Guys, can you believe it? Part 3 of 3 of my “How to Cruise With Kids” series is FINISHED! My bleary eyes would shed a tear if they weren't blood-shot from 3 weeks of staring at my computer…haha…
Recently my husband and I took our 3 little kids (ages 4yrs, 2.5y, and just turned 1) on a 5-night cruise/1-week trip to the Bahamas and Florida…and survived. In fact, we had the time of our lives and want to do it again! How did we cruise with kids and survive? What did we pack, what did it cost, how did we survive 8 hrs of airports and flights? Don’t you worry…I have spent (literally) 3 weeks putting together this 3-part mega-post that will fill you in on every nitty gritty detail!
First was PART 1. Yesterday was PART 2 which was all about our cruise and how we managed with kids. Today will teach you all my tricks of how to cruise with kids in terms of travel: surviving airports and flights, hotels, site-seeing, and more. So enjoy part 3: TRAVELING WITH KIDS!
P.S…not a single inch of this 3-part series is sponsored, I wasn’t paid in any way to write any of these opinions. Not that it should matter, because I only write about things I believe in paid or not, but just wanted to share in case it gives you warm fuzzies
Part 1 covers: Booking and preparation. How to find the best deal on your cruise, flights, and hotels, how to book your cruise, what to pack and bring, and other trips for BEFORE YOU GO.
Part 2 covers: All about cruising! What to expect, things to do on and off the ship, how to manage cursing with kids, and a full rundown of our cruise and what it was like for us, and other trips for CRUISING WITH KIDS.
Part 3 covers: Traveling survival tips. How we entertained our kids on the flights, survived the hotel stays, kept our kids behaved and happy throughout the trip, and other tips on TRAVELING WITH KIDS.
PART 3: TRAVELING WITH KIDS
Here's what this post covers, in order:
- Packing & trip prep
- Airport tips
- Flights with kids
- Entertaining your kids on a flight
- Snacks, food, and drinks
- Naps and sleeping (hotels and flights)
- Hotel stays with kids
PACKING & TRIP PREP:
Here are some of our best trip-prep tips (say that 5x fast!). Some are mentioned in Part 1, but lots of tips are here also:
- Hide your kids’ favorite books and toys at least 2 weeks before your trip. Bust them out when traveling and it will do a much better job of entertaining them! No need to run out and buy tons of new toys, just make their old ones “new” again.
- Buy “souvenirs” before the trip! A reader gave me this tip and I LOVE it. Buy a few small trinkets before the trip and pack them with you, then give them to your kids while on the trip. They won't care where you bought it from, they will just think it's cool that they got a gift while on vacation and the memories will be tied to the gift without the hefty price tag!
- Have an “electronics fast” at least 1 week before you go. No iPads, DS’s, TV, nada. If you take it away, it will be all the more special on your trip. And trust me, you’ll need all the electronics you can get on your trip.
- Set out your suitcases early. As explained in THIS POST, I will set out my suitcases one week early. Throughout the week as I do laundry, anything I want to take on the trip goes straight in the suit cases. It gives me plenty of time to think through outfits, and allows me to give up on unnecessary laundry at the last minute if I run out of time, knowing I have everything packed that I need and can let the rest go.
- Be luggage-wise. Don't over-pack, but be realistic and think through everything you need. We tend to do 2 to 4 bags that we check, one carry-on “diaper bag”, and one personal bag for everyone. Here are the bags we packed for this trip:
- One large suit case that held all the kids’ clothes,
- One large case that held mine and Bubba’s clothes,
- Another large case that held the floaties, toys, our pool bag, snorkel equipment, and other odds & ends.
- The pink floral bag (from Zulily) was my carry-on bag that had snacks, bottles, baby food, diapers, toys, sippy cups, and everything else we needed for the flight.
- The black duffel held diapers and wipes, and spare snacks. Everything in this bag would be reduced by the end of our trip, so we planned for it to be our bag to throw odds and ends that you inevitably gain throughout your trip.We also like having an empty bag to toss dirty clothes in throughout the week so they don't stink up the clean clothes in our suit cases.
- A mini backpack for me (it's blue, but it's upside down so it looks black in the pic) that I used as my diaper bag/personal bag, It's a Kelty bag that I got from a thrift store for $2. I ran it through the washing machine and it's seriously good as new. I LOVE that thing and really really really recommend a mini backpack to a diaper bag when traveling! And yes, it fit my books and entertainment, sunglasses, and everything else from my purse into that tiny backpack. How? I have no idea. Must be magic…
- Bubba’s full-sized backpack (not pictured) which he used as his personal bag, and carried all our electronics in it,
- Our two big kids had to carry their own backpacks that were full of toys, snacks, and their blankets to sleep on the plane (more on these below).
TRAVEL TIP: Using luggage with 4 wheels reduces damage and theft. When luggage handlers load a plane, they have to drag luggage along the cargo floor. No wheels? The bags will be dragged, kicked, and tossed. It's true! I watched an entire 20/20 on it 😉
If you're anything like me, the long travel before and after your trip are FAR more daunting than the actual trip itself! We flew in 1 day before our cruise, and had 1.5 days after our cruise in Florida before flying back to Utah (see why and all other details in Part 1). Here are tips for how we make airports and flights with kids manageable:
- Check in early. Mostly just as peace of mind that you have one less thing to worry about. However, we flew on Southwest (see why in Part 1) and seats aren't assigned. We set alarms in our phone to remind us to check in 24 hours prior to our flight, hoping to get “A” boarding. Either way, family boarding is between the A and B group which isn't too bad.
- Use curbside check-in. We are BIG believers in the Skycap! Bubba will unload the luggage and get us checked in while I unload the kids and get them settled in the stroller. You leave your bags with the skycap, and all we take is our stroller and carry-on items. It's SO MUCH BETTER than dragging all your luggage through security! And between you and me, they tend to be more forgiving about bag weight. Just be sure to tip at least $1-$2 per bag.
- Don't take your kids to the parking lot. It took us a few years, but Bubba and I have MASTERED the airport system. Once checked in at Skycap, the kids and I will head inside and either get a head-start on going through security, or we'll wait for Bubba to get back. Bubba will drive the car to long-term parking without us. We used to park first, then drag all our bags and kids to the shuttle stop, wait forever in the freezing cold, have to haul our kids and bags and stroller one at a time onto the shuttle, then haul them down, then drag everything through check-in. It was a nightmare. By dividing and conquering it keeps the kids (and us) happier. Since all I had was my flowered bag, mini backpack (worn on my back), and stroller, I went through security by myself while Bubba parked the car.
SAVINGS TIP: There are often cheaper long-term lots available just outside of the airport. Much of the time they offer coupons for extended days (park 3 days get 1 free).
- Have your kids carry their own bags. Hutch (just turned 4) and Priya (2.5) both carry their own bags for basically the entire trip. We will have them drag their own baby rolling suitcases. We needed big bags for this trip and didn't do that this time, though. We use rolling backpacks (as shown in this old Instagram pic)
Or mini backpacks that they can carry (which is what we did on this trip).
More on what's inside these backpacks below in the “activities and entertainment” section.
- Don't worry about liquids in security. In all the airports I've been to, they are very understanding about liquids when traveling with kids. I pack (sometimes large) bottles of milk, juice, water, juice boxes, hand sanitizer, and my coffee canister of hot water (for baby bottles) every time I travel with my kids. It's never been an issue. Just know that it will slow your security experience slightly, so be patient and cooperative. Be sure to take it all out and put it in a separate bin, and inform the TSA that you have family liquids. They will test them for traces of explosives or whatever and then you're on your way. They don't have to touch the liquid or break seals on anything, so don't let that intimidate you.
- We check our stroller at the gate so we can use it to walk through the airport. When we had a layover in Vegas they accidentally sent our stroller all the way to Utah without us. They were nice enough to give us a wheelchair to use instead. Honestly, it was one of the funnest times in our whole trip!! The kids laughed so hard I almost peed my pants (literally, sadly). Bubba raced us around the airport, popping wheelies and ducking around rows of chairs. Our layover was at 10pm, and the kids were beyond exhausted and cranky. Turns out this was the perfect distraction to help us stay happy during the 1hr layover.
Which brings me to the next point…
- Entertaining your kids in an airport can be tough. My kids had their backpacks, but I tried to save those for when we were on a plane, confined to a small seat with no room to wiggle. To keep our kids entertained we walked around, watched airplanes out the window, and played “Red light, green light” and tag. It takes effort to be active and involved with your kids and to keep them entertained…but they are kids for heaven's sake! How can you expect them to behave well and stay happy if they're bored and sitting still all day? Let loose and have a little fun with them!
From boarding the plane to landing on the runway our travel time averaged 8 hours each way because we couldn't get a direct flight. Yes, shoot me. Here are some of the things we did to make our flights easier:
- Divide up the kids strategically. There were only 3 seats to a row on our flight, and 4 seats needed for our family. Bubba and I sat across from each other and pulled the divide and conquer, zone defense strategy. Beck (just turned 1) was BY FAR going to be our hardest child on the flight (can't draw, color, read, or sit still), so I sat with him, and Bubba sat with the two bigger kids.
- Wishful thinking sometimes works. When we're boarding the plane, I always ask the flight attendant if it's a full flight. It usually is. I know you're not supposed to do this…so don't rat on me…but I will usually stick my bag in the seat next to me anyway. If the flight ends up NOT being full for whatever reason, the seat next to me is free which makes a HUGE difference when traveling with kids. It sometimes works! If you try this trick, obviously graciously move your bag when someone asks to sit next to you. Our flight on the way to Florida wasn't full so I ended up getting the whole row to myself, which really helped with naps (see below).
- Use the potty RIGHT AWAY…both adults and kids! We usually make it to the airport just a few minutes before boarding. Risky move, I know, but I can't stand to be at the airport with 3 young kids any longer than we have to. So whether we have time for a family airport potty break or not, we force our kids to use the potty on the plane before we take off, and Bubba and I do the same. The worst thing in the world is getting your kids to sleep in your arms and the urge to pee strikes! Or one of the kids falls asleep and the other has to go, kicking the other awake as they step over them to get to the bathroom. Use it before taking off and it will make your life easier in some way or another.
- Don't pull out the toys and games yet! Wait as long as you can before pulling out the artillery. We don't let our kids play with anything in their backpacks until we take off. If you give them your best ammo up-front, you won't have anything to bail you out when it gets tough later.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT:
Here are some tips for keeping your young ones entertained on a flight:
- Give them their OWN snacks and activities. At home, we are really into sharing – they have hardly anything that they don't have to share. On vacation? Not so much. We divide everything up to eliminate as much fighting as possible…and it really works! In each of their little bags they have their own:
- Coloring books
- Crayons (the twistable kind is the best because they don't break easily)
- Color Wonder pack (this is a MUST HAVE when traveling with young kids! Best invention ever and worth the money!)
- Stickers (from the Dollar store)
- Pad of paper and pen (they think it's so cool to draw with a pen). Bubba would encourage them and play games with them to keep drawing from getting boring so fast. He would give them a letter and see who could draw it the fastest, or he would draw a letter and have them guess, or they would take turns telling each other what to draw a picture of. He had to get creative, but if he didn't interact with them so much they would've been bored of drawing in literally 5 minutes or less.
- Toys – The ones that I had hid from the kids a few weeks earlier (mentioned above).
- For Hutch it was his Leapfrog TAG books that this electronic pen reads to him, and a few figurines and race cars.
- For Priya it was her little Leapfrog toddler laptop she got for Christmas, and a few of her princess figurines.
- Their favorite blanket (they each have a favorite small one)
- Sweatshirt (momma's not going to carry that!)
- Snack bag – see more on this in the “Snacks/Food” section
- Change of clothes. It's inevitable that someone will spill, pee, or who knows what on their clothes. I have never not needed spare clothes when flying with kids! I stuck a simple shirt and basketball shorts in each of the kids' bags (and packed extra PJ's in my bag for Beck), just in case. They don't take up much room and are certainly worth the packing space.
Anything in their backpack is fair game at any time. If there's something special I'm saving for strategic moments in the trip, it goes in MY bag, not theirs.
- iPads are miracle workers. They just are. Even for the baby! Before we left we made sure to load our iPads up with fun games and apps, and good movies. The movie Frozen single-handedly saved our trip, I'm convinced. We have two iPads (my husband won them both, believe it or not!). Sometimes the big kids would share an iPad (so Beck could have one), using a headphone splitter and iPad stand. I recommend using over-the-head headphones, because the ear buds don't stay in little ears very well.
TRAVEL TIP: Put a sock, burp rag, or scrunched-up napkin under the headphones to make them fit little heads better, like we did here with Priya when she was younger.
- For the baby (who just turned 1): I brought virtually no baby toys. I had one rattle, two board books, and one rattle ball toy. Why? Toys don't work on vacation for a one year old! Beck's at the age where he's not entertained by normal toys. He's more interested in wrappers, the floor, people's hair, the tray table, and anything else that's new to him. I let him explore as much as I could while keeping him from bugging anyone. He had more fun tearing bits of the free Sky Mall magazine (which I let him do, I just picked up the mess) than he did playing with the rattle. When he got super wiggly and cranky I let him play on the iPad and watch a movie until he eventually fell asleep in my arms.
Hungry kids = cranky times! Here's how we were prepared and kept things running smoothly:
- Pack individual snack bags. As mentioned above, each kid (the baby included) gets their own gallon Ziplock filled with snacks. Each bag is identical, but we put their name on it. They can eat whatever they want, whenever they want. If they are hungry, I say “pull out your bag!”. No fighting over snacks, no whining about “But I don't want that snack!”. They get choices and autonomy, they don't have to share, they carry it themselves, and it's not mommy's problem any more!
- Pack travel-friendly snacks. The picture above was from a road trip we took months ago, because I forgot to take a photo this trip. So that is actually a bad example! On this trip since we were flying, I packed NO crackers. Why? They crumble! They are a mess! And once they are crushed to dust in the kids' bags (that they are carrying themselves and getting beaten to a pulp), they are inedible, which doesn't help anyone. Here are some snacks that I pack and recommend:
- Sliced apples (I sprinkle Fruit Fresh on them) with travel peanut butter To-Go cups.
- Fruit leather. I love THIS KIND from Costco.
- String cheese. I freeze it, put it in their bag frozen, and it stays good for hours.
- Raisins and dried blueberries. My kids love THESE ONES, also from Costco.
- Freeze-dried fruit, like THESE apples. They aren't cheap, but they are healthy and my kids love them, so I save them specifically for travel.
- Applesauce pouches. Both my baby and my big kids LOVE these.
- Fruit snacks. These are considered at treat at my house, so I put two packs in their bag and tell them they can eat them whenever they want, but when they are gone, they're gone. Then, throughout the trip whenever they ask for a treat I say “oh darn, you ate your treats already!”. Don't get me wrong, I'm a sugar addict and have no problem giving candy or treats to my kids…but I am trying to avoid any and all fights on vacation so it helps avoid the subject altogether.
- For the baby I packed snacks as well and left it in my bag. For him I packed many of the same snacks as above, as well as tons of baby food pouches. I bought mine at Costco, but they were like THESE ONES. They are pricey so I don't use them at home, but they are SO EASY when traveling.
I brought tons of extra snacks in that black duffel (mentioned above) so I could also pack a gallon bag for them for the flight home, and for mini bags throughout the trip.
TRAVEL TIP: As mentioned in part 1, we bring tons of empty Ziplock bags with us. We use them as makeshift snack holders for the kids, we put our toiletries in them, and use them to pack leftovers and snacks throughout the trip.
ANOTHER TRAVEL TIP: We love using condiment cups when traveling. They are great for tons of things, but especially for snacks. The containers are small, sturdy, and have lids. You can get them at Walmart in the paper plate aisle, or online HERE.
- To avoid buying meals at the airport we would make PB'J's and bagel sandwiches (less likely to squish and get soggy) and pack them with us, or we'd run through a drive through or run to a store before going to the airport. Sometimes buying food at the airport is unavoidable, but we really tried to plan ahead and do anything we could to avoid it.
- For drinks we packed our own water bottles so we could refill them with water throughout the trip. We also took advantage of the free drink service on the plane. We packed two empty sippy cups for the kids to avoid spillage, and several bottles for Beck.
TRAVEL TIP: On your flight (well, on Southwest, anyway) they will bring you an entire can of your drink if you ask. So when they ask us what we'd like to drink we say, “A can of apple juice please”. It makes it easier with kids, and if you don't want to drink it right away you can toss it in your bag and save it for later.
- Tether to avoid drops. Have you ever dropped a bottle on a plane? It ends up at the Pilot's feet in 2.3 seconds! After lots of trial and error we finally learned to strap Beck's bottles to my arm. I got the one pictured for a few bucks at Walmart, but you can find some online like THESE. I wish I had bought some for the big kids too, because Hutch lost one of his sippy cups on the first flight.
NAPS AND SLEEPING:
My kids are not typically “sleep on the go” kids, but we've figured out ways to make sure they get naps while traveling:
- Use a sleep aid to help. I wasn't able to get my hands on any sleep aid before the trip, and I think it would've made a HUGE difference. Zarbee's is the one I recommend because it's all-natural, and is purely for sleep. They have it for kids and adults. I was able to negotiate a deal for my readers!! Get $1.50 off any product online using the code ZARBEESSLEEP, and get FREE SHIPPING of any order over $10!!! This coupon code won't last long so use it while you can.
- Stay consistent. At home our kids nap around 1:00 each day. While the bigger kids can survive one day without a nap, we still gave our kids a nap every afternoon on the trip, to stick with the consistency and routine. It helps their little internal clocks anticipate and accept a nap…and ultimately kept them happier and better behaved on the trip! Mommy and daddy were more than ready for naps every day too.
- When we're at a hotel we make it dark, turn on their white noise (see part 1), and lay with the kids if we need to, to keep them quiet and still long enough to fall asleep. We will put Beck's porta-crib in the bathroom if it will fit since we find separating the kids helps them all sleep longer.
- Call ahead for a crib. Most hotels have cribs or pack-n-plays, so you don't have to bring yours – just make sure you call ahead and check before booking. Might not be a bad idea to pack your own crib sheet, though!
- On flights we do what we can!
- Beck fell asleep in my arms on the flight to Florida. I put on a movie to get him to sit still and get sleepy, then turned it off, gave him a bottle, and snuggled him in to lots of blankets.
- Hutch also fell asleep on the flight. He was acting tired. Since I had the whole row to myself (lucky me!) I put up the arm wrests, had him lay down, put one buckle around him, and he slept for an hour (not pictured).
- Our flights home were very late at night. Hutch fell asleep, but Priya never did. We just let her watch movies on the iPad so as to not disturb anyone. Beck fought sleeping SO HARD! But he finally crashed, after an exhausting flight trying to keep him still and happy.
Staying in a hotel can be both a fun adventure, and a situational nightmare. Here's what we do to keep it more of an adventure for us!
- Don't look down. We stayed in a pretty gross (but totally functional) motel in Hollywood, FL the night before our cruise (details in Part 1). We just tried to keep our kids off the floor, and kept our eyes straight ahead. It was only for one night and it was worth the $100+ in savings for us. We thought of it like camping; roughing some germs in the wild 😉 To keep them off the floor and expend some major wiggles, we let them jump on the beds. Probably shouldn't let them do that, but trust me, it was far better than the alternative!
- Ask for a mini fridge and microwave. Sometimes hotels have them, sometimes not. But if you can get one, it will make a HUGE difference in cost for you!
- Get outside! The longer kids are spent cooped up in a room together, the more fights and issues you'll have amongst your kids (and parents). Get outside! Go for a walk! Go swimming! Find a table and eat outside! Bubba grabbed us two $5 pizzas from down the street, and we had a picnic outside our motel room. Nudie, white-trash pizza party at the motel? Don't mind if I do.
Because we had a fridge and microwave in our room, we were able to save our pizza and eat it for breakfast too! Only spending $10 on food that last us two days was a great way to save.
- Do whacha gotta do. For those times where the kids needed to be inside and were bored and driving us nuts, we pulled out the iPad and let them earn screen time by helping us pack and clean up. We would put Beck in the crib with toys and put him in view of the iPad to keep him off the gross floor.
- Take advantage of continental breakfasts. At our hotel in Miami (the one we stayed at after our cruise), it offered a continental breakfast which is one of the reasons we went with it vs a different hotel. Sure, there were plenty of breakfast places around. But we would rather save our money and go out for a nice lunch or dinner, rather than blow $40+ on breakfast when our kids would really be fine with bagels and cereal. It's all about choices, people!
- Ask for late check-out. On the last day of our vacation we didn't have to be to the airport until 4pm, but checkout was at noon. It's rough to have that much time to kill with no car and a bunch of luggage, especially without naps! We got our checkout extended until 12, and asked them to store our luggage for a few hours. We put the kids down for a mini nap at 11 (which only really worked for the baby, unfortunately), checked out at 12, then hit up some site-seeing and grabbed lunch in Miami for a few hours.
TAXIS, SHUTTLES, AND DRIVING:
As mentioned in Part 1, we opted to use shuttle vans vs renting a car in Miami (we had 1.5 days there after our cruise).
- We didn't bring car seats (as mentioned in Part 1) so we always stuck with shuttle vans vs small cars and taxis. One shuttle van we took actually provided us a car seat for Beck, because we called ahead and asked.
- Our kids didn't really get naps on the last day of our trip because we had to check out of our hotel early. They were exhausted and starting to get cranky so for the long ride I used our handy iPad headrest holder to use in the taxi.
We got home to Utah after midnight. Traveling home is the WORST Part of a trip. If there hadn't been such a significant price difference, we definitely would have flown home same-day we ended our cruise. If you want to extend your trip beyond your cruise, I recommend doing it at the BEGINNING of the trip when your kids are fresh and well-rested.
Even with the long, late travels home, we had the time of our lives and look forward to the day when we can do a trip like this again.
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WHEEW! Finally finished!
Those are all the tips I can think to share with you about traveling with kids, that hasn't already been shared in part 1 and part 2. I hope this helps you with your traveling endeavors! Again, for lots of ROAD TRIP WITH KIDS travel tips, see HERE and HERE.
GO BACK TO PART 1 HERE
GO BACK TO PART 2 HERE