If the cruise charges for kids -- which most of them do -- expect to pay a fare for your toddler to come aboard your cruise. Unlike airlines who may allow a toddler under 2 years old to fly for free on your lap, don't assume this is the case with a cruise ship. While some cruise lines have allowed children under 2 years of age to cruise for mere port charges and taxes, this is rarely the case. Always check with the specific cruise line in advance if this is an issue and compare policies to see which one offers your family the best deal.
Kids Cruise Free
While it may not be targeted specifically at toddlers, some cruises do offer "kids cruise free" promotions that include toddlers. In 2013, MSC Cruises boasted that kids 11 and younger always sail free on their cruises; kids 12-17 receive a reduced fare. Norwegian Cruise Lines advertised that two children aged 17 or younger could cruise free when sharing a cabin with their parents on select fall cruises in 2013. These promotions can act as an affordable incentive to take your whole family on a cruise.
Ask about the discounts your cruise line offers. They might not offer free cruises for kids, but they might offer significant discounts for the third passenger or more in your group. In 2013, Norwegian Cruise Lines offered much lower rates for the third to eighth guest, making the family experience more affordable. The best part about this kind of discount is that it is not limited to a certain age group and your older children may benefit too.
Bang for Your Buck
Expect to get a lot for what you pay. Cruises are generally all-inclusive, so you can expect your toddler's food and lodging to be covered. You might be surprised that many cruises include much more, including entertainment and day programs designed with toddlers in mind. Complimentary programming is available as young as 2 years old on Carnival Cruise Lines. On most cruises, your toddler needs to be 3 years old to participate. Most cruise lines also offer babysitting or nurseries, allowing you to relax no matter how fussy your toddler is feeling.
The Disney Dream and Fantasy
A water slide experience awaits passengers aboard Disney's two flagships, the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy. The ride on the AquaDuck is like being at a water park on the high seas. The flume, constructed of clear acrylic, allows guests to see the both ship and sea during the ride. This water coaster is only for riders who are at least 42 inches tall.
The Disney Magic
Following the popularity of the AquaDuck on her sister ships, The Disney Dream and Fantasy, the Disney Magic's refurbished pool deck boasts the AquaDunk. The AquaDunk is billed as a "thrill slide" for cruisers who don't just want to lounge at the pool. Riders climb to the top of the ship's funnel and are dropped 40 feet, straight down and then over the side of the ship. You'll land safely on deck at the conclusion of your thrill ride at sea.
Carnival Cruise Lines offers an entire water park-at-sea experience for thrill-seeking cruisers. Brightly colored, twisting and turning slides cover the deck. Family members can race side-by-side on the Speedway Splash. Junior sailors have pint-size slides designed just for them, so the whole family can join in on the fun.
The Norwegian Epic: Aqua Park
In 2013, Norwegian Cruise Lines unveiled its newest ship, the Epic, complete with multi-deck water slides and tornado-twister slides. The main attraction is the Epic Plunge featuring an open air funnel. For younger cruisers, the Aqua Park Kid's Pool includes a kid-size sea shell slide. And when the sun sets, the cosmic lights come out, making this a water park at sea a neon-soaked visual experience.
Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas
Though more understated, the pool areas of Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas offers sunbathers and swimmers plenty to enjoy while at sea. The main pools, including the adults-only solarium pool on this Radiance Class vessel, are on Deck 10. To enjoy the onboard water slides, head to Adventure Beach on Deck 12. One of the features of this slide is that multiple riders can ride at the same time without a tube, so parents standing on deck can snap a photo of the kids riding the slide together.