Frequent Questions from Family Cruisers by Luisa Frey Gaynor, CruiseMates Family Editor March 27, 2006
The CruiseMates.com family message board continues to be a vibrant venue for parents to pose questions for myself and other readers on a range of topics about cruising with kids. The questions that generated the most talk this year involved new passport regulations and how much freedom you should give teenagers at sea. These, along with questions relating to infants, kids and 'tweens, are all addressed below.
Thanks to all those who help make the CruiseMates.com family message board a great spot for parents to consult before embarking on a cruise. Smooth sailing!
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LIFE ON BOARD
Q: Do you have any strategies for booking a cabin for a family of six?
A: You can find family staterooms on Royal Caribbean's Voyager class ships, among others. Be sure to book early, since these specialty staterooms are a hot commodity. Some readers said that booking two connecting cabins or two junior suites was more cost effective than family suites. Remember that prices on cruises are per person, not per room.
Q: Do cruise lines offer any kind of ID for kids to wear in case they get separated from their parents aboard ship?
A: Most lines make kids enrolled in the youth program wear an ID bracelet that has the child's muster station printed on it. That way, if there's an emergency while kids are in the youth program, counselors can bring youngsters to their muster station to meet their parents.
If you'd like additional identification for your child, go to www.idonme.com to make your own ID bracelets. I have never done this, though - when my daughter was too young to sign herself out of the youth program and remember her cabin number, she was also too young for me to take my eyes off her when she wasn't in the youth program.
Q: How do you prepare your kids to act politely on a cruise?
A: One parent had very good suggestions: "I spend time teaching them how to eat dinner the polite way, including not talking with their mouths full. We discuss respecting others when walking around, not running on ships, saying 'please' and 'thank you.' A week prior to departure, we pretend we're on a cruise and have 'semi-formal' dinners. I don't want people thinking our kids are not behaved well."
Q: Does anyone have a suggested packing list for my kids?
A: Here's one reader's list:
Two bathing suits and one cover-up
Five shirts and four shorts (mix and match)
Two pairs of khaki pants and three collared shirts for dinner (boys)
Three dresses/skirts and tops for dinner (girls)
One suit or sports jacket with two dress shirts for formal nights (boys)*
Two dressy dresses for formal nights (girls)
Shoes: One pair dress shoes, one pair sandals, one pair water shoes (kids wear sneakers on the plane ride there)
One light jacket or sweatshirt*
Underwear and pajamas
* Author's note: If your son is young, you can get away with nice pants, dress shirt and vest for formal night. For the girls, I also take a nice sweater or jacket that can be worn over a dress at dinnertime since the restaurants tend to be cool.
Q: I'm concerned that my three-year-old will be afraid at the lifeboat drill and also won't want to wear the life vest during the drill. Any suggestions?
A: Some cruise lines (like Princess Cruises) have you sit inside a lounge with your life vest on during the drill rather than stand out on deck packed like sardines. For the lines that still do musters out on deck, one reader relates how she quelled her child's fears:
"We told our five year old that the lifeboat drill was just like a fire drill at school. She was okay until she had to put on the vest and was surrounded by people. We just held her and reassured her that it would be quick. I plan to bring a treat for her to the next lifeboat drill as a reward for getting through the drill without tears. She hadn't thought of the boat sinking until she was standing on deck in a life jacket. It would have been easier if we had explained it more beforehand."
Q: Does Royal Caribbean offer private, in-cabin babysitting during the day?
A: Yes, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. I suggest you go to guest services soon after boarding and book the desired times to insure that staff will be available for babysitting. Since it's in-cabin babysitting, your child will have to eat from room service if the babysitter is there during mealtimes.
Q: Are balconies in staterooms safe for a three year old child?
A: Most balcony railings are 3-/12 to 4 feet high. So while they are reasonably safe, you still have to make sure you keep the door locked. Also, I suggest you talk to your child about not going out alone, since there is usually a chair out there that a child could push up to the railing if they wanted to. My four-year-old son has cruised many times, and it has never been an issue with him since we explain ahead of time that he can only go out there with us or my teenage daughter.
YOUTH AND TEEN PROGRAMMING AND ACTIVITIES
Q: My son will be 18 years old when we cruise, and thus too old for the teen activities (which are for 13 to 17-year-olds). I'm not sure how comfortable he is with trying to fit in with 20-somethings on board. Any suggestions?
A: On reader says, "We ran into this same situation with our son on our last cruise. We had our son check out the teen activities and asked the teen counselors if he could participate in order to meet others his age." I also suggest that if your teen would prefer not hanging out with those younger than him, his best chance of meeting others his age is around the pool, basketball court, video arcade, and other areas where teens tend to hang out.
Q: Can the cruise lines' youth programs handle children with food allergies? I would love to have my three-year-old son participate, but I'm afraid he might be given something he's allergic to.
A: My daughter used to have food allergies, and we found that the counselors on ships were very careful. The last thing they want is a child having a huge allergic reaction. I remember being impressed with Royal Caribbean youth counselors in particular. As soon as I told them about my daughter's allergies, they took her photo and posted it on the staff's cabinet as a visual reminder to themselves not to give her certain foods. They also marked her wristband that she had allergies. Luckily, youth programs generally don't serve food and drinks that often, so there is less risk involved.
Q: When do we need a passport to cruise to the Caribbean?
A: As of December 31, 2006, passports will be required for air and sea travel to/from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. This was changed from the original deadline last year of December 31, 2005. For more details, go to www.travel.state.gov, or call the U.S. National Passport Information hotline: 877-4USA-PPT
Q: My 12-year-old daughter wants to bring a friend on our cruise this summer. Any suggestions on making sure it works out well, along with suggestions on which documents to bring for the guest?
A: My daughter brought a friend on a cruise with my mother and me when they were 10 years old. It worked out well, and it helped that we were good friends with her parents, as far as being on the same page about discipline, acting in a mature manner on board, etc. I think, though, that if your husband is going too, you should ask the parents and the girl if they feel comfortable sleeping in the same room with an adult male.
Here's a list of documents to bring: A signed, notarized letter from the girl's parents giving you permission to take her out of the country (while you may not have to show any authorities this letter, I have heard of cases where adults didn't have such a letter and were questioned about why they were taking the child out of the country. Since the letter serves as a kidnapping deterrent, I brought it just in case); child's passport or birth certificate; signed and notarized letter from parents authorizing medical treatment if necessary; and a copy of the child's health insurance card.