Considering what to do for your next family vacation? Cruising is a great option for convenience, experience, and fun. My family loves to cruise, there’s something for everyone! Here are my tips for having a great cruise vacation.
1. Carnival Cruise lines are great for families
All cruise lines are essentially the same. We chose Carnival for a few different reasons.
- It specifically caters to families and makes cruising easy.
- With the best prices, it makes a vacation for larger families affordable.
- Once you go on one Carnival cruise you know what to expect.
All of our cruises have been the east and the west Caribbean. Both are great choices with departure ports located in Galveston, Orlando and Miami.
2. Larger families should book early
Adjoining rooms work well for larger families. Adjoining rooms are popular and are the first to be reserved. Our children are 6, 9 and 11 years old. We kept the door open or closed as needed. Also having access to multiple washrooms was a luxury.
(Editor’s tip: See our list of big family friendly ships with large staterooms and adjoining rooms.)
3. Be sure to use the Kids Club
Carnival prides itself on a well-executed, safe and fun kids club. Our children enjoyed Camp Ocean and the multitude of other activities. Each ship is a bit different but there are tons for kids to do!
Camp counselors are experienced days are chock full of activities for every age group. Camp Ocean has a very secure drop-off and pick-up policies as well as optional kid-friendly dinners every night. At least one night on each cruise we happily dropped off the kids and dined at one of the delicious restaurants.
4. Get to know the Maitre’d
If choosing dine anytime option – the best time to go is around 6 pm. You will have a better chance of being seated right away. Also, get to know the Maitre’d. He will ensure any dietary restrictions are met or make a meal special. We had birthdays on our last cruise and our children were treated with a special cake and exuberant rendition of Happy Birthday.
The food on Carnival was better than I had anticipated. Over the years we have experienced varying levels of quality at all-inclusive resorts so in truth my expectations were not high. I was pleasantly surprised.
There are a variety of foods for even the pickiest of eaters at the buffet. Other choices include; burger joint, pizza, and a deli. Don’t forget about the unlimited ice cream and frozen yogurt machines.
If you prefer more of a sit-down meal for dinner then the formal dining room is also a great choice for families. When booking your cruise, you will have the choice of a timed dining slot for dinner or dine anytime. We have done both and I would recommend choosing dine anytime option for families with young children.
5. Budget for at least one Excursion
Excursions can be costly for larger families but can provide amazing opportunities to see different ports.
Choosing one big family excursion is ideal for each trip. For the other ports, exploring the local beach can be a fun diversion for the entire family. All the ports are generally safe and accessible.
Here are a few suggested large family excursions that were well managed, fun and provide a unique experience for your entire family.
Cozumel – Amazing Secret River
You are met by your coordinators on the mainland and in a very organized manner taken on a short bus ride to the nature reserve. Once there, your tour guide takes over. For large families, this is ideal as you can all go together in a small group. All equipment is provided in the cost of the trip.
Once in gear, your group hikes 1.5 hours through underground caves and the Rio Secreto. There is a combination of wading and swimming in pristine, clean waters.
This hike is not ideal for family members that are: claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, nervous around water as it does include swimming (with life jackets) through the river.
Our youngest child loved the adventure and it was just the right length for him. Lunch is included in this tour.
Mahogany Bay – Tabyana Beach Day & Gumbalimba
A 45-minute van ride provides a wonderful view of the island. Once at the park, a quick hike takes you through botanical gardens where hummingbirds and butterflies flutter around.
There are bridges to cross and old pirate caves to explore before heading to the monkey refuge. Here you can interact with Capuchin monkeys with a trained guide. It was quite a fun experience to interact with these mischievous creatures.
Afterward, you take a short van ride to a relaxing nearby sandy beach for a brief respite before returning to the ship. It was a great combination of activity and relaxation for the entire family.
Belize – Starfish Island
We chose this excursion wanting a quieter day after the Rio Secreto. Being able to see starfish right off the shoreline was a unique experience. There are also kayaks available to rent and lunch was included.
Other Tips For Cruising Families
- Fly into the departure port the night before your cruise. We have done it both ways and it is much more relaxing to be close to port the morning of the cruise, especially for larger families.
- Opt for an on-ship day instead of rushing to get off every port. There are no lines at the buffet, no one using the pools or slides. We do this once every cruise and find it quite relaxing.
- Do work in quiet time either in the room or at the various placed in the ship. The ship may seem busy during those sea days but there are quiet pockets rarely used. There are game rooms, mini golf, and the arcade all of which the kids will enjoy.
- Don’t forget that your all-inclusive food includes room service. Make it special for the kids (and easier for you) and order breakfast to the room a couple of times. It was a luxurious way to wake up with coffee for us and cereal for the kids delivered to the room.
Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the experience.