I get seasick! So any type of vacation that involves boats or ships is not likely to be high on my bucket list. But for the multitude of people out there who don’t suffer like me, cruising is a great vacation option; especially with young children. Thank you Karolina Shenton, my guest blogger, for giving us all a perspective of cruising with a toddler.
When I decided to have my first baby, lots of people told me that travel would become difficult; if not impossible, and we wouldn’t be able to get around anymore. My husband and I were showered with tales of nightmarish vacations with small children and parents reminiscing about the days when it was easy to pick up and see the world.
Fast-forward two years. My daughter is almost two and a half and she’s the greatest kid you’ll ever meet. Furthermore she’s proven to be the best travel companion I’ve ever had. Not only is travel with her easy, it’s also far more rewarding than it was prior to motherhood. Sure, we’ve had to do things a little differently, but different isn’t bad. Different is awesome, because it’s given my family a reason to try something new.
About two weeks before my daughter’s second birthday we decided to take her on her first cruise. We picked a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean since we hadn’t done it before and the islands had something for everyone in the family. Having cruised before, we knew that the boarding process would be a snap. Cruises make the details so easy; you sometimes forget all the headaches of land-based travel. As we made our way to Florida and then onto the ship, we had no snags or surprises whatsoever. Our flight to Florida was a piece of cake, even for a toddler, and the bus transfer to the ship was a fascinating adventure for our little one. Once on-board, we quickly made our way to our stateroom to drop off our carry-on bags and started our vacation.
Our first port was St. Maarten and we scheduled a visit to the famous Orient Bay beach. St. Maarten is a unique island because it’s divided between French and Dutch colonies. Orient Bay is on the French side, thus the beach is “clothing optional.” Since I’m European, this didn’t faze me a bit and because its part of the local culture, nobody really takes notice of the lack of tan lines. It’s beach business as usual. Orient Bay is a sheltered beach, allowing little wave action and superb clarity. As a mom, this was really important to me, since I didn’t want to contend with dangerous surf with my toddler around (like we do at our home beaches). We just popped on her floaties and had a blast at the water’s edge. The water was like a warm, clear pool, except there were loads of cool things to look at (other than the occasional naked person). We ate a great lunch provided as part of our excursion and had a wonderful time.
Our next port was St. Thomas, which is one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. My husband went scuba diving and my daughter and I took an excursion to Magen’s Bay, another beach. Again, we had a perfect day. The beaches in the Eastern Caribbean are flat, clean, warm, clear and mellow. It’s an ideal place for a toddler to explore the ocean. Magen’s Bay is less commercial than some other beaches and has lots of trees to provide shade and a picturesque backdrop. We met other families on the beach and the kids became fast friends. After a wonderful day, we took a quick 20-minute ride back to the ship and rested before dinner.
The last port on our itinerary was Nassau, on New Providence Island, Bahamas. Here, we booked the Blue Lagoon dolphin encounter. Let me start by saying that I wasn’t without my doubts before getting to the island. I’m not one to take dolphin captivity lightly, however when we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. The facility was very nice and well maintained. The animals were in excellent health and were able to come and go from the interaction area as they pleased. Nothing was forced. However, what impressed me the most was the look on my daughter’s face when she saw our dolphin, named Clifton, she was beaming from ear to ear. Some other kids were a bit apprehensive, but not my girl! We all arranged ourselves along a platform and waited for Clifton to approach each of us to interact.
Not only did my daughter watch Mom and Dad rub Clifton’s tummy, she got down there and did it herself! She even kissed Clifton at his request! Now, how many two year olds can say they’ve kissed a dolphin.
To top off the great day, the beach on the island was a perfect place to relax and watch my daughter splash in the shallows, while I caught some rays and relaxed, which is why we vacation.
Our stateroom was also the perfect place for our family. We wanted a balcony to enjoy the view, however we had concerns about the safety of the balcony with a toddler. We were thrilled to discover that the door could securely latch and was too heavy for a little person to open. So we got to decide when she went outside and when she stayed inside. Our sleeping arrangements were also perfect. My husband and I enjoyed a nice king sized bed, while we were provided a comfortable crib for our daughter. She felt right at home since Mom and Dad were so near by and we all had plenty of room to stretch out. However the best part of our room was the service we received from our cabin steward. Each night, he folded towels in the shape of an animal and left them on the bed as a surprise. About half way through the week, we would ask our daughter what animal she wanted, tell our cabin steward in the morning and her request would be waiting for us in our room at the end of the day. Simply amazing! Who knew you could make a monkey out of a towel!
Even in the formal dining rooms, the staff was prepared to keep our daughter entertained and engaged in the experience with things to color and games to play. One staff member even made a doll out of a napkin for her. I think one of the things that parents fear when traveling with their kids abroad is not being able to locate enough safe, kid-friendly food. Our ship had so many choices of everything imaginable, feeding my daughter was no problem whatsoever. Most importantly, they had loads of healthy choices for her to eat, not just fries and pizza (although they have that too.)
But the best part of mealtime was the dining room staff. Being two years old, cookies are my daughter’s favorite dessert. At our first dinner, we noticed that cookies were not an option on the dessert menu, however we only had to ask once, and each night the whole week, our waiter made a special trip to the lido deck to bring our little one a selection of cookies. That’s what I call service!
So in response to all the naysayers out there, who are telling people that parenthood marks the end of your traveling days, I say nonsense! Not only is it possible, it’s super easy and super economical and it’s a source of some of the best family memories you’ll have.