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7 Truths About Cruise Ship Kids Club that You Need to Know About

Are you going on a cruise with kids? If so, you need to read this. I’ve been on over 25 cruises and sailed with my kids many, many times. Below, I’ll share my experience and insights from various cruise kids clubs that you should know about.

Kids’ Clubs Can Get Full

One thing that may come as a surprise to most parents when they’re planning a cruise vacation is that on some cruise ships, the kids club can get full and you’ll be turned away! While you might assume that once you’re onboard, you can drop off your child at the kids club whenever you please, this isn’t always the case.

Unfortunately, if you’re on a cruise ship with lots of kids, the kids club can fill up. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s why, if you are on a cruise with a lot of kids, don’t be late for the kids club drop off since there’s a risk it might be full and unable to accommodate your child.

For example, during my sister’s 7 night Norwegian cruise to Bermuda from New York, they repeatedly missed out on the kids’ club. Every time they attempted to go, they were turned away and informed that it was at full capacity. As a result, my niece and nephew only managed to attend the kids’ club once throughout the entire cruise!

Mixed Age

One important thing to know about the cruise kids’ club is that they may combine different age groups. This means if there aren’t enough kids in your child’s age group, they might include the next age group. While this is fine for older or more mature kids, it can be overwhelming for younger ones.

For example, when my son was 3.5 years old on a Norwegian cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, he was the only child in his age group (it was February and there were very few kids on the cruise). As a result, he was grouped with the older kids, which caused some issues.

He didn’t want to return to the kids’ club since he felt uncomfortable with the older boys, who were bigger and more boisterous. When I informed the kids’ club staff, they were very apologetic and made sure to keep him separate from the older boys. They even sent a bag of small toys to our cabin to encourage him to return, which worked, thankfully.

If you have a younger child, find out how they are grouping the kids and let the kids’ club staff know if you don’t want your child grouped with older kids. The last thing you want is for your child to have a bad experience at the cruise kids’ club—they may not want to go back!

Cruise ship kids club

You Really Can’t Relax

When I first started taking cruises with my kids, I had this idea that I could drop my kids off at the kids’ club and then spend some time relaxing at the spa, maybe do a bit of shopping, and even enjoy some quiet time by the adults-only pool. I was mistaken! The reality is that it’s hard to truly unwind even when you leave your child at the kids’ club.

That’s because the kids club’s operating hours are quite short, typically only 2-3 hours long. The morning sessions are from 9 to 11, then you have to pick up your child for lunch. After that, the afternoon sessions run from 1 to 4 pm, and once again, it’s time to pick them up for dinner. You can drop them off again after dinner, and there are the occasional days when your child can stay for dinner, making it a longer stretch of time at the kids club.

Honestly, it involves a lot of dropping off and picking up, which makes it quite challenging to fully relax on your cruise! Plus, some cruise lines will give you a pager so they can call you anytime to come pick up your child! 

My suggestion is that you manage your expectations so you won’t be disappointed when you go on your cruise!

Expect Long Lines

You need to be aware that the line for dropping your kids off at the cruise ship kids’ club can get pretty long, especially on the first day. Expect a lot of parents filling out registration forms and enrolling their kids on the first day of the kids’ club.

So don’t make a spa massage appointment right at drop-off! If you do, you might find yourself stuck in line for longer than expected and end up late for your massage. In the worst case scenario, you could even get turned away if the kids’ club is full! My suggestion is to avoid scheduling anything right at drop-off and give yourself some extra time in case the line is long.

Not All Activities are Drop Off

One thing about the kids’ club on cruise ships is that not all activities are drop-off activities. There are many open houses at the kids’ club where your kids can go play, but it will require parent supervision—you can’t just leave them. For example, at MSC Cruise, they had a kids’ club open house in the middle of the day from 1 to 3 pm, and afternoon drop-off started at 3 p.m. 

Another thing to know is that many cruise lines advertise that their kids’ club welcomes children as young as 6 months old. The reality is that kids under 3 years old are welcome, but it’s not a drop-off program. Most cruise lines provide a baby room with childproofing and toys for young children, but parents must stay to supervise their kids. Typically, for most cruise lines, children must be at least 3 years old to participate in the drop-off program at the kids’ club.

Cruise ship kids club

Some Kids’ Clubs are More Personalized

One thing I’ve learned from years of taking cruises with kids is that not all kids’ clubs on cruise lines are the same. Some are more personalized, while others feel chaotic.

It seems like it depends on how popular the cruise ship is among families. If there are not many kids on board, the kids’ club experience tends to be more personalized. For example, during our August Alaska cruise with Princess Cruises, there were few kids on board, and my kids had a great time. My daughter even won the Foozball tournament and a cruise ship drawing contest, and the captain personally presented her prize, giving us a great photo opportunity.

On the other hand, I’ve found that cruise lines popular with families, such as Norwegian Cruises and Royal Caribbean, offer a more generic kids’ club experience. So, in a way, it is better to sail on a cruise line that is not known to be a family cruise line because there will be fewer kids in the kids’ club (I don’t have proof to back this up; it’s just my opinion based on my experience!)

Kids’ Club Drop Off Hours

I’ve noticed that some cruise lines have different drop-off hours for their Kids’ Clubs. For example, Norwegian Cruise and Princess Cruise have morning, afternoon, and evening sessions, each lasting about 2-4 hours. There are breaks in between, where parents have to come to pick up their child for lunch and dinner.  

On the other hand, MSC Cruise has a morning drop-off session (9am to 11am), a long lunch break from 11 am to 3 pm, and then an afternoon drop-off session from 3 pm to midnight, allowing kids to stay for dinner. 

I suspect this difference in Kids Club hours could be related to cultural differences. Since MSC is a European cruise line, their Kids Club hours seem to follow a more European schedule, which includes a long lunch break and a late evening schedule. It’s aligned with the Italian schedule of a long lunch/siesta and late dinner. 

American cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruise seem to align their Kids Club schedules with the early bedtimes of American children. This observation is based on my experience with MSC, the only European cruise line I’ve sailed on so far. Check out: 15 Random but Useful Things to Pack to Survive Cruising with Kids

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