This post is part of a series. If you want some amazing tips on booking your cruise, read part One here.
Congratulations! You’ve booked your cruise–now what? How will you get there? What will you pack? And what will you do once you are onboard? Keep reading for answers to these questions and some amazing tips!
Getting to your cruise
If you are within reasonable driving distance to your port, this will always be the cheapest option. We opted for this the last 2 times we’ve cruised. Keep in mind, when you park your vehicle at the cruise terminal, it costs an extra $19 per day, so keep that in your budget.
If you are opting for the flying route, there are a few ways you can go about it. My favorite site for air travel is farecompare.com. You enter the location you are looking for, and it automatically emails you updates when the price drops. For our next cruise, I plan to set an alert for Florida, and when I get a low price alert, hold the flight, and have my husband call Carnival on the other line. If you plan to check in luggage, compare your fare with southwest airlines. They don’t charge for baggage, and they offer, and if the airfare drops on your flight, they will give you the difference back in flying credits, so they are worth considering. Be sure to fly in the day before to avoid missing the ship due to flight delays. My parents had this happen once, and they missed the entire first day of their cruise. No fun! We have never missed the boat, but we did cut it really close once when we flew in same day. It’s best not to risk it.
Check out my free Cruise Packing List for a comprehensive packing list. I cover everything from babies and toddlers to items for the shore.
Here are some quick additional tips:
- Purchase sand toys and snorkel equipment before you leave, and bring them along. It can be very expensive to rent them, and your kids will want something to do. Your ship should have beach towels you can take ashore, so don’t worry about packing those.
- A blow up bath tub is a life-saver for us! I like to bring a blowup bathtub for my little kids. They hate showers, and it makes life so much easier to just be able to bathe them. If your little ones don’t mind the spray down, skip this one.
- I like to bring an actual book to read rather than reading from a digital device because I find the glare difficult. Besides, there is something nice about leaving that in the room and letting it go! If you forget a book, check out the library; they often have several shelves full.
- Medicine (such as Tylenol and Dramamine), diapers, sunblock, and personal care items are extremely expensive onboard. Bring enough to last your entire trip! If you aren’t sure if you will be seasick, pack something for it just in case. I have found that peppermint essential oil is the most helpful for my seasickness.
- Copy all your important personal documents and pack these in your suitcase. If your identification goes missing, these can help you out of a tight spot.
- You may not need a passport for your cruise (though my husband and I prefer to travel with one). Most Caribbean and Mexican cruises don’t require them, but you will need a government issued ID and a birth certificate (It MUST be an original, not a copy! If you don’t have an original, you can obtain one from a place of records in the city you were born). Children only need a birth certificate as long as their last name is the same as your last name (unless they are traveling to a port that requires a passport). Check before you buy a passport if you are only purchasing one for the cruise. You may be able to save the $110.
- Keep the stroller small. Don’t bring anything bigger than an umbrella stroller onboard. Doorways are tight as is deck space.
On that note, cabin space is limited, so don’t pack unneccessary items or large toys. Our cabins tend to be really tight with 5 of us (the cabins have 2 pull down bunks and a trundle-bed in addition to a queen bed), so we pack light.
Getting on the ship
Getting on the ship can be tricky with little kids, but I have a process that has made it extremely easy! Here are my tips:
Pre-board online before you go! This saves at least 15 minutes in line later on.
Get on the ship as early as you possibly can. Most ships don’t debark until the evening, but they allow you to board hours earlier than that time. Our most recent cruise sailed at 5, but they allowed people to board at 1pm. Boarding early allows us to enjoy the deck and the pools without as many people. They also serve food right away, so you may as well get the extra time. One cruise allowed us to board at 11am. That practically adds an extra day to your vacation!
Carry all your important documents in 1 folder. In the left pocket, I put all our boarding passes and booking information. In the right pocket, I put the kids’ birth certificates (in sheet protectors), and our passports opened to our ID page. This is so easy to open and show at the security checkpoints. I have had several security personnel remark on what a good idea this is.
You can choose to check your bags and have a room steward bring them later. We like to walk on with our luggage because I like to unpack right away, and no matter what we want to do, all our stuff is with us. You can wait several hours for your bags to be delivered, so if you choose to have them delivered, keep a change of clothes and swimsuits in a carry on. I pack a large suitcase, a medium size bag (attached to the large suitcase), and my husband handles that. Then I carry a tote, and our camera, and each of our older girls carries their own items in a backpack. I like to have all our items easily carried because we choose self debarkation for reasons I will cover later.
Allergies and Special Dietary Needs
Both my 2 year-old and me eat gluten free due to celiac disease. The ships are VERY accommodating of this. We are both extremely sensitive, and neither of us have problems on board. The kids’ care will have you fill out a form, and you must notify them in advance if your child will be with them for meal times so they can make arrangements.
Notify your server the first night of your condition, and they will have you order in advance for the next day. You are allowed to choose whatever you like, and they will make accommodations. Carnival even has a gluten-free melting cake that is just as good as the original. My husband always tries both meals, and he said most of the time mine was better, probably because it had to be prepared on the spot. These special accommodations can only be made in the main dining room. If you choose the buffet option, a server can direct you to the items you can eat. And they do have gluten-free pizza and sandwiches! This one factor makes cruising so much easier vacation wise!
What makes cruising easier for you? Stay tuned for part 3 where I detail life on-board and excursions on the cheap!