Have an Epic Family Vacation at Sea

Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies shares her tips and tricks for cruising with a family.
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Taking a vacation with two kids under the age of 4 doesn’t have to be daunting: When you book a cruise aboard Symphony of the Seas—Royal Caribbean’s newest and largest ship—you’ll find literally dozens of daily shows, activities and adventures your whole group can enjoy. And when the adults need some alone time by the pool, kids of all ages can take part in our specially designed youth programs!

Our ships allow you to visit multiple bucket-list destinations on one vacation, and you can be as active or relaxed as you like. Just ask Rachel Parcell, founder of the lifestyle blog Pink Peonies. Over the summer, she and her family took a seven-night cruise throughout Europe that started in Barcelona and made stops in Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Marseille, France; and Pisa, Rome and Naples in Italy. They chose to make some days action-packed, but also took advantage on other days to unwind on the ship.

Here, Rachel talks about the city her 2- and 3-year-olds loved most, her best advice for traveling with kids, and why Symphony of the Seas translated to the perfect vacation for her family of four.

Q: What were your initial thoughts when you first set foot on the ship?

Rachel: From the moment we stepped on the ship, the entire staff was so friendly. That really stood out to me, and I thought to myself, “this is going to be a great vacation.” My kids were starving, so we ran to the first place we could find. It was Sorrento’s Pizza, and we got our food incredibly quickly. It was also delicious. Initially, I was confused because I thought we had to wait in line to pay. When we were told it was complimentary, I couldn’t believe it. Royal Caribbean made it so easy for us, from the very first moment.

Q: Did you enjoy the food on board?

Rachel: Food will make or break a vacation for me. I’ve been on cruises in the past where I was hungry the whole time because the food was terrible! But from our first 20 minutes aboard Symphony, I knew we’d be eating incredibly well. On top of that, we had 23 restaurants to choose from! We ate somewhere new every night, and each place truly was better than the next. We were blown away by the food. A standout for my family was the complimentary Solarium Bistro: There were so many nutritious breakfast options that my kids just loved, and it was great that they served lunch and dinner, too. Every night we would also go upstairs to the top deck to get complimentary soft serve ice cream and look out at the ocean. It was so special.

Q: Tell us about what your kids loved most on the ship.

Rachel: Oh my gosh, my two kids had so much to do on board! They loved everything on the Coney-Island style Boardwalk neighborhood, from the hand-carved carousel and the arcade at Playmakers to the little lily pad climbing stations right next to Johnny Rockets. It was so convenient that my kids could be entertained while we had dinner. Another feature they could not get enough of was Splashaway Bay, a pool area designated for kids: It had these small slides and water shooters and even mini lounge chairs.

Q: What was your favorite moment on land?

Rachel: We already had a good feel for the group shore excursions in the cities the ship stopped at prior, so in Rome we thought, let’s have our toddlers guide us. The four of us got lost in the streets of Rome and it was just so fun. When I look back on my memories of being a mom so far, that day in Rome is one of my favorites. We’d find a fountain, and my kids would grab their pennies and throw them in. We sat and people watched while we ate gelato and watched the birds fly into the town square. My kids were mesmerized. Letting them explore a city with a culture and architecture they’ve never seen was so magical.

Q: Any pro tips for getting some quiet time on the ship?

Rachel: We chose a few in port days to hang back on Symphony. I highly recommend it if you’ve already been to a city on the itinerary, because it really feels like you have the ship all to yourself. Taking advantage of all the amenities on port days—from an empty fitness center to special offers at Vitality Spa—was the ideal way to recharge after full days exploring cities.

Q: What are your best tips for traveling with little kids?

Rachel: My first piece of advice for traveling with little ones is to get a good stroller! We bought a new one specifically for this trip and it was amazing. Next, I always have snacks with me—even at restaurants—because kids can be such picky eaters. During our cruise, I’d do my homework and research every city and excursion beforehand so I could plan ahead. Were we heading to a beach town that would require extra toys and bathing suits? Were we going to be out exploring the city, and would the kids need comfortable walking shoes and a change of clothes in case they spilled spaghetti sauce on their shirts? If we were taking an hour-and-a-half bus drive into Florence, I’d make sure I had plenty to eat and drink and a game to keep my kids entertained. I also went online and learned everything I could about Symphony of the Seas—all the activities, all the restaurants. It’s important to know what you’re getting into. Nobody needs surprises when they’re traveling with children!

Ready to book your next family vacation? Head here to explore all the thrills that await you aboard Symphony of the Seas.


The Parcell family sailed with Royal Caribbean as part of a paid partnership.