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Cruising with Kids - Ten survival tips

This last holiday season, we went on a cruise with my in-laws and our 4 children PLUS our soon-to-be son-in-law. It was a wild ride and we learned a lot. We took a Holland America ship out of Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, St. Maartin and Holland America's private island in the Bahamas. The weather was perfect and we loved the break from our normal *freezing* life in Milwaukee. This was the first time we cruised with our 3 younger ones. The week was full of adventures and I was so very grateful for our previous cruising experiences which helped us to prepare. Here are my 10 survival tips for cruising with kids of all ages:

1. Ziplocs! Ziplocs are the ONE thing (besides my swim suit) that I would never do without on a cruise. When traveling with children, they are so handy for packing lunches with the food you didn't eat at breakfast, stashing your wet clothes, keeping things dry, putting garbage in while on the beach,

keeping shampoo from leaking all over everything, soiled diaper odor control and disposal and -- brace yourself -- throwing up in, because, kids. I buy the gallon size freezer bags with the built-in zipper. For a week, for the 7 of us, we needed 10 Ziploc bags.

2. Essential oils! -- I'm a recent convert to the world of essential oils. I brought DoTerra's Home Essentials Kit with me and I'm so glad I did! I put a few drops of On Guard in a spray bottle with some warm water and sprayed the sheets morning and night. The last thing I wanted was for us to get sick on vacation. I flavored our water with Lemon, massaged our sore muscles with Deep Blue and used Lavender to lull us to sleep at night. Lavender and Peppermint are also very good for sunburn.

3. Eco-friendly Sunscreen -- Last year, we took our kids to Mexico for spring break. During our week there, we visited Xcaret -- an amazing eco-park that allowed only eco-friendly sunscreen. I didn't even know that most sunscreens damaged the environment! But -- while we snorkelling there, the waters were so murky and oily from sunscreen that we couldn't even see through it. From that moment, I was convinced. I buy mine (Carribean Solutions) from Amazon for about $12 a bottle -- totally worth it.

4. Keens -- I am a HUGE fan of Keen sandals for all ages. They are so great -- like a sandal, tennis shoe and water shoe all in one. They are machine-washable and almost indestructable. I can walk in mine for hours, wet or dry. I love the closed-toe that keeps my nether digits safe. My kids can put them on by themselves and they can be worn with a dress or skirt in pinch.

5. Manage your expectations -- Given that this was our first time cruising with children, we definitely had to alter our expectations. When the hubs and I travel by ourselves, we do a lot of sight-seeing, even when there are beach-time opportunities to be had. We like to mix it up -- a little history, a little culture, a little local cuisine, a little down-time on the beach. However -- with kids, it was a whole different story. Basically, if it involved swimming, sand or animals, they loved it. Otherwise... meh. And twist my arm... a week spent only on the beach was just fine with me.

6. Lanyards -- When each kid is issued a key-card by the cruise ship, the chances of losing one or all of them are pretty high. We bit the bullet and bought each child a lanyard to keep the cards from getting lost. These were over-priced on the ship -- it might be worth checking out other sources beforehand -- but we were so glad we had them. When we were in our rooms, the kids knew to hang their cards up on the back of the door. Otherwise, they were really good about keeping them around their neck.

7. Manage their expectations -- Before we even left for Florida, we told the children that they could pick out one souvenir at each port -- no more. This gave them something to look forward to, but also kept our cheap-inscribed-seashell collection to a minimum. We also told them beforehand that we weren't drinking soda or buying souvenirs on the ship. It was so helpful to have a solid set of ground rules to rely upon, because my kids are expert manipulative negotiators, and I tell ya, when I'm drooling poolside, I'm weak.

8. Underwater Camera -- A couple of years ago, I bought a Nikon Coolpix waterproof camera. It takes AMAZING photos under and out of the water. It has a handy-dandy neck strap, so I just wear it like a necklace when I *amid gasps from shocked lookers-on* jump right in the water and start snapping photos (see example below). It takes great video as well. I have been wanting a GoPro, which I hear is also amazing, but for now, my Nikon does the trick.

9. Dining-Room Dinners -- WITH KIDS!!? YES!! When we have cruised before, we have always had a standing dining-room dinner-date with everyone in our party. We love this because it gives us all a chance to report on our adventures that day and connect with grandparents and perhaps those who were less able to come along on our more rigorous shore excursions. During these dinners, a lot of extraordinary memories are made. We've celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, engagements and accomplishments. During this last cruise, we kept this tradition alive, but used it for an opportunity to teach our children about manners and conversational skills as well. Granted, most of the time, they were nodding off just as dessert came, but what a great way to reinforce saying "please" and "thank you" and "I would like" instead of "I want." Our kids took dinner time very seriously. We always dressed up (some days only a little) and each night, each child took a turn explaining to Grandma and Grandpa what his or her life was like back home. And besides, routine for kids is good -- even on vacation.

10. Kids Clubs -- All 4 of my children are basically mer-kids, so they were either in the pool, the ocean or on the beach. This left little time for Holland America's kids' clubs. Having said that, when my boys did go, they loved it. And a well-timed visit to the kids' club, means a well-deserved break for the mom and dad.

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