So you’re taking the kids on a Caribbean cruise and have just one day in each port. What are you going to do with your short time? Cruising With Kids is a series of posts that provides family-friendly recommendations for various stops on the Caribbean cruise circuit that will give all ages a fun taste of each island without straying too far from the docks.
I always cringe when I hear people say, “I’ve been to Barbados – we spent a day there on a Caribbean cruise.” Having lived on the island for three years, I know that a day can’t even begin to do the place justice. Every week I see crowds of cruisers strolling the area around the port, popping into the touristy Pelican Craft Centre, poking into the duty free shops of Bridgetown, maybe making it as far as Carlisle Bay and then mentally checking off Barbados as a “been there, done that” destination. Not that there’s anything wrong with those places, its just there are so many other glorious spots I would show off to a one-day visitor that would leave them with a better impression of “the rock”.
I say this not to criticize cruise travelers for not delving deeper into the geography/culture/essence of their ports-of-call. Ten-hour pit stops are not the opportunity to get to know a place on an intimate level. Time and logistics only permit a superficial sampling, but these teasers are better than nothing in my book. In fact, my family and I have just booked a Caribbean cruise and are about to hopscotch around the islands ourselves – an easy, economical way to survey the region and determine which places we’d like to go back to for a closer look.
The challenge of cruising with children is resisting the urge to pack too much into each location. You can’t do it all, so don’t even try. The ship alone is a wonderland of stimulation, and we all know when kids go overboard with excitement and it’s hard to get them back on an even keel (no fun for anyone in tight quarters!).
You’ll want to vary up the flow and focus of each shore day so you don’t get that “ho-hum, yet another beautiful beach” attitude (or is that just my jaded kids?). Alternate action days with relaxation days. On one island you might want to visit an attraction or go on a tour. On another island you might choose to take a scenic nature walk. Checking out the occasional town, fort or pirate lair will give everyone a sense of the regional history. Try to find some cultural opportunities to sample Caribbean music, art and food along your route. Older kids might be up for a day of zip lining through the rain forest or some other adventurous pursuit. Of course, plan for a few beach hours or full beach days on the islands too – there’s a reason this is the Caribbean’s main draw.
All of the major cruise lines offer an array of shore excursions and activities for their passengers, often including a few family-friendly options too (read carefully for age restrictions on certain activities). This is a safe, easy, no-brainer way to spend the day without the hassle and uncertainty of coordinating transportation to and from the ship. On the plus side, booking an approved tour through your cruise line means the ship won’t sail without you should you have an unexpected delay. The downside is these outings usually come at a steep price. Not only are these packaged tours relatively expensive in terms of money, you’ll spend your day shepherded around with your fellow cruisers on a set itinerary with little freedom and flexibility to do your own thing – and we all know kids sometimes have a hard time getting with the program.
Personally, I’ve always been more of the independent traveler type who would rather plot my own course for the day (although it’s admittedly difficult to avoid crowds when multiple shiploads disembark on a small island at the same time). While some people are leery of this, we always find friendly taxi drivers to take us around to places I’ve researched ahead of time – or sometimes I ask them to “show us your island” and see what a local considers to be the highlights. Pack your swimsuits, sunscreen, towels, walking shoes, camera, snacks and water and you’ll be ready for just about anything. Just negotiate a price upfront and leave plenty of time to get back to port before your ship is due to sail.
This Cruising With Kids series aims to give your family a menu of options at each major port of call in the Caribbean junket – a kid-friendly beach or two, some nature pursuits, a place of cultural interest and maybe a recommended tour or attraction. Pick and choose what might appeal to you and the kids on a given day, mix it up, allot for plenty of down time and have a bon voyage!