Planning a cruise with a two-year-old in tow can present a world of questions. Where will your little ones sleep in the cabin? Will there be food that they like? Are they old enough for the kids club? Will they be allowed in the swimming pools?
The list is endless. Choosing the right cruise line for your family is vital to making sure that you all have best possible cruise holiday. To save you hours of online research, take a look at our top picks for the best cruise lines for two-year-olds.
1. P&O Cruises
Our top pick for parents with two-year-olds is P&O Cruises. When looking to set sail with your young ones, ensure you pick from Azura, Britannia, Oceana and Ventura, as the remaining fleet is adult-only. P&O cruise ships are aimed at the British market, with plenty of opportunities for your family to socialise with fellow cruisers wherever you sail. Many P&O cruises depart from Southampton, avoiding time and costs at the airport and making it easier to embark closer to home.
The kids' club
The main reason we like P&O Cruises for tots is that they allow children in the kids club from age two, whereas on most other cruise lines the minimum age is three. They also don’t need to be toilet trained as staff are happy to change nappies if needed. The Splashers Club is exclusively for guests aged two to four, featuring slides, toys, books and activities specifically designed for this age group.
Children are welcome to dine in any of the dining areas on-board, including the speciality restaurants which all have a children’s menu. In addition, there is a special children’s tea which is served around 5pm every evening with kids’ favourites such as fish fingers, sausages and pizza – perfect for those hungry tots who can’t wait until later in the evening to eat with their parents.
Another huge plus is the night nursery, which is available for children aged between six months and four years. You can leave your children here from 6pm until 2am, depending on the sailing. There is a quiet area for children to sleep and you will be alerted by a pager if they wake.
The kids club and the night nursery are both free of charge. Most other cruise lines charge by the hour for evening childcare, so if you’d like to spend a few evenings in the casino or cocktail bars, this can save you a considerable amount.
Children in nappies or who are not toilet trained are not allowed to use any cruise ship swimming pools for hygiene reasons. This is the law and applies to all cruise ships, not just P&O. However, P&O’s family-friendly ships have water splashing areas which feature a pirate ship with button-activated water cannons and a shallow water play area with spray jets for toddlers.
2. Carnival Cruises
Carnival cruises cater for children of all ages really well. The cruise line is aimed mostly for the American market, so you’ll find a wide range of Caribbean cruises available, but some Mediterranean itineraries sailing out of Barcelona are also available during the summer.
The kids’ club
Carnival is another cruise line which allows two-year-old in the kids club – a must for parents who value a little alone-time during their cruise. Staff are happy to change nappies and will provide a mobile phone so that they can contact you should you need to return to collect your child.
Kids’ only dinner
Unlike P&O Cruises, which closes the kids club for meals, the kids club on Carnival ships stays open at lunchtimes on port days and every evening. Children can dine at the supervised ‘kids only’ dinners at 6pm each evening. Menu choices include macaroni and cheese, pizza, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, burgers, hot dogs, vegetables, fruit and jelly.
If your children eat with you in the main restaurants, you’ll find that the kids’ menus also include colouring pages and crayons.
The standard staterooms on Carnival cruise ships are generally larger than average – which is important when you’ve got a small person throwing themselves around the room, not to mention all the stuff they come with! Bunk beds fold down from the ceiling, or if your child would prefer to sleep in a cot, that can be arranged free of charge too.
Night Owls babysitting service
Babysitting is available in the kids club from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. The charge is $6.75 per hour plus 15% gratuity. There is a ‘slumber party’ type atmosphere with movies and toys, or sleepy little ones can go to sleep either in a travel cot or on a mat on the floor with a pillow and blanket.
3. Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean ships are made with families in mind – so if your two-year-old has older siblings, you can be sure that they’ll never run out of activities. However, popular Royal Caribbean activities like rock-climbing walls, ice-skating and zip-lines may not be top of your cruise ship wish list if you’ve got a little one to think of.
Although some of the facilities on-board won’t appeal, your two-year-old is sure to love the parent-baby playgroup. These 45-minute sessions are free of charge and take place in the Royal Tots Nursery, where your little ones can enjoy toys, games, arts and crafts along with their parents and other babies and toddlers.
Two babysitting options
If you fancy a little me-time without your tot whilst on-board, you have the choice of either booking them into the Royal Tots Nursery or hiring an in-room babysitter. The Royal Tots Nursery is available on most ships and costs $8 per hour. Opening hours vary but it is usually open until midnight each evening as well as selected sessions in the daytime. Staff provide you with a wireless phone so that you can call them to check on your child at any time, or they can call you if there are any problems. Babysitters are also available who will arrive at your stateroom armed with books and games for a minimum of two hours. The charge is $19 per hour for up to three children within the same family.
Royal Caribbean is one of the only cruise lines to offer dedicated Baby Splash Zones. You’ll find these on Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. However, these splash areas are often located right by the colourful and exciting H2O zones which they are not allowed in. So if your two-year-old is likely to have a tantrum because they can’t go to the waterpark with the other kids, you might want to bear this in mind.
Toy Lending Program
You’ll find a treasure chest of age-appropriate toys on-board which you can borrow and exchange each day. With a new toy to play with every day, your little one will think it’s Christmas!
4. MSC Cruises
MSC Cruises is an Italian company, and you’ll find guests of all nationalities on-board. Children are always welcome on board and the friendly staff will go out of their way to cater to them.
Enjoy an hour to yourself
On MSC Cruises, kids’ club facilities are only an option for children three years and over. However, at 1pm and 6pm you can leave one and two-year-olds for an hour while they’re looked after by dedicated staff. There’s no charge for this service, and even though it’s only for an hour, it can still provide a welcome break so that parents can enjoy some time in the hot tub, casino or even just get ready for dinner in peace!
Free pushchair hire
MSC Cruises hire out pushchairs free of charge, which is ideal for parents of two-year-olds. You can borrow a buggy at the start of your cruise and leave it in the corridor outside of your stateroom so it’s there whenever you need it. You might not need it at all on the ship, but you’ll probably find it invaluable during shore days where you might have to do a lot of walking. This also saves the hassle of bringing your own cruise, particularly if you’re doing a fly-cruise. But be warned, they don’t come with rain covers so if rain is forecast then an umbrella is a must!
Children are welcome in all of the restaurants on-board MSC cruises with dedicated kids’ menus available. If you choose to dine in the buffet restaurant, there’s a special kids’ buffet section. Fussy eaters will be pleased to see that chips are always available here, along with healthy yet simple alternatives such as plain rice and pasta.
5. Cunard Cruises
While Cunard cruises aren’t aimed specifically at families, children are always welcome on board. The kids’ clubs are excellent for younger children, which is why Cunard gets a place on our top five list.
The kids club on Cunard ships accepts two-year-olds. Run by qualified nannies, it’s open from 9am to midnight, with a lunch break from noon to 2pm. Activities include arts and crafts, games, story time and movies. There is a children’s supper between 5pm and 6pm, allowing parents to dine by themselves if they wish.
Cunard is one of the more upmarket cruises, and it comes as no surprise that the ships all have excellent libraries. What may come as a surprise, it the number of children’s books, with plenty to keep your little one enjoying story time throughout your cruise.
Of course, each child is different and you should consider their needs when choosing which facilities are important to you. If you know your child won’t be happy being left in the kids club, then it won’t matter if one is available. Likewise, if they’re an excellent eater, you might not care if chicken nuggets and chips are available on demand. If your child has grown out of nappies, they’ll be free to use the swimming pools without issue.
If you’re travelling with children of other ages too, then, of course, you’ll want to consider what’s available for all the family. Deals such as free or discounted child places are regularly promoted, helping to sway your decision for who to sail with.
If you have any questions about cruising with children or would like a quote tailored to your family, then don’t hesitate to give our Cruise Concierge team a call on 0808 1234 118.