Cruising with Kids: The Perfect Family Vacation. Learn how to plan the best family vacation you’ve had in years!
Let’s face it moms, family vacations are not a vacation for us.
We start months in advance… Googling locations, researching deals, hotels, airfare, road stops, fun outings and entertainment, finding the best restaurants, planning the packing list, shopping for necessary footwear, swimsuits and so on.
We are worn out long before we ever step foot out of the house.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Then once we are on this getaway we’ve planned, we take charge: organizing, rallying the troops, watching the clock to be on time for scheduled events, mapping, navigating, playing referee when arguments pop up, keeping everyone fed and covered in sunscreen, making sure to leave hotels, restaurants and beaches with everything (and everyone) we brought with us, and enforcing bedtime so we can finally take a breath at the end of each day.
Whew! I need a glass of wine just thinking about it.
Sunset Over Saint Maarten
Moms generally need a trip away from the kids to experience a real getaway.
That’s why those surprise vacations for two, planned entirely by the hubby, are so sacred. (Major bonus points when you do this, men.)
Saint Kitts Beaches
I know I’m stereotyping here. There are definitely type-A dads out there that play the planner/ring leader roll on vacations. But let’s be honest, most of the time this task falls into mommy camp.
That’s why I’ve decided family cruises are the way to go.
Cruising with Kids: The Perfect Family Vacation
A couple years ago Lt. Dan and I were invited to go on our first cruise ever, aboard the newly renovated Carnival Sunshine. It had been a couple years since we had traveled without our kids, and we were excited to have a full week of alone time.
Our Carnival cruise totally and utterly exceeded our expectations. We were blown away by the quality of food, service, endless activities, cleanliness of the ship, night time entertainment for adults, quiet places for adults to hideaway, and the amazing islands in which we ported.
We had so much fun without the kids, of course, we decided we needed to bring them along the next time. (It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it parents?)
Passing Miami’s South Beach on the Carnival Vista
I discovered that cruises are the perfect family vacation because moms (ahem, parents) have very little to organize. Once you book your cruise, you just show up.
All the meals and activities are planned and ready for you.
Grand Turk Port
There are literally dozens of daily shows, games, activities, and parties in which the entire family can participate. There is all-inclusive food everywhere you look.
Guy Fieri’s Burger JointBreakfast Tacos from Carnival’s BlueIguana Cantina
Parents can enjoy entertainment with their children. Or they can lay by the pool and let the kids participate in activities.
They can even choose to send the children to the on-ship kids camp to partake in some much-needed adult time… Carnival Ocean Club is apparently kiddy heaven in which they never want to leave! So I’ve been told.
Carnival Vista Lido Deck Pool
Over spring break we took the kids on our second Carnival cruise, aboard the brand new Carnival Vista.
This dazzling ship is loaded from tip to tail (i.e. forward to aft) with every possible thing your family could ever hope for on a cruise ship.
The Vista Lobby Bar
There are: pools, outdoors sport courts, obstacle courses in the air, a waterpark, an arcade, a mini bowling alley, mini golf, a super cool SkyRide that let’s you bike through the air over the ship, a candy store, an IMAX theater, a simulator thrill theater, and kids clubs for every age group.
Outdoor Sports Area
For parents there is: an adults-only serenity deck, a casino, a day spa, shopping areas, tiki drink bars everywhere, a fully operating brewery, a sports bar, a piano bar, a dance club, a comedy club, and all sorts of night time entertainment.
Havana Bar Pool Area
Piano Bar 88
The Guava Margarita from BlueIguana Tequila Bar
Every day there are countless activities for the whole family including: group games and competitions, crafting, deck parties, live music, variety shows, game shows, karaoke, art exhibits, meet ups, classes, and the evening dive-in movies… Family movies played on an enormous screen over the lido deck pool.
On port days there are tons of options for excursions. You can book everything from water sports to zip lining.
Or just walk off the ship and bury your toes in the first sandy beach you find!
Day one, we boarded the Carnival Vista and immediately downloaded the Carnival Hub App.
It’s a resource that allows you to see all current activities, keep track of your on-board account, check deck maps, and even “text” the kids when you’re out of cell service.
Monkey Photo Opt in Saint Kitts
Since our kids are 12 and 14 we gave them a little bit of free-reign on the ship. We allowed them to explore public areas together, as long as they had a phone on them so we could keep tabs. That way, we could meet up for some family fun each day, then grab a tiki drink and lay by the pool while the kids headed off on scavenger hunts or to play mini golf.
The kids felt empowered and highly entertained, and we felt relaxed. That’s a win-win in my book.
Together we experienced nearly every activity the Vista has to offer.
Here Are The Kids’ Favorites:
Dive-In Movies – Lay out under the stars in a lounge chair and watch a family flick before bed. Don’t forget the popcorn!
Punchliner Comedy Club – The on-board comedy club offers PG shows early in the evenings. Once the kids discovered them, we all went every day before dinner. Carson even got pulled up on stage at one show!
Mini Golf – Yes, there are mini golf courses in every city. Yet the combination of playing on a rooftop surrounded by water, and the fact that you can play mini golf as many times as you want for free made this a favorite.
Carson played mini golf multiple times a day.
Animal Towel Folding – Our room attendant left fun towel animals on our beds each night. So when the kids found out they could take a class to learn how to make towel animals at home, they were all in!
Mega Deck Parties – Carnival hosted several themed parties on the lido deck throughout the week with music, lights, dancing, glow in the dark jewelry, and beach balls. The kids thought is was super cool to get up and wobble with the grown ups.
This was fun for the whole family!
IMAX Theater – On our first sea day we saw a national parks documentary that was spectacular. On the way back to Miami, Ava and I saw the new Beauty and the Beast in 3D. It was so much fun to watch while gently rocking on a cruise ship.
JiJi Asian Kitchen – We had amazing meals all over the Vista, from the lido deck marketplace, and Horizons dining hall, to Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint and Bar-B-Que Smokehouse. However, our favorite meal of the entire cruise was at Carnival’s asian bistro. Bold flavors, impeccable service, and killer dumplings!
Snorkeling Excursion – We boarded a small catamaran in Saint Kitts and snorkeled near a sunken ship. The kids thought it was our most magical port day.
P.S. We booked a few Carnival excursions on our port days. You can book shore excursions outside of Carnival. However with Carnival excursions, you have the guarantee that if something happens and your tour is delayed, the ship will wait for you.
We met so many great families on our cruise. Every time we talked with parents that had gone on multiple cruises lines, we asked them if they had a favorite.
I was happy to hear again and again that Carnival was at the top of the list, and that’s why they returned.
Some mentioned other cruise lines having unique features, yet the reoccurring point of view was that you get so much more bang for your buck on Carnival cruises.
More daily activities, more parties and night time entertainment, better shore excursions for the money, more dining options, better food quality for the money.
Just more, more, more!
Relaxing at the Havana Bar Pool
Another interesting comment was that on some cruise lines you have to book all major daily activities ahead of time, or there is no availability when you arrive. In my opinion, that sort of defeats the purpose of booking a cruise for an easy-prep vacation.
With Carnival you can make some reservations ahead if you want, or just fly by the seat of your pants each day.
Barbecue from Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse
Cuban Show in the Liquid Lounge
Carnival is known as being the “fun ship” particularly for young adults. It is also known for offering great short-notice deals and alumni specials. Carnival is even making a name for itself as the cruise line for foodies, with exceptional culinary creations!
Yet we were surprised to discover that Carnival provides the best overall vacation experience for the entire family, dollar for dollar.
Ray-Ban Sale in Saint Kitts
In fact, out of curiosity I looked at three other cruise lines offering similar cruises (Eastern Caribbean, 7-8 days) and found the cost was either significantly higher to be on a ship with comparable features to the Carnival Vista, or you were on a much older ship with less amenities for the same price.
Vista’s RedFrog Pub & Brewery
Booking a cruise with Carnival means you can either pocket the savings for retirement, or use it to go on extra shore excursions and take advantage of the specialty dining options on the Vista!
“Pigeon Park” AKA Parque Las Palomas in Old San Juan
So Here Is Our Cruise Prep Short List For Parents…
1. Go to Carnival.com and pick a cruise.
Right now Carnival Vista and Sunshine have the most dining option upgrades. Carnival Vista, Sunshine, Magic, and Breeze include the most activities. Yet there are tons of amazing ships in the fleet sailing all over the world. Find daily deals here. (The newest ship Carnival Horizon will set sail in 2018!)
Habitual planners can prebook speciality events, unique dining experiences, and shore excursions online to secure a spot for their own peace of mind… Or just wing it when you get on board like we do. *wink*
2. Make sure each person in your family has a passport.
In most cases you are stopping in other countries when you port. Even if you decide not to get off the ship, passports are necessary.
Cracked Conch in Grand Turk
Beach Walk in Saint Maarten
3. Pack a swimsuit, a few pairs of shorts, sunscreen, and a toothbrush.
Seriously, pack light. Ship staterooms are smaller than hotel rooms. If you are sailing somewhere tropical, you’ll be in your swimsuit most of the time anyway. There is no need to drag a huge suitcase onto the ship.
I actually gave my kids a checklist this year and let them pack themselves. Less work for mommy, plus a learning opportunity for the kids. Another win-win.
P.S. If you forget something, you can buy it on the ship.
P.P.S. If you spill tiki drinks all over your clothes, Carnival offers an on-board laundry service.
4. Relax and know your vacation will be more restful than any other trip you’ve ever planned!
Our Carnival cruise with truly the easiest family vacation ever. We will definitely do it again.
Check out our foodie focused cruise on the Carnival Sunshine.
Carnival Vista From the Fort in Old San Juan
Do you have tips for parents planning a cruise?
Please leave them in the comments below!
Disclosure: Carnival hosted our family on the Vista. All opinions are entirely our own.