A cruise holiday is one of the best holidays you can take with a baby. I took my six-month-old baby on a week-long cruise around Europe on-board MSC Preziosa, along with his two-year-old sister and their dad, and all four of us had a wonderful time.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the most relaxing holiday we’ve ever had, but then we did have a baby and toddler with us so what would you expect? As travel-addicts, we’ve done all sorts of holidays with the little ones over the past few years; self-catered beach holidays, all-inclusive resort hotels, camping weekends, caravan holidays, Disneyland. But I can honestly say that our first cruise holiday with the kids was not only one of the most fun, but also a pretty chilled-out way to holiday in comparison to any of the land-based holidays we’ve taken.
In this article, I’ll explain not just why cruising with a baby is a great idea, but I’ll also share lots of tips to help you plan the perfect cruise holiday for your family and to avoid any of the potential pitfalls that could come from travelling with a little one.
How old do babies have to be to set sail?
Most cruise lines accept babies from six months of age, except for MSC Cruises who have no minimum sailing age. However, for certain itineraries, the minimum age is 12 months. These are often cruises where there are a lot of consecutive days at sea (such as transatlantic crossings), cruises that last longer than two weeks, or cruises to certain regions such as Hawaii and South America.
Tip: It’s possible to book a cruise for an unborn baby – you can add their name and date of birth to the booking after they arrive.
We sailed on MSC Cruises when Adam was six months old. I actually booked the cruise early on in my pregnancy, so the cruise was the first thing we ever bought him! Although we didn’t technically buy it as babies sail free with MSC Cruises (read more on cruise fares for babies below). I noticed that there were lots of babies younger than Adam on board, which must have been because MSC Cruises is the only option for babies younger than six months.
Where do babies sleep?
Most cruise ship cabins fit a cot, but you can confirm this at the time of booking. The cruise line will provide the cot free of charge, unlike some hotels which will charge you to hire it, and they’ll also provide bedding. For older children, bunk beds usually come down from the ceiling, or some cabins have sofa beds.
Your room is usually turned down twice per day, and you can ask your stateroom steward if you’d like them to fold up the cot in the morning to give you more space and put it back up again ready for the evening.
Which cabin types are the best?
We chose an inside cabin, which was fine for us. I’m a huge fan of inside cabins because they offer great value for money, which means that I can save for my next cruise sooner!
We are lucky to have a baby who likes to sleep in a pushchair, so we were able to change him into a sleepsuit after our evening meal and he would sleep in the pushchair whilst we had a drink or watched a show.
If your baby will only sleep in a cot, then a balcony stateroom may be better for you. This would enable you to put him or her to bed at a reasonable hour, and you could then sit on your balcony for a few hours with a drink and admire the view. Much better than lying in bed at 8pm whispering in the dark!
Similarly, if you need to put your baby in bed for a daytime nap, a balcony is ideal as you can sunbathe with a book for an hour whilst your little one recharges.
If you have the budget, family staterooms and suites are great. Two-bedroom suites have separate bedrooms for kids and adults and separate living areas, so you’ll have lots of space for your little one to crawl around, and also to get some privacy when you need it.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel with a nanny, you’ll want to look at the different stateroom and suite options to find out which is best for your family.
What is there for babies to do on-board?
Cruise ships have so much to enjoy on-board, and whilst lots of the activities aren’t suitable for babies, there’s still plenty for them to enjoy. If your baby is at the crawling stage, they’ll love exploring the open decks.
Although babies can’t usually be left in the kids’ club (the minimum age for this is often two or three years old), many cruise lines have sessions where parents can attend with their babies, play with the toys and meet other families. Some cruise ships even let you take toys away and return them later.
Tip: Pack a few toys – you won’t need loads as babies tend to be happy to play with the same ones every day. Stacking cups was a favourite!
If you’re cruising somewhere warm, I’d highly recommend choosing a ship with a splash area so that your little ones can cool down. Children in swimming nappies aren’t permitted to use the swimming pools or hot tubs on-board any cruise ship for hygiene reasons. Kids’ splash areas have just a couple of inches of water along with fun features like fountains, water cannons, giant tipping buckets and even mini slides – the ideal way to cool off on a warm day.
On our cruise, we saw lots of babies and toddlers using the pools and hot tubs (which aren’t really that hot), so we did too and the staff never mentioned anything to us. So it seems that this rule may be enforced more by certain cruise lines than others.
We also took an inflatable paddling pool which would be a great alternative to a splash area. However, not every cruise line permits these at the poolside so be sure to check before you pack it.
How do you feed a baby on-board a cruise ship?
MSC Cruises offered a special menu for babies aged six to twelve months, which was lovely. However, we didn’t really need this as our son was doing baby-led weaning and was quite happy to suck on a bread roll and throw vegetables on the floor. Staff in the restaurants were super-helpful and didn’t mind the mess, even on formal nights. The buffet was ideal too as we were able to introduce the kids to lots of food they hadn’t tried before, without worrying about paying for food that they didn’t eat.
Tip: Take your own plastic bowls and cutlery.
If you prefer to feed your child pureed food, you can either bring your own jars or pouches, or ask the staff if they can puree some food for you, which they will do on many ships.
If you need to warm milk, hot water is available in any of the bars and restaurants so you can warm a bottle in a bowl of hot water. Some cruise line staterooms have kettles so you can make up formula, though it’s wise to check that this is the case when you book; and if they’re not in every stateroom you can request one.
If you’re bottle-feeding your baby, don’t forget to pack anything you need for washing and sterilising bottles. Washing-up liquid and a bottle brush are essential so that you can wash bottles in your stateroom. The easiest way to sterilise is probably by using sterilising tablets which can be added to cold water – you’ll also need a bottle bucket so that you can soak them overnight. Although at home we sterilised bottles until 12 months, as is recommended, for the week that we were away we decided to just wash them thoroughly and rinse in boiling water which made things a bit simpler for us.
Tip: Take enough bottles that you only have to do the washing up once each day
We also took a few pre-made bottles which we used when out on excursions, or for in the middle of the night. If you sail from the UK, you’ll have an unlimited luggage allowance, so you may wish to opt to use only ready-to-drink bottles of milk, which is probably the most convenient option.
Breastfeeding mothers should have no problem with feeding their babies on-board. It’s written in cruise lines’ policies that nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed in public areas and are not required to cover themselves. However, you might want to check the local laws of the countries that you’re visiting. A shawl or cover-up may be useful in some places.
Where can I change my baby on-board?
You’ll find plenty of baby changing facilities on-board your ship and staff will always be happy to point you in the direction of the nearest one. I found this to be much better than our holiday in Greece where every nappy change was done in the pram, on my lap or on a sun-lounger!
Tip: Take a portable changing mat to use in your stateroom and on excursions
Each baby changing area will have a nappy bin. If you’re changing a nappy in your stateroom, you’ll usually find that the bathroom bin has a lid to contain any odours. But if it doesn’t, you can always call for a stateroom attendant to come and empty your bin, which they won’t mind doing.
How can I bath my baby on-board?
Unless you book a suite or family cabin, your bathroom is unlikely to have a bathtub. If your baby is old enough to sit up, you can simply sit them in the shower and spray water on them. If your baby is very small, you might find the sink to be an easier option. If you really want to give your baby a proper bath, an inflatable bathtub may be the answer.
Is babysitting available on a cruise ship?
On many cruise lines, yes. There are two types of babysitting which may be available – either in a group with other children or in your cabin. There is often a fee for this, and it’s usually available on a first-come-first-served basis so you’ll need to pre-book once you’re on-board. There are also age restrictions which may differ by cruise line.
Can I take a pram or pushchair on-board?
Absolutely, and it’s definitely recommended that you do. Aside from the fact that you’ll need it when you’re off on excursions, most cruise ships are huge. Even if your toddler is capable of walking, a pushchair will make things so much easier, plus it provides a safe place for them to have a nap or some quiet time.
I would recommend leaving your fancy pram at home and getting a cheap umbrella-folding stroller to use on holiday. Prams are prone to getting damaged on flights, so if you pick up a cheap one for under £50 you’ll be less upset if it gets broken. Even if you’re not flying, it’s much easier to get on and off coaches and into taxis with a small foldable pushchair than a heavy and bulky pram.
MSC Cruises have pushchairs available to hire free-of-charge and some other cruise lines also have them available for a fee. We borrowed one for the duration of our cruise and it was okay, although it didn’t have a sunshade or a rain cover and wasn’t that easy to push along the cobbled streets of Bruges. If you have the option, it’s probably better to take your own.
Tip: Take a rain cover. You’ll be grateful for it if you’re caught in a rainstorm
We left our pushchairs in the corridor outside our stateroom each night, although if you prefer, you could fold it up and put it under the bed or in the wardrobe. Our ship neighbour commented that he liked seeing the two prams in the corridor, as it meant he could easily find his room at night after one too many cocktails.
If you have two babies, or a baby and a toddler, please don’t try to take a side-by-side pushchair with you! We saw someone with twins who did this and they had a nightmare because it was too wide for the corridors. Every time they went to their room they had to fold it up in the lift area and carry both babies and the pushchair down the long corridor.
How can I wash clothes on-board?
Most cruise ships have a laundry service available, although it can be very pricey. There’s absolutely no point in paying £5 to get a baby vest washed that only cost you £1 to buy in the first place! Some cruise lines offer self-service washing machines and tumble dryers which are much more reasonably priced. However, the easiest option is probably to hand wash items in your bathroom sink. You’ll usually find a retractable washing line available in the shower.
Booking your cruise
I hope that this article has answered the main questions about cruising with a baby. If you’d like advice on anything else, please let us know in the comments below, or you can call our knowledgeable Cruise Concierge team who will be happy to help.
The first step to booking your family cruise is to find a cruise that your whole family will love. We’ve written a list of the best cruise lines for babies and toddlers which may be a good starting point
Once you’ve found a cruise that you’re interested in, give our Cruise Concierge team a call on 0808 1234 118 and we’ll be happy to arrange everything for you.