Cruising with Young Kids ~ Tips and Tricks

Cruising with Young Kids

It is true – we have been on quite a few cruises, and we realize what an amazing blessing this is.  We could never afford to do this on our own and are spoiled by grandparents.  Recently real life friends asked me for advice about cruising with tots, and I figured they probably weren’t the only ones with questions!  Because of our cruising experience, I thought I would share some things I have learned along the way for those of you who might be thinking of taking a cruise in the future, with young kids. It really is a great experience and way more affordable for us homeschoolers who can easily go during the off season.  All of our cruises have been purposely planned {by my mom} during the absolute cheapest times of the year {usually Feb-Mar}.

We have cruised multiple times {with young kids and without}, but with the young kids we have been on Royal Caribbean {once ~ Freedom of the Seas} and Holland America {more than once ~ Nieuw Amsterdam, Westerdam, Eurodam}.  The youngest we have taken a child cruising with us was age 1 {Ladybug}.

Our favorite…

Holland America for sure!  Here’s why…

  • Holland America ships are smaller ships with less to do.  This may seem like a bad thing with kids, but we personally think it is a great thing.  The Royal Caribbean ship was so big {we weren’t even on their biggest one!} and had so much to do {rock climbing, putt putt, ice skating, etc.} we felt like we were always trying to fit in something else. It was honestly exhausting!
  • HEATED POOL…need I say more?  Oh yeah and it has a glass “ceiling” that closes if it rains or is chilly!  The pool wasn’t huge and is “deep” even at the shallow end, but this didn’t bother us-the heat made up for it! Royal’s pool was freezing and it was chilly the week we went so we were in the pool very little. Sure they had an awesome kiddie pool and spray park but my kids were shaking and blue because they were so cold!
  • The service…amazing!  Although Royal Caribbean had awesome service too, Holland America steps it up a notch.  Honestly it is just in the genuine kindness you feel from just about everyone on board.
  • The food…awesome!  Again, Royal had great food too, but Holland America steps it up, especially with their breakfast/lunch buffet options.
  • HAL Kids Program…wonderful!  It begins for age 3 and goes up.  Each night, we had a late dinner seating {8pm} but HAL opened at 7pm, so the boys could just eat at the buffet {Lido deck} and head up to their club. Other ships have amazing kids’ programs too.  Be sure you know ages, most are potty trained 3 years old and up only.

But, you might not be like us!

Many people would disagree with us for choosing an “older people” ship as our favorite with young kids, but we like to relax, not be so busy.  If you enjoy constant activity, have lot of energy, love crowds and tons of kids, I definitely recommend choosing Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney or one of the more kid activity based ships.


Packing Tips…

Cruising with a Tot

  • clothespins {to hang up wet suits everywhere!}
  • power strip {there are usually only 1-2 outlets and taking things in and out is a pain}
  • DVDs {check beforehand, all of our rooms had DVD players in room, if not-bring a small one}
  • noise machine, the hallways get loud
  • night light
  • wet bag {or plastic store bags, to tote wet items}
  • lanyard/hole punch {to use for your key cards, wear them as necklaces}
  • bandaids
  • more sunscreen than you would ever think you’d need, oh and sunscreen chapstick!
  • hats for everyone, swim shirts too-the sun at sea is brutal
  • wind breakers/sweatshirts
  • blow up ducky pool {many rooms have showers only, and if you have a kid who only takes baths, you don’t want the fight in a tiny cruise ship bathroom}
  • umbrella stroller {yup, even for kids a bit too old for one} We brought one on a whim when Ladybug was almost 4 and used it at every port and are so glad we brought it at the last minute.
  • baby carrier {Ergo recommended} for non-walking babies. We used this a LOT when Ladybug was 1.
  • small toys {Littlest Pet Shops, play doh, cars, squinkies, crayons, coloring books, etc.} They are easy to pack and bring to dinner to occupy kids when the wait is long.
  • small purse for little girls, or bag for boys {to carry those tiny toys you brought}.  We brought a tiny bag with tiny toys to dinner on the nights when she came with us and it helped tremendously for multiple course meals!  iPads/iPhones aren’t a bad distraction either!

      A few other things to think about when planning…

    Potty Trained?

Many cruise ships have a potty-trained only rule about their pools.  This means no swim diapers of any sort. Be prepared if you aren’t going on a ship with kiddie pools {no Holland America ships had kiddie pools}. I have heard people bring small blow up pools to let babies sit in on deck.

Sleep Arrangements

All cruises we have been on provided a pack and play free of charge and we used that, be sure to ask, I am not sure all cruise lines provide one.  When Ladybug was almost 4 she slept in the loft bed for the first time, with a nice pillow border we created.  She LOVED it!


Bring your own blow up rings/floaty devices, even for your older kids.  They are fun and every child wants one, we regretted the year we only brought one for Ladybug and not the boys.  Last year was much more peaceful, we brought 4 {in case one popped}. Also-goggles, swim socks/shoes for young tots {decks can be slippery}, swim shirts, hats {our favorite}, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.

You Don’t Have to Get Off the Boat!

Some of our favorite times are when we stay on the ship when others get off at a port!  We have a few ports we don’t care for {with kids} and we love to enjoy the empty pool. Once our kids are older this may change, but while we have a young one, some ports just aren’t worth the trouble of lugging them all around, especially if you’ve already seen it once.

Balcony or Not?

We have only sailed with a balcony one time, the others have mostly been the cheapest inside staterooms, and once we had a window.  We got the balcony this past time and although it was nice, I don’t think I would pay extra for it, since we didn’t use it nearly as much as I thought we might. Some would disagree, but I vote for saving money!

Room Service Breakfast

It took a few cruises for us to figure out what a gem this service was to us.  You see, I am not a morning person and neither is Ladybug. Having to get dressed and look decent just to go get breakfast was a bummer to us.  Cruises offer free 24 hour room service, just fill out the card and hang it on the door with the time you want it delivered.  This also made sure we didn’t oversleep and miss the day!

Tot Food and Drinks

If you have a younger tot still using a sippy cup, be sure to bring a stash of disposable sippy cups and a small bottle of dish soap. I just rinsed them out all week long in our sink and we always had a cup of water, juice or milk in the little room fridge for her. Also, we would snag tot snacks for her to keep in the room too {yogurt, cereal, crackers, bananas}, all from the buffet or from room service.


Have you cruised with young kids?  Any advice to add to my list?

Following her lead…

Following the Lead of Your Preschooler at Home

As I continue to follow the lead of the child, I am back to the drawing board with Ladybug {age 4}. What worked for her last year, is no longer working and, it is time to change. I still like the current routine, curriculum, and plan I have, however, she isn’t thriving as she once was so I am back to the drawing board. I enjoyed rereading Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Homeschoolers {a guest post from Becky on my blog} to get my wheels spinning once again.

I have decided to not use any formal curriculum for Preschool or Kindergarten, and instead enroll her in Calvert 1st grade when I feel she is ready. This gives me a lot of freedom, and since she is a younger 4 {turned 4 in April 2013}.  I have plenty of time, we are in no hurry! I really want to enjoy these last early childhood years, it is truly my favorite time in a child’s educational life. We aren’t planning to have anymore children, so this is my last couple of years to fully engage and enjoy this time period with my youngest!

Wait ~ does that mean I might stop using my own preschool program?  Yup. Just because I made it, doesn’t mean it is right for her.  All kids are different and she isn’t thriving quite as well as Krash did.  It may be because I am a bit burnt out with it, since I use it for my 4-5 year old Children’s Church class too. Maybe I have lost my enthusiasm at home, I’m not sure if it’s her or me.  I used RRSP in my church class all last year and am in the second round now. Plus, she just joined my class as a 4 year old, so she is getting the lessons there! So, although it is hard for me, we might be putting away most aspects of RRSP.  I do plan to still use certain aspects of it, but the overall program might be taking a backseat.

{disclaimer ~ there are affiliate links below}

Home Preschool

In preparation to change things up, I made a list of things about her that stand out to me…

  • loves books, reading alone and being read to
  • loves anything with paint {Q tip painting, finger painting, anything.}
  • loves music, instruments, dancing, and being silly
  • loves playing independently for long periods, once she gets going
  • loves creative play {role play, dress up, etc.}
  • loves bugs, dirt, worms, & being dirty {see example above}
  • loves the letter of the week idea, and the abc basket collections
  • loves playing with tiny toys, the phonics box items are a big hit
  • does not like letter mazes, color by number, or “school” coloring anymore
  • like cutting, and is getting more into bigger cutting projects
  • loves anything with glue
  • loves puzzles
  • loves themes and most of the theme pack activities
  • does not have good social/emotional skills
  • loves ABC Find It, and Animal ABC letter crafts
  • enjoys her All About Reading Pre lessons
  • does not enjoy her workbox set up anymore
  • loves displaying and admiring her completed work
  • does not beg to do school anymore, will do it, but doesn’t beg like she used to
  • loves playing for long periods, alone or with me
  • loves crafts {mommy directed is a big hit}
  • gets very frustrated with transitions
  • loves feeling significant and included, longs to have responsibilities
  • loves surprises and doing little things with me {games, projects, art}
  • loves sensory bins, sensory play, play dough, shaving cream play, ANY messy play
  • loves learning apps, especially if I cuddle up and learn with her
  • is resistant to learning to read, even though she has the basic reading readiness skills.  the desire isn’t there so she isn’t ready yet
  • loves Montessori style activities
  • loves magnets and her cookie sheet
  • loves “calendar” time and the silly songs and games we play
  • isn’t as interested in “doing what her big brothers are doing” as she used to be

I am currently praying about our plan, I have a few ideas in mind, but am going to think, pray and plan slowly over the next few weeks.  Sadly, I already got what I thought we were going to do all printed and ready.  It is very hard for my Type A self to let go of the original plan, but I simply must,  I want my child to thrive and love learning.  I must practice what I preach, and follow her lead.

You can see a similar post to this one, that I wrote when she was 32 months old. I revaluate often to meet her current needs.  As you make your own plan, or revaluate your current plan, I recommend making a list similar to the one above, and one for yourself too!  It is about finding the balance between the child, the parent-teacher and the entire family’s needs during this season of life. If it isn’t working, some simple changes might make everyone happier. Just because it looks really great on someone else’s blog, doesn’t mean it will work in your home!

Ideas in my brain spin…

  • Read even more than we already do
  • Art daily, or some type of messy play {we usually do, but I need to up this for her}
  • Be more intentional with music play, and use our Laurie Berkner DVD more
  • Montessori at Home! ideas {we use them, but I think using them more would be good for her}
  • Spielgaben Educational Toys {reviewing soon, this looks like a GREAT fit for her interests}
  • Keep letter of the week, she loves this, keep All About Reading Pre also
  • Definitely learning app time with and without me, and online books.  Use We Give Books more.
  • Lots of sensory play, themed or not
  • Focused social and emotional skills time {she really needs work here}
  • Reorganize our learning materials and make Quiet Boxes {for her own independent school time}

I am still brainstorming and praying, stay tuned to see our plan!

Our Homeschool Room 2012-2013

Homeschool Room

Our Homeschool room has evolved greatly over the years.  Here’s a look back, for those of you who like to see how I got to where we are now.

Now, an updated view into our “new” schoolroom which we have now happily and GRATEFULLY used for 2 years!  This will be our 3rd year in this space and I am still so thankful for this amazing space!

Our schoolroom opens into our dining room, as you will see.  This is the view as you are walking in…Homeschool Room-0986

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This is taken from the back, looking towards the dining room…Homeschool Room-0984


I will take you through the room, with details about each of the main sections.  This is Ladybug’s Tot School area,  her desk is from Ikea {they no longer carry it}, she has this pocket chart hanging behind her desk for easy display of her Animal ABCs right now.  You can see her All About Reading Poster hanging on the wall, and her Ikea Trofast shelves and bins, which hold her rotated Tot School toys and tools.

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This is to the left of Ladybug’s desk area, it is where we store all of our favorite learning toys, and a few other random things.  We have 4 tall Trofast shelves put together, but the ones we have are not on their website anymore.  I am not sure if they still carry the exact ones we have at the store or not.  The easel is also from Ikea.  The red pocket chart behind the easel is where I store her upcoming units, we are almost done with Animal ABCs which is why it is mostly empty!

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Each bin is already labeled like this, or in the process of being labeled.  I copied the image from the product site or a Google search and printed them on cardstock, then laminated {no, I don’t have a printable to share, sorry}. This has been a wonderful addition, helping the kids remember all of the great stuff we have to play with!  The kids are allowed to access any of this at any time.

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This is our calendar/geography area.  We use Calendar Connections, although I didn’t update the Olympic cards from July, just left them there!  You can see our We Choose Virtues stuff, our Little Passports map, our dry erase board, and some storage things above {links on this page}. The puzzle map on the floor is this one.

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To the left of that area, is where I am now keeping our new Continent Box {on top of the shelf}.  The drawers in the Trofast shelf store various items for each kid, and our All About Reading, All About Spelling supplies.  Their lap trays {from Michaels} are stored to the right.

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This is Krash’s area, his desk is an old Ikea table donated to use by friends.  Homeschool Room-0934

The green drawers used to be his Workboxes, but we don’t use them anymore, I followed the lead of the child and he wasn’t digging them.  He likes his work better on a list to check off.  So now, he has some storage drawers, which he really needed since he drags things everywhere.  He has 3 random “toy” drawers {when upstairs toys migrate downstairs and he needs to clean up quickly, he puts them there.} The other drawers are labeled: money, junk, magazines, school supplies, pencils/markers/crayons, and words {his sight word cards for review}.

The colored bins on the top are from Target.  Fidgets are things for his little active self to hold when I need him to sit still.  They are random squishy things, mostly from the dollar store.  Krash isn’t diagnosed with anything, I just try different techniques to help him focus, he is VERY active and wiggly. Homeschool Room-0936


To the right of K’s desk area, is another storage area, where a variety of items are stored.  {links to bookshelf and ledges in this post}.  On the top are our ABC Soup cans, middle shelf are various books and our Draw, Write, Now set.  On the bottom shelf is our iPad plug in area, books, and our color sorted crayon area. The crayons are in these, also from Ikea.  On the floor is our All About Reading/Spelling board, which is used by Krash right now.  I also use this board to teach Pac anything that requires a board.

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To the right is a white bookshelf from Ikea, which stores our MANY books {well, part of them}.  See our book storage post here!  Near the top is where our Continent Boxes are stored, as well as a few math supplies.Homeschool Room-0946

This is Pac’s desk, links to specific items he has are in this post.  The shape string, added by him randomly one day.  He’s creative like that. I keep our red bean bag chair for when we sit and read back there, mostly with Pac for his science, & history.Homeschool Room-0927

New additions are the Target shoe shelf that now sits on top to sort out his school books.  His laptop is stored to the side unless he really needs it, I found it way too distracting last year when open on his desk at all times.  On his red magnetic board, he now has a daily routine pocket chart {got for $1 at Target years ago}.

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This is on the wall opposite of Pac’s desk, the door leads to our mud room/garage/outside the front of the house door.  Much on the wall isn’t school related, but more “front door” related.  We have books and other school supplies stored on the back shelf. In the white cabinet is our games, and other books.  The cabinet is from Ikea too, shocker {no clue what it’s called}.

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These are more learning tools, I moved them out of the homeschool storage room, so the kids could play with them more.  The boxes are from Target.

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I store office supplies like this, in the plastic Target bins.Homeschool Room-0960

This is a view of my desk from the back of the room {links and more about my desk here}.  The kick out portion of my desk is where the kids come to sit with me individually when they get their 1:1 instruction, or when they have computer time {we have a family desktop computer on the left.}Homeschool Room-0953

I have all sorts of things stored above my desk, my new recent favorites are these boxes from Target, they hold K and P’s school books that aren’t being used right now, but will be this year.  The current manuals and books stand to the right. Below hangs our daily routine {will share later}, and my calendar {also from Target}.Homeschool Room-0964

Hope you enjoyed the little {well, big} tour of our homeschool room.  If you saw something I didn’t link to or share about and you are curious, check the comments below to see if someone else already asked, and if not, leave me a comment and I will share more!

Check out other homeschooling moms and their homeschool rooms!!


Not Back to School Blog Hop

Behind the Scenes – Communal Lunch

Communal Lunch

If you have followed my blog for awhile, you probably know that I really do not like lunch time.  We have tried a few lunch time solutions and they all work, my favorite being pre-making the lunches the night before.  However, I found a new way that is seeming to get my 2 picky eaters to eat better!  The Communal Lunch!  Instead of giving each child their own plate {which usually results in “I’m not eating that” and other whining} I put a ton of healthy food on a tray and give them each a toothpick and let them eat!IMG_3218

On the tray above: tomatoes, avocado, pretzels, Naked pita chips, mango, kiwi, carrots, broccoli and hummus.  I often will give ranch also-my oldest prefers it over hummus, but thankfully the picky 2 actually prefer hummus!



As hands dive in, it seems to cause other hands to be a bit more willing to try different foods.IMG_3232


Ladybug and Krash are my picky two-I m constantly exposing them to a variety of foods in hopes that they will develop new tastes!  So far, Ladybug still hasn’t touched any veggies on our communal trays, but in time I bet she will!IMG_3234


This is my summer plan.  Communal Lunch served after Lunch in a Cup

The kids are having nutritionally packed smoothies from our Vitamix {I have been waiting for years and finally the guy came back to Costco with the Vitamix display!}  for their mid morning “snack” and then I am busting out the communal lunch tray about an hour later.  When it has been warm, I have served it all outside!  Sometimes I serve it on a plate, depending on how much and the variety,image

Their smoothies usually consist of random combinations of: baby spinach, plain/vanilla yogurt, bananas, apples, carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, berries, mango, pineapple,  Vega, and ice. I have other stuff I put in them and have no special recipe, just whatever I have and think would go well together.  Almost 100% of the time they happily drink whatever I give them.

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ps-I have NO clue where we got the green divided tray, we have had it for many years!!!  It even has a top so I can put the uneaten portion back in the fridge and pull it out later in the day for snack!

A Day in Our Homeschool Life Part 3

Homeschool Life Button Afternoon School

It has been awhile since I wrote the Minute by Minute Tot School post, and have since been asked to update with a detailed post of what our homeschool time looks like now with a 4th grader, Kindergartner and Tot Schooler. I am breaking this idea into 4 parts, probably 5 when all is said and done, but 4 planned parts for now!  If you missed any other parts, see links below…

  1. Before the Homeschool Day
  2. Our Homeschool Morning
  3. Our Homeschool Afternoon {that’s this post}
  4. After the Homeschool Day

How I recorded our day……

I kept a notebook with me, my iPod {camera}, and my good camera.  I took TONS of pictures and jotted down notes throughout the day.  It isn’t easy, but makes for a very true-to-life account for you all.  Good news – the day we recorded – March 7, 2012, was a very typical day for us!  I was hoping it would give a good look at what is “normal” for us and it does! 

For details about each child’s curriculum, see: Our Current Curriculum

12:25 pm

I am done with kitchen cleaning and head back into the schoolroom to find the boys reading together I told them to do this when they finished their lunch}.IMG_2266

I spend 10 minutes on the computer-email, Twitter, Facebook, Comments, Pinterest.


Our upstairs neighbor and my friend comes down to check on our school status {they live in the apartment owned by my parents above our schoolroom, their 5 kids are nieces and nephews they care for}.  Her kids have a half day of public school and are wanting to play with my kids.  This give the boys great motivation to get school work done.  I estimate an hour and a half and tell her I will text her.


Start school with the boys after they clean up the books.

PacMan has this today…


I get Krash started on some independent Calvert work, a phonics sheet and a math sheet-both which are easy work for him.


Pac sits with me at my desk and we dive into grammar, math, and a special math review for his standardized state testing coming up.

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I turn around and bust Krash petting the cat and not doing his work {it’s cute but distracting}.IMG_0657


Pac and I gather Science and SS and head into the living room to read, he likes to cuddle on the couch together while I read to him. Another perk of Homeschooling, couch school.

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Pac heads to do his independent work {grammar, math, science}, I switch to working with Krash.  First I move him along in completing his independent work, as he was supposed to be done by now.

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We move to the floor for his All About Reading lesson.  He isn’t thrilled since we are repeating lesson 16, since he doesn’t have a solid grasp on the “th” sound.  But he likes the egg-flipping game so he’s OK. 

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Pac wanders over for help with his grammar, silly kid just didn’t read the directions well and once I read them he gets it and goes back to do his work.

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Krash and I are done with All About Reading, and move onto some Skylanders school work!  I made a digraph activity for him to work on the same thing he’s learning in AAR. He loves it.IMG_2288


Krash and I read his Morning Message together, he LOVES this!  I read, then he reads-highlighting any words he can read by himself.  Then we count together!IMG_2290


Krash moves to iPad school, he can choose form a selection of “school games’” he chooses ABCs of God.

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Pac announces that he is finished with his schoolwork.  I remind him that today is trash day {his chore that he hates}.  He goes off to do it, complaining mildly {probably since he knows I am recording the day}. I begin to scan our recent set of Calvert assessments in to our cyber school.



Pac is done with his chores, and runs to get his friends.  They all head outside to play!  The official school day is done! I can still hear Ladybug through the monitor reading to herself.  She stays up there until Daddy gets her at 3.  With the boys I continued “room time” after naps wore out.  I am doing this with her too, so I can continue to have quieter school time with the boys.  She seems to really enjoy her quiet time.

Notes about the Day…

We normally end our school day anywhere between 2:00-3:00, sometimes later if it is a writing day.  This was an easier day for Pac, mostly because he didn’t have writing and because math was VERY easy.  On harder math days, school goes much longer!  Attitudes were a bit more in check than usual since they knew I was recording the day.  Figure in a few more attitude issues and then you’d have a more normal day. My husband comes home from work at 3:00 and then is home through dinner before he goes back out to work for the evening {ministry stuff-teaching Bible studies, and such}. 

Part 4 of this series will share what a normal after school and evening time looks like for us!

If any of you are inspired to write your own, “A Day in Our Homeschool Life” series, I would love it!  Be sure to send me the links if you do!