On a cruise, you'll never have to worry about getting car seats into a rental car or scheduling entertainment for the whole family... but then again, there's always a risk someone will get bored. Some families might be happiest at the beach or on a ski hill, but for others, a cruise is the perfect, unforgettable, never-want-it-to-end vacation.
On a family-friendly cruise ship, kids of all ages will have a host of activities to choose from, and some of them don't have to involve you. For instance, Disney cruise ships (disneycruise.disney.go.com) offer youth clubs targeted to different age groups, as well as pools, arcades and stage shows based on Disney movies. Counselors care for younger kids while adults get time to nap or lounge in the sun. Just when everyone starts feeling stir-crazy, the ship docks and you can explore a Caribbean beach or European city. On a cruise, you'll never have to worry about keeping a picky eater happy, since buffets and restaurant options abound, and you'll only need to unpack once. And while booking a cruise for the whole family is a pricey endeavor, at least you'll know up front what the trip will cost -- though tips and souvenirs will cost you too.
What seems exciting on day one might be old news to active kids by day three. If your kids get bored easily, you might find yourself in a panic on a cruise ship as you try to keep them occupied. Since you're isolated on a ship, you'll be limited to the supplies you brought on board and the overpriced items in the ship's gift shops. So if you forget a child's must-have toy or run out of diapers early, you'll be stuck either going without or shelling out a ton of cash for replacements. The average cruiser also has to make do with tight accommodations. A small cabin feels even smaller when someone's having a tantrum and toys are spread everywhere, and when the kids go to bed, you'll be stuck sitting in the dark -- unless you're willing to pay for a suite, which adds hundreds to your cost.
Choosing a Cruise
If your kids love adventure but don't mind repeating some activities over and over, a cruise might be perfect for you. Next task: choosing the right cruise line. While Disney is a dream for younger kids, with an older brood you might consider a line like Royal Caribbean (royalcaribbean.com) or Carnival (carnival.com). Pick a ship that allows kids to try activities like rock climbing, miniature golf and karaoke. If you're traveling with little ones who can't stay in the room by themselves, pick a ship that offers experienced baby-sitters who will, for a fee, come to your cabin to entertain the children while you enjoy the nightlife.
Making a Cruise Work
Space is tight in a cruise ship cabin, but making room for some essentials is the key to a successful trip. Talk to your pediatrician before the trip about motion sickness solutions for kids. Bring disinfecting wipes to clean hard surfaces in your cabin and pack hand sanitizer for when kids aren't close to a hand-washing station, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both cleaning agents can help protect your kids from norovirus, a highly contagious virus that thrives on cruise ships. Bring slip-proof shoes for walking on wet decks, plenty of sunscreen and a few new travel-sized board games, coloring books and small toys to present to your kids on board. And since ships are like labyrinths, consider buying a child locator device. Attach a small device to your child's clothing and keep the locator with you in case he gets lost in a crowd.