So I like to be well-informed and prepared for any new adventure - research, research, research, so that I know what to expect and can plan accordingly. In particular, I loved reading trip reports and others' experiences. Paying it forward, here are my lists and suggestions for those cruising with young children.
From our experience
These are the random 'lessons learned' from our first cruise:
- There's plenty of storage in your stateroom, but not for large items. It might be preferable to pack two smaller suitcases rather than one large suitcase. If your bag is too large to store under the bed, it'll take up valuable space in your closet. Also, if you can, forgo the stroller - bring a baby carrier instead, or a small umbrella travel stroller. I saw some families with full-size strollers and I truly wonder where they stored it in their stateroom.
- If you're a first-time cruiser, bring your own card holder/ lanyard for your Key to the World card, or you'll either scramble to find your card(s) in your pocket or purse, or you may overpay for a Disney one in the onboard store. That card is used for everything onboard, so it needs to be readily accessible.
- Resign yourself to not getting enough sleep - there's so much to see and do, and you'll want to fit in as much as you can. Try not to be a slave to the navigator schedule - but don't be so laid back that you miss out on some really special stuff. Decide what's important for you to see and experience, and prioritize from there.(Save some stuff for the next cruise... ?)
- It's okay to relax your usual parenting rules. And go easy on your kids - it's their vacation, too. They'll likely be cranky (due to lack of sleep) or slow to react (because they're in wonder of the awesome new experience) but yelling at them is not going to make it any better, only less enjoyable for anyone. That being said, don't be afraid to sequester yourself and your child(ren) in your stateroom for bad behaviour.
- If you need milk/ chocolate milk for your toddler at any of the restaurants and it's not available, just ask a crew member and they'll get the little carton for you.
- If your child, like mine, is going through a chocolate milk phase, in a pinch, you can get the hot chocolate from the Beverage station then top up with the cold milk meant for the coffee/ tea (the hot chocolate machine only dispenses a 'small' cup size anyway). Maybe add some ice to cool it down even more.
- Check the daily schedule for the activities in Oceaneer's Club and find out what they are (the Navigator App is perfect for this), as a lot of them have freebies for your kids. DD1 went to Pluto's Pajama Party, and came back with a huge pillow case that she had decorated. On the last day at sea, she did the Friendship Rocks show (all the kids get to go on stage with Mickey and Minnie, and got a free t-shirt).
- Take some time to have a quiet adults-only dinner by sending the kids to the Oceaneer's Club/ Nursery (just be sure to check the mealtimes at Oceaneer's, so you know they'll be fed!). You don't even have to do the Palo restaurant, but your scheduled dinner venue will do just fine!
- Doing laundry during the cruise isn't such a bad thing if it means you can pack less (or you have messy kids!) Set your phone alarm so that you remember to go back for your laundry (and not find it on the bench because someone else needed the washer or dryer) and don't forget to pack a lightweight mesh laundry bag to cart everything easily.
- On debarkation morning, it's okay to skip breakfast to sleep in. There's no point in rushing to breakfast, only to have to potentially spend a good few hours waiting for your group to be cleared for debarkation.
- Don't stress about transfers from Canada Place port to the airport (all that planning on getting there and what to do on the cruise, I forgot about how we were leaving... LOL). The Disney transfer is $25 per person. There were several options at the port. We opted to go with Westcoast Sightseeing, who ran a shuttle to the airport and airport hotels for $15 per adult (kids under 6 free)
Lastly, while not really a tip - be prepared for some serious cruise withdrawal afterward!! You might even book that next cruise on board...
From others' experiences
The following websites/ forums/ blogs were extremely informative:
- mousesavers.com - truly useful site on how to save on anything Disney
- disneycruiselineblog.com - a lot of 'insider' information, links to Personal Navigators, etc
- cruisecritic.com - generic cruise information site, lots of trip reports to read
- disboards.com - a discussion forum all about Disney Cruise Line
- Generic tips for first-time cruisers - from a cruisecritic forum user
- Kids on a Plane - things to pack as recommended by a mom blogger
- Character autograph requests
- Making the most of the Shutters photography package
- Internet package and usage tips, including the free 50Mb Internet if you sign up on the first day
- Tips for cruise dining with toddlers/ young children