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Traveling with kids – tips and inside cruise info

Last month, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to set sail on the Disney Dream for a few days. I had never been on a cruise before and I’ve only traveled with my kiddos on a plane once, so I was a bit nervous about how this would all play out. We’ve been saving for years for a trip like this, so there was a lot riding on it. No pressure.

Lucky for me, I’m a planner and a Pinner. So, about a week before we left, I started scouring the interweb for packing tips and tricks, things for the kids to do on the plane, and inside cruise info. Here’s what we did…

PACKING

  • I have seen the idea of putting outfits in individual ziplock bags so your child has one outfit s/he can pick out per day. But, since I was unsure of what the weather would be like, I instead bought each child one color of those cheap nylon laundry bags at the Dollar Store. Each kiddo had one bag of undies/socks, tees/tops, and then one bag of bottoms. It was really nice because when we got to our cabin, I just assigned each kiddo a drawer and tossed their bags into it.
  • To help save space and to make packing up to come back home easier, everyone was instructed to put used undies/socks into a grocery bag I had set out, but then roll up used shirts/pants and put those back into the suitcase each night. It really did help make the packing up quick and organized.
  • Best idea ever: bring an over the door shoe organizer in your suitcase. It takes up zero space and it was absolutely perfect for keeping things like sunscreen, flip flops, swimmies, toiletries, hair bows, etc. accessible, organized, and off the small counters.
  • Speaking of organizing, glad I brought this little puppy to help us hang our swimsuits to dry. I usually keep it in my laundry room at home, but from now on, this is going with us every time we go on vacation where there’s swimming.
  • Baby powder is PERFECT for getting sand off of feet.
  • One thing I probably would have left at home was the seasick patch. I was terrified of getting seasick, but I should have used Dramamine or something like that. One of the side effects of the patch is dry mouth and they weren’t kidding! It was like I’d eaten sawdust, people, and I kept drinking water to try and get rid of it. The only that did was make me have to go to the bathroom and I spent way too much time pulling a wet swimsuit off and on to use the restroom ;-).

TRAVEL BAGS

Here’s the fun part! The night before we flew out, we gave each child their own little back pack filled with wrapped presents and their own travel journal (just a cheap little notebook). Inside the travel journal was a checklist that would walk them through the entire trip (so we didn’t have to answer “how much longer?”–they just could follow their checklist to see what was next). Okay. I’m going to do something right here that I normally don’t do. I’m going to pat myself on the back. I.am.a.genius. I had NO idea how well that checklist would work, but work it did. The kids were SO excited to look in their little books to see what was next. They were so proud each time they could check off an event.

Want to DOWNLOAD the checklist?

You’ll see on there that every so often, the kids would “get a treat.” This is where the wrapped packages come into play. Basically, they were little activities to keep the kiddos occupied during the trip. I saw something like this in my online research but for the life of me, I can’t find the link again :-(. It worked out to be a present every hour or so of travel. (By the way, preparing for the trip home is just as important as killing time going). Here’s what each of those packages contained:

  • Going 1 – Pack of gum for takeoff and just a couple of prompt questions for their travel journals (questions are listed in the download above ;-).
  • Going 2 – Stickers and things to help them decorate their journals.
  • Going 3 – Small puzzle (should have gone smaller though…5×7 or maybe 8×10 would have worked on the plane trays…it was just tough for the kids to spread out the pieces to work).
  • Going 4 – Playdough (can’t even tell you how awesome this was for the plane!) and a little treat. Note: a reader mentioned that the Playdough might get taken by the TSA. These were the super small containers and we didn’t have any problems, but I did want to mention that depending on the agent, you may not be able to take it on the plane.
  • Home 1 – Mileage calculation sheet: perfect for the long layover we had on the way home. They got to map everything out on Google Maps and they got a kick out of seeing how many miles we actually traveled.
  • Home 2 – M&M game (this is an adaptation from that link I can’t find :-(); my version is included in the download, but basically, you give them a small bag of M&M’s and before they open it, they have to make a few guesses about how many are inside. Then once they open it, they count up the number of reds, etc. They were really into this!
  • Home 2b – the M&M game doubled as tokens for the Bingo game I printed out.
  • Home 3 – Sky Mall Game – This was HILARIOUS! We let each child “shop” for everyone in our family in the Sky Mall. I had a blast looking at all the things they picked out (my personal favorite was a hair growth machine my youngest selected for her daddy ;-).
  • Home 4 – They re-answered the set of questions asked before the left on the trip.
  • Extras: Each kiddo also got some of those watercolor pages where the paint is actually on the page + q-tips to use as paint brushes. I also included a set of popsicle sticks w/ velcro dots attached–the kiddos actually quite enjoyed this new construction medium.

OTHER STUFF (mostly cruise-specific)

  • My husband and I secretly purchased a small gift to commemorate the trip for each child. We gave it to them the night we came back home. It was nice to have one more small surprise for them after the excitement from the trip was over.
  • The Disney Cruise was well worth every penny. There are some things I would have done differently, but it’s really geared towards children…of all ages!
  • If you have to fly to board the cruise, book your own flights (cheaper) and fly in the day before. You can board the boat early the next day and enjoy some time there before setting sail.
  • Be prepared that you have to go through a safety drill before you set sail. It’s long. It’s hot. It’s boring. It’s not fun to wait for people to get there, so be on time for it, too.
  • I would highly recommend that you get hold of a Personal Navigator (show/trip schedule) from someone who went on the cruise shortly before you did. You can search online for it. Otherwise, it can be VERY overwhelming trying to figure out how to read the darned thing when you’re actually on the ship.
  • Do NOT miss the shows! I wasn’t expecting much, honestly, and I have pretty high standards. The shows were absolutely wonderful!
  • If possible, try to book a cabin close to an elevator. Learned this the hard way.
  • I heard that if your child looses a tooth onboard, tell a Crew Member. I think they do something special for them ;-).
  • You have the same waiter/waitresses for all of your dinners on board. Get to know them!
  • Glad I decided to take my good camera. Brought the 35mm and the 50. I used both. But I probably snapped more pics w/ my iphone because it was always with me.

  • The line for the Aqua Duck (water coaster onboard the ship) can get ridiculous. The absolute best time to try to ride it is right when it opens in the morning on the days when everyone is leaving for Nassau or Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island). Seriously, there is no line at this time.
  • We skipped Nassau altogether and stayed on the boat. SCORE! It was great and there were no lines for anything.
  • People go ALL OUT for the Pirate Deck Party. Fortunately, I had some black eyeliner to help draw beards on the boys, but wow, I was totally under prepared for this thing. People are in full on costume and it’s great. Do not miss the Pirate Deck Party.
  • Also, do NOT miss the family dance party held in one of the adult night clubs one night. They had a DJ and a light up stage and fog and my.kids.LOVED.it.

  • The lines for the character greetings can get pretty long. It goes at a good pace, but just be prepared to have to wait or kill time with the kiddos.
  • Hair braiding. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but her hair was all broken after we took the braids out. Big mistake that’s going to take a while to grow out ;-(

I was cruising a little message board and found this little quote that I kept tucked away on my phone throughout the trip:

Sigh. How true is that? It’s my new mantra whenever I’m going somewhere with the kids and start to get frustrated with the lines, traffic, heat, $, kids getting fussy, etc. It’s a good one.

And with that, I’ll leave you to get back to your adventures with your own families. If you’re traveling, have safe and happy travels. If you’re having a stay-cation, maybe you can use some of these ideas, too! Happy summer!!

About Michele


Michele is a former marketing guru turned child and family photographer in Austin, TX. She is surrounded by three energetic kids at home and a husband who works tirelessly to keep them all educated and fed. Much like her life, Michele's work is chameleon-like... always changing with her mood and inspiration. Her mind is constantly abuzz with new concepts, but thankfully, she is regularly reminded by her kids to slow down and enjoy life's simplest moments. Michele is the owner and photographer of Pinkle Toes Photography and she also provides resources and templates for photographers all over the world via Pinkle Toes 4 Photographers.

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  • http://www.tips2cruise.com Luis Santana

    These are some great tips, please check out my blog at http://tips2cruise.com for tips on cruising with toddlers.

  • Katie

    We are going on a cruise to the Bahamas in November and to Disney in May… I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all of your ideas, especially the checklist idea! I can’t wait to use it with my girls! Thanks so much for the great idea!!!! :)

  • Rebecca

    Thank you so much for the GREAT travel with kids ideas. I wish I had come across this before we flew them 15 hours across the ocean to South Africa!! One idea that I did find before we took that trip was to have the kids take photos along the way and write about what they are seeing in their journals on just the lower half of the page. When we got back, we printed the photos they took and had an instant scrapbook for them to keep.

  • Lola

    Loved all of your tips. Most definitely will be using your downloadable checklist. Thank you!

  • Alicia

    Wow – REALLY great ideas here! I have been researching cruising-with-kids tips for a while now as I have never even been on a cruise myself. I was just about to give up when I found your article! Almost everything else I found was pretty no-brainer. The only other good idea I have heard so far was from a neighbor: stick something above your room door (out in the hall). If your kids are old enough to explore a bit on their own, this helps them spot the room from a distance when they return, and confirm it’s the right one if they’re not positive they remember the room number correctly.

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    Wonderful ideas!!! Thank you, Michele, so much!

  • http://glimmersnaps.blogspot.com/ Sarah

    This is great! I love all the individual bags. Post-it notes are also good for the plane.

    I actually just did a post this week about flying with an infant (in your lap).

    Check it out if you’re traveling with the smaller set:
    http://glimmersnaps.blogspot.com/2012/06/babies-on-plane.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/dale.taylor.90857 Dale Taylor

    How wonderful! We did a Disney cruise in January and your post brings back the most beautiful memories for me. It is such a brilliant way to holiday with kids, and i love all your tips for organising. We cannot wait to save up for another one in a few years!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ITGCGOUASMPR7MIPDFON3EB7X4 Alyssa

    We are cruising in Jan on Disney out of Galveston, can’t wait! 4 kids and hubby and grandma- thanks for the tips!!

  • Theadora10

    Fabulous post , Michele! We are going on a cruise (not Disney), but these tips are super helpful. I have a 14 & 7 yo. My mind is already spinning about some fun things to pick for them. We do not have to fly because we live in Ft. Lauderdale, so our “trip” to the port is 20 minutes. However, I remember “pre-kids” how long those safety drills can be….ugh! So, maybe that will be a big treat time. Lol Thanks again for your awesome post.

  • vs

    **Love** these ideas!!! Thanks so much for sharing the ideas and download :) We are headed out this summer on a loonnnggg plane trip followed by much driving; these ideas will definitely be adapted to our trip.
    Thanks again!!!