Cruising with Kiddos (Part 1): The kids aren’t going overboard

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Living this close to Port Canaveral makes it easy to hop on a cruise ship and leave your worries in your wake, even if only for a couple of days; yet many Central Florida families have never set sail.  The idea of a cruise – while alluring at first – can easily lose its luster when your mind has time to wander.  A mom’s first thought is usually that the kids are going overboard.  OK, well, that was this mom’s first thought.  I wondered how I would eat, sleep or enjoy the world around me if I was constantly gripping the back of their collars to keep them away from the rails (flashbacks of our summer vacation in the Grand Canyon give me shivers).  But it’s true what people tell you – once your kids discover the children’s program, you’ll only see them at mealtime.  Energetic, young crew members will keep your kids safe and occupied from breakfast to dinner and on into the wee hours of the morning.  With activities and areas specifically designed for each age group, your tots through teens really will have fun without you and – I kid you not – you will have fun without them!  It’s a marvel.

Discovering dino bones with the Mouse himself!
Discovering dino bones with the Mouse himself!

Now that you’re on board (pun intended), you must face – oh, horror of horrors – the self checkout.  (Gasp and clutch your pearls here.)  Starting around age 9, cruise lines give parents the choice to let the kids check themselves out of the “kid club”.  Naturally, the kids will whine for it.  Other people will ask, “Why not?  Where are they going to go?”  My reply was always “OVERBOARD!”  In reality, however, opportunities to fall in hardly abound; and the kids are so excited about all there is to do on the ship, they hardly notice there’s an ocean on all sides.  Our decision was infinitely easier given that we have two kids, and they are sworn to stick together.  If you have an only child, don’t be discouraged.  Little people make friends very fast on board and may have a partner to run around with in no time at all.  No wandering around the ship alone!

We waited 10 years to take our first family cruise; but we’ve since sailed 4 times in the last 18 months.  Our kids are pros at this point; but before getting the all-clear to self checkout on any ship, they have to pass the navigation test: proving they can get themselves from A to B anywhere on the ship unsupervised.

Step 1) Stick together while getting the lay of the…land?…as a family.

Step 2) Parents follow kids to the kid club and back to the room without giving any hints.

Step 3) Poolside scavenger hunt – hand the kids the camera, send them to various locations, and require picture proof of their successful adventures (and an ice cream cone…for mom).

Once we know they have their bearings, they are free to come and go as they please from the kid club, so long as we have a planned time and place for reunion.

This whole self checkout thing really pays off when the kid club closes (or starts charging fees) at 10 pm, but you really want to see the adult comedy show.  They can check out and get themselves in bed before you’ve finished your last giggle.  If they are antsy at dinner, send them to the kid club on their own while you have a leisurely dessert.  It really is divine.

If you still aren’t convinced or your munchkin is too young to qualify, take heart.  Our Disney ship had 2 “wave phones” per room that allow you to keep in touch anywhere on the ship.  They will also text you when your kids leave the kid club or want to be picked up.  You can get similar phones on the other cruise lines if you have a special needs child (which we do) or a toddler.  This gives you the freedom to move freely around the ship, knowing you can always be reached.  An additional bit of Disney magic comes in the form of their wristbands.  Upon boarding, children get a band to wear the entire cruise.  It’s a tracking device.  No joke.  Their kid club is so enormous (and fantastic) that you can pick your kid up at a number of entrances; and the staff can tell you exactly which area your kiddo is exploring at that moment.  Big or small, it’s important to every mom that we know where are children are and – most importantly – that the answer is not, “Overboard.”

Nothing gives you perspective like a view of nothing for miles.
Nothing gives you perspective like a view of nothing for miles.

Additional insight on cruising with kiddos is coming soon.  I’ll tackle reservations & planning; food & fun on board; and choosing your own adventure.  Stay tuned!

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