Children Traveling: How-tos For Single-parent Vacation Cruises

Traveling Alone with Your Kid Made Easy, Things to Do as a Single Parent.

By Sherri Eisenberg | Published on November 3, 2022

If you're a single parent looking to plan an affordable vacation for your family, you may have a few non-negotiables, like childcare services, activities that excite young kids and teenagers alike and, of course, opportunities to kick back and relax yourself. Single-parent vacation cruises are an ideal getaway that delivers all that and more. After all, on a cruise, you only have to unpack once, the itinerary is left up to the cruise line, and the onboard amenities will keep you and your family busy on sea days. Here's everything you need to know before you book your first of many single-parent vacation cruises.

Mother and Son on The Blaster
Mother and Son on The Blaster
Navigator of the Seas Splashaway Bay
Splash Pad at Splashaway Bay on Navigator of the Seas

Affordable Family Vacations For Single Parents

As a parent traveling alone with their child or children, a more all-inclusive type of getaway such as a cruise is typically the best option for an affordable family vacation for single parent’s looking for travel deals. When browsing family-friendly cruises, you want to pick a ship that has onboard amenities your kids will enjoy while you soak up a little quiet time. For traveling with teens and tweens, for example, look for bustling arcades, around-the-clock onboard pizzerias, soft-serve spots, mini-golf courses and movie nights on the pool deck.

Fun ideals for taking a vacation with your toddler, on the other hand, a sprinkler park, a shallow pool area, and buffets that serve kid favorites like grilled cheese, mac and cheese, fries and chicken fingers will tick all your boxes.

If you've ever traveled alone with a young child, you know the importance of keeping little ones in their routine, no matter where they are in the world. And when it comes to babies and toddlers, nap time is nap time, regardless of the time zone. Planning a cruise vacation alone with your child helps you keep those routines, as you'll have a steady home base and can tailor your days to your preference.

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Best Places To Cruise As A Single Parent

chichen itza mexico kukulkan pyramid
chichen itza mexico kukulkan pyramid

It can be a little tricky to have a child traveling with one parent internationally or domestically, but you'll likely find that cruising alone with your child is just plain easier than traveling by car or plane.

Booking a cruise, and then exploring independently in some ports, is an adventure in itself. But when booking a cruise as a single parent, be sure to look for shore excursions you'll both enjoy.

Sailing to the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera is a great choice for beach babies — and beach parents — who are happy to spend their time dancing along the edge of the surf, sipping fruity drinks under a palm tree, and stretching out in the powdery white sand. Whether your child is young enough to giggle loudly as you hop over waves or old enough to be at the helm of a jet ski, there are so many fun things to do as a single parent on a Caribbean cruise vacation. You can also lean into adventure with hikes to waterfalls, days spent exploring Mayan ruins, boat rides to prime snorkeling spots and even dune buggy tours of a storied city.

Alaska Juneau Kids Looking to the Ocean
Alaska Juneau Kids Looking to the Ocean
Thrill your animal- and nature-loving child with a cruise to Alaska. Older kids will get a thrill from canoeing through icebergs and seeing the sights on helicopter tours, while little ones will love see wildlife in nature with  experiencing like whale-watching expeditions and meeting off-duty sled dogs. And for parent-child duos who want to try their hand at fishing, there's no better place to score the best tasting salmon.
Harmony of the Seas Pool Deck at Night
Kids Swimming at Night
For a child traveling internationally with one parent, shore excursions are an opportunity to explore something new in a low-stress environment. In addition to considering your collective interests, it's important to consider your child's age when picking an itinerary, and a Mediterranean or Northern European cruise will make it easy for you and your child to see a variety of countries and cultures in one go. After all, a teenager celebrating their high school graduation is more likely to remember and appreciate the hustle of a multi-country European tour than a nursery school-aged child, who may be better served by a mix of beach and pool days.
As a parent traveling alone with their child or children, a cruise is a great option for an affordable family vacation for single parents — they're practically all-inclusive.
Little Girl Looking at Fresh Made Scrambled Eggs, Windjammer
Little Girl Looking at Fresh Made Scrambled Eggs, Windjammer

How To Keep Your Family Happy On A Cruise Vacation

Children who are picky eaters love the food on cruise ships as they can experience the world traveling without ever being too far from their favorite foods if the something new that was not to their liking. Even at breakfast, the buffet gives your child a chance to try a few different things without having to commit. If, say, they don't love the scrambled eggs and bacon, there are always the Belgian waffles and strawberries to fall back on. At dinner time, after a long day in port with a small child, consider skipping the dining room and specialty restaurants (with their paced multi-course menus and more formal environment) in favor of the buffet, where the meal is faster and they can set eyes on the food before deciding what to try. Just be sure to save room for the dessert spread!

If you and your child are social, consider asking the maître d' or a social director if there are other single parent-child duos onboard. Often, the cruise ship staff can make introductions, easing the stress of finding like-minded passengers to dine or explore with during your sailing.

And when you're in port, be sure to introduce your child to the flavors of the destination, especially with foods they get to try for the first time. Whether that means sampling rich pistachio gelato in Sicily, savory jerk chicken and beef patties in Jamaica, smørrebrød (open-face sandwiches) in Copenhagen, crispy conch fritters in the Bahamas or fried fish tacos in Cabo San Lucas, it's sure to be a memory the two of you will never forget.

Traveling Alone With Your Child, Being Prepared For Anything

Onboard or on board, father son, climbing, rock wall, Rock Climbing Wall, or rockwall, helmet, sports, fun, ship or boat. US Hispanic or USH or Latin onboard or on board, Voyager of the Seas?, Voyager class, VY

Can one parent travel with their child on a cruise? Yes, one parent can travel alone with their kid abroad. Be prepared for anything, and that starts before you set sail, you'll hear lots of people say you should pack your vacation clothing in layers; both for you and your child, regardless of where your ship is sailing. Though you can take that cruise travel tip one step further by packing clothing in a single-color palette. Packing for vacation will be a breeze, and you'll be able to easily mix and match pieces (or change a stained shirt) throughout your weeklong cruise.

Before you finalize your packing list, though, be sure to check the dress code of your sailing trip. You don't want to pack formal attire only to realize you didn't really need those dressy duds after all and can get away with a sundress or a versatile pair of slacks.

Giovannis Mother and Daughter Specialty Dining
Giovannis Mother and Daughter Specialty Dining

While packing, take the time to plan ahead for the cruise activities you and your child hope to do while at sea. If you're looking for the best mother-daughter cruises or things to do on a father-son cruise, seek out ways you can maximize your time together onboard, like booking ahead a special dinner, spa day or show. Wherever you cruise in the world, plan for a mix of fun and downtime for both you and your child, so you can come home refreshed and ready to recount highlights of the trip to friends and family. Lean into whatever help the cruise line can provide in making your family vacation one that's smooth sailing all day every day.

Luckily, for single parents, cruise ships have kids clubs and even nurseries and babysitting services to keep the kids occupied while you get some much-needed alone time. Look into which programs would be a fit for your children, and plan to stretch out by the nearby pool with a book the first time they go to the club, just in case they're not comfortable. Then, see if you can book a spa treatment later in the cruise, once you're sure your child has acclimated to the new atmosphere. And be sure to look into evening entertainment while at sea, as some cruises have pajama parties, pool parties, and karaoke nights for tweens and teens, offering the opportunity for a parent to sip a cocktail or see a show. After all, a little "me time" is always on the "things to do" list of a working single parent.

weekend getaway cruise kid blast fun waterpark pool
weekend getaway cruise kid blast fun waterpark pool
My final piece of travel advice is to capture each and every vacation experience on your family cruise. Soak up these moments, and don't be afraid to ask the ship staff and fellow cruisers to snap a photo of you and your child having fun. After all, children grow up fast, and you'll want to enjoy these photos long after the vacation ends.

Written By

Sherri Eisenberg is a New York City-based travel and food writer who has written about travel for Condé Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Bon Appétit, and The Los Angeles Times and has served as cruise editor for Travel + Leisure and, before that, for Travel Holiday. As senior travel editor of Condé Nast’s Brides, she won the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for best travel coverage in a non-travel magazine. Sherri has been on more than 100 cruises and today she keeps a bag packed at all times so she can hop on a plane — or a ship — at a moment’s notice.

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