When our extended family decided on doing cruise together, I was a bit nervous. However, we had an amazing time! The kids absolutely LOVED it, and still talk about it often.
I was thinking about our last cruise, and I thought it would be useful to put together a list of tips and tricks for first time cruisers. You can also hop over to the BAFM Facebook page and read through over a hundred responses from families about their experiences to get a feel if it will be the right sort of holiday for your family.
1. Is a Cruise Right Holiday for Your Family?
Cruising is more fun when you’re in a group, so it’s ideal to do it with friends and family. The general consensus from feedback is cruises are ideal for children over the age of 3. It’s also a good idea to travel during peak times (for example, school holidays) because it tends to be more fun for children when there are other children around.
2. Which Room?
Room configurations can be different on different ships, however there are generally three main location options (with different pricing): balcony, port window and inside cabin. I was concerned about having a room without a view, so opted for a port window room. However, I found that we mostly kept the curtain closed anyway – because it was really bright. Next time, I would opt for a no-window room because I found the rooms comfortable and we didn’t use the window very much anyway.
3. Cruise Packing Tips and Tricks
There are certain things we packed that made a big difference to our trip and I’ll list them below (we did a 2 week trip to Papua New Guinea with P & O). Be aware, these are general tips and each cruise carrier will have their own regulations.
Lanyards are super handy for your room key. Plus, when you get off at different ports, you will need to have it with you.
Exploring Papua New Guinea
If you’re going on a tropical tour, it’s a good idea to take snorkel and googles with you. Snorkelling was one of the highlights of the trip, and being able to get off the ship and snorkel was really special.
Snorkelling in Submarine Base in Rabaul
Always check the regulations for the ship you are travelling, but often you can take a certain number of drinks on with you – for example soft drinks and water. On our cruise, we could take 12 cans of drink for each person, which is a good idea if you want to keep costs down. When you want to enjoy your drink, just ask for a cup with ice. It’s a good idea to ask if the room has a fridge too. Not all do, but if you ask, sometimes they can arrange it.
Taking a power board to use in your room is handy for charing a number of devices. Again, just check with ship regulations.
Theme nights are fun
Cruises often have theme nights, like White, Gatsby and Formal nights. It’s fun to participate when you’re in a big group, and great opportunity to snap some photos too. Keep these theme nights in mind when you pack.
A few spare large bags are handy for wet clothes and items like snorkel gear.
You can buy this on the ship, but it’s handy to bring a small amount from home. The dryers on cruise ships are great, so we found doing washing no problem. On our ship, there was a clothes line you could pull over the bath/shower, and that is where we hung our wet swimwear. However, it can be handy to bring a portable clothes dryer like this one too.
Be prepared but don’t go overboard
Things are pretty relaxed on cruise ships, and they often have a lot of things you will need, like towels (both for the pool and to take off the ship). So only take what you need to keep things simple. The cabins are small-ish, so you don’t want to clutter. As a general rule, I packed the following:
- Power board
- Zip lock/large bag
- Card/small games
- Casual clothes
- Theme night items
- Personal items: sunscreen, make up, medicine (they often have shampoo/conditioner/soap/body wash included)
- Items for a day trip: sunglasses, hat, umbrella, small backpack, walking shoes, thongs, drink bottle
- Snorkel gear
TIP: an umbrella is fab for sun protection plus wet weather.
Bring a small backpack for day trips.
4. Tips for Fun Cruising
Once you’ve picked a cruise, and packed, it’s time to enjoy! I’ll list tips for making the most of the cruise as a family.
Travel Insurance is imperative, however be mindful that most comprehensive cover options don’t cover cruising, and you will need to add on a cruise pack.
Especially when you go as a big family group, communicating on a ship can be a challenge. There is not always internet available (unless you purchase a package). We often had a quick family meeting at dinner the night before to discuss the next day’s general plans. It is also worth checking to see if the ship has a free chat function. On our cruise, we could access the company website, and could create a user profile for each family member. Once you create a profile, there was a free chat function so that is a great way to communicate with other family members.
There are a lot of photographers on the ship that will offer to take your photo (for example, during dinner and on theme nights). Just go with it. You don’t need to purchase anything if you don’t want to.
I know a lot of kids LOVE the kids club on the ship. Our kids are a bit older now (teens) so they didn’t use the kids club but still had a BLAST on the ship, swimming, playing basketball and card games with their cousins, watching movies and all-the-food.
There are usually different restaurants to eat dinner (most are included in the price). We found it useful to rotate between the three included restaurants on the ship so everyone in our group knew times and places for dinner. It is a good idea to book ALL your dinner slots when you get on the ship (usually there is two sessions for dinner), especially if you are in a big group. You can change your mind and reschedule if needed, but we found booking the restaurant times on the outset really helpful.
When you first get on the ship
Take a little time to familiarise yourself with the ship, where you room is and the main eating areas. Also make a plan with your kids so they know what to do in the unlikely case they get lost on the ship.
My doctor gave me medication for sea sickness. For the majority of the two-week trip, we were fine, however, my youngest child did get sick during the sea days when it got a bit rougher. Eating a green apple helped. For next time, I will talk to my GP about the injection option for him. However, in general the discomfort was minimal for the rest of the family. If you’re worried about it, just chat to your doctor.
There are many areas on the ship where you can sit and play family games. This is especially fun if you have a group of cousins together. Think card games and chess.
There are some day tours through the cruise liner. However, we found it easy to organise our own tours at each port. In my experience, there is a lot of people who are there waiting with buses at various ports, and if you are confident, you can negotiate your own tour. The advantages of doing this, you can be flexible about what you want to do. On one of our day trips, the tour guide took us out to a private snorkelling spot and it was just MAGIC – just us! The disadvantage is you may get caught out if you don’t not communicate well before the tour. Just be clear about the total cost before you go anywhere.
Day tour snaps