Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Charlie Baker | August 27, 2014

Hi. I’m Charlie. I’m 12 years old, and I’ve taken nine cruises on five different cruise lines. You might think cruise ships are pretty much the same, but they’re not. If you want your kids and yourself to enjoy a family cruise as much as possible, here’s my advice.

1. Get a cabin that’s on a higher deck toward the stern.

Everything that’s interesting for kids and families is always at the back of the ship. So get a cabin that’s very close to the aft staircase and no more than three or four decks below the pool, buffet, and kids’ club. If your room is at the front of the ship, you’ll spend most of the day walking back and forth across the ship, and if your room is on a low deck, you’ll have to wait for the elevator.

Disney cruise ship cabin

This was a good cabin because it had a sofa bed.

 

2. Get a sofa bed rather than high-up beds that fold out of the wall.

A sofa that turns into a double bed, even if you have to share it with your brother, is better than two single upper berths. It’s easy to fall out of an upper berth, especially kids like my brother Doug who move around a lot when they’re sleeping.

upper berth

Dad ended up sleeping in this upper berth.

 

3. Always get a balcony. 

Without a balcony, rooms are crowded with four people in them. And you need a balcony so you can always see the sunrise and sunset and have nice light in your cabin, and so you can go out and get fresh air and enjoy the smell, and so you can see the place you’re visiting when you come into port.

 

cruise kids balcony

Everyone who doesn’t have a balcony always wishes they had one.

 

4. Get a large pool with a water slide.

Some cruise ship pools are salty, so bring swim goggles.  If the pool has a water slide, check the height limit because your kid might be disappointed if he’s too short.

Norwegian Gem water slide

We waited till Doug was tall enough for the water slide before we went on the Norwegian Gem.

 

5. Do not sign up for the early dinner seating.

A lot of parents make this mistake. The early seating means your kids will have to leave the pool at 5:00 so you can get to dinner by 5:30, and your kids will be stuck eating in the restaurant, which is boring and takes forever. Every kid would rather eat in the buffet because they can get food they know they like. (A possible exception to the rule is Disney ships because the restaurants are awesome.) Always sign up for the late seating because you can take your kids to the buffet at 6:30 and take them back to the kids’ club at 7:00, and then eat on your own at the late seating.

 

Disney ship Animator's Palate

Doug in Animator’s Palate, which is the best restaurant on Disney ships because Nemo characters come to life and talk to you.

 

6. Make sure there’s food by the pool.

Sometimes you don’t even need to go to the buffet for dinner because you can get food by the pool at dinnertime. On Holland America we could eat hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream for dinner by the pool. But Disney was great because they had themed food stands with different types of food, like Flo’s V8 Cafe or Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, where we could eat in a beach chair in our swimsuits.

 

7. Get a kids’ club that’s open all day long.

Some kids’ clubs close for two hours at lunchtime and dinnertime, even though your children don’t need two hours to eat lunch or dinner.

cruise kids club jumping

My first kids’ club on my first cruise, which was on Celebrity Cruises.

Some cruise lines have much better kids’ clubs than others do. Norwegian Cruise Line’s and Disney Cruise Line’s are especially good, and if you’d like to find out why, you can read this about the Norwegian Star and this about the Disney Dream that I wrote when I was nine.

A kids’ club is always better when your kid can check himself in and out of the club. This makes life easier for both of you:  Your child doesn’t have to be stuck doing something in the kids’ club that he doesn’t want to do or missing something he’d rather be doing somewhere else on the ship, and you don’t have to interrupt what you’re doing to pick him up at a certain time.

cruise ship shuffleboard

If you can check yourself out of the kids’ club, you can always go play shuffleboard.

Also, get a kids’ club where your kid isn’t the oldest in his age group.  If your child is in the 6-to-8 group and he’s turning 9 soon, he might be bored with the little kids.

 

8. Choose a ship that has scheduled activities for parents and kids to do together.

On Norwegian Cruise Line there’s at least one family activity on the program every day that parents and kids do together—like a scavenger hunt or “Family Challenge.” It was great because our family competed against my cruise-ship friends’ families. On Royal Caribbean there was only one family competition the entire cruise. There were things like 3-on-3 basketball tournaments and mini-golf contests, but for adults only, even though kids would enjoy those things much more than adults.

cruise ship basketball court

Royal Caribbean has the most elaborate sports deck.

 

9. Don’t worry about what sports are onboard.

If you want a giant sports deck, choose Royal Caribbean, but you don’t really need one because every big ship has some good sports to choose from. They all have basketball, shuffleboard, and Ping-Pong, and most have mini golf.

Disney Wonder Ping Pong

Schooling my mom in Ping-Pong on the Disney Wonder

 

10. Don’t get stuck wasting time on embarkation day.

Embarkation day sucks because the kids’ club isn’t open till nighttime, and there are no activities on the ship. Embarkation day is a good time to explore the ship with your kids and find all the places they’ll be at a lot, so your kids learn where they’ll want to go later and how to get there. Also, it can take a few hours for your suitcases to be delivered to your cabin, so make sure your kids pack their swimsuits in their carry-on luggage so they’ll have them for the pool.

Holland America's Ryndam docked

On embarkation day, have a swim suit in your carry-on.

 

11. Collect a souvenir from each port.

When you’re back home, whenever your kid sees each souvenir, he’ll remember the place where he got it. But don’t buy something like a teddy bear that says “Mexico” on in it. Instead buy something that was handcrafted by locals or is unique and you can find only in that place. For instance, in Honduras I got a metal fish made from an oil drum and an old ship’s hull. And in Belize I got a marble turtle that you wouldn’t find anywhere in America.

Jamaica souvenir

In Jamaica we watched this man carve my name into the wooden bird statue I bought from him.

 

If you’d like my advice about which cruise line is best for your family, you can ask me below.  Also here’s my advice for the Disney Wonder from my own travel blog.

 

Charlie Baker is Wendy’s 12-year-old son. He has traveled to 23 countries and has kept his own blog, NotAnotherTrip.com, since he was eight.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Travel Tips

Big News From WendyPerrin.com and Town&Country

WendyPerrin.com | October 10, 2016

Ask Wendy

Great Deals at Prague’s Top Hotels (Plus an Extra for WendyPerrin.com Travelers)

Wendy Perrin | May 29, 2014

Travel Tips

Extraordinary Travel Experiences—and How to Get Them

Wendy Perrin | September 18, 2014

17 Comments

  1. Maria

    Hi there, congratulations on you excellent article.

    I want to take my 5 year old grandaughter on a Royal-Oasis cruise August 27 (she is turnign 6 on September 10) however, some of the more fun activities, like zip lining, seem to be only for 6 yr olds and above. Being that she is so close to 6 will they allow her to participate or should I avoid those ships?

    1. Wendy Perrin

      Hi Maria, Cruise lines are very strict about age restrictions. They won’t allow her to participate if she’s not 6 yet. Enjoy your cruise!

  2. Sommer

    Hi Charlie!
    We are planning our first Disney cruise and we can’t decide whether to take our daughter when she is 9 or when she is 10. Can you recommend the “best” age you started enjoying Disney cruises?

    1. Wendy Perrin

      Charlie says: “It doesn’t really make any difference, but I’d take her when she’s 9 because she’d rather go sooner rather than later. “

  3. Cara Tarantino

    A BIG THANK YOU Charlie. Researching now for our kids on NCL Breakaway. Helpful tips thanks again. Enjoy your next destination. Cara :-)

  4. Maggie Broaddus

    Hi Charlie,

    Great blog, I love it that u travel so much. Here is my question, out of all the Disney ships, do you have a favorite? We have a 6 year old that is very out going. We are also planning to spend 3 days at Disney as well.
    Thank you for your advise.
    Happy travels to you

    Maggie

    1. Wendy Perrin

      Hi Maggie. I’ve read your question to Charlie, and he says, “I like the Disney Dream most, but I’ve only sailed on two Disney ships: The Dream and the Wonder. A 6-year-old might actually like the Wonder more, as it’s a little less overwhelming.”

  5. Stanley Mills

    Love getting a point of view from a young man. Any advice on cruising with a 50 year couple, 2 brothers in their early 20’s, A FOUR YEAR OLD BOY, and his mom?

  6. rcwbjw@suddenlink.net

    You are right on, Charlie! I could have used your comments thirty years ago when we took each of our seven grandsons on a special trip with us. Five of them went on cruises and we chose ships with special programs for children, which was not too many back then. We are ages 82 and 84 and have been on 39 cruises. Your account and advise is just wonderful!

  7. Robin

    Charlie, you are so right.
    I enjoyed the Norwegian Cruise Line as it is a little more relaxed in eating times and you don’t have to dress up for meals. I liked being able to eat whenever we wanted instead of a set meal time like on the bigger cruise lines. The employees are fantastic too.
    I would love to take my family and grandsons on a family cruise, but none of the other adults are interested.
    Can I adopt your family?

  8. Deanna Pugel

    Hi Charlie. Great article! I have two girls ages 10 and 13 What do you recommend? They are active, sporty and girly!

  9. cyun

    Hi Charlie, it’s really helpful to have your point of view. Our family is going on a HAL cruise with kids aged 7,9,11. We are worried that the 7 year old is going to be excluded as he falls in the 3-7 age group, whereas the others will be in 8-12. In your experience, are they flexible on board with letting siblings stick together despite their ages? Thanks for your input!

  10. Mary

    Charlie, this is an awesomely helpful article and you are a talented writer. Like the other commenters, I had never considered Norwegian, but I will now! Thanks for the tips.

  11. phxbne

    What a great article! My 9 year old has done 4 cruises – not sure how her list would compare, but I think I am going to take a closer look at Norwegian thanks to Charlie’s tips.

    1. Charlie Baker

      I highly encourage you to take a closer look at Norwegian. People often pass it by because they don’t see anything really stand out about it. Disney stands out because everybody knows Disney, and Royal Caribbean stands out because its ships are so huge, but if you want a great kids’ club, choose Norwegian because its counselors are the best.

  12. Christy Camren

    BRILLIANT!

    This article made my heart smile. I’m so happy that you and Doug have been able to travel so much with your parents. And I’m so glad that you wrote this article. I wasn’t able to travel much with my children when they were young like you so there were a lot of tips you gave in this article that I would never have known to tell my clients about.

    I was also interested to hear how much you enjoyed NCL. Most travel agents I know steer families away from NCL and towards Disney and RCCL.

    Really great article, Charlie. I’m going to go check your blog out now. :-)

    Christy

    1. Charlie Baker

      I don’t have much experience with travel agents, because my mom is practically a walking travel encyclopedia, but I’m shocked at this news. From my experience, Norwegian was built for families to have a fun, relaxing and hassle-free vacation.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>