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Lessons From A First Family Cruise

Read more about What we liked about our First Family Cruise

We were happily surprised by our experience taking our preschooler on a seven-day cruise to from New York to Bermuda—our first cruise and first family cruise. No trip is perfect and more recent NCL ships addressed some of the challenges we faced on our cruise. But it’s instructive to know what to look for when booking, especially on an older ship. Here is what I wish had been better on the Norwegian Dawn.

 No room to roam

The Dawn had a ball pit and other toddler friendly play equipment, but it was stashed away in the kiddie camp area, which was a “parent-free zone.”  I wasn’t allowed past the entry gate for even a minute to introduce Tiny Traveler, who was two- and-a-half at the time, to the counselors and acclimate her a little. By day two, TT had a lot of ya-yas to get out and was enthused about trying out the kid camp. Alas, during the hour we picked to send her, they were watching a video, not actively playing, and she only lasted about 25 minutes without us anyway.

I didn’t mind not having time to ourselves, but I do wish we had more options for active play. There was a conference room with some small toys that was meant for under-2s. No one minded we were there, but I didn’t relish the idea of spend my vacation stashed away in a conference room with no amenities for me. A “playground” by the kiddie pool had exactly one seesaw. There was room to add a slide and something to climb and these small additions would have been incredibly helpful.

Exiled to kiddie pool Siberia

My bigger frustration was with the swimming pools.

The adult pool was completely unsuitable for a non-swimming toddler; it was crowded and too deep even for adults to stand in. The kids’ wading pools had nothing to offer grown-ups—technically we weren’t even allowed in them, though we were required to be in the pool area with our kids. Moreover, the kids’ pool was nowhere near the adult pool, a bar, a waiter, or heck, even a water fountain.

Doing the usual parent tag-teaming was tough. Getting between the two pools required going up and down a few sets of stairs and walking the length of the ship. As a result, my husband and I each spent several hours at a time with our feet in a pool that was six feet wide, one foot deep and tricked out with a purple dinosaur slide, hoping the other would rescue them soon, or at least drop by with a beer.

No daiquiris by the dino pool

I hope Norwegian adds more parent-accessible play equipment, increases the  flexibility in its services for very little kids and at the very least rethinks the kiddie pool refreshment situation.

A juice or water station nearby would help, of course, so you don’t have to drag your kids of out of the pool and off to the buffet dripping wet each time they get thirsty.

But more important, they should send a waiter down to the kids pool every so often. After all, if anyone deserves a frozen cocktail it’s the grown-ups spending their cruise afternoons in a wading pool with a dinosaur.

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  1. […] the Breakaway NCL improved several of the things we found frustrating when we cruised on the Dawn two years ago. For starters, there is lots of space dedicated to kids, a full roster of activities […]

  2. Marisa Scime - Norwegian Cruise Line
    October 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm — Reply


    We at Norwegian were happy to hear that you enjoyed your cruise overall; however, we wanted to address some of the concerns you shared in your blog.

    Unfortunately during your cruise, our kids crew facility was about to undergo a complete renovation. Since then, the ball pit and jungle gym were removed to allow for more open space, and the Under 2 Zoo room was given a dedicated space next door to the Kid’s Center.

    Parents always have time to view and become familiar with the center with their kids on embarkation day – but during program, the facility is parent free, as you mentioned. Movies are always part of the program and advertised in our activity booklets so you can choose the best time to attend based on preferred activities. Movies though are also used in conjunction with our scavenger hunts for the little ones as the videos provide the clues in a fun way for the kids to find the hidden items and the characters are brought into the activity.

    And, thanks for the great suggestion to have our beverage servers monitor the kid’s area!

    Hopefully you will consider cruising with us again in the future to experience the revamped kid’s facility!

  3. Anne Patrone
    September 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm — Reply

    Love the cartwheel! The only cruise we took was a Disney one and it was exactly the opposite experience . . . trying to find some quiet adult space!

    • September 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm — Reply

      Interesting! I’ve always heard disney does a good job of catering to the grown-ups, too.

  4. Amy @ The Q Family
    September 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm — Reply

    We have taken our kids on the cruise when they were toddlers as well. It was fun and we can’t wait to go back again. Look like you have a future gymnast in a making. 🙂

  5. Jessica
    September 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm — Reply

    What a great action shot! Good summary of what could have been better. I think you are very brave to take a toddler on a cruise anyway. Good job!

  6. Lisa (Gone with the Family)
    September 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm — Reply

    She’s certainly having a grand time on the beach!

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