One of the best reasons for taking a cruise with young kids is that you avoid the constant packing and repacking required to visit multiple destinations. Unfortunately, you still need to pack the first time! So what do smart parents bring to maximize their cruise fun and minimize the pain of packing for a family in a tiny stateroom, beyond what you’ll find on official packing lists?
Unless you are very wealthy or lucky, or both, your cruise stateroom will probably be much smaller than your average hotel room. Many rooms have drop-down bunk beds for kids that make a small room for two adults an even more cramped room for 4-5 family members. A few kids looking for their swim goggles can make even the most organized room look like a suitcase threw up all over the room in a matter of minutes. Some people can roll with the mess, but for others, a few organizational tricks will save their cruise sanity.
To help tame the chaos, some savvy families take advantage of magnetic organizers. Stateroom doors are metal and sealable in case of a water emergency, and on Disney cruises, many families bring decorative magnets to stick on the outside of their stateroom door. Inside, try magnetic organizers. A rolled-up magnetic shoe organizer can hold all your kids’ cruise essentials where they can find them without flinging. A pouch for sunscreen, lanyards and cruise cards, swim goggles (why oh why do we ALWAYS lose these!), charging cables/ plugs, medicines, toiletries, snacks — with only one tiny table in the whole room, the clutter-killing possibilities are endless. (Tip: A fabric one rolls up much easier than a plastic one.) Small magnetic hooks can hold cruise lanyards too and are easy to stash. Clips can hold daily cruise schedules — oh the organizing possibilities!
If you haven’t invested in the magic of packing cubes, just do it. Packing cubes help organize your clothing, compress them into smaller squares so you can bring more, and can hold dirty laundry separate from clean. They also make packing and unpacking so much easier, just transfer the cubes from suitcase to drawer, I use one for tops and one for bottoms to make finding an outfit that much easier. A small packing cube contains electronics and charging cables both in transit and in the room.
Canvas Tote Bag
A nice open-topped canvas tote bag is another essential often overlooked. Sure you can use a backpack or your carry-on, but for poolside family organization, nothing beats a stand-up canvas bag. It will hold towels and all your kids’ pool essentials and make transferring to that strategic sunny deck chair faster and simpler. (Tip: I often make a large canvas bag my plane carry-on by placing my purse and smaller carry-ons inside it. Now you have three carry-ons disguised as one.)
I’ve started to travel with a few extra Ziploc bags everywhere I go because it seems I always need them even if I can not anticipate their uses. They take up practically no space and have been used to bring snacks to the room from the buffet table, contain leaky sunscreen bottles, save passports and other essentials in a downpour in a taxi queue, contain a beloved stuffed animal dunked in maple syrup that needs future washing, for on-the-spot seasickness emergencies… if you have them, you will use them, and you will be thankful to have them.
Then there are the items you should consider packing not because they aren’t available, but because they cost a fortune on board! One of these is sunscreen. Families go through gallons of sunscreen, and if your cruise takes you through sunny islands you are sure to run out. Get to Target and stock up!
Theme Night Accessories
Many cruises typically have a theme night, such as Disney’s Pirate Night. Of course your kids will want to dress up, and of course, the cruise ship is happy to sell you an $80 pirate outfit! Or a $15 plastic lei for the luau — and then, you’ll need one for each kid. Check your cruise itinerary and bring some inexpensive outfits or props ahead of time, even if you think your kids might not wear them. What sounds silly on land suddenly becomes cool at sea, and aren’t you the awesome parent with a hidden stash of dollar-store Pirate gear or Goodwill Hawaiian shirts?
A New Stuffed Animal
For the little ones, if you know that yours will NEED a Minnie Mouse stuffed animal or some other favorite character, buy a nice one at Target and surprise her on board. He or she may insist on getting the one on the boat, but a $10 plush Minnie sure beats a $45 one.
Finally, for after the kids go to bed, some ships allow a small quantity of alcohol to be brought on board. Don’t try to sneak more than you are allowed — cruise lines know all the tricks — but even a bottle or two bought in duty-free is cheaper than a bottle from the bar.
A cruise is a relaxing way to spend quality time with your family, but it can be a strain on your budget and your patience. Know what you are getting into, plan accordingly, and beware of budget pitfalls. Families can fully enjoy a cruise by not only unpacking just once but by packing smart the first time!
Featured image credit: Scott Smith.