I just got back from Royal Caribbean's Explorer 7day cruise and found absolutely nothing for my 19 mo old to do. They have a playroom for 3-5 that my son enjoyed for about 2 minutes. Right away someone came and asked if he was potty trained and I said no. They said that even if I stayed with him, because of health regulations, my son could not stay. So, with my son wailing, I took him to the kiddie pool. He loved it. But that only lasted one day. The next day it was closed for remodeling and never opened again. So, I took my son to the adult pool which has about four feet of width into the pool that my son could play in (amongst sun bathers). He didn't like it one bit. So, I was left with nothing. I had to "invent" for him things to do such as climbing the stairs from one to the fourteenth floor, see the fish, and just run around after him (I was exhausted by the end of the trip). Not to mention that the only entertainment on TV was the cartoon network that doesn't offer much entertainment for toddlers. He did enjoy the shows at night. That's about it. When we went to Mexico, the final destination, I took a taxi to the nearest playground and that I would say was the most fun he had. The beach he didn't like much because of the sand and salt water that would get in his eyes. So again, I was chasing after him at the beach. Don't get me wrong, my son has no problem traveling. I've taken him to many places and he's been just fine. But in this cruise, he was enclosed and without much to do.
I'm sorry , sounds like you had a pretty rough go. I also have taken my kids on a cruise when quite frankly they were too young. My son was 2 and not allowed on the play room(had to be three) and we also had a baby with us. Yuck. There was a solution, first I should have asked more specific questions regarding the kids program, facilities and ages. I didn't. Also we picked the cruise and ship first instead of letting the needs of the kids dictate which cruise to take.
If I had to do it again I would have taken a Disney ship (or similar).( yeah not my first choice either)
We only cruise once every 4 or 5 years , and now we are a family of five so the kids don't come with us anymore. If we had the money I would definately bring them, plus they are older now ( 7, 11. 13). Hopefully this hasn't turned you off cruising with kids I think it can be fun if done right, good luck in the future!
Sorry your experience with your toddler wasn't the best. Was this your first cruise too? Since we've been on lots, we knew what to expect during our past four cruises with our 23 month old. I think that if you know what the situation will be like ahead of time, it helps adjust your expectations so you aren't disappointed.
If you want to try cruising again before your child is three (when most cruise lines allow kids into their youth program other than Carnival and NCL), then check out Disney Cruise Line. They have a nursery for babies and toddlers. They change diapers, have toys, nap areas, etc. (Read article on this site about Disney's Nursery.) We felt very comfortable leaving our son there for short periods last year.
Hope this hasn't turned you off from cruising altogether. It does get easier as they get older. (I also have a 10 year old who LOVES cruising!)
Luisa Frey Gaynor
Family Cruise Editor