We took a cruise in October 2016 with our then 13 month old. Many people have asked about our experience so I figured I should blog about it, even if I'm 7 months late in doing so!
I'm a planner, and when it comes to traveling with little ones you really should do your research before booking. Especially with cruising because not all ships are "Baby Friendly." From my research only 2 cruise lines offer amenities for those under 3 years old, Disney and a select few Royal Caribbean ships. While we would have LOVED to take a Disney cruise it was out of our price range (think double the cost of an RCCL cruise). We found the list of RCCL ships (RCCL website) and then narrowed down our time frame, we had 2 options. We chose Liberty of the Seas sailing from Galveston. This would be our EIGHTH cruise, second on RCCL, but FIRST as parents. While we knew this cruise would be vastly different from our previous sailings we were confident it would be a relaxing and fun adventure.
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This review will assume you know the basics about cruising, or have been on a cruise before, but want to know whats different as parents to a little one. If you're new to cruising check out Cruise Critic for the basics. One huge tip I want to share is many ships have their own facebook groups. I recommend joining and stalking, they will know the tips and tricks on that specific ship!
Cost: (FYI we booked in June for an October cruise). We waited for two sales to be combined "Kids sale free" (yes you have to pay for children of any age!! if they stay in your stateroom they are highly discounted as a 3 occupant), and the "second night free" sale, meaning every other night was free on the cruise. I suggest working with a travel agent to secure the best deals. We added the airport transfers and did purchase the Protection Plan, so total the base cruise cost was $2,900. For 3 people, 7 nights, all meals, room, entertainment, everything included is an AMAZING deal!
*Remember gratuities, alcohol, flights & excursions are separate.
Other costs: airfare $635 (Galveston was much more expensive for us to fly to than Florida would have been!), parking at airport was $90, 1 excursion $70/person (baby was free), gratuities were $150 and we spent about $200 on board (alcohol, gifts, etc).
So our entire 7 day cruise vacation cost $4,115.
Getting there/embarkation: We live outside of DC, so the flight was 3 hours to Houston/hobby airport. (Grab food if you need before you exit secure area when you land, there is only a BBQ place outside of security) We luckily caught the first bus transfer at 10:30am from the baggage claim area. We got to the terminal less than hour later (our driver told us some about the island and took us a route through downtown to avoid traffic). We used porters to take bags (2 plus stroller) (tip them!). Never really stood in much of a line and got quickly through security. We got our seapass cards and went right into ship. We immediately headed to windjammer (cafeteria) for lunch around 12 noon.
Room: We stayed in Room 8310 (category G- balcony). A pack and play was waiting for us in our room but we bedshare so we asked our steward to remove it. For my curious toddler the drawers and phone were all the toys he needed in the room. We ended up not utilizing any of the drawers because he kept unpacking them and we had to disconnect the phone so he wouldn't call everyone. I suggest bringing some of these Safety First multipurpose latches for the drawers.
He loved the balcony, i was a bit worried while planning about how safe it would be, but the glass goes nearly to the bottom, there is no way he was getting out/off of it. He did loose a toy a few times to the balcony next to ours, but i was able to reach under and grab it. Our room had a couch, so after Bram went to sleep on the bed, Lee and I were able to watch movies.
What makes this ship "Baby friendly"...
Royal Babies & Tots Nursery (pictures): For children ages 6 months to 36 months; staffed by trained professionals. $6 per hour before 5pm and $8 per hour after 5pm. The first day there is an open house so you can stop by and check it out, sign the waivers, and reserve up to 15 hours of nursery time for your cruise. (you can reserve more after that first day, but it gives time for all the families to get a chance to get reservations).
There were 30 kids under 3 on our cruise, but i rarely saw them, and when we *tried* to use the nursery he was the only kiddo there. When we dropped him off they gave us a deck phone and asked how long they should let him try to acclimate (aka cry) before calling us. We told them less than 10 minutes and that this was just a bonus, not a must. They told us some parents say "don't call, we want a vacation too" so they are willing to do whatever you feel is comfortable for you and your kid.
We ended up getting a call as we were walking into dinner that night and I could hear him screaming in the background, we immediately left and got him. Poor guy was hyperventilating and had hives from crying. So we didn't go back, he has never been to daycare so we weren't sure how he was going to handle it.
In Room Babysitting: They also offer In-room Babysitting, ($15-20/hr provided by the ship's crew on an availability basis), this is ideal for those not used to a daycare setting, or for parents looking to sneak out after bedtime. To reserve, you need to go to Guest Services to inquire.
Group Play times: Check your daily planner for times and locations or ask the nursery staff. Ours was in the teen lounge behind the arcade from 9am-5pm daily. They laid out mats and had different toys out each day. Its an open play area you go with your kiddo. We had one other family we often saw there but generally it was just us!
Toy Lending Program: We did not utilize the Toy Lending Program as we thought the open play was enough for our lil guy. But you can borrow and exchange from closet full of toys in the nursery throughout the cruise for use in your stateroom.
"Babies to Go" Diapers: RCCL offers a program called "Babies 2 Go!" where you can pre-order Huggies brand diapers, wipes, creams, as also Gerber brand baby food delivered right to their room both before and during your cruise. We regret doing this as the diapers took up half our suitcase and we STILL didn't bring enough. We had to seek out a pharmacy in Mexico to buy more midway through!
You can purchase the packages through your travel agent or by calling (800) 722-5443.
Kids splash pool: This is a little know fact, MOST CRUISE SHIPS DO NOT ALLOW SWIM DIAPERS making them not baby friendly at all. The Liberty has a pretty small separate area that allows swim diapers. It was plenty big enough for maybe 5 kids and parents at a time without congestion. Since the weather wasn't great during our cruise it was never crowded. There were several splash type fixtures and a double slide. The water was freeeezing. I'm not sure if the other part of the splash area are heated but omg it was cold. He didn't care though he had a blast the few times we used it!
Dreamworks Characters: Just like Disney cruises have Disney characters walking around and special photo ops, RCCL has Dreamwork Characters. We enjoyed the dream works parade they had, Bram's first parade! It got very crowded though and we had to ask a lady to step aside that had rudely gotten in front of us after we waited for 20 minutes to get a good spot.
We went to one photo op, Puss & Boots, whats great is they allow you to bring your own camera so you don't pay $20+ for a picture. There wasn't really a line, and I could tell Bram was apprehensive, so we stayed off to the side for about 10 minutes, letting the other kids go up and hug and take pictures. The character would constantly look over at Bram and wave. Eventually I moved closer and Puss was very nice and gentle about it, showing Bram to pet his paw, he wasn't pushy at all. Bram pet him and get took a group picture. It was a great first Character experience.
Naps: This seems to be the #1 question people ask about. And surprisingly this is something we weren't too worried about. Our guy was doing 2 naps a day, and luckily naps on the go very easily in my carrier or stroller and is content as long as he's touching us. We did often go back to the room for naps and bedtime, but we didn't feel like we HAD to. We brought a stroller (I recommend the Summer Infant 3D Lite) and often walked around the top deck, the strong winds creating a white noise that helped lull him to sleep. Or I wore him in a carrier (which he preferred) and we would walk the Promenade, listen to the piano bar singers or even catch a few minutes of a ventriloquist show. I recommend getting a pair of Baby Banz headphones to help block out sound if you're concerned.
While we were on a beach excursion in Roatan, Honduras he napped on my chest on the beach chair (so did my husband next to me). The sounds of the ocean was very relaxing and the heat from the day really wore him out.
I actually made a collage of pictures of just him taking naps everywhere that I sent to family. It was a chance for my husband and I to get alone time and relax without trying to keep up with a toddler for a few minutes.
If you're strict on nap time and routines then I would say expect to be in your room at lot, but if you can relax that expectation a bit it can be enjoyable.
Food: We ate all of our meals in the Windjammer (cafeteria). We know some parents took their little ones to the main dinning room, but we knew there was no way our guy would sit through a 2+ hour meal, he wasn't into screen time like he is now, an even now isn't great at sitting still for long. This is something we were concerned about enjoying. The long meals getting to know your tablemates is what we really looked forward to in our past cruises. We knew this would be a change for us, but we were pleasantly surprised.
The staff were great there. They were always willing to help find a table for us, followed us with a highchair, got our drinks, milk for him, even special chocolate milkshakes for them if you want and the head waiter comes around with cookies! We tried to sit in the same area so we got used to the staff and them us---- I think this was key! One almost cried when we said goodbye the final morning! I think having a cute baby helped us get better service but even without they seemed great. We tipped a few people specifically at the last breakfast.
We also ate snacks in the Promenade Cafe often, especially those early mornings when he woke up before the sun and I would sneak him out of the room to let Lee sleep a bit longer, we would stroll down to the Promenade, get coffee and croissant and he would flirt with the senior citizens, fond memories.
Entertainment: We didn't really see any of the nightly shows or productions. We stopped by the ventriloquist for a few minutes but Bram started crying so we left. The jazz singer helped him fall asleep one night. This is honestly not something we missed from our past cruises, we always found the entertainment to be lacking. My husband did frequent the casino after bedtime though.
Excursions/ports: The only excursion we did was the Tabayana beach break in Roatan, Honduras. It was nice but it started raining so we grabbed the first bus back. We stayed on the ship in Belize, as I was worried about the tender and a baby (although I really think it would have been fine) and we didn't book an excursion so we enjoyed the empty ship. In Cozumel we walked off and went to a nearby pharmacy to buy diapers which we ran out of and again enjoyed the empty ship. We had already seen those ports, and a quieter ship was better to us. Since this was our eighth Caribbean Cruise we were "over" the ports and just wanted a relaxing vacation.
Disembarkation: We've always done the self assist (meaning we carry off our own luggage), but this time we chose to do the luggage tags. Ugh what a pain. We waited in the theater for almost 45 minutes after our scheduled time slot. We let little guy run around greeting people. Once our number was called we quickly got our luggage but then customs took nearly an hour, I've heard if you use a porter it goes quicker. It was soooo painful with a toddler. Then we waited in line for the bus in the sun for 20 minutes then waited for the bus to fill up for over 30 minutes. Not fun at all. Luckily he fell asleep for the whole ride to the airport. It was past lunch time by the time we got to airport checked in an went through security.
Overall: I think it was a great vacation, tons of memories and a great trial run on traveling with a little one. With the weather not being the best there really were tons of other options for us to entertain and drain the energy of our toddler. We napped when he did, and luckily he's flexible schedule wise so no major meltdowns. We plan to cruise with him again, probably within the next 2 years. It's definitely not the same experience as cruising without kids but it was still relaxing and fun.
What Bram will remember:
-The metal dog statue outside of the Future Cruise Booking office.
-Spending quality time with Mommy & Daddy
Now that our triangle family is complete, follow along as we live our "life after infertility." Our travels, our joys, our laughter & our sorrows of parenting.
Chrissy is a...
full time corporate world working somewhat crunchy mom, a loving wife, an MRKH Warrior, Infertility Advocate, support group leader & a bad ass breastfeeder. In her fleeting spare time she enjoys hiking, traveling, walking her pooch, sewing and watching funny or sappy TV shows.