How to Plan a Family Cruise Vacation

Family vacations used to mean a camping trip or a Disney vacation but today that’s changed and people are looking for more extravagant vacations to take with their families. The cruise industry realized this pretty early on and began tailoring some of their events and even whole cruises to accommodate families with children.

The cruises geared towards families like to keep a nice balance between fun activities and events that are more educational. There are Disney character ships with ridiculously fun water slides and rock walls that break out of adventure to create an atmosphere of incredible excitement. But metered with the fun are activities that teach skills or cultural differences like computer programming, stargazing, ukulele classes and an introduction to hula dancing. And with all these activities meant to entertain the kids, it’s easy for the parents to slip away for some private time or to explore the boat by themselves. So why not gather the family together and pick a family cruise for your next vacation?


When planning a family cruise vacation one of the first things to consider is your passports. The rules about passports and travel are getting more stringent and its wise just to have a passport for everyone but they may not be required. Check with the cruise line of your choice as they will know if it is a closed loop cruise and if the ports of call require a passport or if they just want a birth certificate and photo ID. For more information on travel requirements the Department of Homeland Security’s website is full of useful tips for United States citizens and travelers.

Westerdam docked at Grand Turk-Phil of Ottawa266Creative Commons License Photo credit: Phil of Ottawa

Westerdam docked at Grand Turk

Picking Your Family Cruise

The next step, and the most fun step for most families, is educating yourself about all of the cruises available, which ones are geared toward families, and then what activities they offer. Some cruises are definitely targeting a younger crowd and if you have teenaged children this may seem boring and some cruises target an older crowd and younger ones may not have anything to do. Make sure you select a cruise that will best appeal to your children. When picking your cruise you want to consider more than just the cruise activities but also pay particular attention to the ports of call and what they have to offer.

Pick a Family Cruise Length

Cruises vary in time length and for some families three days on a cruise is more than enough time but for others taking an extended cruise is the perfect vacation. There are plusses and minuses to a cruise that have to be considered when taking a family cruise. The minus is that you are staying in a small cabin with your children and cramped spaces can often lead to arguments with children. Another minus is that there are a limited number of activities on a ship and they may not be as appealing as you anticipated. The bonuses are almost no thought needs to be given to meals and the prices are all included. There are activities that your child may not have normally experienced that will entertain and enlighten them. And the ports of call may provide enough added entertainment and educational experiences to make the trip packed full of memories that will last a lifetime.

Game of shuffle-flickrized428Creative Commons License Photo credit: flickrized

Game of shuffleboard

Budget for your Family Cruise

Cruises offer some budget helpers and then some options that can completely blow a budget. It’s important that you sit down and thoroughly review your cruise options before signing up. The cost of getting to the cruise and the cruise itself are obvious expenses but there are others that can add up quickly. Any scheduled events you sign up for at the ports of call will typically carry an additional price tag and many of them are pretty hefty. The meals on board are all included in your price but anything you may want to pick up at cruise shops are not and drinks typically are not included. Souvenirs at ports of call also aren’t included. And expect to have your picture taken regularly and then be asked to purchase that picture as a souvenir. Make sure you give yourself enough play room in your budget to explore the destinations and take home some mementos.

Sign Up in Advance

When you’ve selected the cruise you want then you need to narrow down the activities you and your family will participate in. Try to sign up for everything in advance if possible because space is often limited and sometimes there are discounts for committing in advance. Make sure you check schedules so nothing conflicts and if your activities occur at one of the destinations then you’ll need to take travel time into consideration as well.

Book your Family Cruise

Part of the research process should have included talking with a travel agent. Travel agencies that specialize in cruises have a wealth of information and they typically can get you the best prices available. Some cruise lines are working to change this and level the playing field, but even then the cruise specialists can probably get you a better rate than you could find on your own and they might be able to work in an upgrade for you as well. There may also be other benefits when you book with a cruise specific travel agency like gas cards to get you to the dock or discounted hotel rooms. This of course doesn’t mean you have to use a travel agency, many people prefer to handle travel plans on their own and you certainly can book your own family cruise without additional assistance.

Finally, make sure to sit back and enjoy your family cruise vacation. One of the great benefits of taking a family cruise is that everything is preplanned and almost everything is taken care of for you. A family cruise is a great way for families to spend time together, explore new destinations and activities and just unwind.
Creative Commons License Photo credit: Rob Inh00d