Family Cruise: How to Make it Work


We just returned from an amazing family cruise. I have to admit, a year ago, I never would have been on a cruise (severe motion sickness and claustrophobia were reasons), but you guys, I WANT TO GO BACK! Our family had so much fun! A family cruise vacation is a great option because so much is included; your room, food, entertainment, childcare and more. Carnival provided us with one of their family cruise vacation packages and some extras and we paid for many as well. It was amazing!

Our knowledge was very limited for a family cruise. Mr. Serious had been on one when he was much younger, and I had never been. So we had no idea of what to expect with the girls and cruising. After taking our cruise partnering with Carnival, I thought I would share the things that we learned about our cruise that would work for a cruise for a family of 4, 6, 8 or even more. We figured out what you should know and do before cruising, the right amount of “stuff” to bring, how to navigate child care options (Camp Ocean), the best family activities on the ship, and what you should splurge on during a family cruise.

Since I’ve got a lot going on here, you can jump down to a couple different sections:


Things you should know when getting ready for your family cruiseTips for Cruising with Kids on CarnivalWhat to splurge on during a family cruise


Things you should know when getting ready for your family cruise

FAMILY CRUISE Things you should know when getting ready for your cruise

1. You don’t need a passport, but that makes it easier for document checking. Once our passports were checked before boarding, they weren’t needed again. 

2. You don’t need to bring towels from home. In your cabin, you will find a set of towels (one per person) for use at the pool and excursions which you can trade out on the pool deck as needed. The towels are different from your shower towels. On the last day, you just leave them in your room.

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3. Bring your own first aid kit. Medical supplies are expensive onboard. We brought a kit with everything I could think we needed and only ended up thankfully using headache medicine one day.

4. Get a prescription for motion sickness patches if you are worried you will have issues. I was worried. I get motion sickness in the car. I could feel the motion of the boat rocking, but never felt gross or that I might be sick.

5. Try to find pictures of your cabin so you know if you need space saving items. This is a room for three with a full balcony. The two beds next to each other also have the option to be a king-sized bed. And The other bed can be a couch. What you can’t see is that there is a counter on the other wall with outlets and mirrors. (Pro tip: bring an extension cord if you have multiple devices to charge in the room.)

Family Cruise: Carnival Cruise Magic Balcony Room

It was suggested to bring a over the door shoe holder for toiletries, etc. I brought one and never needed it. Maybe with more people in a cabin or older children it might have helped, but we didn’t find we needed it.

Family Cruise: Carnival Cruise Magic Balcony Room Bathroom

There were plenty of shelves on the bathroom counters, too. 

Family Cruise: Carnival Cruise Magic Balcony Room Bathroom

6. The priority boarding is kind of amazing and totally a must. Especially with kids. The lines outside and inside were so much faster and made it a lot less hectic getting everybody onboard the ship.

Family Cruise | Priority Boarding

7. Plan to eat lunch onboard the ship before departure. We walked on the the ship and went straight to the buffet. It turned out our rooms were ready, but we went straight for lunch.

8. If you want to go straight to the pool, pack a carry-on bag, or wear your swimsuits on board so you can hop right in. We were too hungry to worry about swimming, but there were people ready to go!

9. You have options for debarkation (that’s getting off of the ship when you arrive back at port).  You can do priority debarkation (for an extra fee), by zones or take your time and hang out before leaving the ship.  We chose the “priority” method, which was a little faster, but for those who have patience you’re probably be fine not paying extra.

10. Fill out your kid camp forms online ahead of time. This will save you a lot of time the first day your kids go to the camps. Check to see if there are additional forms for allergies or medical conditions and bring those as well.

11. Print out your boarding passes and luggage tags before leaving home. I’m honestly not sure what you do if you don’t have them printed out, but it seemed to make things go much smoother for us. They grabbed our bags at a spot where you park temporarily to unload and our bags were at our cabin after lunch. 

These were the big things that I was asking all of my friends about that had previously cruised, so I thought I would put them all in one place. I know that each person is different and these might not be tips for you, or I might have left off something you think is important, if I have, leave it in the comments and I’ll make an update!


Things you should know when getting ready for your family cruiseTips for Cruising with Kids on CarnivalWhat to splurge on during a family cruise


Tips for Cruising with Kids on Carnival

FAMILY CRUISE-tips for cruising with kids

What to Bring When Cruising with Babies/Kids on Carnival

With four kids, we have gotten pretty good at packing. The only reason we had a fifth suitcase was because we had to bring diapers and wipes (we usually buy them at our destination if we aren’t traveling with cloth). Plus, on a cruise, you either won’t be able to purchase something you need or it will be more expensive than you are used to spending.

family cruises | cruise for family of 4, or 6.jpg

Family Cruise | JuJuBe BFF

Looking for ways to shop your own closet and what to pack for the adults for a cruise, check out Mommy Talk Show’s post How to Shop Your Closet Before Your Next Cruise.

Take Advantage of Camp Ocean

Camp Ocean | Family Cruise Carnival

Register your children online for Camp Ocean when you purchase your all-inclusive family cruise, because Camp Ocean is included. When you do it online, you fill everything out including parent info and allergies saving you time when you get onboard.

Camp Ocean is not available for children under the age of 2.

Family Cruise | Camp Ocean Penguins

{Camp Ocean: Penguin room}

Penguins is for ages 2-5.

They do not have to be potty trained. B did a ton of crafts and activities which included: Playing Wii Games, Circus, Parachute Games, Play-doh Fun, Seuss at Sea, Seuss Story Time, Totally Trains, Creepy Crawly Bugs and More.

Family Cruise | Camp Ocean Sting Rays

{Camp Ocean: Sting Ray room stacking competition}

Sting Rays is for ages 6-8.

N was our Sting Ray. She played basketball in the sports cage, created paper airplanes, did speed cup stacking, paper plate crafts, played elephant soccer, ocean bingo, created spin art and more.

Family Cruise | Camp Ocean Sharks

{Camp Ocean: Shark room with the magician}

Sharks is for ages 9-11.

Sharks, with parental permission are able to sign themselves in and out of camp. They must be able to sign out for scavenger hunts, which our 9 year old loved doing. Admittedly, we were nervous about allowing her to sign out, but we let her test it out. She also went and grabbed soft serve and signed herself out to get a different dinner than the one offered during camp. In addition to scavenger hunts, our oldest also did paper plane competitions and speed stacking, had special movie nights, played bingo, competed in giant Jenga and more.

Grab a camp schedule on the first day.

The schedule has everything for the entire week for each of the camp ages. I was worried it was going to be just a free-for-all. But it’s very structured with activities lasting 30 minutes to an hour and being scheduled very well to keep them engaged, crafting and having fun.

On excursion days, Camp Ocean has longer hours. In fact, on those days, they will take your children to lunch and/or dinner on the Lido Deck. When your family cruises at sea, the camp is a little more limited and you have to come and get your children from camp for mealtimes, but they can typically go right back.

Everyday, the camp was open until 10pm, but opening times varied by the day’s port times and activities.

Camp Ocean Night Life

{Camp Ocean at night}

From 10:00pm-1:00am, you can take advantage of Night Owls for children ages 0-11 at a rate of $6.75/hour/child plus 15% gratuity per child. We were too tired everyday to take advantage of this, but I noticed at pickup, there were mobile cribs set up and children with pillows and blankets sleeping.

Family Activities

In addition to camps and excursions, there are a lot of family activities included in a family cruise package. We enjoyed activities on the ship including:

Family Cruise Seuss-A-Palooza

{Seuss-A-Palooza Story Time}

  • ping pong
  • miniature golf
  • Seuss-A-Palooza Story Time
  • shuffleboard
  • foosball, cards
  • dancing on the pool deck with a DJ
  • walking around the deck of the boat
  • swimming
  • movie nights on the pool deck
  • trivia
  • bingo
  • playing in the Water Works area
  • and more

Family Cruise | Water Works

{WaterWorks Water Play Area}

With so much to do onboard a cruise ship, you can decide how involved and rigorous your actives are. There are so many simple things that kids love (E still talks about the slides every day and B just talks about walking around on the boat and the elevator). There is definitely something to do at pretty much all times that will make any person happy.

Check out this video recap of all of the fun things we were able to do on one of the best cruises for the family (and this is just when we remembered to stop and take a picture!)

Things you should know when getting ready for your family cruise | Tips for Cruising with Kids on Carnival | What to splurge on during a family cruise

What to splurge on during a family cruise

what to splurge on during a family cruise

So many things were included in our family cruising, like ice cream and dessert. Get it every day. Yep. Every day. And, get some of the ice cream or pizza that is available 24/7. Because that is one of the kid-friendly cruise deals.

family cruise | family cruse always get dessert

And WaterWorks (slides, water and more slides) are included in Carnival’s family cruise deals. When I asked our oldest three girls (9, 7 and 4) what their favorite part of our family cruise package was, they said the slides. When I asked their second favorite, they said the ice cream!

family cruses slides

In addition to dinner entertainment, shows for kids and movies, you can’t discount the joy of the towel animals on the beds. The girls loved these and were excited to see what was on their bed every night!

family cruise towel animals

Family cruise vacations make up a great time on their own. There are however some things that we splurged on and spent more on that we think are definitely worth it.

What to splurge on during a family cruise


You are going to all of these beautiful and amazing ports. We were very glad that we splurged on excursions to learn about history, see ancient forts and more. Some of the excursions only require a walk to see the most amazing of views from a ride up the top of a mountain. Read about our trip at St. Thomas here

carnival cruise exursion

{St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands | Paradise Point Skyride}

You can also get off in the ports and shop and walk around or grab a taxi, but we felt more comfortable paying for guided and planned tours so we got back in time to board the ship and also had everything mapped out for us.

family cruise | excursion

{Castile San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico}

2. Bear Cuddly

We aren’t big on souvenirs. We have purchased them many times other places and the kids just end up losing them or not really caring. But, Bear Cuddly is totally a win. It’s inside Camp Ocean and there are various times throughout the cruise family members can go down to Camp Ocean and work together to create their own unicorn, polar bear, cat, penguin or more. The kids get to stuff them, put in special shapes and memorabilia, close them up and dress them. Then the kids get to name them and have their own birth certificate for when and where they were born. This is a special souvenir they created and more fun for them then anything we could have purchased randomly.

family cruise | bear cuddly

3. Drinks

Yes, they are costly, but if you check the schedule and signs, every day, there is a drink special. We wanted to be able to enjoy an adult beverage on occasion, so we did.

family cruises | carnival cruise drinks

4. Prime Steakhouse

On your cruise with family, you must take advantage of Camp Ocean for the kids and have the adults go to the Prime Steakhouse. There is an up-charge over the regular cost of dinner and it is worth every.single.penny. The restaurant is super quiet, the service is very custom and the steak is AH.MAY.ZING. Yes, you must say it just like that. The steaks melt in your mouth, the salad dressing is homemade and the appetizers are fabulous. (Try, try, try to resist the bread and save all of your room for the steak!)

family cruise | steakhouse

5. Night Owls

After Camp Ocean hours (10pm), for kids 0-11, you can pay extra for a sitter for your children. You can stay late at dinner, head to a bar, check out the comedy clubs or try your luck at the casino. Having a night out during an all inclusive family cruise is definitely a splurge item.

6. Cherry on Top

Sure, there is 24/7 ice cream. But, what about the person with the sweet tooth? One day, we all went into the Cherry on Top candy shop and all got a small bag of our own favorite candy from the bins. It didn’t cost much and everybody had their own special treat!

7. Cloud 9 Spa

Vacation equals spa and ultimate relaxation for me. While it’s still a splurge, on days the cruise ship is in port, there are cruise family deals to be had in the spa. Every day a schedule is placed in your cabin with the deals and specials the spa is running.

8. Wine at dinner

We enjoy a nice glass of wine at dinner. Each night there is a special Maitre D’ Wine Selection you can choose from for a special price. If you want, you can take the rest of the bottle to your room to enjoy later on your balcony! (Pro tip: Each adult can bring one 750mL bottle of wine or champagne in their carry on with a total of two per cabin to drink in your room, or you can pay a $15 uncorking fee to drink at dinner.)

family cruise | wine at dinner

9. Room Service

Say you just want to relax in your room for a meal or the kids are just pooped. Grab room service. Many of the meal options themselves are included, and you will just pay a gratuity/service fee to have it delivered. It’s totally worth it and can change the mood of your cruise.

family cruise | room service

10. Laundry Service

Cruise cabins don’t have a ton of room so packing requires you to be very minimalistic. If you get a stain on your formal dining clothes and planned to wear them again, the laundry service is very affordable. Or, if you don’t want to go home with a ton of dirty clothes, you can have them laundered before you head back to your port of call and go home with freshly cleaned clothes and no burden of loads of laundry upon your return.

11. Dr. Seuss Breakfast

On the last full day at sea, on many of the Carnival ships offering family cruise vacations, they offer the Dr. Seuss Breakfast in two sittings. For a small fee ($5/person), you can have a special breakfast with Dr. Seuss’ favorite friends and a silly, special menu with green eggs and ham, a pancake stack like the Cat in the Hat’s hat and more. I DO Like Green Eggs and Ham is a great post by Michelle with many more pictures of menu choices and more.

family cruise | dr. seuss breakfast

The breakfast is entertaining and tasty and a great way to round out one of the best vacation cruises for families with great photo opportunities and musical fun.

family cruise | dr. seuss breakfast

Family cruises are a great way to see many amazing places in a short amount of time and for a great deal! Carnival offers some of the best, cheap, kid-friendly cruises with some splurges that make it truly custom for adults and family alike.

Have you cruised before? What is your favorite cruising splurge? What are your best tips for cruising with kids? Or what other questions do you have?

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  1. Becky Kinard says:

    My family and I have never been on a cruise but I really want to. You gave some really good tips on how to be better prepared. This will be helpful. Thank you!

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