I’ve often been asked if there’s ever a time when a child is too young to take on a Disney cruise. Aside from the requirements set by DCL (that the child must be six months of age or older), I don’t personally think that there’s a time that is too young. (My daughter went on her first Disney cruise just shy of her second birthday, and the memories we made were fantastic.) One aspect I discovered on that first cruise is that packing for a cruise is very different than packing for a trip to a land-based location. Aside from the obvious items to pack (clothes, favorite stuffed friend, and plenty of sunscreen), here’s a few items to consider packing if you are traveling with a young child for a Disney cruise.
- Favorite food. With the huge amounts of food available every time you turn around, it may seem a bit odd to suggest bringing more food on board. But when it comes to young children, some favorite foods may be notoriously absent. The two big examples for young children are Goldfish Crackers and Cheerios. Disney does have their own type of finger-food cheese cracker snacks available for purchase, but they do not have the same taste and texture as Goldfish. When it comes to Cheerios, you can find some types of cereal on board, but none of those magical snack Os. Depending on ports of call, you may be able to buy some shore-side, but often at a higher price, and the exact product of your choice may not be available. (There are a few exceptions about foods that you cannot bring, as noted below.)
- Medicine. I’m very lucky that my daughter rarely gets sick, however I highly advise bringing the whole medicine cabinet of supplies with you when you travel. Although the onboard store and medical center do have medicines available for purchase, it is far easier to pack more than what you need than to have to scramble for medicine if your child needs it. From allergy medicines to cold medicines to meds for upset tummies, they don’t take up much room and will give you peace of mind.
- Ziploc freezer bags. On the ship, there are laundry facilities that you can pay to use. If your child is a messy eater, or if you’re bringing bibs that will take the worst of the mealtime experience, it may be easier to put those clothes in Ziploc bags and then take care of them when you get home. Bags can also be used for packing up those wet swimsuits from the last day that won’t be dry before it is time to leave the ship.
- A travel blanket. Your stateroom host or hostess will be wonderful about converting your child’s bed from a couch by day to a bed by night and back again. For those afternoon naps, the couch can work just fine, but a travel blanket can make your child more comfortable.
- Nightlight. If you’re sailing on the Magic or the Wonder, you’ll want to bring a small nightlight for your child. On the Dream and the Fantasy, there is an overhead nightlight that can be used, but we’ve often found that our own personal nightlight works better. Don’t want to carry a bulky nightlight? Bring snap-on glow sticks instead. One of those in the child’s side of the room will provide reassuring light but won’t keep you up all night.
- Sippy cups. On the ship, you can make a DIY sippy cup with a to-go coffee cup, but packing a couple sippy cups can make for an easier trip. At the main dining rooms, your child will be given a plastic cup with a drink lid and a straw, and they work great for young kids — if you help them. For your independent child who hasn’t yet mastered drinkware, bring the sippy. You may also want to bring some dish soap and a sponge to wash out the sippy cup. (And it goes without saying, if your child takes a bottle, you’ll want to bring that, along with something to clean it. But leave the bottle warmer and sterilizer at home, because they are on DCL’s prohibited list.)
- Extra diapers/pull-ups and swim diapers, plus diaper rash cream. If your child is still in diapers or pull-ups, you’ll want to make sure to pack plenty, as they may not have your preferred size or brand on board. Swim diapers are available, but again, bringing your preferred brand is a good idea, especially since ship stores are not always open when the splash area is. (Just a reminder, children who are not fully toilet trained are not permitted to use the swimming pools, even with swim diapers, however there are splash areas for young kids on each ship.) Also, if you are traveling on a Bahamas or Caribbean cruise, bringing diaper rash cream is important, as the higher temperature and humidity can sometimes cause painful irritation.
- A jacket. Even in the summer months, I’ve found it very useful to have a jacket with me on board. The dining rooms can get a bit chilly for my preference, and if you’re outside when the ship is underway, the breeze can get a bit chilly, even in the peak of summer.
- Ear protection. Young kids have very sensitive ears, and there’s times when it can get very noisy on a ship–deck parties and fireworks certainly come to mind–but those can be avoided if your child is sensitive to loud noises. What can’t be avoided is the muster drill, and that siren will be loud. They do give you warning to cover your child’s ears, but if you have something that you already use for handling loud noises, make sure to bring it along, especially to the muster drill.
- Something to do during mealtime. Main dining room meals can last up to two hours on any given night. For some adults, that’s a long time to stay patient, and for some kids, being patient that long will be a challenge. Every meal will have coloring sheets for kids to do, but bringing a small, new toy for mealtime can be very helpful. We often brought a small car, Duplo figures, finger puppets, or other inexpensive, small items to help keep mealtimes pleasant.
In addition to the items to bring, there are also a few items that you should not bring on your Disney cruise. Some are outright prohibited, some are unnecessary, and there’s one that I feel you should think twice about bringing.
- On the prohibited list from Disney Cruise Line, there are several items that parents should note. Inflatable pools are not permitted. (Note that Disney does have swim vests for kids on board if your child is toilet trained and able to spend time in the pool. At Castaway Cay, the water starts off shallow enough that there is plenty of space for a young child to sit and play.) Bottle sterilizers and warmers are prohibited, however a limited number are available to borrow from Guest Services. Also, homemade, precooked, or perishable foods are not permitted. And remember that when you are leaving the ship, whether for a port call or at the end of the cruise, fresh fruits and vegetables and, in some cases milk (unless it is sealed in those juice box-like milk boxes) are not permitted to be taken off the ship
- Although I doubt anyone would try and pack their own high chair, bed rails, or diaper genie, I’ll mention here that those items are available on board upon request (but first come/first serve on things like the diaper genie). Call Disney or have your travel agent put a note in your file so that those items are waiting for you when you arrive.
- Don’t over-pack clothing. This goes for people of all ages–every single cruise, I’ve managed to pack more clothing than I need. This was especially true when traveling with a young child. In a worst-case scenario, you can do laundry on board. The one exception is to bring an extra swimsuit. Getting a child into a wet swimsuit will elicit all sorts of complaints about how uncomfortable and cold it is.
- And, quite possibly the most controversial item on this list–unless there’s a medical reason necessary, leave the stroller at home. This is especially true if you have one of the “Cadillac” strollers that can carry around an entire preschool class and their belongings. Ship corridors are VERY narrow, and I’ve seen more than one parent struggle to get a stroller down the hallway. With elevators being small and space being at a premium, you will have a difficult time getting your stroller into an elevator, and may have to wait for 10-15 minutes until one clears out enough to get in. Truth told, even on the larger ships, it takes only a few minutes to walk from one end to the other, and so there’s not a lot of place to stroll with that stroller. The one exception to this suggestion is if you plan to do a lot of self-guided walking at various ports of call. In that case a small, foldable umbrella stroller might be a good item to bring for use in the port–and then once back on the ship, under the bed or in the closet it can go.
That’s my suggestions from what I experienced and discussed with other parents. What’s your tips on what to bring or leave behind? Let me know in the comments.