Tips and tricks on packing for a cruse liner, when travelling with a toddler.
We are currently counting down the days till we get to sail the seven seas with our whole family (we are at eight sleeps today). I have already written three lists, circled the date on my calendar and then highlighted it, twice and have been told "I'ts way too early to start packing", at least five times now. So it's safe to say I am pretty excited!
I love going away with my whole family. It works out to be 12 of us, so it's like cruising around with a full on posse. Which is so dam cool. And we just love each others company. We don't need other people or entertainment or anything like that...we are our very own travelling circus! This trip we are just doing a short cruise from Durban to the Bazaruto Islands, (it's 4 days) to celebrate my Dads retirement. He has always worked so hard to give his family everything he possible could, we are so lucky to have him as our Papa Bear. So it's awesome to be able to celebrate this special event in his life. Another exciting part of this trip is that, it is our little Sunshine's (two years old) and her (almost one year old) cousin's first cruise together! This is the main reason for my excitement. I can't wait to see them in action on the ship. To see their awe, joy and excitement and to see all the fun they are going to have together. Sunshine is also such a little drama queen and just loves, loves, loves to be the center of attention so I am sure she will keep us all in stitches.
My husband and I are cruise line veterans. We both worked and lived on a small cruise liner for 3 years before we got married and really got to know this way of travel back to front. We cruised all through Asia, the Med and then finally the Caribbean Islands. We also shared an amazing cruise in the Mediterranean for our honeymoon, which was just dreamy. I have been on a hand full of MSC cruises with my family (pretty sure all this makes us part sailor, but I digress). Anyway, what I am trying to say is, that along the way I picked up quite a few good tips on traveling. So as I prepare my packing and various lists, I though I would share these tips and tricks with you, in case their is some sea travel on your horizon this year.
When packing for a cruise, there is normally no limitation on luggage weight for most liners. But they do ask that you only bring one bag per person to help speed up the boarding process. Please just check with your liner to make sure this point applies to your specific liner, as each differs slightly. (Disclaimer...This list is more aimed at a sunny cruise, please don't follow my advice here if you are going to visit the penguins, cause you may be ill prepared and may just freeze out there with the polar bears.)
What's in our luggage?
*Passports, birth certificate, cruise tickets and printed bag labels. Please don't forget these, as this may lead to a bit of a bumpy start for you. Hee hee. Also don't forget to take some cash. You can load your access card with money using your debit or credit card once on-board but I always recommend taking a little bit of cash too. (Also on most ships, tips for staff are included in your cruise ticket price, but find out about this before hand as all ships differ. If tips are not you may need to carry some extra cash for this purpose).
*Camp cots. If travelling with a toddler some cruise liners will provide a camp cot if requested, others say they have, but depending on demand they can't guarantee you will get one. It just depends on the liner. We opt to take our own, just to be safe and we also like to have ours as our Sunshine is familiar and comfortable in it. (I recommend keeping things as normal and familiar as possible where possible to help the little ones acclimatize and to also keep the routine as best you can).
*Pram and or Child carrier. Your little one will most likely fall asleep way before you (hopefully, hee hee) and there is so much on board entertainment, you will not be keen on being banished to your cabin to watch you little angel sleep. So a pram and or carrier is essential for this sole purpose. Try make it as comfy as possible so they can sleep peacefully and deeply while you go to see a show, have a few drinks with a live band or even just a night cap with other adults. (What a treat!)
* Flash light and night light, if you don't have a porthole. For those who haven't been on a cruise ship before, the vast majority of the rooms are below deck with no porthole or deck access. And let me tell you it is dark. Like a deep down under the ground kind of dark. Yes sure, there are lights, but I always recommend taking a torch and night light. A night light for your little one when they wake up in the night, that kind of dark is probably unusual and scary for them. And a torch for when you need to move around or search for something when the lights are out. I feel like this sounds weird but guys its really dark, trust me. Also on this point, set an alarm. All that sunshine and fresh air and a room this dark can set you into hibernation mode!!! And you don't want to miss out on all the on-board fun and entertainment, not to mention the tasty food and cocktails. Trust me set the alarm, even your little one may not be relied on in this case!
*Meds. I have a set of travel essentials that I take for my family. This is very personal so just take your normal go to medications. I recommend a kiddie pain and fever med, just in case. A mozzie repellent, just in case. Plasters and an antibacterial cream, headache pills for the Hubsters inevitable hangover and your family vitamins. Don't forget your seasick pills if you need. Kids can easily get seasick too, so if you are unsure rather take to be safe. You can also get most things from the on-bored Doctor, but it is so much easier and cheaper to just take your own. (Don't forget your vaccination certificate if required).
* Nappies, wipes, bum cream ect. You can buy all of this on-board or have it ordered before you leave and delivered to your cabin on arrival. But I find it way easier (and again cheaper) to just take my own. Also we have certain brands we like, so it just makes sense for us. They do supply lovely big shower towels and pool towels on-board so don't waste the space in your bag with taking these.
*Baby bottles. My Sunshine only has one bottle of cows milk at night. So we will use the milk they provide on-board. But if you need to take your own formula, do so as they will most likely not have a wide variety (if any) in the boutique on-board. Also don't forget to take a bit of wash liquid and a sponge so you can wash the bottles in your room. They do have boiling water decanters in the dining areas, so you can use this water to make your bottles. But they will not allow you to bring plug in bottle sterilizers for your cabin, so maybe bring your own sterilizer liquid for in cabin bottle sterilization..
*Don't forget your kiddies favorites. This sounds like an obvious one but sometimes with all the excitement we may forget a special toy or nap buddy, dudu, blankie or dummy. Without those essentials, it could be a very long, hard cruise for you. Also the cabins are air-coned so I recommend warm pjs for the little ones, as it can get quite chilly for nap times and evenings.
*I always travel with snacks. My Sunshine can be a very picky eater and I like to keep her grazing the whole day. So I will take things like rice crackers, pretzels, biscuits, a few packets of Flings (as a treat), a few bags of Piccolo fruit blends and some Piccolo Squares (as healthier treats). This normally is enough to keep her busy between meals. Also at the breakfast buffets I normally stock up on fruit and yogurt for her to snack on throughout the day. (And don't forget a solid, spill proof sippy cup to carry with you)
*Ziploc bags for all occasions. These are my favorite handy addition when travelling. You will always find a use for these. I also use these when I pack for my Sunshine. I pack her outfits and accessories each separately in a ziplock. This helps keep everything organized and easily planned out. It may sound strange but I also like to carry a face cloth in my bag at all times. I dampen it and put it in a zippy and keep it in my bag when I travel with my Sunshine. Toddlers are messy little creatures and I don't like to rely on wet wipes for face cleaning. So a cloth is essential. Hand sanitizer is also a goodie but not essential as they have stations set up on-board, like everywhere.
*Blow up pool. It may sound strange but we take a small blow up paddling pool for our Sunshine for two purposes. One, they don't normally allow babies that are not potty trained in the pools, like at all, because they cannot clean these efficiently if there is a little "oopsy daisy". So it can get very hot and boring on deck for your baby. This portable pool really does help. I also don't love been stationed in the kiddies pool area. It is normally indoors (eww) , it is always loud and chaotic. And with a toddler, it can get scary, with all the bigger kids running riot. The paddling pool allows us to sit wherever we want and not be tied down to a specific spot. (If you do want to stay in the kiddies pool area and have slightly bigger kids I still recommend water wings or you favorite flotation aid, just to be safe). Another reason for the pool is, unless you have a super fancy suite, the cabins only have showers. If your little one is anything like mine, a shower is something close to torture. So in the evenings we will put our little pool in the shower, fill her up and let our Sunshine take her bath that way, heck even add some bubbles, cause we living the high life here!
*To make your cruise a successful one for the whole family, it is so important to keep you kiddies constantly entertained. I take loads of their favorite books and toys. And take a nice big kiddie back pack so they can take their toys wherever they go. This will help keep them occupied on deck, during shows and even food times. I like to take a new coloring in book and crayons for meal times as well as a few new books. Sometimes something new will keep them occupied for longer than something they are familiar with. I save these things for meal times only, so as to keep the excitement alive during meals. I also pack a few "holiday treats", these are little gifts I hand out throughout the holiday. You can use these to keep them distracted, to calm a meltdown, as a bribe (hee hee) or just as a treat for being good. Things I have ordered this time as our holiday treats are; an activity sticker book, a box of puzzles, a bag of plastic dinosaurs, a few bags of mini My Little Pony figurines and the colouring in stuff. Sorted! (Ice-creams on deck are also always a great holiday treat and we allow one a day for our Sunshine).
* This is just something I like to do, but it may be a little overboard since I know we all keep an extra close eye on our kids when travelling... but I take name and number labels with me whenever I travel. I get mine for Labels 4 School (they are just our favorite). I use the same labels I label her bags and school stuff with. And I just stick a label on her clothing, on her, back each day. These have her name and my number on. So on the unlikely occurrence where we get separated, someone can easily contact me. It's just a precaution really, for this Mama's peace of mind.
*Sunscreen, hats and sunnies.
*Big water bottle. You can buy water on-board, but coming from South Africa I really don't like buying water. I also drink A LOT of water so I like to have my bottle on me at all times. On the ship they have water coolers and warmers in the dinning areas. So I like to make use if these to keep myself hydrated. You can use the glasses provided but as I said I like to have my water in my bag wherever I go (this is also for my Sunshine) and also the glasses are way too small for me. I am like a camel, when I see water, I want it all!
*Beach/pool wear and day wear (think comfy and cool). Also don't forget to pack a few sarongs or kimonos to wear over your bikini, by the pool for sun coverage or sea breeze chills.
* Evening wear (check how many formal nights the cruise offers and pack accordingly, the rest of the nights will be smart casual). Also always pack a few things to keep you warm, even if you are going somewhere tropical and hot hot hot. The air chill on deck gets crazy and everywhere indoors is air-coned so a warm layer will definitely be advisable (even if it's just a light shawl for you and a few cardigans for the little one).
*Make-up for evenings. If taking make-up, my advice is pack light because most days you will hopefully opt for a no make up, sun-kissed, look being by the pool and all. Also you are on a ship in the middle of the ocean so YOLO.
*Jewellery. Now there are two camps with this one and I am torn between the two. There is the, take minimal jewellery camp...because on board you don't want to have to worry about your jewellery in the pools ect. Also on a cruise you don't really need jewellery with that bronzed skin and those gleaming eyes, ain't on body gonna notice the jewels. Then there is the other camp, the bring jewellery for all occasions people. I mean dam, I am cruising the sea with a cocktail in my hand, you better believe I am going to have a pair of earrings matching my every bikini and layers of gold chains dripping from my neck, cause I am a Mom and I don't get to feel like a celebrity everyday (once again YOLO). So why not! I think my advice here is, you do you, there is no wrong or right. Just don't bring your fancy pants, sentimental items, just to be safe.
*Toiletries. Don't bring soap and shampoos as this will all be catered for on-board (unless you have you own preferred brand), I am not too fussy so will often use the ones they provide. I always bring extra body lotion and lip ice, the sun together with the air-con dries out my skin and lips like crazy. So I like to smear on as much moisture as possible.
*Hair straightener/curler, because all that salty sea air does some crazy things to my hair. Also as above the celebrity feels are strong on a cruise so I like to keep my hair game strong too. (This is obviously not essential as the messy beach hair, look is incredible. I just, have yet to master this look, I get a more of a messy, knotted, dragged through a bush backward look...not ideal).
*Electronics and chargers. I take my phone and my kindle. I also like to take an multi-purpose adapter as they morally only have a few plug points in the cabins. So I just take in case I need extra.
* Keep your carry on well organized and prepared. When boarding a cruise liner, your bags are taken to your cabin for you. But you are normally not allowed into your cabin for a few hours after boarding. So Your carry on needs to be well prepared for this. In my carry on I have...All documentation. Some snacks and water for Sunshine (as per normal). A change of clothes for both of us and a few change of nappies for her. Sunscreen, cozzies and hats for both of us. (You may want to go on deck while you wait for your cabin to be ready). Something warm, just in case. And obviously your purse with some cash.
Top Ten Toddler Travel Tips (Summary)
1. Bring your own dish soap, sponge and sterilizer liquid to clean milk bottles.
2. Portable pool for on deck and bath time.
3. Holiday treats to help distract and to spoil your littlies
4. Ziploc's!!! For all the things.
5. Take snacks for your kiddies but also steal from the breakfast buffet for the day.
6. Make sure your carry on is on point.
7. Essentials; documents, dudus / dummies, sunscreen, name & number labels, meds.
8. Flash light, nightlights and an alarm.
9. Something warm for evenings on deck.
10. Water bottle and spill proof sippy cup.
I really hope this helps prepare you for cruise liner packing and helps you have the most amazing, smooth sailing cruise possible. Remember to try to stick to your normal day routine as much as possible but also have fun and go with the flow too. Yay for sailing! I am so exited to go on this cruise, it is a fantastic way to get this year started.
Please let me know if this guide has helped you or send any additional travel tips and tricks you may have. I am always looking for advice. Happy sailing folks. You will find us between the sea and the sky <3
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller