Guest Author - Lisa Shea
If you will be bringing kids on a cruise ship, here are some specific tips to help make sure that everybody is kept well fed and happy.
Eat Early, Eat Often
Kids have small tummies - and active lives. Don't put off mealtime for many hours and then wonder why the kids are cranky. Keep healthy snacks on hand and keep them hydrated too. Kids who are hungry or thirsty aren't always wise enough yet to tell you that. Offer them short food / drink breaks then let them go back to playing.
Schedule Quiet Time
If a kid gets burnt out with constant activity, it can be hard to eat. You literally get too wound up. Try finding fun, quiet things to do so that it doesn't seem like "punishment". Bring along some favorite books or game systems that are new and special, and set aside time each day to do that.
New studies come out each day that link caffeine and sugary sodas to hyperactivity and a lack of ability to focus. You don't want to "spring" this on your kids on the cruise, either. Start switching them to non-caffeine drinks like juice, sprite, root-beer, etc. before the cruise begins. That way when they're on the cruise, it's a "normal" style of drinking to them - but one that will ensure they really appreciate what the cruise has to offer.
I mention this again just because it's so important. Most cruise ships have buffets. Grab apples, oranges, etc. and keep them out for the kids all day. It's one of those mind-aware things. If the orange slices are right there on a napkin, they'll grab some and eat them. If there is nothing around to eat, they won't necessarily think to ask for food - and will just get cranky.
Practice Formality Beforehand
Some parents have an unrealistic expectation that their kids will behave perfectly in a strange environment, without any training. But it's the duty of parents to train their kids how to act maturely. Kids don't learn that on their own :) If you want your kids to share a formal meal or two with you, then teach them how well in advance. Take them to fancy restaurants and teach them how to use the cutlery, how to deal with the waiter, how the pacing works. Unless they learn these skills well in advance, you can't expect them to handle a cruise ship's fancy dining room.
Accept your Child's Maturity Level
Parents often grouse that their kids are growing up too quickly, trying to act too mature for their age. But then those same parents push their kids to be more mature than they actually are. Some 3 year olds can sit still for hours in fancy clothes, in pure bliss at the adult experience. Some 16 year olds go completely stark raving mad after 20 minutes in fancy clothes and in the same chair. There will be enough family-together events on the cruise ship without forcing dinner to be one of them. Let your kids eat burgers by the pool if that simply is what they want - and enjoy your long, formal dinners with your other adult cruise-mates.
Pre-Print Dining Menus
If your child DOES seem like they are quite ready for a long, 2 hour fancy meal, then pre-print the menus out and discuss the options. The fewer surprises, the better. Kids often tend to be nervous about new situations - and a fancy dining room full of adults certainly qualifies. If they know what will be on the menu and what they will like to eat, that makes it much more of a calm, fun experience.
Bring a Distraction Item
Even the best behaved of kids might get a little restless after a full hour of eating - and the meal is still going on. Bring a book or small game for them in case it becomes too much for them.
Be Prepared to Leave If Necessary
There are always going to be times with a child that they just can't take it any more. Maybe you mis-timed the nap, or it turns out they really hate the burger style served and are now starving to death. Accept it and politely leave, or have a sitter on stand-by to take your kid to the burger joint. A vacation should be a time of fun, not of drawn-out misery either for you or your child. Teaching your child to "grin and bear it" is a fine lesson for home - but subjecting 300 other diners who put their life savings into this one special week at sea to a screaming tantrum just isn't fair. And blaming your child for being worn out or picky on this one day isn't fair either. Your child certainly didn't want to be unhappy or faced with strange food!
Praise Good Behavior
If your child makes it through a long, formal dinner, be sure to praise him or her for that achievement! Many kids simply can't handle it. You should be proud that your child's temperment and your training and education beforehand resulted in such a mature behavior. Learning to behave properly is something many ADULTS never master - never mind a child! Having this kind of skill can literally help your child succeed in many life situations.
Children Dining on Cruises - Basics