedtime at home!

Use slow times on the cruise to keep learning fresh. You’ll know what learning your child is doing because of those handy conversations you had with the teacher before the cruise, and now those conversations will pay off.

When you look for them, it’s surprising how many there are. Take advantage of times riding in taxis or on ferries or on long bus rides for excursions.

You’re going to be standing in lines for everything from water slides to dinner to evening shows. Use those times to have casual (but surprisingly helpful) conversations about what your child is learning. 

You can also look for easy ways for your child to apply his or her learning. For example, if the child is learning how to calculate the area of two-dimensional shapes, measure things on the ship.

If the child is old enough, getting them a special cruise journal to write about what they’re experiencing is a perfect way to blend learning skills with creating memories that will last a lifetime. 

If the child is too young to write themselves, it’s a fun family activity to have them dictate to you what the highlights of their day were.

One last tip: lots of kids find it fun and very interesting to ask the crew members they meet about their own educations. They will learn so many different ways of schooling, and it’s quite a revelation the first time they hear that other kids have to leave home to attend school, wear uniforms every day, or that parents had to sacrifice a lot for the child to be able to attend school.

What to do After a Cruise

It’s hard to remember in the midst of our own post-cruise letdown that we have to help our child smoothly return back to school. 

To make that transition as seamless as possible, here are a few tips.

  • Have the child return with as much of the pre-supplied work completed as possible.

  • Send the work with a thank-you note for the teacher, along with a small gift (like a $5 Starbucks gift card) to acknowledge the extra work the teacher went to making that vacation possible. Don’t give them a keychain from your super wonderful all-inclusive resort beach day! That’s just mean!

  • Plan out the remaining make-up work, and have the child turn in assignments as they are completed, rather than a big packet all at once.

  • Sleep is key to making all of this as painless as possible, so get the child back in the sleep groove as soon as possible. 

  • After all of the make-up work is completed, have a reflective conversation with the child. Was the extra work worth it? Would the child want to do the same or similar thing again? Sometimes we assume kids want nothing more than to skip school, but that’s not always true.

  • If there are loads of complaining from the child following the cruise, consider how to handle that in the future. Now you know what will likely happen, and you can prepare even more effectively.

Siblings can be very different from each other, so families with a number of children may have to navigate competing needs. This is especially true if the siblings are several years apart because it’s much more difficult to miss school the older the child gets.

Considering these things is part of the post-cruise process that will set you up for success in the future.

Wrapping Up/Conclusion

In today’s complicated world, family schedules may not align with school schedules, but family goals can align with school goals. 

Families and teachers can work as partners to make sure children have both the family experiences and educational experiences they need.

If you’ve considered taking your child out of school for a cruise or vacation, these tips should help make that process as painless as possible. 

Lisa Van Gemert, M.Ed.T., is an nationally-known educator and author who loves both cruising and school. If you run into her at sea, she'll probably ask your child what they're learning in school or reading. You can get other tips and information for both parents and teachers at her website, GiftedGuru.com

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Should you take your kids out of school for a cruise?

In:
01 Jul 2020

Listen to the Show

Every parent's conundrum and eternal debate: should we take kids out of school for a family cruise vacation?

Going on a cruise during the school year can net significant savings, as well as take advantage of unique itineraries.  But it comes at an academic cost, as well as potentially putting you at odds with the school administration.

This week, a school administrator joins me to talk about what to consider before yanking the kids out, and what strategies to employ if you do it!

Share with me your thoughts, questions and comments via...

On this episode:
Running time:

Royal Caribbean Kids Sail Free 2021-2022 Dates & Tips

In:
10 Jun 2020

Kids Sail Free is a promotion Royal Caribbean offers from time to time on select sailings that are usually a great vacation discount.  Throughout the year, Royal Caribbean will offer Kids Sail Free deals as a way to encourage new bookings.  In this post, we will cover information about the promotion, tips for booking it, and offer answers to frequently asked questions.

For starters, Kids Sail Free is an offer Royal Caribbean offers selectively throughout the year.  It is not available all the time and there is no way to know exactly when it will be offered again.  We always post new cruise promotions on this site, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for notifications when a new Kids Sail Free promotion begins.

Kids Sail Free offer details

The exact offer details may vary, but Royal Caribbean's Kids Sail Free offers are usually consistent in their basics. Third guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger on select 4 nights or longer sailings are eligible for free cruise fare.

There are usually many blackout dates associated with any Kids Sail Free offer, which means if your cruise begins on or in any of the blackout dates, the Kids Sail Free offer does not qualify. Not surprisingly, most of the black out dates are over major school holidays in the United States calendar year. 

Here are some sample blackout dates from past Kids Sail Free offers:

  • February 14 – 17, 2020 (Presidents Day)
  • 2020 Spring Break sailings (Sailings between March 14 – 23, 2020)
  • 2020 Holy Week/Easter sailings (Sailings between April 3 – 17, 2020)
  • Peak Summer (Sailings between May 15 – August 31, 2020)
  • 2020 Thanksgiving sailings (Sailings between November 21 – 28, 2020)
  • 2021 President’s Day Sailings (Sailings between February 12 – 15, 2021)
  • 2021 Spring Break and Easter sailings (Sailings between March 13 – April 4, 2021)

How often does Royal Caribbean offer Kids Sail Free?

There is no pattern to how many times a year or when the offer will become available.

Kids Sail Free is usually available a few times throughout the year.

Is it really free?

Assuming your kids qualify for the deal, their cruise fare cost will be zero.You are still responsible for paying for the taxes and port fees associated with the children, along with any other charges onboard.  But if you look at the cruise invoice, their cruise fare will be zero. 

Like all guests, a daily gratuity will be charged per passenger, including the kids.

Be sure to check the fine print before booking to understand exactly the full price of the cruise.

Kids Sail Free dates

(Last updated October 14, 2021)

Royal Caribbean is not offering Kids Sail Free at this time. It last offered the deal in November 2020. Here were the details of the offer at that time:

Kids Sail Free applies to new bookings made between November 6, 2020 – December 1, 2020.

Kids Sail Free provides free cruise fare for 3rd guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger as of cruise departure date, booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualifying guests in a triple or quad-occupancy stateroom.

Kids Sail Free applies to select 3-night or longer Alaska, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, CaribNE, Coastal, Europe, Hawaii, and Repositioning sailings departing between December 1, 2020 – December 17, 2020 and January 8, 2021 – December 17, 2021.

Offer excludes 2021 President’s Day Sailings (Sailings between February 12 – 15, 2021), 2021 Spring Break and Easter sailings (Sailings between March 13 – April 4, 2021), 2021 Thanksgiving Sailings (Sailings between November 19 – 26, 2021), SR and RD Cruisetours.

Taxes, fees, and port expenses are additional and apply to all guests.

Kids Sail For Less

In addition to the Kids Sail Free offer, Royal Caribbean may also offer the Kids Sail For Less offer, which is typically 25% off cruise fare for third guests and higher booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualified guests.

The primary advantage of Kids Sail For Less is there are no blackout dates associated with Kids Sail For Less.  This means if you have a couple of kids in your stateroom, you receive a discount on them.  Moreover, Kids Sail For Less often does not have age restrictions in place, so really any guest of any age who is a third guest, fourth guest, fifth guest, et al in the same stateroom as the first two guests can get a discount.

Other cruising with kids posts & resources

If you are interested in the Kids Sail Free offer, then you probably will find these blog posts equally helpful:

Your thoughts

Now, we want to hear from you.  Are you a fan of the Kids Sail Free promotion?  Have any tips for someone looking to cruise with kids?  Is there a better deal for families in your opinion? Let us know what you think of the promotion and whether you are planning on taking advantage of it in the comments!

Eight lessons I learned by going on a cruise with kids

In:
12 May 2020

Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise is a great family vacation idea, but cruising with kids is definitely a different cruise compared to without them.

Having started cruising as an adult, and then bringing my children on Royal Caribbean, I have made quite a few shifts and adjustments in how I cruise, and here are some important things anyone going on a Royal Caribbean cruise should know about for their trip!

Cruise at their speed

One of the earliest lessons I learned about cruising with kids is to slow our routine down, and let the kids have time for them.

As adults, it feels natural to do a lot of walking around the ship and exploring different venues.  In addition, "burning the candle at both ends" is something else we parents tend to do, in terms of waking up early for excursions and staying up late for shows and dinner.

While you do not have to give up everything you are used to, slowing the pace down is a great idea for the sanity of everyone included.

One thing I always try to include now is time for the kids to splash and slide on the pool deck, sleep in some more, and provide breaks where they can chill out in the room.

Providing kids time to "do their own thing" helps them either burn some of the energy they have, or regain it by taking it easy. 

Two rooms or bust!

I love my children, but I do not love sharing and sleeping in the same room as them.

Most families look for a single stateroom that can accommodate everyone, but from one parent to another, let me emphasize the importance of getting two smaller connecting rooms.

The cost of two staterooms is often cheaper than some of the family staterooms, and can offer more separation between family members (a plus for families with teenagers).

Booking two staterooms also allows for connecting staterooms, in which there is a door between the staterooms that allows for easy flow between them.  This can be convenient during the day to keep the doors open, essentially creating a two room stateroom.

Splashaway Bay is the best onboard feature

Royal Caribbean has been a family-friendly cruise line since its inception, and among all the features and amenities it has added for kids, nothing has been as big of a hit with kids as Splashaway Bay.

The kid-focused aquatic park is the destination for my kids on any ship and has become a must-have onboard amenity for them.

They love the slides, splash buckets, geysers, and fountains.

I love the lounge chairs that surround the area, as well as the conveniently located nearby bars.

Register for Adventure Ocean on the first day

Just like the first day of school, it is important to register your kids for Adventure Ocean on the first day of the cruise.

Adventure Ocean is Royal Caribbean's award-winning children's programming and it is the focal point of what the cruise line offers for kids to do onboard.

Many parents are just as apprehensive about their kids going in there as the kids are about fitting in.  My best advice is to go to Adventure Ocean on the first day during the open house hours in the early afternoon.

Not only is this meant for registration, but it allows the kids to explore the facility, meet the counselors, and ask questions. Taking advantage of the open house tends to alleviate a great deal of concern from parent and child alike.

By the same token, going to Adventure Ocean on the first evening is when a lot of the friendships and social circles are formed, so ideally have the kids go up on the first day.

Leave the stroller at home

My wife and I argued about this point when my children were younger, but I say leave the stroller at home.

Strollers are great, but on a cruise ship I find them more of a hindrance then a benefit due to their size.

I totally understand how nice it is not to have to carry kids, but I find strollers totally impractical in many Caribbean ports due to uneven paving, lots of beaches, and of course the added weight of dealing with it. On the ship, they just take up space and narrow hallways make them a pain to navigate.

If you really need a stroller, I would concede an umbrella stroller that can fold down and is not too heavy is not a terrible idea, especially if it can fit under the bed.

What car seats?

This may be the most shocking aspect of this post, but a lot of parents ask how I bring a car seat to use in taxis in Caribbean ports and the answer is I don't.

Bringing a car seat is about the most impractical thing you can have on a cruise, and in almost every single Caribbean port, no taxis provide them.  So I do what my parents did with me when I was a kid, and have the kids on our lap or buckle them in with regular seat belts.

I know, it is sacrilegious to do that back at home, but it is the way it is when traveling in the Caribbean.

Don't be afraid to ask the waiter for something else

Kids are notoriously picky eaters, but that does not mean you have to relegate yourself to only eating at Sorrento's or the Windjammer.

At any restaurant you dine at, be sure to ask the waiter for something else if the kids are not finding anything to their liking on the printed menu.

Many restaurants have a kids menu, and in addition to that, I have found waiters more than happy to grab a slice of pizza or a hot dog from Sorrento's or the Windjammer for the kids.

The key is not to feel bashful for asking for something else. Your child is far from the first to chomp down on pizza and fries while dining at Izumi.

Saving money with kids

My final lesson with cruising with kids is a smattering of ways to save a few bucks along the way.

  • Do not prebook kids at specialty dining (or buy them a dining package). Kids ages 6-12 can dine at specialty restaurants for a $10 cover charge.
    • The exception is Izumi Hibachi because it is so popular, book them at the adult price and ask the wait staff at check-in to refund the difference.
  • There is complimentary ice cream on the pool deck throughout the day.
  • Be on the lookout for Kids Sail Free deals. These have the potential to be very lucrative, especially in Alaska or Europe.

What is your best tip for cruising with kids? Share your ideas and lessons you have learned in the comments!

Introduction to bringing toddlers on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
07 Apr 2020

Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise with young children has its own set of challenges, so we have a look at the most important things you should know about cruising with babies on Royal Caribbean.

Just like teens, adults and senior citizens, everyone cruises differently, so there is not a "one approach for everyone" I can provide. However, there are some helpful tips most families can take advantage of prior to their cruise.

1. Book a ship that has a nursery

These days, most Royal Caribbean ships have a nursery onboard, but there are still a few that do not.

If you are cruising with a child that is under the age of three, I highly recommend you avoid any ships that do not have a nursery yet. 

Children between the ages of six months and 36 months old can participate in the Royal Babies and Royal Tots (6-36 months) program. 

The advantages of a ship with a nursery are numerous, and it provides the best possible experience. As a parent of two kids, Royal Caribbean's nursery has proven to be a critical and super-helpful option.

If you are wondering, Royal Caribbean no longer offers in-room babysitting, so a nursery is a must-have.

2. Pack at least 25% more baby supplies than you need

When you are packing diapers, formula, wipes, medicine and anything else your baby needs, be sure to pack much more than you could ever think you would need.

On a cruise, it seems like you will go through many more supplies than at home, especially on shore excursions. The last thing you want to do is run out of supplies.

Royal Caribbean stocks a limited amount of baby supplies, and you may find super market offerings in the islands you are visiting vastly different from the brands you know at home.

Over pack the baby supplies to avoid a problem later.

3. Request a pack-n-play for your room

After you put a deposit on a cruise, make sure your travel agent notes in the reservation you need a pack-n-play for in your room.

Royal Caribbean will provide pack-n-plays, but there is a limited amount of them, so reserving it in advance is very important. Moreover, if the pack-n-play is in your room when you arrive, it means your baby can take a much needed nap.

Something else to know is that even if you note this in your reservation, there is no guarantee the pack-n-play will be waiting right when you arrive. There is sometimes a delay in it being delivered, so be sure to call housekeeping immediately upon entry to the room.

Something else that was important for our kids is to pack some sort of a padded sheet for the bottom of the pack-n-play.  Some babies will sleep better if there is slightly more cushioning, so consider bringing one just in case.

4. Register with the nursery on the first day

In the early afternoon of the first day of your cruise, you will want to stop by the Royal Babies & Tots open house.

This is an important opportunity to meet the staff, register your child and (most importantly) sign up for nursery hours.

Meeting the staff and allowing your child to explore a bit is helpful for everyone, and your best bet is to do this sooner than later. All staff also has at least three to five years qualified experience in working with children ages six months to 17 years. Nursery staff must have the same above qualifications as well attend a 30 hour Nursery Training where the curriculum and hands on experience is in line with Florida State Standards of care.

In most cases, the nursery open hours begin in the early afternoon, with the first session opening up later that evening.

Keep in mind the nursery does have an additional cost, with a different rate for the daytime versus evening. As a parent, I can tell you it is worth every penny, so budget your vacation costs accordingly.

5. How to maximize nursery hours

At the start of the cruise, Royal Caribbean usually restricts how many hours you can pre-book at the nursery.  This is because the nursery can only accomodate a few children at a time, and they want to be able to offer everyone equal opportunity.

On a seven night cruise, the nursery's policy is usually to allow up to 16 hours bookable per child, until the third or fourth day of the cruise. After that point, nursery hours open up and are unlimited on a first come, first served basis.

My advice is if you want to ensure you child is able to get into the nursery on most (if not all nights), then maximize your hours with this strategy:

  • Register your child on the first day for best selection of times
  • Spread your hours out early. Having a reservation for even a couple hours is better than no reservation at all. 
    • I would usually book 2-3 hours an evening so my wife and I could eat and see a show without the baby.
  • You can always ask to extend times at drop-off. 
    • If you booked two hours, but really need another hour or so, do not hesitate to ask for more. The staff will try their best to accommodate you.

6. Don't be afraid to call the nursery on a whim

While the nursery may be busier at night when parents are off to see a show or eat dinner, during the daytime there is far less demand.

Another favorite nursery strategy is to call the nursery if you need a break and see if there is availability. If it looks like your baby is ready for a nap, call the nursery and see if they can take him/her.  Bring a bottle so the staff can feed him/her, and then put him/her down for a nap. 

The nursery staff is some of the nicest, hardest working crew members you will meet and I have found them to be extremely helpful when they have extra space.

7. Cruise at their pace

One of the biggest adjustments I had as a parent while on a cruise was slowing things down and cruising at my baby's pace.

If you have cruised without kids, you may be used to a different style of cruising, but cruising with young kids means taking things slower and doing your best to maintain their schedule.

This means taking time to let the baby expel energy, with time for them to crawl/stumble/walk and play with toys. In addition, nap time is helpful as well as ensuring they are getting enough to eat throughout the day.

8. You can bring baby food and formula

While Royal Caribbean has rules about soft drinks and alcohol you can or cannot bring onboard, baby food and formula is unregulated, so bring as much as you can.

For children that are not quite yet at the eating solid food stage, this is very important, so do not hold back on what you bring to ensure you child eats what they love the most.

9. Look for open play areas

In addition to the Nursery, there is often a open play area set up during the day for parents to bring their young children to and play.  

This is unsupervised play time, but does provide an opportunity every day for parents with toddlers to have space to crawl, play, and have some fun.

Ask the nursery staff about this option. In my experience, it has usually been held in the Teens Club during the day.

10. Swimming on a cruise with a baby

On select Royal Caribbean ships, guests will find a special pool just for little ones that are still wearing diapers.

The splash pad (also known as the baby pool ) is an ankle deep pool, where infants and toddlers can crawl around and splash to their heart's content.  

Parents can sit on the pool's edge or with their child in the pool as the kids enjoy cooling off, just like the big kids. This area is restricted to only children wearing diapers, and is common on ships that have Splashaway Bay.

Keep in mind there are no restrictions on kids with swim diapers at Perfect Day at CocoCay or Labadee.

11. Download favorite movies or tv shows before the cruise

At home, it is easy enough to let your child stream their favorite YouTube clip or TV show, but WiFi on Royal Caribbean is not that responsive.

Instead, download a couple of shows or movies to your device so there is instant access if your child needs it.

12. Nap at all costs

Of all the tips I can share, maintaining the nap schedule is among the most important to your baby's enjoyment and subsequently, yours too.

Babies need naps, and on a cruise it seems like skipping a nap would not be a big deal, but it can have dire consequences later.

Whether onboard the ship or on an excursion, try your very best to allow for naps to occur because the rest of the day relies on it. Skipping a nap can result in a super cranky child, and a far less enjoyable day for you. 

This tip goes back to an earlier suggestion of cruising at your child's pace. On some cruises, my wife and I thought we could "power through" a nap, and each time it was a mistake.

13. Stockpile milk in the day

Milk is available for all guests, but in the evening it becomes harder to find. 

Your best bet is to grab a carton or two extra every morning, and put it in your cabin's mini-fridge.  The fridge will not keep milk cold indefinitely, but for use later in the day it will suffice.

Speaking of milk, if you forget to grab some earlier, you can always ask the nursery for a carton or two.  In addition, Cafe Promenade usually has some.

14. The nursery can feed children

Speaking of milk, unlike Adventure Ocean for children who are at least 3 years old, the Royal Babies & Tots nursery can feed your child while they are there.

When you drop off your kids at the nursery, part of the check-in routine is to indicate if the baby should be fed. There is an assortment of options available, including if you have your own bottle to provide.

If you have formula, be sure to bring that along too for the staff to use later.

15. Pack a couple of toys

While you can borrow toys from the nursery, I would recommend packing a couple of favorite toys to bring along and have in the room.

In times when you are lounging around the room, getting dressed or otherwise being in the room, having a toy or two for your child to play with is quite helpful.

Plan to pack smaller toys that are easier to pack.

Kids stuck at home? Check out these Royal Caribbean coloring sheets!

In:
23 Mar 2020

Kids around the world are at home instead of school due to the worldwide impact of the coronavirus.

As a result, parents are struggling to find activities for kids to keep them occupied, so how about working in Royal Caribbean into that lesson plan?

You can print out these fun coloring sheets and let your children's imaginations run wild.

There are designs with cruise ships, pirates, marine life and more to enjoy.

You can download and print these coloring sheets right here.

Video: My daughter's favorite things to do on Royal Caribbean

In:
06 Sep 2019

Cruising with Royal Caribbean is a family affair, as my kids really love when we take them on a cruise vacation. On today's RoyalCaribbeanBlog video, my 8-year-old daughter shares her top five things to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Gabriella loves watching Teen Titans Go, dancing to her favorite music, playing with friends and, of course, going on Royal Caribbean cruises.  She has her list of the top five things kids love to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise to share in this video.

And if you love this video, we have lots of other great cruise videos to watch on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

Do you have kids? What is your kids favorite things to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise? Share their top picks in the comments!

Best reader tips for having fun with kids on a cruise

In:
09 Aug 2019

Cruising with kids on Royal Caribbean means ample opportunity to share in exciting and fun activities. While Royal Caribbean ships are designed with families in mind, we asked our readers for their best tips for maximizing family time while onboard.

We received a lot of great ideas, including these top tips for families to consider before their next cruise vacation.

"At the pool, I create water games in the pool." - Kimberly Sawyer

"They loved movies by the pool every night. " - Kristina Michelle 

"We set rules/guidelines before we ever got on the ship so they always knew the expectations." - Amanda Stieferman  

"Use Adventure Ocean as much as possible! I remember when I was a kid I loved it! I would skip dessert at dinner just to get there early!" - Sean Hurab 

"We always plan "together" and "apart" time. When they were younger: morning in Adventure Ocean, afternoon  lunch and activities (pool, golf, rock climbing, etc.) with the family, dinner together, back to Adventure Ocean for them and entertainment for mom and dad!" - Gayla Steiner     

"Don’t stress, don’t try to do EVERYTHING. Let them go at their own pace and if they want to play putt putt 15 times instead of swimming...let them." - Suzanne Marshall Sexton 

"If they are 11+ and mature enough to check in on time, allow the freedom to explore on their own." - Philip Dickson

"If they are old enough to navigate the ship on their own (especially teens) make sure you talk about ground rules before you leave such as how often they need to check in with you, meal time arrangements, curfew (some of the teen activities may be late at night), are they allowed to go to others cabins with friends that they meet on the ship. It helps to talk about things like this before you go." - Lisa Davis Boetje

"Schedule some down time. So much fun easy to get burned out." - Chris Caulfield 

"When dining ask your waiter to bring the little kid’s food first. Then bring something for them to do while you eat!" - Pam Brown

"Utilize the Royal Tots room so they can run & play!" - Kristina White

What is your best tips for having fun with kids on a cruise? Share your tips in the comments below!

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