Cruising with Young Kids ~ Tips and Tricks

Cruising with Young Kids

It is true – we have been on quite a few cruises, and we realize what an amazing blessing this is.  We could never afford to do this on our own and are spoiled by grandparents.  Recently real life friends asked me for advice about cruising with tots, and I figured they probably weren’t the only ones with questions!  Because of our cruising experience, I thought I would share some things I have learned along the way for those of you who might be thinking of taking a cruise in the future, with young kids. It really is a great experience and way more affordable for us homeschoolers who can easily go during the off season.  All of our cruises have been purposely planned {by my mom} during the absolute cheapest times of the year {usually Feb-Mar}.

We have cruised multiple times {with young kids and without}, but with the young kids we have been on Royal Caribbean {once ~ Freedom of the Seas} and Holland America {more than once ~ Nieuw Amsterdam, Westerdam, Eurodam}.  The youngest we have taken a child cruising with us was age 1 {Ladybug}.

Our favorite…

Holland America for sure!  Here’s why…

  • Holland America ships are smaller ships with less to do.  This may seem like a bad thing with kids, but we personally think it is a great thing.  The Royal Caribbean ship was so big {we weren’t even on their biggest one!} and had so much to do {rock climbing, putt putt, ice skating, etc.} we felt like we were always trying to fit in something else. It was honestly exhausting!
  • HEATED POOL…need I say more?  Oh yeah and it has a glass “ceiling” that closes if it rains or is chilly!  The pool wasn’t huge and is “deep” even at the shallow end, but this didn’t bother us-the heat made up for it! Royal’s pool was freezing and it was chilly the week we went so we were in the pool very little. Sure they had an awesome kiddie pool and spray park but my kids were shaking and blue because they were so cold!
  • The service…amazing!  Although Royal Caribbean had awesome service too, Holland America steps it up a notch.  Honestly it is just in the genuine kindness you feel from just about everyone on board.
  • The food…awesome!  Again, Royal had great food too, but Holland America steps it up, especially with their breakfast/lunch buffet options.
  • HAL Kids Program…wonderful!  It begins for age 3 and goes up.  Each night, we had a late dinner seating {8pm} but HAL opened at 7pm, so the boys could just eat at the buffet {Lido deck} and head up to their club. Other ships have amazing kids’ programs too.  Be sure you know ages, most are potty trained 3 years old and up only.

But, you might not be like us!

Many people would disagree with us for choosing an “older people” ship as our favorite with young kids, but we like to relax, not be so busy.  If you enjoy constant activity, have lot of energy, love crowds and tons of kids, I definitely recommend choosing Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney or one of the more kid activity based ships.

 

Packing Tips…

Cruising with a Tot

  • clothespins {to hang up wet suits everywhere!}
  • power strip {there are usually only 1-2 outlets and taking things in and out is a pain}
  • DVDs {check beforehand, all of our rooms had DVD players in room, if not-bring a small one}
  • noise machine, the hallways get loud
  • night light
  • wet bag {or plastic store bags, to tote wet items}
  • lanyard/hole punch {to use for your key cards, wear them as necklaces}
  • bandaids
  • more sunscreen than you would ever think you’d need, oh and sunscreen chapstick!
  • hats for everyone, swim shirts too-the sun at sea is brutal
  • wind breakers/sweatshirts
  • blow up ducky pool {many rooms have showers only, and if you have a kid who only takes baths, you don’t want the fight in a tiny cruise ship bathroom}
  • umbrella stroller {yup, even for kids a bit too old for one} We brought one on a whim when Ladybug was almost 4 and used it at every port and are so glad we brought it at the last minute.
  • baby carrier {Ergo recommended} for non-walking babies. We used this a LOT when Ladybug was 1.
  • small toys {Littlest Pet Shops, play doh, cars, squinkies, crayons, coloring books, etc.} They are easy to pack and bring to dinner to occupy kids when the wait is long.
  • small purse for little girls, or bag for boys {to carry those tiny toys you brought}.  We brought a tiny bag with tiny toys to dinner on the nights when she came with us and it helped tremendously for multiple course meals!  iPads/iPhones aren’t a bad distraction either!

      A few other things to think about when planning…

    Potty Trained?

Many cruise ships have a potty-trained only rule about their pools.  This means no swim diapers of any sort. Be prepared if you aren’t going on a ship with kiddie pools {no Holland America ships had kiddie pools}. I have heard people bring small blow up pools to let babies sit in on deck.

Sleep Arrangements

All cruises we have been on provided a pack and play free of charge and we used that, be sure to ask, I am not sure all cruise lines provide one.  When Ladybug was almost 4 she slept in the loft bed for the first time, with a nice pillow border we created.  She LOVED it!

Floaties

Bring your own blow up rings/floaty devices, even for your older kids.  They are fun and every child wants one, we regretted the year we only brought one for Ladybug and not the boys.  Last year was much more peaceful, we brought 4 {in case one popped}. Also-goggles, swim socks/shoes for young tots {decks can be slippery}, swim shirts, hats {our favorite}, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.

You Don’t Have to Get Off the Boat!

Some of our favorite times are when we stay on the ship when others get off at a port!  We have a few ports we don’t care for {with kids} and we love to enjoy the empty pool. Once our kids are older this may change, but while we have a young one, some ports just aren’t worth the trouble of lugging them all around, especially if you’ve already seen it once.

Balcony or Not?

We have only sailed with a balcony one time, the others have mostly been the cheapest inside staterooms, and once we had a window.  We got the balcony this past time and although it was nice, I don’t think I would pay extra for it, since we didn’t use it nearly as much as I thought we might. Some would disagree, but I vote for saving money!

Room Service Breakfast

It took a few cruises for us to figure out what a gem this service was to us.  You see, I am not a morning person and neither is Ladybug. Having to get dressed and look decent just to go get breakfast was a bummer to us.  Cruises offer free 24 hour room service, just fill out the card and hang it on the door with the time you want it delivered.  This also made sure we didn’t oversleep and miss the day!

Tot Food and Drinks

If you have a younger tot still using a sippy cup, be sure to bring a stash of disposable sippy cups and a small bottle of dish soap. I just rinsed them out all week long in our sink and we always had a cup of water, juice or milk in the little room fridge for her. Also, we would snag tot snacks for her to keep in the room too {yogurt, cereal, crackers, bananas}, all from the buffet or from room service.

 

Have you cruised with young kids?  Any advice to add to my list?

Behind the Scenes – Communal Lunch

Communal Lunch

If you have followed my blog for awhile, you probably know that I really do not like lunch time.  We have tried a few lunch time solutions and they all work, my favorite being pre-making the lunches the night before.  However, I found a new way that is seeming to get my 2 picky eaters to eat better!  The Communal Lunch!  Instead of giving each child their own plate {which usually results in “I’m not eating that” and other whining} I put a ton of healthy food on a tray and give them each a toothpick and let them eat!IMG_3218

On the tray above: tomatoes, avocado, pretzels, Naked pita chips, mango, kiwi, carrots, broccoli and hummus.  I often will give ranch also-my oldest prefers it over hummus, but thankfully the picky 2 actually prefer hummus!

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As hands dive in, it seems to cause other hands to be a bit more willing to try different foods.IMG_3232

 

Ladybug and Krash are my picky two-I m constantly exposing them to a variety of foods in hopes that they will develop new tastes!  So far, Ladybug still hasn’t touched any veggies on our communal trays, but in time I bet she will!IMG_3234

 

This is my summer plan.  Communal Lunch served after Lunch in a Cup

The kids are having nutritionally packed smoothies from our Vitamix {I have been waiting for years and finally the guy came back to Costco with the Vitamix display!}  for their mid morning “snack” and then I am busting out the communal lunch tray about an hour later.  When it has been warm, I have served it all outside!  Sometimes I serve it on a plate, depending on how much and the variety,image

Their smoothies usually consist of random combinations of: baby spinach, plain/vanilla yogurt, bananas, apples, carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, berries, mango, pineapple,  Vega, and ice. I have other stuff I put in them and have no special recipe, just whatever I have and think would go well together.  Almost 100% of the time they happily drink whatever I give them.

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ps-I have NO clue where we got the green divided tray, we have had it for many years!!!  It even has a top so I can put the uneaten portion back in the fridge and pull it out later in the day for snack!

A Day in Our Homeschool Life Part 3

Homeschool Life Button Afternoon School

It has been awhile since I wrote the Minute by Minute Tot School post, and have since been asked to update with a detailed post of what our homeschool time looks like now with a 4th grader, Kindergartner and Tot Schooler. I am breaking this idea into 4 parts, probably 5 when all is said and done, but 4 planned parts for now!  If you missed any other parts, see links below…

  1. Before the Homeschool Day
  2. Our Homeschool Morning
  3. Our Homeschool Afternoon {that’s this post}
  4. After the Homeschool Day

How I recorded our day……

I kept a notebook with me, my iPod {camera}, and my good camera.  I took TONS of pictures and jotted down notes throughout the day.  It isn’t easy, but makes for a very true-to-life account for you all.  Good news – the day we recorded – March 7, 2012, was a very typical day for us!  I was hoping it would give a good look at what is “normal” for us and it does! 


For details about each child’s curriculum, see: Our Current Curriculum

12:25 pm

I am done with kitchen cleaning and head back into the schoolroom to find the boys reading together I told them to do this when they finished their lunch}.IMG_2266

I spend 10 minutes on the computer-email, Twitter, Facebook, Comments, Pinterest.

12:35

Our upstairs neighbor and my friend comes down to check on our school status {they live in the apartment owned by my parents above our schoolroom, their 5 kids are nieces and nephews they care for}.  Her kids have a half day of public school and are wanting to play with my kids.  This give the boys great motivation to get school work done.  I estimate an hour and a half and tell her I will text her.

12:40

Start school with the boys after they clean up the books.

PacMan has this today…

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I get Krash started on some independent Calvert work, a phonics sheet and a math sheet-both which are easy work for him.

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Pac sits with me at my desk and we dive into grammar, math, and a special math review for his standardized state testing coming up.

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I turn around and bust Krash petting the cat and not doing his work {it’s cute but distracting}.IMG_0657

1:00

Pac and I gather Science and SS and head into the living room to read, he likes to cuddle on the couch together while I read to him. Another perk of Homeschooling, couch school.

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1:10

Pac heads to do his independent work {grammar, math, science}, I switch to working with Krash.  First I move him along in completing his independent work, as he was supposed to be done by now.

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1:15

We move to the floor for his All About Reading lesson.  He isn’t thrilled since we are repeating lesson 16, since he doesn’t have a solid grasp on the “th” sound.  But he likes the egg-flipping game so he’s OK. 

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1:22

Pac wanders over for help with his grammar, silly kid just didn’t read the directions well and once I read them he gets it and goes back to do his work.

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1:30

Krash and I are done with All About Reading, and move onto some Skylanders school work!  I made a digraph activity for him to work on the same thing he’s learning in AAR. He loves it.IMG_2288

1:35

Krash and I read his Morning Message together, he LOVES this!  I read, then he reads-highlighting any words he can read by himself.  Then we count together!IMG_2290

1:40

Krash moves to iPad school, he can choose form a selection of “school games’” he chooses ABCs of God.

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1:45

Pac announces that he is finished with his schoolwork.  I remind him that today is trash day {his chore that he hates}.  He goes off to do it, complaining mildly {probably since he knows I am recording the day}. I begin to scan our recent set of Calvert assessments in to our cyber school.

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1:55

Pac is done with his chores, and runs to get his friends.  They all head outside to play!  The official school day is done! I can still hear Ladybug through the monitor reading to herself.  She stays up there until Daddy gets her at 3.  With the boys I continued “room time” after naps wore out.  I am doing this with her too, so I can continue to have quieter school time with the boys.  She seems to really enjoy her quiet time.


Notes about the Day…

We normally end our school day anywhere between 2:00-3:00, sometimes later if it is a writing day.  This was an easier day for Pac, mostly because he didn’t have writing and because math was VERY easy.  On harder math days, school goes much longer!  Attitudes were a bit more in check than usual since they knew I was recording the day.  Figure in a few more attitude issues and then you’d have a more normal day. My husband comes home from work at 3:00 and then is home through dinner before he goes back out to work for the evening {ministry stuff-teaching Bible studies, and such}. 

Part 4 of this series will share what a normal after school and evening time looks like for us!

If any of you are inspired to write your own, “A Day in Our Homeschool Life” series, I would love it!  Be sure to send me the links if you do!

Behind the Scenes – Storing Printables

Storing Theme Printables

It took me years to develop a method of storing our theme printables.   Many of these themes are used again, and a lot of work goes into prepping many of the printables.  The worst thing is knowing you have already prepped and laminated something and then not be able to find it.  I no longer have that problem, and haven’t had it for over a year since we have been using this method!

 

Here’s what you need if you’d like to copy my method

  • Canvas Storage Box ~ Target {ClosetMaid Cubicles}
  • Poly Envelopes {5 pack, buy a bunch!} ~ Target {Up & Up Brand}
  • Label maker, got this exact one at Costco a couple of years ago and it is still going strong!

Edited to add ~ I see Target no longer carries the exact poly envelopes I use.  I searched on Amazon and found a couple of alternatives.  These are not the exact ones we have but look like they would work similarly.  Here is one set, and here is another

The poly envelopes fit perfectly inside of the canvas box, and stand up nicely so you can see your labels in a top corner.IMG_2707

I make one envelope for each theme we do, and put all age level {tot-early elementary} work together in one envelope.  The envelopes have snaps on them, so nothing falls out.  Here’s a shot of our Pirates folder, showing the contents also…

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The canvas box sits up on a shelf above my desk so I can get to it easily.  Sometimes we find stray pieces of printables, and it makes it easy to just toss a theme piece in the box and store it.IMG_2699

I also have a smaller plastic box {got this one at Target in the $2.50 section}, you could use a magazine holder or similar box.  I keep current and upcoming themes in this one. This helps me as I am planning and printing, I can just put things straight into this box.  Right now you see 2 empty envelopes, one for Rainbows {L’s theme this week}, one for Star Wars {K’s current theme}.

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A bit of advice, if you get your hands on the Poly Envelope 5 packs from Target, buy them all!  They have the best price I have ever seen for this type of envelope.  I bought some and then my Target stopped carrying them.  If you can’t find them, ask an employee, they will scan the blank spot and then it will auto reorder.  Show them the item on the website if you can’t find where it would be in the store.  Ours are located in the office supply section.  Recently I went to a different Target and they had tons, I bought almost all of them!

I also use these envelopes for our current curriculums, such as Animal ABC.  I prep units in advance and put them in the envelope so I can just pull it out when it is time to do that unit. I don’t label these envelopes, they are rotated out once a unit is done.

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This is another section on a shelf above my desk, we have graduated from You Can Read, so the yellow box has since been replaced by the Upcoming and Current Themes box.

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There you have it, my tried and true theme printable storage method!  We have stored things this way for over a year and it is the best method I have used!  I wish I would have started this way!

See theme printable packs we have here!Printable Theme Packs