Planning a cruise with kids in tow? Here's some wisdom gleaned from a recent jaunt through the Caribbean on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas.
Note: All cruise lines and cruise ships are different, so be sure to research what your ship offers before setting sail.
1. Consider a suite. If you have older teens or more than two children, you may be looking at booking two adjoining staterooms. Consider a family suite instead. On Royal Caribbean ships, suites come with perks such as expedited boarding (and disembarking), special menus, reserved pool-deck and theater seating, and other upgrades that make traveling with children easier.
2. Jump in. You'll be tempted to spend Day One at sea sprawling by the pool, but sign up your kids for at least one youth-oriented activity right off the bat. This is their chance to make pals for the rest of the trip.
3. Be safe. Review safety procedures with your family on the first day -- everything from memorizing your muster station (for safety drills and real emergencies) to discussing, briefly and age-appropriately, "stranger danger."
4. Set limits ahead of time. On a cruise, you're heading into a week or longer of 24-hour access to ice cream, sodas and other sweets. Set ground rules in advance so you don't spend your vacation fighting about food.
5. Go formal. Most cruises designate one or more nights as "formal nights" -- a rare opportunity to introduce your children to the niceties of fine dining and dressing up. Plan outfits in advance (hand-me-down dresses or secondhand suits work just fine) and talk through some of the finer points of table etiquette. Most kids will get into the spirit if you don't spring this on them.
6. Bring books, games, DVDs. Family-friendly cruise lines offer nonstop activities from morning till night, but you'll need some quiet nights in the stateroom to recuperate. Some ships have libraries, but they may not stock many kids books, so bring your own. Also bring board games and favorite DVDs for quieter times in your stateroom.
7. Pack sunscreen and bug spray. Burns and bites can make kids miserable -- and if the kids are unhappy, everyone's unhappy.
8. Take a white board. Once everyone gets comfortable on board, you'll all be going different directions at once. A white board in your stateroom allows you to keep tabs on the troops, and arrange meeting times.
9. Look behind the curtains. Some cruise lines offer guided tours of the working parts of the ship -- for instance, the bridge or the galley. Ask at the customer-service desk. A peek behind the scenes is educational, and may spark a child's interest in navigation, the hospitality industry or travel in general.
10. Plan a parents' night out. A cruise ship is a relatively safe place for your older kids to be independent. Baby-sitting or kids clubs are provided for the younger set. Get away to a dance class or an onboard nightclub with your spouse or partner.
Remember: It's your vacation, too.