In the second installment of the blog travel series, I have lots to share about our recent trip to Bermuda with the kids. First off, I'd like to say that everyone told me I was crazy for trying to travel internationally with a 2 year old and 10 month old, and I am pleased to report that it can be done and we have returned in one piece! We were not without our learning curves and pitfalls, but hey, I want to try all the things so you don't have to make the same mistakes and can have a lifetime of enjoyable and memorable vacations with your whole family!
For this post, I wanted to break it into sections since there's a lot of info to share. I'm going to start it off with a quick TL;DR for those of you that just want the highlight reel, some of the most important take-aways and "know before you go" for anyone who is interested in trying out a similar family trip themselves, and finally the "behind-the-scenes" full story of how our trip really went day-by-day for those who want the nitty-gritty, detailed info on the whole experience. Let's begin!
A cruise with a baby and toddler does not make for a relaxing vacation.
Our ship (The Norwegian Cruise Line "Escape") was not conducive to the needs of small children (and their parents).
Bermuda is a beautiful and quick getaway from NYC, but getting around once there is very challenging from where the ships actually dock.
If you want a change of scenery and escape from the colder seasons, it's a good travel option.
Main benefits were that the drive for us from CT to the NYC port was convenient, packing was light, no airports was a relief, it was a quick loop to Bermuda and back, cruise rooms offer a more "home away from home" feel with all your things in one place, all modern amenities are accessible 24/7 and travel with you, and it's safe.
Negatives are that it's tough to maintain your kid's routine, rooms and hallways are too small for strollers and cribs, constant elevator use to get anywhere is difficult, there are no bathtubs in regular staterooms, storage space is limited, going out to eat for every meal with kids can be very stressful, not much for small children to do on board, you're surrounded by a lot of people that are there to essentially just eat and party, and basically no WiFi/service for the duration of your travel.
Perhaps another cruise line (like Disney) would offer a better experience for young families, but we would personally not travel this way again.
Trip Takeaways + "Know Before You Go"
In an effort to explore the best (see also: easiest) ways to travel with very young kids, we opted for a quick 5-day cruise out of NYC (only a 45-min drive from where we live) to Bermuda. There are many options, but we chose Norwegian Cruise Line since we are Latitudes Members with a history of cruising (pre-kids) that came with a lot of perks. Our benefits for booking this particular voyage included the unlimited drink package (so alcohol was included), 75 minutes of free WiFi each, $100 in shore excursion credits, complimentary access to a night of fine dining at one of the specialty dining restaurants (usually a cover charge or a la carte), plus discounts at the spa and duty-free shop, priority disembarkation, and some additional free or discounted on-board amenities and access each day.
We parked at the NYC cruise terminal. It was not cheap ($45/day), but was worth it for the convenience.
We chose to do this in the fall (mid-November), as Bermuda has highs in the 70s and lots of beautiful beaches to enjoy this time of year. Be aware that you'll need to pack warmly for the "at sea" days, since the weather will not really warm up until you arrive, and the ship will be windy and chilly outside.
We booked this trip only 7 weeks out from the cruise date and got a great deal with lots of the free upgrades I mentioned previously. You do not need to plan something like this too far in advance.
We purchased 2 adjoining balcony rooms, which did not cost more, as cruises are priced per person. It would've literally been the same price to be packed into one tiny room, so this is a bit of a hack for families! We slept the same way we do at home, with the kids sharing their own room, and us having our own space too.
They provided complimentary pack-and-plays, with a regular sheet wrapped around the bottom. (We brought our own fitted crib sheets to avoid the safety concern.) But with two of them, the room was incredibly tight and we lost almost all walking space, rendering that room's balcony useless. The alternate room layout would've blocked the walking path to the front door and bathroom, which would not have been a better option.
We brought a no-wifi baby monitor, and it worked flawlessly.
Our rooms did not offer bathtubs, so bathing little ones in a small shower was challenging, but made a bit easier with a removable shower head to wash them on the floor.
All dining rooms provided high chairs. But there were not any kid's cups available, so we had to use our bottles/toddler cups we brought from home and just refilled them at the restaurants, cleaning them with our travel bottle cleaner in between back at the room.
All restaurants were extremely accommodating for food allergies, sensitivities, and preferences.
Strollers were a major issue and did not fit in the doorway to our room, took up the entire hallway, and made elevator use a nightmare. But our double stroller was the move around the rest of the ship and in Bermuda, as it gave us a lot of flexibility with ride/sit options for our toddler who desires more independence (and helped us keep it moving at a good pace without her asking to walk everywhere).
Napping is hard as there are constantly doors slamming and people being loud outside in the hallway and random announcements on the intercom. If you bring a sound machine like we did, it will surprisingly mitigate most issues though.
Don't plan on being in touch with the outside world for the majority of your trip. On-board WiFi was both expensive, glitchy, and unreliable, and WiFi is only available in certain private restaurants/resorts around Bermuda. Our cell service provider offered at-sea and international calling/data options, but they were also not great. We were mostly "offline" for the duration of the cruise.
A 5-day getaway is plenty, and Bermuda is a beautiful place for families to visit. (Especially with the close proximity to NYC if you're in that area or off the East Coast.)
They had a kid's playroom on board that was pretty much always open.
We couldn't enjoy much entertainment on the ship, as it was not really conducive for young families, in both activity/show type and timing. We did not utilize the babysitting services, but they did offer them.
The pool cannot be used by babies or toddlers until they are fully potty trained. We chose the Norwegian Escape ship specifically because it offered a splash pad area for our children to enjoy in their water diapers.
The cruise terminal in Bermuda is the Royal Naval Dockyard. It is literally the furthest end from any parts of Bermuda you'll actually want to be in/see. You will have to take long transfers (>45 min) either by ferry or bus to get to the popular St. George's Island, Hamilton, or the famous pink sands at Horseshoe Bay Beach. This is hard with young kids, and you are basically "stuck" wherever you go for the whole day.
We did not prebook any excursions online beforehand, and the day before decided to reserve two loungers at Snorkel Park Beach, as it was only a 10-min walk from the boat. Unfortunately, the beach was littered with broken glass that apparently washes up from the ships and ocean, and it was unsafe for us and our kids, so we could not enjoy it the way we'd hoped. I would not recommend and would not go back. Expensive and non-refundable to boot!
Our 5-day cruise was broken down with one full day at sea both ways, and a day and a half actually in Bermuda. (We left NYC in the early evening on a Friday, and returned early morning on Wednesday.) If you want a trip there with more time spent actually on the island, you may want to consider the fast, direct flight options instead.
The seas were not rough this time of year and no one was seasick at all.
We only brought about 10 small toys/books that fit into our toddler's backpack. This was perfect, and you do not need more.
Our kids really enjoyed the change of scenery and new experiences, but I do not think a cruise is an ideal option for travel with very young children. My husband and I were absolutely exhausted, and though we have many special memories to take away, I would not do it again.
The Full Story
Buckle up, friends - this one was a doozy! Let me start by saying that I have easily been on more than a dozen cruises in my life. My family took us on many throughout my childhood, and me and my husband found it to be an enjoyable and affordable way to spend college breaks and explore the world throughout our twenties. But after a few rough trips as we got older, we did decide that this way of travel was not something we'd continue indulging in. Namely, getting caught in a really bad storm while on a sea day, being stuck on some dangerous and questionable excursions, and not really vibing with the typical "cruise types" and experiences anymore. All that to say, my parents were shocked when I said we were going on a family cruise to Bermuda. We chose this exact trip for a few reasons. 1) We are Latitudes Members on Norwegian Cruise Lines, which entitles us to a lot of perks for booking after a long history of cruising with them. 2) Being from Southern CT, the idea of avoiding the airport nightmare with small children and being able to drive directly to the cruise terminal under an hour from us in NYC was ideal. 3) A cruise seemed to offer a lot of conveniences for young family travel with effectively being a "floating city" to bring us to our destination and back. 4) It was affordable and we could book it within a couple months of sailing. 5) Bermuda is beautiful (we've been a few times before), and allowed us to escape the chilly fall back home and enjoy some impromptu beach weather. 6) We figured a 5-day cruise was a great way to take a chance on attempting a vacation with a 10-month-old and 2-year-old because hey, if it's good, then we've found a new, easy way to travel year-round. And if it's bad, we can survive anything for 5 days. Right? Right??! Unfortunately the experience I have to share is a bit more of the latter...
The drive to the cruise terminal was easy and traffic-free, as expected. We could pack pretty lightly (only one big suitcase and a few carry-ons did the trick for us), and opted to park at the terminal which was only a 5-minute walk from our car. The parking for 5 days was $225; so crazy for most people, but being from the NYC area, I am naturally desensitized to these sorts of price points. We liked the idea of being able to get there in our own car with the carseats and everything, and be able to leave immediately upon return. The second you arrive at the actual boat terminal, people are there to take your suitcases, and they deliver them directly to your on-board stateroom a few hours later. Great! Check-in was smooth, as I did most of what I could in our online account in advance to expedite the process. We got on the boat and thought we'd be able to get the kids down for their naps on schedule after a quick lunch, but didn't realize that even though we were allowed on the boat at noon, we were not able to go to our rooms for many hours. (Housekeeping was still turning them over from the previous sailing, which had only disembarked a few hours prior.) People were congregated everywhere, our kids were tired and restless, and we had literally nothing we could do with them. It was too cold to enjoy the outdoor facilities, and we ended up in the "Guppy Nursery" which is basically a small playroom for young children. About 2 hours later, they finally announced that the rooms on our floor were accessible, so we made our way to the elevators and got our first taste at what stroller travel would be like on board. And it was a nightmare. We basically took up an entire elevator, even with our stacked double stroller, and you would've thought they were giving away free money upstairs the way these folks were launching themselves in front of us and trying to fill elevators before we could get in. I couldn't believe how inconsiderate so many people were in this way throughout the trip. So needless to say, the stairs were out of the question, and we spent much of our cruise waiting in line just to get anywhere.
Then we approached our room hallway - which, surprise! - also can't fit a regular stroller and another human being walking at the same time. There are small sections that curve outward to give clearance for cabin doors to open, so we or the other people walking toward us would constantly have to shimmy and bob and weave around each other to get by. We walked these hallways over a dozen times a day, dreading it each time. Finally we got to our room and after giving my kids accidental whiplash, realized the cabin doors were also too narrow to fit anything but one of those small, collapsible umbrella strollers. Awesome. We would have to remove everything and collapse the stroller every single time we got back to the room. Plus, there was no storage once inside, and if you've been on a cruise before, space is a premium already. We booked two adjoining balcony rooms so we'd have double the space and the girls could have their own room for sleeping like at home. (Pro tip: if you book this way with 2+ kids, you basically get two rooms for the price of one! Cruises are booked per person, not per room, so we put each of us as the main guest in each room with one of the kids on paper, and then just set up however we wanted when we got there.) I ended up utilizing one of the bathrooms or entryways for the stroller for the trip, which basically rendered about 20% of the room unusable. But we were finally "home" and my now very overtired babies could catch a little sleep. Alas, the cribs were nowhere to be found. NCL let me order items like this ahead of time to be delivered to the room for complimentary use while onboard. This was a huge perk for us. After a very long wait and a ton of back and forth with housekeeping, we finally received them and got everything set up. There's basically no service and super limited WiFi (if you're willing to pay an arm and a leg for it) on board. Our no wi-fi baby monitors worked great though, and the girls did go down for a bit, which gave my husband and I some much-needed breathing room to get ourselves settled. (FYI for parents of young kids: BYO crib sheets, as they'll only cover the bottoms of a pack and play with a loose bedsheet, and it's not fitted.)
It was now 4pm, the ship was starting to move off the pier and some of our luggage had arrived. This was normal from my experience, as everything from port needs to get sorted through and delivered, so sometimes certain bags come later than others. Except during this trip, I thought I'd be clever and throw some Apple AirTags in everything just in case I needed to keep track. As the ship horn rang out and the beautiful silhouette of NYC was in the distance during a picturesque sunset out our balcony, a notification went off on my phone. "Luggage #2 was left behind." OH MY EFFING GOD! NO NO NO!!! I frantically pulled up the location, which pinged at Pier 88, now about a half mile in the distance. My heart started racing and I ran outside the door, catching the attention of a housekeeper and told him what had happened. He went to search immediately, as I scanned the hallway where it appeared everyone else's luggage had already made it to them. No worries, just all of the kids clothes left behind. I continued to refresh the AirTag location, and got the same result every time. (And a different result for all of the luggage that had been delivered to me already, in contrast.) Now making peace with the idea that I was a terrible, irresponsible mom for not hedging my bets that something like this could happen and packing half their things in another bag (which did cross my mind and I thought I'd be a little nuts to actually do), I started panicking to my husband, who decided it would be a good time to sarcastically ask me "if I'd like the staff to take a tender back to the pier to locate my things." I could've thrown him overboard in that moment. And then a knock on the door came, and there was my housekeeping savior, with my missing bag in hand. All this to say, please for the love of God do not do what I did and know that your AirTags are completely unreliable while traveling on a cruise. I got many more pings like this in error during our trip. I also think I lost years off my life from the stress. Anyway, now everything was in our room and I could unpack us while my soul returned to my body.
After the kids woke up, we were all hungry and braved the cruise hallways again to go grab a bite. NCL offers "freestyle cruising" - which means you can basically eat anywhere in their multiple complimentary restaurants on board almost any time you want. Another great perk for traveling with little kids! Except in the past, my husband and I would always enjoy the convenience of the Garden Cafe, which is basically a giant lunch hall offering fresh food buffet-style all day long. This was not possible with our two kids. It was always crowded, lines at every station, and really tough to navigate with a stroller. We did not get to eat there one single time, and as a result, were forced to have sit-down dining experiences at white table cloth restaurants for every single meal... with a baby and toddler. If you want to torment yourself, I'd highly recommend it. But as someone that does not typically indulge in such masochistic activities, I found this to be largely unpleasant. I will say this, I have wonderful, well-behaved little girls and we were complimented at every single meal for how good they were in these settings. But it was a lot of wrangling, entertaining, and rushed bites between feeding them and taking silverware out of their hands nonstop. They are now restaurant guest professionals, and I feel that I could quite literally take them out to dinner anywhere after this 5-day fine dining bootcamp, but that wasn't really the point of the trip.
NCL gives out these little daily pamphlets with all the activities on board, hour-by-hour throughout the day, with highlights for speciality events and other cruise details. I was wildly disappointed to realize there was almost nothing to do with my kids all day. I don't remember the entertainment being so lackluster in the past, so I don't know if it's just been a few years and I don't recall it clearly, or if we experienced cutbacks from the pandemic losses. Regardless, our days basically consisted of a cycle of eating and naps while at sea. Night 1 I decided it would be best to take the kids to the dining room with live music playing so at least they may be interested in that. It was a great idea, and I would strongly recommend for anyone else looking to try a cruise with kids too. We also went to early dining times, so there was never a wait. But every single meal took around 90 minutes start-to-finish, which with little kids, feels like an eternity. To this day I do not understand why or what took so long, but it was brutal. Food quality overall was good, and they took good care to prep my meals separately or custom to meet my gluten allergy needs, which was really nice. (Also be aware that there are not toddler cups or even cups with lids available anywhere on the ship, so you'll want to bring your own to refill like we did.) My toddler was a little out of sorts from the weird day we'd had and basically just housed bread and butter the whole meal, which was one of those "white flag" moments as a parent, because I just needed her to eat something and she was refusing everything else. A little while later, we returned to the room and after a lot of fussing, finally got both kids to bed. My husband and I collapsed on our bed absolutely exhausted, and were ready to retire early for the night. We'd been on board less than a day and literally looked at each other and said, "what have we done?" No sooner did the words leave my mouth, my 2-year-old starts screaming from the other room. Now we are not the types of parents that go in there for anything. But this was pretty out of the ordinary and the crib looked a little weird on the monitor, which seemed to have some shadowing in the corner. We decided to go in and check on her and lo and behold, she was covered in vomit. All over her, her sleepsack, her PJs, in her hair, the sheets, and the pack and play. How is this happening?! We went into hyper-mode to clean up the space and her (which was extra challenging since there are only narrow showers and no tubs for bathing) while my youngest daughter surprisingly slept through it all, and an hour of cleaning and soothing later, got our sick toddler back to sleep. 45 minutes later, we heard the blaring phone ringing from the kids' bedroom with simultaneous knocking at their door. We ran out to the hallway to find a staff member asking to check the room after we called down to inform them of the dirty sheets we were leaving outside the door (a normal thing to do on a boat with dirty linens or room service trays). Though I understand the worry about someone being sick on board, I can't believe it would ever be allowed to call and knock on a room door close to midnight. Needless to say, I've never wanted a ship to turn around more. It was a pretty sleepless night after the stressful day, smaller bed than we're used to (they only offer two twins pushed together to make a queen in the regular staterooms), and realizing we're in the minority on a boat with lots of middle-aged people here to get wasted and live their best lives, shouting throughout the hallways and slamming doors til the wee hours of the morning.
Day 2 was a "sea day" and more of the same eating/sleeping routine, with some ship exploration in between. Again, not much to do, but we were determined to make the best of it. We decided to book a last-minute excursion the following day in Bermuda, with a double lounger & umbrella combo at Snorkel Park Beach Club, the only beach option walkable from where the ship would dock. I have been to Bermuda a lot and seen most everything a tourist would want to see, so this did not bother me. Exploring "real Bermuda" was not part of this trip, it was really for the family travel experience, change of scenery, and warm weather. But word to the wise, if this is your first time or you'd like to enjoy Hamilton, the famous pink sands of Horseshoe Bay Beach, or one of the beautiful islands off the shore, you're looking at over 45 minutes of travel by boat or bus. With two little ones, that was not happening for us. We were already exhausted from just existing the last two days, that all I wanted to do was relax on a beach with no hurdles to jump. So we looked forward to that the next morning, and finished out our day dining at one of the specialty restaurants on board, that we could access complimentary (normally a $59/pp cover charge) with one of our booking perk upgrades. I loved every moment of our Brazilian steakhouse experience, and thought it was hands down the best meal we had on board. My husband, on the other hand, had unexpectedly dehydrated himself and was white as a ghost trying to work through the nausea for the duration of my meal. Not even a little cheesy bread could save him at that point. And he hadn't even been drinking! I had him force-feed himself some light bites to settle his stomach and chug a ton of water, and by later than night he was fine (but annoyed he didn't get to enjoy the meal with me). We got to bed early for tomorrow's beach adventure, which would have us up at the crack of dawn with an hour of sleep lost due to the time change in Bermuda. But of course not before second jarring midnight phone call to the room, where a staff member accidentally hit a wrong key trying to return a guest's missing keycard. Needless to say, it was another rough night of sleep.
Day 3 began with a hectic breakfast experience and rush to the end of the dock to get directions to the beach. After being put into yet another unnecessary panic by the cruise excursion staff (who misread our tickets and scolded me for being late for our bus transfer that, in fact, did not exist), we made our way over to Snorkel Park Beach Club. It was a bit tacky and run down, but a band was setting up on the outdoor stage and they seemed to have a decent setup for a fun family afternoon. Things started out fine, until we were sitting at the water's edge in the sand and my husband pointed out these colorful, glimmering items surrounding us. "Is that glass?" he asked. I told him it was probably sea glass, since that exists in places like this. Except sea glass doesn't typically resemble Heineken bottles, and that's when I asked a staff member walking by. "Oh yeah, sorry about that. It washes up from the ships onto the shore. Nothing we can do about it, but we do the best we can to pick it up." I'm sorry... what?! I am not joking, we were literally surrounded by shards of glass on the entire beach. And then as if God was speaking directly to us, the dark clouds rolled in, and it started downpouring. Whyyyyyy?!! It was as if it was our destiny to have this trip be a disaster. The kids were now freezing and in harms way, so we hightailed it back to the cruise ship (without a refund) and let them nap inside while we figured out a Plan B.
Again, trying to make the best of it, I got myself a mojito, and sat on our balcony deck with a book enjoying the scenery. Life is what you make of it. Our kids were still having a blast, and we needed to try and have a good attitude for the remainder of this trip. I told my husband to go enjoy the humidor lounge on board, where he was able to relish in some alone time with a drink and cigar to recuperate a bit, too. When the kids woke up, we got some late lunch and ventured out for a walk around the dockyard. I was very familiar with this area from being here so many times, but if you are not aware, there's really not much to do. The ships dock at the furthest end of Bermuda, and all the "good stuff" is far away. It's basically some shops, cool old buildings from the original settlement, and a few kitschy restaurants. We explored a bit, walked the beach again (in shoes this time), and then went back to the boat to get ready for dinner and bedtime. The ships often offer discounted pricing for certain onboard services while in port, so with my husband's insistence, I booked a spa session that evening, which was lovely. Typical spa prices are insane, so this felt a little better, and included a 75-minute massage and eye treatment. It was a good way to wind down the day.
Day 4 was only a half-day in Bermuda and brought in much nicer weather. We were bummed we couldn't get to a beach on this day instead, but nothing would guarantee transport and return by the time the boat was leaving in the afternoon. We decided to walk around the dockyard again, did a little shopping, found a cute beach playground for them to get their energy out at, and went back to the boat for naps and the pool afterward. Small children that are not potty trained are not allowed in any pools on any cruise ships by law, but they can go in splash pad areas, so that's what we did. The wind made it a little chilly, but they still had fun. Same routine for the second half of the day, more dining with live music and early bedtime for all of us.
Day 5 was at sea as we headed back toward NYC. A lot colder than expected, and I was now into my final "just in case" warm clothes packing, while we braved the elements to try and enjoy the outdoors on board. More sudden rain put the kibosh on that, so we went back to the Guppy Playroom, checked out the arcade, got some ice cream, shopped the duty-free store, and closed out the day with packing for disembarkation the next morning. We opted for the "DIY" luggage removal option, with the hopes we'd get off and home more efficiently that way, so I played Tetris with all of our items and consolidated everything as best I could to make it easier for transport.
With the sun rising, we couldn't help but feel elated to see a smoky, sepia-colored Manhattan in the distance, and got ourselves ready to leave. I decided to pay the surcharge for room service so we could avoid the restaurant chaos one last time, and after what seemed like an eternity trying to get to the gangway with a stroller and all our belongings, were finally off the ship. Customs and security was as disorganized as ever, and people are just generally pretty awful in these circumstances - cutting in front of us, shoving their way into crowded spaces, and overall thinking their time is more valuable than everyone else's. Aah, humankind. After going through a bit of a maze at the port, we found our car and headed back north, making it home just in time for the afternoon naps. The small fries slept like rocks that night, as did we.
Though it was a hectic trip and unexpectedly exhausting, we do have a lot of special memories with our family and our first international travel with kids under our belt. We got a lot of education in was works and what doesn't work for vacationing with small children, and will be able to be proactive for the future, armed with much more information and experience to help our next trips be more of a success. For now, I'll choose to remember all the wide-eyed excitement, watching my little ones get introduced to new things in new places for the first time, and hold onto all of those moments fondly. We bonded even more as a family and husband and wife, navigating many new and unexpected scenarios. And we are enthusiastic about discovering more of the world together as our family grows... just maybe not by boat next time. ;)
*Just a reminder that I utilize affiliate links, which means I make a small commission from your purchase (which doesn't affect how much you pay). This helps this mama keep doing what she loves! TYSM in advance for your support! :-)