How to Cruise with Kids and NOT use the Kid Programs

child on cruise ship climbing wall

When we decided to take our cruise, with four kids, we knew none of our kids would want to go into the kid programs…even if they were free. Some kids love them and many people rave about them but, it just was not what our kids are accustomed to. The thought of us leaving them with people they don’t know, on a big boat in the ocean, also did not appeal to my husband and I.

Overall, our kids ended up doing better than I could have imagined and I am happy to report that it can be done. Here are some things that I think made a major difference for us and some things that we would have done differently had we known.

The Ship:

I quickly learned that we should have put a little more emphasis on the ship we chose. I saw skating rink, bounce pads, and climbing walls and got excited. After all, our kids LOVE ice skating. I did not stop to think about all the little complexities of having kids in different age groups. Sure, all those things were great for our older two children but what about the littles?

Many ships do not allow children in diapers in the pools and that was the case with ours. It made it difficult for him to see his siblings getting in the pool and many times we had to split up and take him elsewhere. But there were not many other areas for small children on our ship. You were not allowed to enter the kid program areas as a family. It was a drop and go type situation. They had one room with 5 or 6 baby toys and that was the only option for small children, outside of just exploring the ship in general.

So, choose your ship wisely! Think about all the age groups you have and what they all enjoy doing. Make sure there is something for everyone. They won’t want to just hang in the room and chill. That’s just our dream.

the ice rink on mariner of the seas cruise ship
The ice rink on our ship

Sea Days:

Think about how many sea days your cruise will have. I did not think much about this when we booked and I am glad I didn’t choose a cruise with more sea days. These are the days that you are fully at sea. No land in sight. This kind of goes hand in hand with picking the right ship.

Sea Days are harder when you are on a ship with kids. Everyone wants to do all the things because again, they don’t want to be in the room. But the lines are also longer on sea days and we all know, kids to do like waiting. Especially not for over an hour in a random line to skate. The common areas are busier, dining areas have more people, and the elevators take longer. Sea days take more patience.

Our cruise had two sea days and that was more than enough. We actually probably could have just had one and been fine. So, think about how many sea days your cruise has and what you will do on those days. Think about what you pack to help entertain too!

kid on arcade game on mariner of the seas cruise ship
Our little in the arcade

The Schedule:

There are so many activities going on while cruising. They are all over the boat, at different times, some take signing up, and some have fees. When you have multiple kids, and in different age groups, the schedule becomes important.

We used the app to schedule out our days before we got on the boat. I put any activity that we would be interested in on our calendar. Our excursions were on there and we pretty much lived by that app. We even purchased the messaging plan so that my husband and I could message each other’s phone through the app. (you want to turn off data unless your roaming is free but that is a whole different issue)

Bottom line is create a schedule so that you are not stuck arguing about who is going where when it is time for something to start. You can always make changes but having a plan will ease some of the stress. Plus, you will want to get to stuff early. Being late puts you in a big line or missing things because there are no seats left.

stage curtain on mariner of the seas stage
The Show Stage

Taking Someone with You:

We ended up taking my Mom along for the ride and that was the biggest help to us. It actually doesn’t cost a whole lot more to add a person to your room on most cruises. When you have to get two rooms and they are not full, adding someone can be a huge help. We were able to split up when we needed to and avoid a lot of meltdowns. It really gave us the chance to explore everything and have an extra hand when we needed one.

All in all, cruising with kids takes a lot of preparation and when your kids are not fond of the kid programs, it can be more difficult. Multiple kids in different age groups takes a bit more planning but it can be done and done successfully!

Check out my posts on how to choose the right cruise ship room for your family and great tips to help you cruise with the kids.

-Kristy M., The Mommy to Many

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