We recently had the pleasure of taking a ten day cruise on Royal Caribbean's spectacular cruise ship, Explorer of the Seas. Affordable cruises for families are becoming more common so we thought we would take one, see what it is like taking a toddler on a cruise and write a review about our experience.
We boarded in Singapore and sailed all the way back to Fremantle in Western Australia. Over those ten days we explored the ship, ate, and slept. And more importantly, we cared for our daughter Zoe.
This was our third cruise but our first time taking a baby on a cruise. Our 18 month old daughter Zoe was with us. Cruising with toddlers is a whole different experience compared to cruising as a couple with no kids.
We did our best to note down any potential problems for people taking a cruise with a very young child. We also checked out facilities and services that making cruising with a little one easier.
- 1 What To Expect On A Cruise
- 2 Examining Our Cruise Ship Room
- 3 Taste Testing Cruise Ship Food
- 4 How Entertaining Is Cruise Ship Entertainment?
- 5 Shore Excursions, Getting Off The Boat
- 6 Tips For Cruising With A Baby
- 7 Wireless Internet Access While Cruising
- 8 Would We Recommend A Cruise To Others?
What To Expect On A Cruise
There are a few key elements to the cruise experience. The room, the food, and the activities. Lets go through them one by one.
Examining Our Cruise Ship Room
How childproof is a cruise ship room? How suitable is it for a family with a young child? Boarding the ship we were full of questions. Although we had been on two different ships before you just don't notice this stuff before you have a child of your own.
Child safety was something of an issue although we we are able to get things sorted out pretty quickly. There are a lot of complementary bits and pieces that were scooped up and shoved into a high cupboard. After a bit of ad hoc baby proofing the room was reasonably safe so we could let Zoe roam around.
The telephone next to the bed was problematic due to its position and short cord. We did not want to just unplug it and put it away. In the end we put it in the drawer in the bedside cabinet and put a piece of material over the whole cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind.
The door our to the balcony is sufficiently heavy that there was no way Zoe could open it even if we did not latch it. That was a relief.
The bathroom is as small as you would expect of a ship. That made getting Zoe in and out of the shower awkward but not impossible. Initially the space was very awkward but after a few days we worked out a routine that would allow undressing, showering, and drying off before heading out to the main room to dress.
In our cabin there is only the bathroom and the cabin itself, no separate space for baby. Her travel cot went on the ground in front of the couch. That made the couch basically unusable so it became a place to store our stuff so it would be accessible.
All being in one room with no divider of any kind meant that when Zoe was asleep we had to be quiet. We were also left sitting in a dimly lit room. Bring an Kindle Paperwhite if you want to read as it does not require another light source but it also does not produce a lot of light itself. Perfect for reading when others are sleeping. Otherwise, consider baby's nap time a nap time for yourself. We caught up on a lot of sleep during our cruise.
Taste Testing Cruise Ship Food
There are plenty of food options available. There are a handful of specialty restaurants including a steak house, an Italian restaurant and a Japanese restaurant. There is the casual buffet style Windjammer, there is the more formal Sapphire Dining Room, and of course room service is always available.
The Sapphire Dining Room is the fancier option of the complementary eateries. My Time dining is in the Sapphire Dining Room. We ate dinner there twice and breakfast once.
Our experiences in the Sapphire Dining Room were not particularly great and I suspect it really is not suited to young children. Although the food was very pleasant it was slow to arrive so the little one's patience was wearing thin by the time we were halfway through the main course.
Some of the staff showed their lack of experience dealing with small children. One warned us about a particularly hot plate while putting that plate down right next to Zoe. A wine glass and a knife were other items we had to snatch away from Zoe's inquisitive hands after they were put on the table within her reach. If your child has grabby hands do be sure to keep an eye out for items appearing on your table within arms length of your child.
In speaking to other families with a young child some had more success with the more structured set up in the Sapphire Dining Room. Everyone sits down together and stays seated until the end of the meal so baby is not distracted by mum and dad dashing off to get food.
Windjammer is a buffet set up thus removing the need to wait for your food. You do have to go get it yourself which could be disruptive. Zoe does not mind us coming and going so, for us, the ability to get food immediately was worthwhile. As staff are not depositing things on your table there is also no danger of them putting items that are not safe for kids within their reach.
The range of food offered in Windjammer is fairly immense. You should have no difficulty finding something your child will like. There is enough variety that you can put a plate of new foods in front of them every day.
We typically ate both breakfast and lunch at Windjammer.
The Windjammer and the cafe on the promenade, a mall-like strip lined with shops and bars, are your best options for afternoon tea or very early dinner. Afternoon tea in Windjammer consisted of nachos, fruit, and an assortment of other snacky things. The promenade cafe (open 24 hours a day by the way) offers some mixture of pizza, muffins and sandwiches although what they offer varies day by day. Both have tea and coffee.
After a large lunch at Windjammer a few snacks at the promenade cafe was often enough to tide us over so big dinners were a rarity. Leisurely dinners were never on the cards due to Zoe but our full bellies provided additional encouragement not to eat much in the evening.
For lunch one day we tried out Johnny Rockets. Johnny Rockets offers burgers, onion rings, fries, malt shakes and similar. The Smoke House burger was thoroughly enjoyable. It is hard to go wrong with beef, bacon and onion rings in a burger. The volume of fries and onion rings provided made it extremely easy to turn this into a very high calorie meal. Wait until you are very hungry before trying Johnny Rockets. If you arrive with a big enough appetite it is a very enjoyable experience.
Room service is available of course although it only provides a small subset of what is available elsewhere on the ship. Delivery was quick. Ideally you would order your room service well in advance of nap time but if you have not they announce their arrival with a relatively subtle knock on the door (no obnoxiously loud doorbell).
If you do specifically want food not offered by room service you can simply pick it up yourself and carry it to your room. This seemed odd at first but once we got used to the idea of wandering back to our room with a snack plate for later our evening dining experience improved dramatically.
How Entertaining Is Cruise Ship Entertainment?
Numerous entertainment options are available for adults. There is a casino, various shows in the theater, they show movies, there are a range of bars etc etc. However with a small child most of these are not suitable. We are going to focus on those entertainment options that are more realistic for families with children in tow.
There is a well equipped gym for when you want to have some quiet time and get some exercise. It is built in a large semi-circle with the below hot hub at the center. There is a huge set of machines, treadmills, dumbbells, bikes and probably more tucked away.
Mini-golf was surprisingly fun, even with an 18 month old. If you have a very young child make sure to get there very early so the course is quiet. Zoe mostly just ran around dragging a putter and seeing how many golf balls she could carry at once but she had a great time. Once people arrived who actually wanted to play mini-golf we got out of the way.
There is a rock climbing wall and basketball court. Neither are really suitable for young children. They are however so easily accessible that it is possible to have one parent hold the baby while the other puts on a rock climbing harness and has a go at rock climbing.
There is a kid's club on board. The Adventure Ocean Youth Program is available for children age 3 and up. They have all sorts of things on throughout the day and evening. Although Zoe is too young we popped in to check it out and Zoe was able to get dressed up in sunglasses, tutu and feathery scarf for a Barbie dance off.
For the under 3s there was a playroom filled with toys. It was open from 9am to 10pm. We spent a lot of time in this room throughout the morning and afternoon.
Occasionally a staff member would be present to help entertain the kids but mostly this was a space for kids and their parents to play together. There were plenty of toys and toys would be switched out each day to keep things interesting.
On the upper decks the swimming pools are easy to spot. Be aware however that children who are not completely toilet trained are not permitted in the swimming pools. Zoe loves swimming pools so this was quite a drag. The "no babies in the pool" rule may be for the best as they were very heavily chlorinated the one time we ventured into them.
Although the upper decks are almost always busy there are some lower open decks that are much more suitable for a small person to wander around. No crowds, hurrah!
There are many more entertainment options suitable for older children and adults.
Ice Skating On A Ship
During the day the ice rink was open to everyone. It gets pretty crowded so do not expect to be out there working on your figure skating routine. It looks like a fun way for older kids to spend some time however.
At scheduled times throughout the day there were also shows held on the ice rink. We went to one and it was really enjoyable. I have never been a big fan of things on ice but I really enjoyed this show. Even better, Zoe was transfixed and barely took her eyes of the performers for the entirety of the show. She even applauded after some particularly impressive leaps and spins.
Showbiz On The High Seas
Performances of various sorts are held in the evening. Cabaret performances, lounge music, a magician, it was quite varied. However actually attending any of these was extremely difficult due to Zoe's early bed time. If you can swing a few hours out of the cabin at night however some light entertainment could be the perfect complement to a nice dinner.
Not a lot to say about these because we did not see much of them. I would assume that you won't be able to see these night time shows. Then you can be pleasantly surprised if you can leave someone to babysit long enough for you to check out a show (or part of one).
Go On A Cruise And Get Your Hair Done
There is a large day spa offering an extremely large range of services. Everything from hot stone massages, facials, tooth whitening, hair coloring and more. Prices are comparable to what we would expect to pay in Australia.
There are frequent special offers made throughout the cruise so make sure to check the daily schedule, called Cruise Compass, that will appear in your room every evening.
You do generally need to make an appointment so make sure to pop in for a chat in advance of when you would like your treatment.
Shore Excursions, Getting Off The Boat
We actually did not take any shore excursions. We have on previous cruises. Typically quite a lot of time on a bus is involved. Hopping on and off a bus with a very young child is no fun. Changing their diapers/nappies is an issue. And what about nap time? We just deemed them too hard and opted instead to enjoy the uncrowded ship while most people went ashore.
Some ports also require tendering, where the cruise ship anchors off shore and small boats ferry people to shore and back. Adding a bunch of waiting to take a crowded trip on a small boat onto the beginning of a day spent getting on and off a bus made the whole prospect even less appealing.
Don't feel sorry for us however. If you want some peace and quiet staying on board while most people have gone ashore is actually quite a good idea. Services are scaled back but this is likely to be the quietest you will ever see the ship. No crowds or queues in sight.
Tips For Cruising With A Baby
We have previously compiled a big list of tips for going on a cruise with a baby or toddler. If you are considering going on a cruise read our tips for going on a cruise with a baby or toddler
Baby Changing Stations
These were not terribly common. They were to be found on floor 2 near the under threes playroom and on floor 5. Apparently there was a third one somewhere else but we did not use it. Virtually all of our nappy/diaper changes were done in our room or on floor 2 near the under threes playroom.
Some more changing areas would have been handy but we were never more than a few minutes walk from either our room or one of the baby changing stations so it was not a major problem.
Wireless Internet Access While Cruising
Given the demands of this site plus our general net-heavy lifestyle going ten days without Internet access was not an attractive prospect.
Wifi access can be purchased for various blocks of time. Refer to Royal Caribbean for current prices. It is not especially cheap so you will probably want to restrict your Internet usage. No bad thing. You are meant to be on vacation after all.
Although the Internet access was slow it was fairly reliable. One quick tip. If you are moving around the ship and your Internet connection stops working, disabling then re-enabling wifi on the device seemed to help.
We had no trouble accessing the Internet from our room, from the under threes room or from the library.
Would We Recommend A Cruise To Others?
We certainly had our share of difficulties caring for an 18 month old on a cruise ship. Taking care of kids is never easy even before you factor in limited space (especially in the cabin and bathroom) and set meal times that sometimes did not mesh with an early bed time. We definitely felt the limitations of being on a cruise ship while trying to both care for our child and have a good time.
That said However, we still had a very good time. And that includes Zoe. We all ate a lot. We all slept a lot. We all played and ran, sang songs and danced. It was a great time.
For the ten days we were on board we did not have to cook a single thing. We also did not wash a single plate. That alone is worth celebrating.
You may well come across others who tell you not to go on a cruise until your children are older. They have some valid points. But do not be fooled into thinking that taking your baby or toddler is a bad idea. Yes you need to moderate your expectations but once you do you can all have a truly fabulous time. We did.