Monday, March 27, 2017

Fifteen Tips for First Time Cruisers

Gary and I never envisioned cruising as middle-aged adults as we anticipated trying it out once the kids moved out. However, various friends of ours went cruising with their kids and after looking into it we realized that there were family-friendly cruises that were affordable for our family of five.

Tips For Cruising with Kids
Grand Turk Beach

Using a travel agent we booked an 8-night Easter Caribbean cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines.  Our decision was made based on affordability, family-friendliness, the number of ports and their locations, and finally the dates–you can read about our trip here. Being that we had never travelled this way before we had a lot of questions. We asked friends and read online as much as we could and here are some pieces of advice I would offer you:

Fifteen Tips for First Time Cruisers

1. Before arriving, look up your ship's name and find a tour of it (often on YouTube). This allowed us to see all that was offered for kids including the Kids Club (Camp Carnival) and a general layout of our ship which was the Carnival Sunshine. Here is a video of our interior stateroom but before watching, realize that we had one of the smallest rooms for a family of five and there are more options available! I share it because I was unable to find one online.

2. Check out Trip Advisor to find the top things to do upon arriving in each port. Although many of the recommendations for ours were historical forts, we knew our kids would not be interested in doing that each time we docked (and let's be honest–I'm a beach girl!) When you arrive in port, it can be overwhelming with taxis trying to get your attention so know where you want to go but be open to their local opinions. We do not plan on visiting the same ports again and therefore we wanted to make our land days count. I only booked one excursion which was a snorkeling trip in Grand Turk. It was just three hours long but allowed me to get to two prime locations via boat. We did bring an adult and child-sized snorkeling set which we utilized at several ports and it was worth it for us.

3.  Plan to arrive the night before your cruise departs to ensure that you make it in time. Looking back now we would have planned to arrive a few days earlier to utilize our time in Orlando to the fullest.  We would have been able to visit more places such as the Kennedy Space Centre as the flights were the costliest portion of our trip–might as well get the full use out of being at our departure point.

4. When packing make sure you have several outfits in your carry on luggage just in case the rest of your luggage does not arrive in time. 

5. When boarding the ship place your drinks and essentials in your carry on. Look at the guidelines of your ship as Carnival allowed one bottle of wine per adult and a case of pop. You will check your other luggage at the port (be sure to tip!) and put items you may need immediately in your carry on such as sunscreen and a bathing suit. I prefer a lotion sunscreen as you can apply it in enclosed spaces and/or windy locations before heading out for the day. You do not need to pack beach towels as they are provided. We boarded at noon and our room wasn't available until 1:30 PM so I'm glad we did not carry on too much luggage yet had what we needed. Note that you can pay all your gratuities ahead of time–I'm glad we did as it was nice to have almost all of the expenses out of the way.

6. Upon embarking on the ship go to the Kids' Club to sign in your kids. Although you may have checked in online, you should still go. We went over special needs, allergies, and special instructions with the caregivers. They divide children into different age groups (2-5, 6-8, 9-11 etc) and our 8-year-old did not want to be alone and therefore they allowed him to go with his older brother. Carnival did provide a phone to be reached with the 2-5 age group and we could utilize that phone for quick calls to our room. Nya loved the Kids' Club and the activities (crafts, movies, games) and the boys were more neutral about it as the sport deck was their favourite.

7. Bring your own water bottles and come prepared with medication. There is juice, milk and water available and it's great to have water bottles full of ice when having port days as it can be hot, hot, hot! It is very windy on deck so have hats or ample hair elastics.

8. We had our boarding time set early in the day so that we could save money and have lunch aboard the ship. Be aware that it can take several hours to board the ship as you have to go through security and check in. On port days we would eat breakfast, head out, and then come back to the ship for a late lunch (except for one port) which allowed us to save more money and besides, there were less people on the cruise ship make it a relaxing meal!

9. In order to make the most of the space (or lack thereof) in your room, unpack your suitcases and then store them under your bed. There is a safe for your passport, money, and other valuables.

10. Consider whether you would like WiFi or not. Dependent on your ship, there are packages available. Ours had a social media option or full Internet; I paid $35 USD for social media for the 9 days. Be aware that WiFi may be intermittent and very slow during high usage times. There is also a chat option available between phones which we didn't get but would have been useful as we were often separated and it would've been good to know where the other person was.

11. Hand washing stations are widely available. I'm a bit nervous about all of the germs in public spaces and was happy to see all of the hand sanitize stations and automatic hand-washing machines which my kids loved. Bring medication along but if need be there is more in the gift shop and a medical centre is available. For those that are afraid of getting seasick, come prepared with Gravol, seabands or anti nausea medication. We had one very rough day and therefore next time we will get prescription medication for my husband before boarding.

12. Pack at least two sets of bathing suits. It's hard to dry your suits within a day in an air conditioned room so pack a couple to rotate through them. Make sure each person has a swim shirt if going to a tropical location as it helps so much with sun protection. I also recommend NOT buying new sandals before going on a trip unless you have already worked them in but you are probably smarter than I. Finally, in regards to clothing I wish I had packed T-shirts to protect my shoulders as I had gone with tank tops. Note that the deck is very windy and sundresses are not ideal unless you have shorts on underneath!

13. Pack a lanyard.  You will need to carry your Sign & Sail card with you everywhere as it is your room key and must be scanned every time you  make a purchase or go on and off the ship. It is hole punched and all ready to go on your lanyard–especially with kids, you want as little to hold in your hands and pockets as possible!

14. Download the app for your cruise line. It will allow you to see all of the times and locations of various events as well as maps of the ship. It's also where you can use the chat option and go over your expenses.

15. Don't get too caught up on what clothing you should wear to the dining experiences. There are general guidelines (example: no cut off shorts) but for elegant evenings people wore everything from a sundress to a ball gown and you wouldn't stand out either way. Our kids just wore pants with button down polo shirts and Nya wore a sundress which was totally fine. Wear what you feel good in! Also, in regards to dining, we did the anytime dining which meant that we could arrive at any time between 5:15-9:15PM and it worked so well for our family! The downside is that you get a different server each night but we were totally fine with that and appreciated the variety. For shoes I had sandals, runners, and dressy shoes. I could have done with one more pair of comfortable shoes for walking around the ship.

So there you have it! I will have more posts on travelling with kids and what to do in the ports but I hope you found this useful. Is there something that I have forgotten that you think would be beneficial to know? I'd love to hear from you! Many people ask: Will we cruise again? The answer is: Definitely.


Pleaes pin here for later!
Tips for first time cruisers. From what to pack to what you should do when you first arrive, this will help you on your cruise!


  1. I love cruising but haven't been on too many- I love that you get to see so many places. Plus the one cost thing for food etc is pretty handy! Edwin & I would like to do an Alaskan one eventually :) Yours looked sunny and beautiful!!!!! Which port was your fave??

    1. Fun! Where have you gone? St. Kitts was my favourite!