When we first found out we were pregnant, we were in the midst of planning a vacation…to Egypt. Needless to say, that didn’t happen; at the time, we thought we wouldn’t have another vacation until Matty was a couple of years old. After a particularly stressful week at work, Eric demanded a vacation, so we started narrowing our options of where we could go and what we could do with a 6 month old. We ultimately decided on a cruise, because let’s face it, not only are they fantastic, but it was the only way I was going to get taken care of, too (and Mommy deserves a vacation too, no?). I started doing some research, reading blogs, and scouring forums trying to find some tips for traveling with a baby, but surprisingly I didn’t come across much and all of the tips were strewn across different sites. So in an effort to help other exhausted, sleep-deprived, over-worked Mammas with a bad case of mommy-brain, I’ll dispense my findings. Plus, we managed to pack everything for 11 days in two suitcases, 1 diaper bag, a camera bag, and carried an umbrella stroller; we also got numerous compliments about how little we traveled with and how much we seemed to “have it all together”…hahahahaha.
- Many sites recommended figuring out how many diapers, wipes, food, etc. you’ll need, then taking 30% more. Don’t do it. Sure take a few extras, or make sure to have plenty if your baby drinks special formula, but don’t go overboard. Your kid won’t starve. You will be able to find diapers somewhere. Paper towels work as wipes in a pinch. Everything that goes in the suitcase or carry-on weighs something, and all those little somethings add up to a heavy mess. I took probably only 10% more than I thought I needed and I packed too much; 2 unopened pack of wipes and 1 pack of diapers that only had 2-3 taken out, as well as unworn outfits. It would have been nice to not have two 50 lb. suitcases to lug around, or extra junk to organize in a small cruise cabin.
- This is a controversial tip, but we didn’t take a carseat. And maybe I’m a horrible, no-good, craptastic Mother, but I wasn’t worried about it either. There was no way I was lugging a car seat through the airport, onto a cruiseship, and on and off the ship for each excursion–making other travelers wait while I hooked it up, and then force them to listen to my kid cry for 30 minutes because he wants out, then lug it around on excursions since the bus didn’t always stay and I’d be worried about losing it otherwise. Whew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Most buses didn’t have seat belts anyway. I checked. And since Matty was free on excursions and transfers, he technically didn’t have a seat to put a carseat in. Do what feels right to you, don’t worry about your decision, and screw anyone who challenges your parenting choices. MMMkay?
- Over-packing is true for excursions/days out, too. We took Matty’s diaper bag with a few diapers, a change or clothes, towels, sunscreen, snacks, and slid our cameras down in there. I don’t think we even needed the clothing change. We didn’t take the stroller at all. Our bag was pretty light-weight, which is nice when you have a 24 lb. 6 month old to lug around. Another couple we befriended had a 6 year old and 10 year old and they had 3 bags and a camera bag on their excursion. They were shocked we had so little and I’m still trying to figure out why they had so much!
Pack Only Versatile Items
- For formal nights on the ship, I usually take my go-to lbd and a new colorful fancy-schmancy dress. That also means I take two pairs of formal shoes. I was sure to take two dresses that could both be worn with black shoes.
- Eric usually packs two suits, two different dress shirts, and matching accessories. He took one black suit, one white shirt (cause seriously, how dirty can it really get in two hours?), and just different ties to switch things up each night.
- Matty’s blow-up bathtub, which took minimal space in the suitcase, was also a baby pool. We took it up on deck and filled it up in the showers next to the pools and dump it back down the shower when finished. It was such a hit that other little kiddos would come over to play with him.
- Two beach towels in the carry-on were also used as blankets for the plane ride and a play mat for dirty airport floors (and later in the cabin). I also used it as a nursing cover. Plus, umm…they were beach towels.
- We all used the same Babyganics sunscreen. I usually use a separate face and body sunscreen, plus Eric likes his own special brand. Forget that. One. And it worked great even on my acne prone skin.
- A Kindle is a true life-saver—I can usually go through 3-4 books on vacation, which are heavy and take up a ton of room. I downloaded a few before I left, as well as electronic files of Matty’s favorite lullaby CD, and a few apps for Matty (and Eric…) if he got restless on the plane (a piano app and a color-exploding dot app were both free). In addition, we didn’t need a laptop since the Kindle gets wireless at the airport.
Leave the Toys
- Thankfully, I didn’t try to pack too many toys to start with: a few rubber duckies/turtle/crab toys, some learning links, and an elephant teether. Eric grabbed Matty’s favorite stuffed animal at the last minute, and I should have put my foot down and said “no” (though it did make a great pillow for one leg of the flight). Aside from the rubber animal friends, we didn’t need the rest. He played with the latch on the tray table during the flight. He played with the water bottle on the bus ride to excursions. And pulling up on the suitcase in the cabin was the most fun he’s ever had.
- Royal Caribbean has a Royal Babies program—besides classes and games, they also have a free-play time and a toy lending program for kids. Parents can sign toys out and take them back to the cabin, so I knew we didn’t need much (and we didn’t actually check any toys out for the room either).
- John and Sherry over at YHL wrote that when renting a condo in Hawaii they mentioned that they had a kid and the owners left toys for her. We’ve stayed at a few cabins in Gatlinburg that housed toys and games for kids, too, so there’s probably lots to do already wherever you’re going.
- Another good idea I came across for those not going on cruise is to go the Dollar Store once you get the location and buy a sand bucket and shovel and a few small dollar toys (which kids LOVE anyway), then donate them to the local Goodwill as you leave. No hauling toys at all!
Splurge for Quality Items
- We took the Mclaren Quest and checked it at the gate. In all honesty we could have done without a stroller at all, since Matty had an aversion to it on Day 2 and didn’t ride in it except through the airport and once on deck. But this is a quality stroller, that can navigate bumps like a larger stroller, and has high handles that are nice for tall folks like us. I read on some forums that cheap umbrella strollers broke during gate check and wasn’t really comfortable for kids anyway.
- Take a wrap or carrier. We used the Moby, and we wouldn’t have made it without it. Matty is used to being carried, and this made keeping track of him on excursions much easier. We were able to let him take naps pretty easily and it gave our arms a much needed break. It also helped Matty feel comfortable and stop from getting overwhelmed and overstimulated—no meltdowns!
- We bought Sippy Straps so we didn’t have to worry about lost items. We strapped the sippy cup to the stroller and to the high chair during meal times, eliminating having to crawl under the table numerous times all night. We also strapped it around Roo’s neck (Matty’s stuffed animal) at the airport.
- We also bought a Sunshade for the umbrella stroller so we didn’t have to worry about Matty getting burned or overheated. Granted, he didn’t sit in the stroller much, but it was perfect when he did.
- The beach tent was also a hit. Since it folded up small into a backpack, it was easy to carry on excursions, and fit easily into the suitcase.
Plan Activities Accordingly
- Sure, there were plenty of excursions we would have loved to do—exploring underwater caves, anyone? There were also excursion that would have been appropriate for Matty, but upon further notice, they included 2 hour bus rides or long transfers between activities. I don’t think anyone wants to spend 2 hours on a bus with a 6 month old when they’ve missed their nap and has sand in their diaper.
- We ate in the main dining room every night, but it definitely wasn’t a sit down and chat with tablemates for 2 hours situation. At the first sign of crankiness/boredom, we took Matty out for a change of scenery. We usually ordered, then one of us would take him until appetizers came, then the other would take him until dinner came, and he was usually asleep by dessert (meaning whoever was holding him couldn’t join in the table conversation without waking him up). Was it tiring? Yes. Was it different from past vacations? Yes. Was it worth it to watch him sit through the dinner portion with a napkin on his lap trying new foods while other kids became overstimulated or bored and crawled around on the floor crying? Absolutely.
- The ship was on Central time. We got up every morning at 5:30. Shoot me. I did not plan on this. Did I mention, shoot me?
- When we “lounged” on deck, it consisted of one of us “on-duty” with Matty and the other one basking in the sun. For 15 minutes…a 6 month old’s attention span isn’t going to allow for afternoons lounging about. But I have to say, even if one of us was supposed to be relaxing, we had more fun playing with Matty so we both ended up “on duty”.
Use the Resources You’ve Paid For
- We packed three pouches of baby food and a tube of Puffs. We returned with two pouches of food. We had to pay for Matty, so we ordered food for him every evening in the dining room, and got him a plate every morning at the buffet. There were always an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and other baby-friendly options. Our waiter at dinner was fantastic and prepared food differently if need be, such as steaming veggies or leaving sauces or gravies off of certain items.
- You’re not allowed to take or bring back opened food on the ship. We grabbed a couple boxes of plain Cheerios from the Windjammer for Matty’s snacks.
- Royal Caribbean provides Pack n’ Plays in the cabin. While a nice option, we actually said nevermind on the first night since Matty is used to sleeping with us anyway. We’d rather have the space in the room. Some folks mentioned bringing their own because they weren’t sure of the cleanliness, but seriously, it’s fine. Get over it and don’t haul a bunch of crapt through the airport.
Don’t Fret Airport Security
- We had no problems in security. I’ve read horrors stories, like this one and this one, but we had a very pleasant experience. A couple of TSA workers came around from behind the scanners to play with Matty and let him play with their pens. So tip…I guess…don’t worry about it? And smile.
- Because we were traveling light, we were able to get through security without a fuss and without holding up the line. In fact, a gentleman got behind us, rolled his eyes, and asked if he could get in front of us since there was only one of him; we happily obliged—we’d left lots of time to get through security. Pretty sure we beat him through. Ha!
- I did NOT have to empty Matty’s sippy cup. I simply put it on top with my baggie of 3oz liquids. I asked if I needed to empty it and they said it wasn’t a problem at all—I just needed to let them know that we had it.
- I also did NOT have to take Matty’s pouches of baby food out of the small bag they were in. Again, I just had to let them know we had it. I had it on top ready for search, if needed.
- We had the stroller folded up before getting to the scanners since it will need to go through. It also couldn’t have anything in the basket underneath, but we did not have to take the organizer or the sunshade off.
- I dressed Matty in one-piece footed PJ’s. Not only did this make it easier to travel in general—no lost socks, and diaper changes were a breeze—but it ensured he wasn’t “bulky” therefore needing a pat down. Though I’m sure he would have loved the attention.
- I simply carried him through the scanner. We flew out of CVG, which has the “bad” scanner and the “not so bad” scanner. They directed Matty and I to the “not so bad” scanner without needing to ask.
I suppose the most important piece of advice I came across and must pass on is: Even though you’re on vacation, you can’t take a vacation from parenting. Translation, you can’t let your child run and scream and cry and generally annoy others on vacation, just because you need a break. Bring a nanny.
For a few more non-specific tips, these sites have some great information throughout: