I’ve cruised twice through through Carnival; the first my husband and I sailed from Cape Canaveral to Freeport and Nassau sans children and more recently from Charleston SC to Coco Cay and Nassau.
For our last family cruise we jumped in the car for the quick ride to downtown Charleston where we boarded the Carnival Fantasy; because the teens and toddler did not have passports.
Note: passports are NOT required for closed-loop cruises, i.e. cruises that return to the same port they sailed from; we had to ensure that everyone had a birth certificate and the 16 year old who did not have a drivers permit/license at the time, a state-issued picture identification was required.
Because we were sailing to Coco Cay this time instead of Freeport, I made sure to check for family-friendly things to do on the island, ultimately deciding to rent a cabana well in advance of our trip on the Carnival website. This was probably the best decision I had made the entire trip. (more on that later)
We all know its important to keep a toddler engaged, fed and well-rested at all times to alleviate any meltdowns. On a cruise it just takes a little pre-planning but it is surprisingly quite easy since Carnival is very kid-friendly.
We didn’t opt to put him in any of the child-care servies offered as its not something we do at home (daycare/babysitting) so I didn’t find it necessary to do on vacation, but the option is always there for those that wish to take advantage.
The teens had the option of attending the age-appropriate clubs available but given that we were in the middle of a school year, the precense of other kids their age was limited, so the three of them generally hung out together on the ship.
For a three-year old, everything is exciting and new and being on a ship with the abundance of snacks and activities there will be plenty to do for family togetherness. Our first night on the ship we attended a family-friendly 45 minute comedy show, long enough for the teens to enjoy a night out, but not so long that our toddler would get antsy or cranky.
The staff go out of their way to make sure the kids are having fun in the dining rooms, from magic tricks and music to origami animals made from the childrens’ menu, they defintely keep the little ones entertained! Our at-sea days consisted of breakfast (and complimentary Bloody Mary’s for the grown-ups since this was our 2nd sailing with Carnival) and then some fun around the ship.
Carnival WonderWorks features waterslides and a splash area for the little ones. Children still in diapers are asked not to use the pool; which was actually fine with us, given how crowded the pool was anyway.
We preferred just letting him run around the water park to wear himself out. And, Huzzah!! Naptime took a much welcomed comeback on this trip! Pure delight to come back from dinner with a new towel friend, Ellie the Elephant and a chocolate treat on his pillow!
Though my husband and I had gone to Atlantis in 2010, I really wanted the older kids to at least see the resort, so we shelled out the exorbitant prices (for non-hotel guests) to visit the Marine Habitat and Aquarium.
We try to visit aquariums whenever we can and have a membership at our ‘home’ aquarium in Charleston plus we get homeschool discounts at many aquariums and museums wherever we go so honestly I don’t think Atlantis is something we would ever do again, especially if you live in an area that has a decent aquarium.
It is definitely not a ‘must do’ in my opinion – unless of course you have to check out Atlantis. here are options that allow for a day of water park and beach fun if you’re on a cruise, but since we were headed to Coco Cay the next day, the beach was not that important.
When we arrived at Coco Cay we were shuttled off the ship (tendered) to the island and because I wanted to get the very most out of it as possible, I opted to purchase a cabana rental on the Carnival website ($159)
It sounded like the perfect deal, shaded area, seating, champagne, water, fruit and vegetables with dip, chips and dip and salsa and then grilled chicken and burgers at lunchtime a few steps away!
We were lucky enough to book early and found out that when we got on the ship we had been assigned Cabana #1, it’s the first cabana in the photo above on the right and looks out onto the beach…very private and a perfect spot, close to the restrooms but not too close!
It doesn’t get much better than this! There were three chairs out in the sun out front for those that wanted to lay out, plus we had free access to water floats and fins! (normally a charge)
There are 14 cabanas on Coco Cay that wrap around this section of the island; they all seem to offer great views but if you want easy access to the beach and restrooms/activities, you’ll want to book early for the lower numbered cabanas!
When venturing into the water at Coco Cay the first thing you notice is obviously that it’s so clear, then you see stingray and sea stars – Zach loved this, beats the touch tank at the aquarium any day!
I am so grateful that he was able to experience this, even at such a young age I know that by keeping these moments and photos in our conversations he will carry the experiences with him and be able to expand on them as he grows.
At around 3 p.m. we started to head back to the tender boat to get back on the ship as it would be leaving at 5 p.m. Bear in mind that Carnival Fantasy does not offer Coco Cay on the itinerary all the time, usually the stop is Freeport, so it’s important that if this sounds like something you would enjoy, to book early!
After a nice dinner and an exhausting but relaxing day we went to bed and spent our final day at sea exploring the ship, shopping and just enjoying the experience.
Zach got in a round of mini-golf and spent some time at the WaterWorks and generally just bouncing around the ship exploring and learning!
Cruising with a toddler can sound like the last thing you would ever want to do, but if you’re fully prepared for a family-oriented vacation, I think it could be probably one of the best vacations you’ll take.