10 tips for how to best cruise with a toddler without losing your mind
You have been hustling hard for the last two years as an entrepreneur without taking a single "vacation" (or at least one that doesn't involve an extended work trip or going to see family for a holiday).
I mean you would deserve a real tropical island kind of getaway, right?
Well that is exactly what I thought right before we boarded the Splendor by Carnival!
To prove my excitement, I even started packing a week ahead! Okay maybe totally normal for me but that's a small detail anyways!
Seriously though, since booking the trip, I had in my head exactly how this vacation would look: me in my new bikini from Cupshe, sipping on margaritas poolside, wearing a big floppy hat that read "Do Not Disturb" from my recent shopping spree at Target and reading my latest books by Nausicca Twila!
Complete down time was all I could see! I was even looking forward to a break from social media (enter gasp)!
Then we stepped onto the ship and my whole vision was completely erased! I can honestly say "thank you" to that damn pool I was looking forward to sitting next to. Because now, despite freezing cold temperatures, my 20 month old toddler would want nothing to do with anything else. And forget that margarita - now I could use the whole bottle of Tequila.
That was just the beginning. The next few days would uncover more challenges far worse than jumping into an ice cold swimming pool.
Which is exactly what I want you to avoid, dear parent reading this blog post!
So grab your mama juice or glass of cold beer dad (wink wink) and get cozy. Here are my top 10 tips on how to best cruise with a toddler without losing your mind (like I did).
You can thank me later (no seriously - send me a note and say thank you)!
1. Don't be like me - go into it with the right mindset
As I mentioned, I was really looking forward to this holiday! This led to major disappointment from having such high mental expectations!
The truth is - traveling with toddlers is hard work! And if you expect to get peace (like I foolishly did) then you will be madly disappointed.
On the other hand, if you realize that you will most likely not get any down time but the point is to be free from the regular responsibilities of your life (work, grocery shopping, cleaning house, etc.) and spend time as a family discovering as much as possible together, you will be much better off.
Thankfully, it only took me about two days (and truly a lot of margaritas) to realize that!
2. Give each other a break but make agreements ahead of time
Yes it is a family vacation but that doesn't mean you have to spend every waking minute together. In fact, the whole family benefits when everyone gets their time away.
Even though our cruise on Carnival splendor had a gorgeous daycare, Camp Ocean, the hours for toddlers under 2 were extremely limiting. So we decided to at least take advantage of the morning hours, from 8 - 10 a.m to get regular downtime, which we typically spent in the gym. I must admit getting back into a regular workout routine was a very positive outcome of the trip (and one that has not been sustained as of yet)!
There are also moments when it is beneficial to make arrangements that one parent takes the child while the other gets to take "time off" doing things that really make them happy. I spent time at the Cloud 9 spa getting an excellent treatment called Ionithermie Cellulite Reduction Program and it made me feel very rejuvenated. My husband also enjoyed time at Cloud 9 but his pleasure was the steam room and sauna.
Alternatively, if you have the financial means, I would highly suggest to bring a nanny or even travel with grandparents so you can take a break more often.
3. Plan for time changes at least a week prior to your cruise
I am not just talking about clock changes but routine changes too! If you have a child like ours, then schedule can play a very important role in their happiness. Especially when it comes to nap and bedtime. This can be very challenging when you are on a cruise, especially during days you are at port and you want to be free to discover a new destination.
Therefore, I would highly recommend working on making slight adjustments to your child's routine at least a week prior to the cruise. We could not do this for nap time since Aiden attends daycare, but in the evenings we could have and looking back I would have tested the boundaries a bit more to see how far we could stretch his normal bedtime hour or even get him used to sleeping in the stroller at a restaurant with noise.
We finally had one night out, the last night on our cruise, because we decided we needed to get him out of his comfort zone a bit. And guess what? It worked better than we had expected and then we felt silly that we didn't do it sooner.
We got to listen to the live band playing in the main atrium and he slept soundly in his stroller right next to us!
4. Go with the flow and do not plan any excursions ahead of time
I cannot stress this enough. For the first port in Los Cabos, we thought it would be a great idea to book an all-inclusive hotel exclusion at a resort where there would be pools, food and beach areas for us all to enjoy. And although the resort was very accommodating and did offer those things, the time it took to take the bus to the hotel, wait for all the guests booked for the excursion and get briefed by hotel staff before we were set free to get to the beach and eat - was a total opportunity for a TODDLER MELT DOWN!
If you want to avoid tantrums, I highly recommend going with your own flow. There are so many ways to explore the ports on your own terms which are safe, fun and cheaper than having a group exclusion.
The one exception is a Hop on Hop off bus! We did this in Mazatlan Mexico. It was a great way to see the city on our own schedule. We even got to stop at a resort for a few hours to swim and have lunch.
5. Take your own "professional" photos
It was my first time cruising and one of the most surprising things for me was how many areas there are for cruises to make money on the ship!
At first when I booked I thought "wow what a deal!" Then reality sets in after you are on the cruise for a day - there are drink expenses, tips, game rooms, etc.
Many things I didn't have an issue with spending money on, but the photo station was not one of them.
With a toddler who is temperamental and hard to engage in a photo shoot anyways, I felt it was too much of a gamble and that my iphone would be sufficient enough.
Of course this may be different for those who are traveling for a special occasion (anniversary, big birthdays, etc.), then you may want a more studio looking photo and in this case it might make more sense.
By the way - I did break down and buy a couple because I thought they would be nice framed as a nice memory of our trip.
6. Wine is meant to be carried on - literally
When I booked the trip I heard the agent say multiple times you are allowed 2 bottles of wine carried on. What I did not understand from this is that they literally mean carried on with you and not in a suitcase which is brought on my a man you tip at the front of the ship to carry your luggage on for you.
As a result, I was the last one in the family to receive my luggage (which of course was a worry in itself) because my suitcase was held in "customs" and the wine was removed!
You could imagine that this did not make mama happy especially with the toddler pool episode in the start of the trip.
Luckily, after speaking to the sweet staff at guest services they were able to retrieve my wine and bring it to our room. This made dinner on our front patio (the balcony was too cold and windy that night) a lot more fun!
7. Travel lightly but remember the pack and play
The truth is - I did not pack as much as I normally do, but I still think it was a bit excessive. And this is mostly because I packed way too many evening outfits which I never really got to use since dinner was at 5:45 and Aiden was asleep in our room by 7 p.m. almost every night.
However, one thing we did pack that I can highly recommend is the pack and play! For one, it was familiar for him and so sleeping time was much easier.
And then there is the best reason - which is the fact that it is portable! Meaning we could take it places beyond our room, like "movie by the pool," without worry that our little monkey would hurt himself running around like crazy!
Serious game changer! Even if it only worked for like 30 minutes. Gave us time to eat our food and relax without worry.
There is one thing I should have packed but forgot and that is medication for sea sickness (for toddlers and adults). Luckily none of us were effected by the motion but there were a few turbulent nights at sea that it would have been a good thing to have just in case.
8. Get the balcony ocean view
Whether you like it or not - you will spend a lot more time in your room that you imagined. Make sure you have a fantastic view! At first I was worried about the balcony (yes moms I know what you are thinking)! So glad I didn't give in to those thoughts! The sunrises and sunsets were magical. Evenings with a bottle of wine with my hubby were romantic and peaceful. And Aiden loved seeing the water all the time! So splurge a little and be sure to get the room with a balcony view!
9. Disconnect for real
I bet you are thinking I am saying this because it is your holiday and you deserve a break! And this is absolutely true! But beyond all that, I am also saying to disconnect because the wifi packages are not worth the money.
For one, even with the best service package, it was SLOW and UNRELIABLE. Luckily, carnival guest services is very responsive and I was able to get an immediate refund after realizing this.
Second, depending on where you are traveling to, you may have better packages with your own carrier. We went to Mexico and have T-Mobile and we did not incur any extra charges since Mexico is covered on our plan. So we would typically wait until we were at port to catch up on any urgent work emails or our social lives.
In the downtime, find unique ways to entertain the entire family. For example, an early lesson of Ping Pong!
10. Make friends, especially with your stateroom concierge
Last but certainly not least, make friends with as many people as possible! It is so easy to get caught up in the life of being toddler parents - trying to keep your little one happy and entertained without focus on the other things going on around you. But there are so many interesting and cool people you can talk to on a cruise. So be sure to say hi and remain curious about others.
And if that doesn't sound like your style, perhaps I can convince you to at least make friends with your stateroom concierge. This is the person who takes care of you and your room during your entire cruise. Treat them like gold because they take their job seriously and are really good at what they do!
In fact, this goes for the entire staff on the Carnival Splendor. I was amazed by the long tenure of the staff and how enthusiastic and loyal they are to the company. It works both ways, as I was impressed after talking to one of the restaurant wait staff to hear his story. He had just became a father but unfortunately he missed his daughter's birth because we were at sea. As a result, once docked back in Long Beach, Carnvial was sending him home to see his family! Now that is what I call employee engagement!
So there you have it, my top 10 tips for cruising with a toddler without losing your mind. Hopefully these tips help you plan more effectively than I did before our vacation. Truly it all boils down to your mindset and being open to whatever comes your way. Because there will definitely be some bumpy waters (and I don't only mean from the ocean alone)!
What else would you add? Leave your comments!