So last week, we traveled with our not-quite-two-year-old son on a five day, international Carnival Cruise to Progresso in the Yucatan and to Cozumel, Mexico. I wanted to share what I learned about traveling internationally on a cruise ship with a toddler, because this past week was a both a huge challenge and an incredible experience with our spunky toddler.
I absolutely loved that we included our young son on a big adventure. I’m an attached parent. I hardly ever leave our son anywhere. Also, he’s still breastfed. I simply can’t imagine leaving him behind right now. I also hugely believe in big experiences for little people. I don’t regret bringing him in the least. Also, he was far from the only toddler on the boat; I was excited to see quite a few moms with their toddlers in the pool.
However, I would lie if I said it was easy. There isn’t a ton out there that really prepares you for your first experience on a cruise with a spirited toddler. So hopefully, this post helps bridge that gap a bit!
Here are seven tips for international cruising with a toddler!
1. BABYWEAR! Okay, so you’ve heard me say how much I love babywearing before. But friends, it is sincerely the best, easiest, quickest, least dramatic way to tie my son up when he’s overstimulated. It instantly calms him. On top of that, navigating ports was a cinch with him on my back (or front). And if you’re worried about safety, having him tied to us meant he wasn’t really going to be snatched (to be fair, I think about this in our local Target, also).
2. Adjust your expectations. Here’s the thing, part of the fun of a cruise is the night life. Unfortunately, my toddler crashed by 8:30 pm every night, simply unable to hold his eyes open any longer. Since he was under two, Carnival’s childcare for his age group was only from 10 pm to 12:45 am, long after our toddler was crashed out and (in my opinion) a too-hard time for our family to navigate child care with a sensitive kid who hardly lets anyone else care for him anyway. In light of that, my husband and I took turns enjoying the night with my family. He’d stay in one night, I would stay in the next. We took turns to enjoy the world outside of our room and it worked out well. We adjusted our expectations of “fun” to fit our reality.
3. Do the toddler things! Get in the pool. Go play mini golf. Pay attention to the kid-friendly activities on your daily activity listing and go do them. You’ll both appreciate the things the ship does for the littles.
4. Locate and enjoy toddler-friendly excursions. Find kid-friendly excursions that really work for your family. After chatting up the Galveston Carnival Cruisers Facebook group (an incredibly informative group of people), we ran across the suggestion to check out Trip Adviser. So we did.
We found the Yucatan Cenote Eco-Adventuras, and I have to tell you, beyond being affordable, private, and incredibly worth it, they catered to our son in spectacular fashion. They provided a free car seat, a baggie with toys, a life jacket so he could swim, juice and cookies, and they even loved on him when he became wild at lunch to give Jake and I a quick break. I’m going to do a whole separate post on this incredible tour, so watch for it!
In Cozumel, we went to an all inclusive called Mr. Sancho’s that was wonderful. H loved playing in the sand and water all morning! We loved the unlimited drinks and food. And there were other shore excursions we could take from there (including snorkeling, parasailing, diving, horseback riding, ATV riding, and other fun, beachy things).
5. Take turns enjoying yourselves. Do you want to lay by the pool for an hour? Rely on your partner. If there is something you would like to do, talk before you ever leave about how you’ll take turns. It helped us tremendously to take turns with our son so that we could have a breather every day. We respected one another and our need for that break, which meant that neither of us felt bitter or frustrated throughout the week.
6. Consider starting with a shorter trip. By the fifth day, our toddler was so over the trip that he was one giant meltdown all day long. He refused to nap, and screamed almost all day putting everyone on edge. In light of that, if I ever cruise with a toddler again, I will probably do a shorter trip. Think about how well your child handles being away from home and adjust accordingly.
7. Consider getting a balcony room. Jake and I loved having a window room, but we both vocalized that having a balcony would have been significantly better. Being outside in a small, private area with only our little family and a cup of coffee would have been well worth the extra $200. We could have sincerely enjoyed that space, and we regretted not purchasing it. H loved the balcony in my family’s rooms, he was patient and calm out there because it was a relaxed and comfortable small space, free of overwhelming people and events. Also, it was relaxing for us because we could sit and chat on the deck without having to chase him. He had no where else to go, so he played contentedly with his toys instead.
In retrospect, I’m not sure I would ever travel that long on a cruise ship with a toddler again. However, I am sure that I’m glad we went. I’m positive that Mexico was a blast, and I know, without a doubt, that he came home with a whole slew of new words (including some Spanish) and he talks to everyone about the “ship” he got to ride on. He loved watching the water and the boats, he loved the Dr. Suess Parade and the dance parties on the Lido deck, where he danced, and danced, and danced. He loved the pool, and we loved swimming with him. He loved mini-golf, and probably his very favorite thing was the macaroni and cheese. I won’t soon forget how cool it was to see him on top of the Mayan ruins. And how proud I was that he experienced an hour or two on a small, rural homestead of a Mayan family. I’ll be able to tell him that he visited another country before he was even two, and I hope that we get to take him on big vacations for the rest of our lives, because those experiences last the longest.
QUICK NOTE: Nothing in this post was sponsored in any way. I’m simply sharing our experience. If I recommend something, it’s because I truly enjoyed it. 🙂