The following is my personal account of traveling solo with a 21-month old child on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, May 2012. The account is to help future travelers with children – solo or otherwise – that they too can have a pretty wonderful vacation if they take note of some of my learning’s from my recent experience. Would I do it again? – you be the judge!

OASIS Day 1 – Saturday

I am not going to sugar coat it – it is very difficult traveling solo with an almost 2 year old.

My husband, JB, was still sick with a bad sinus infection and cold as of 4:30 AM, day of departure, and hadn’t gotten any better. So after a lot of back-and-forth about going or staying and if the insurance money would come thru, in the end, JB stayed home and Anna, my 21 month daughter and I left at 5:30 in the morning and made the journey after all.

Anna is a good traveler (2 previous flight experiences), I am a pretty prepared mother, but when a child of her age has to operate in a confined space, well they just don’t like it one bit –– especially at her age.  The positive is that JB canceled so late that we didn’t have anyone next to us on the plane so I could give her a lot of room –– 3 seats for 2 of us. I got a few “she is such a well-behaved child” which I happily appreciated, but it took non-stop managing on my part to keep her even keel.

The mid-way part of the 3-hour flight was the worst when Anna realized that she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon and she had a pretty wet diaper from all the juice that had to be addressed. And then I had to contend with changing her diaper on the seat as I discovered that the plane didn’t have a changing station in any of the bathrooms. From reading the top 10 things that flight attendants hate passengers do, way up there is changing a diaper on a seat. I checked with them first and they knew that I didn’t have an alternative. I won’t fess up to what I did with the wet diaper.

So we arrived at Baggage Claim, got a porter quickly and got the bags. He was a nice guy and made sure when the shuttle came to take us to the ship that I would not be left to manage the baby in the stroller, the carry-on bag and 2 roller bags. To his word, when the shuttle arrived, he was there with the bags and followed me to the coach. I tipped him well and thanked him for his help. And we were off to the ship!

The embarkation process went pretty smoothly even though I had forgotten to print out the sea pass forms in advance.  The worst part for Anna was all the ups and downs in the stroller: on the bus, off the bus, in the stroller, out of the stroller for security, then photos, then on the ship and out of the stroller for a bathroom/diaper change, back into the stroller until we found a place to stop and rest and then finally out when we got to the Concierge Lounge.

Getting a Suite level cabin traveling solo with a 21-month old was the best decision I ever made when booking the cruise. Basically I got the Suite for the bathtub for the baby, but everything else that comes with the suite make it soooo worth the extra money –– especially when traveling solo with a child.

When we arrived on the ship I planned to go to the Park Cafe on Deck 8 for lunch. It was packed. Here I was with Anna in the stroller and the carry-on trying to weave my way thru the crowds and it was very busy. Fortunately Anna had had enough snacks enroute so she wasn’t starving, but I needed to sit down and the Concierge Lounge came immediately to mind.

The Lounge isn’t huge, but it wasn’t packed either. Fortunately we got a seat away from people and a server came to us immediately and told us about was available. I normally would not have gone in with Anna, but I was really happy to see another 2-year-old running around creating a bit of havoc, which made Anna look like an angel. An older gentleman struck up a conversation with me and we had a nice chat. Anna was quite good and very agreeable when lunch arrived.

The cabins were available after 1PM, so we made our way to the cabin on Deck 8 were immediately met by Edwin, our room steward. He was warm and friendly and has four children, so he was very helpful. He got Anna’s crib (pack-and-play) right away so I could try and put her down for a bit of a rest. At first she was a little difficult, but I managed to unpack while she slept for about an hour. Anna has always been a good sleeper and I know I am a lucky mom.

The Grand Suite, besides the awesome tub, had a heavy blackout curtain that allowed me to pull across the entire cabin, separating the sleeping area (I put the crib right next to the bed against the window) from the seating area in the cabin. It had a nice sofa with 2 chairs, TV and an entire closet-drawer-shelving system across from the bathroom. The balcony had a table and 2 chairs along with 2 very comfortable chaise lounges. The cabin and balcony in the suite are about 40 percent larger than a standard balcony cabin. It felt very luxurious and I was happy for the extra room – it was quite perfect.

The balcony came in handy the first night as after the Muster drill, Anna was (and I was as well) truly pooped out, so we came back and I ordered room service for dinner while Anna tore the cabin apart. She was pretty manic. Everything seemed to be at her height, so she was opening everything, going through a ton of tissues in the box, running a whole roll of toilet paper before I caught her… She was just into everything and ignoring me at every turn. The girl that always says, “don’t touch” to her nursery school mates, was into EVERYTHING!!!! Just when I had about lost it with her, dinner arrived. Mac and Cheese – Anna was thrilled. She settled down and I actually got to eat something. What was fun is that we got to sit outside on the balcony and have dinner as we sailed away from Ft. Lauderdale.  It was pretty cool.

By 7pm we were both exhausted and I spent the next 45 minutes getting her wrangled, cleaned up, wrangled again, in her PJs, teeth brushed and into bed. I brought her Violet musical toy and sound machine from home and tried to simulate the home experience as much as possible. She cried a bit, but then was okay and went to sleep. By 9:15 PM I was in bed.  I didn’t sleep all that well as I could hear her close to me waking up about 11:30 PM and the again until about 1AM when she fell asleep until she called out to me about 6:30AM. and then we were both up for good! Generally, not a bad first day and night considering all that Anna was going through for the first time.

OASIS Day 2 – Sunday

As I mentioned to close out the last post, Anna was up early about 6:15 AM. She lovingly called out “Mama” to me and it just made my heart melt. I can on imagine when she is a bit older calling out my name constantly in frustration, but this I did like!

The morning was rough, a continuation of Day 1… Anna was wonderful, fun and funny one moment and a terror the next. Dr. Jekyll and Miss Hyde in overdrive.

Anna doesn’t know what “vacation” is yet –– she just knows that her entire world is upside down and she is not happy with me. I about lost it when she took the ponytails out of her hair that first morning as she defiantly glared at me while doing so. Even at her age she knows how much I like her hair neat and tidy and she is not really a fan of having it done, and she retaliated deliberately pushing my buttons.  Anna was angry, tired and frustrated, and I caught myself… Counted to 10 and just moved on. I think that I surprised her when I just took the other one out, combed her hair and it was done.

After breakfast we headed to “Cruise School”. In the mornings, JB and I sing “School, school, school… Anna is going to school.” It’s our thing. So I just changed the words to Cruise School…mostly to maintain consistency and that she knows where she is going and that well be there later to pick her up.

We took the long way and stopped at various locations on the ship –– so massive and interesting at every turn that you can’t see everything in one trip. The girls in Royal Tots gave me a mobile phone that works on the ship so they can call me if there are any problems with Anna. She was a bit upset when I left, and then settled down. I peeked around the corner to see how she was and she was on the floor, settling in and checking out all of the new toys to play with. She seemed “ok”, but I was nervous about leaving her there.

For the next 3 hours I had the ringer up and an ear trained to the phone, but a call never came. In anticipation that I would get a call, I didn’t do much except get a bit more organized, establish a Wi-Fi account and get a coffee and then lunch and wander around the ship for the most part. In the end she was completely fine.

When I picked her up she saw me immediately and came running… And with a happy scream… Just like nursery school at home. She really hadn’t eaten much lunch, so knowing what a zoo the buffet is, we headed to the Concierge Lounge. On the way, there was a street parade on Deck 5 and we had a great time watching it from one of the upper balconies. Anna was getting used to being on the ship and I could see that she was starting to have fun and relax. She smiled and laughed and she was in a much better mood.  Maybe she was the one who needed a break from me that morning!

OASIS Day 3 – Monday

Anna was getting used to being on the ship and in the new environment and Day 3 was an improvement from Sunday. She slept pretty well and I had to wake her up at 7:30 as she was still sacked out. We need to get back to a normal food routine as traveling solo with a child who now has severe diaper rash is no fun for her or for me. I’ve never seen it so bad. She developed the issue immediately when we left and the traveling has made it really tough to clear up when you don’t have your normal resources around you.

And then there is the issue of diapers and baby wipes. Very quickly I realized that with all of the diaper changes that were not expected, I was in trouble of running out of both.  OMG this is truly a parents worst nightmare. I had planned for the usual plus 20 percent, but Anna on Day 3 is running double the norm for diapers and triple on the wipes.

Again, Edwin, our cabin steward to the rescue. He came up with her size in diapers as well as a container of wipes that were placed on the bed in the cleaned room when I returned that morning. The relief on my face was evident, I tracked him down and I gave him a huge hug. My advice to all parents with non-potty trained toddlers, double up on everything for the trip (diapers, wipes, cream, etc.) to be safe. If I didn’t have a cabin steward like Edwin, I would be doing it the old fashioned way and no one wants to go there! I will say that I heard that on RCI, you can pre-order diapers, wipes and baby food. I believe that there is a charge for it, but it is a great service to have so you don’t have to bring everything with you if you.

Anna had a good couple of hours at the Royal Tots program and I had enjoyed 20 minutes wandering the Labadee port and then hanging in the shade by the pool. It felt like the first day where I had had some time to relax instead of keeping tabs on how Anna was doing and checking on work email regularly.

For dinner we went up to the Windjammer Marketplace cafe. I had to get out of the cabin for dinner and I figured that this would be the best solution. Traveling solo with an almost 2 year old is a juggling act and you will only survive if you ask for help. I don’t normally and manage just fine, but trying to navigate a busy food court with a stroller and tray on your own is impossible.

One of the attendants helped us find a table, got a high chair and stayed with her while I got her some food.  Anna happily ate the chicken breast and yogurt and veggies and again in 20 minutes we were done and on our way out. I barely ate anything. What I’ve learned is that she is super antsy on this trip due to all of the stimulation surrounding her — and consequently that means that in order to maintain some sense of control and peace, I forgo my meal or slam it down as I keep one eye and hand on her. I realized that on my own very quickly, Windjammer Marketplace isn’t a solution that is viable for me on this trip. A quieter environment for a meal, like the cabin, is likely the most suitable solution for most meals.

Earlier that day I took her to Frozen In Time, the ice show in Studio B… A really well done ice skating production… Anna was memorized. She clapped, smiled and was giddy. She was so focused on it and I managed to get us seats by the railing adjacent to the ice so we were right next to the action. She had a great time for about 30 minutes and then mid-show said “all done” and she was ready to move on. Thinking ahead, I sat by the aisle in case this would happen and I was able to mostly slip out and not be too disruptive.

Later after dinner we attempted to see Oasis of Dreams, the water/diving show, but Anna had had too much stimulation from earlier, was tired from the day and lasted 15 minutes. I was really looking forward to the performance, but lesson learned — book only one activity per day at this age to avoid over-stimulation.  As a note, I had booked Frozen in Time for another day, but the cruise line rescheduled the show and they were unfortunately on either side of dinner. This was unavoidable, unfortunately.

OASIS Day 4 – Tuesday

I ventured off the ship for 20 minutes. The port was Labadee and mostly had a beach and that was it. Edwin encouraged me to get off the ship and just stretch my legs –– and I am glad that I did. The ship phone that I got from Royal Tots doesn’t extend past the ship, so I was a bit uncomfortable about leaving the ship at all.

Even though there wasn’t much to see or do besides have a look at the beach, the zip line running down the beach (which was pretty cool to see everyone flying down from the opposite end) and a few vendors, it did get me off.  I remember from my last cruise that after 5 days on board without going off, that I was a bit stir crazy. So I walked around and then got back on pretty quickly. No phone calls from Royal Tots and all was well.

I changed and then went up to the pool deck for the rest of the morning. I had planned to pick up Anna at 1:30, but when I called at 1PM to check on her, she had just fallen asleep. So for the next hour and a half I kept calling back, but she was still asleep.  I was feeling really guilty about having her in the program for so long during the day, but JB reminded me later that if she wasn’t okay, she would not be sleeping or eating so well there.

So I just hung out in a bit of baby limbo waiting for Anna to wake up. By 3:30PM she was up and as per her routine at home, came running happily when she saw me. She was doing well and having fun, so I guess that I shouldn’t worry about not being with her constantly. Actually, when we are together we seem to have a better time, she isn’t bored with me and I can honestly say I do have a much more enjoyable time with her.

On the way back I saw a family that had a harness on their little boy that was approximately the same age as Anna. I am not sure how I feel about the harness, but as I have personally experienced, having an almost 2 year old can be difficult to wrangle and the ship is by no means baby-proofed. There are so many steps without gates that come out of nowhere and if you aren’t paying constant attention to your child when they are out of the stroller, you are definitely asking for trouble.

If I haven’t stressed it enough here, bring a lightweight travel stroller with you. The ship is waaaay too big to either carry or walk with your little one wherever you need to go. Also, it will get you to your destination much faster and your little one will be much more comfortable.

Throwing caution to the wind we went to the Opus Dining Room for dinner. We had a great table in the corner, but I got the distinct impression that the wait staff wasn’t happy that we hadn’t been turning up. And there was a reason…. Hurricane Anna. The table was beautifully set with china, silverware, linens, etc. it was overwhelming for her and for me not having JB there to help wrangle… Add to it that it was very difficult to clear 75 percent of the table immediately so Anna couldn’t get her hands on anything dangerous.

I should have brought the iPad so keep her occupied, but no matter how much the wait staff tried to help, we were done and in and out in 20 minutes. What a waste. The fish and the lasagna were wonderful, but yet again, I had to slam down whatever I could eat and go because Anna has the attention span of a nat, I mean, 21 month old. So much for that. Lesson learned – don’t forget to bring books/iPad/coloring book and crayons to entertain the child at the dinner table if you plan to sit for more than 20 minutes. I wouldn’t do this at home, but in this case, it makes sense here so you can perhaps try and have a decent meal.

OASIS Day 5 – Wednesday

Falmouth, Jamaica – a new port for OASIS and by far the nicest of the three stops. I got some very nice local artisan deals… A dress for Anna and a woven 60s Florida-esque woven purse for myself.

From the previous nights experience at dinner, we ordered room service again and avoided the dining room. This time I asked them to split the order and bring Anna’s right away, and deliver mine at 8PM. She would be asleep and I asked them to be sure to not ring the bell and knock quietly. It worked like a charm and Room Service did just as I had asked thankfully. I actually got to eat my first dinner of the trip in relative peace and quiet… And watched a movie to boot! So, calling in both dinners together, but having yours delivered after the baby goes to bed worked best.

Just as a note, I had booked dinner reservations for JB and I at Chops Grille the following evening prior to the cruise, but canceled the babysitting service as well as the dinner reservation… I saw no point in going and spending all that money to eat dinner at a table by myself. My new dining plan worked out well, and within the suites, gave me a rotating menu every night so I was never ordering from the same menu. Again, another reason the suite has worked out so well being a solo traveling parent with a 21 month old!

OASIS Day 6 – Thursday

More of the same… I can’t complain for sure. Having the Royal Tots program has allowed me to have a vacation. We start every morning with Skyping with JB before “Cruise School.” Anna knows after the call that she is getting in the stroller to go and she is giddy with excitement. It’s a quick hello to Daddy and then it is “go, go, go”!

I have said this before, but the Royal Tots program is truly one of the reasons that we picked Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. I did my research on CruiseCritic.com and independently verified from several sources about the quality of the program and the staff.

My understanding is that the Royal Tots team all have a background in early childhood development, so these are not kids watching kids… They are all professionals (I heard that RCI recruits them from Canada) and they take their job seriously. At the end of each session with Anna, they have a written report on how and what she ate, how she went to the bathroom (kind and time) as well as how long she napped.  They genuinely care about the children and it shows. I was there picking her up and they were doing a shift change –– they were discussing what needed to be done, status on other things, etc..

Also every small child has a sticker put on their back every day –– something that they are not aware of. It has their name, cabin number, phone number for the parent (the ship phone we are all given) along with the evacuation location code that we all learned of during the Muster Drill. In case of evacuation, they would bring Anna directly to me there.

I do need to let those that read this post know that the service is an additional charge of $8 per hour. It adds up, but is comparable to what I pay at her nursery school at home. When I have been in dropping off or picking up Anna on the cruise, I’ve heard people on the phone being turned away as the program was full for the day. The space isn’t huge and so they limit the children count to 8 at one time. I had heard it was popular, so once I knew it worked for Anna, I booked the remainder of the cruise right away.

I can’t speak highly enough of the Royal Tots program. Period.

OASIS Day 7 – Friday

More of the same… again… this cruise traveling solo with a 21 month old, although not ideal without my husband, as worked out. It wasn’t what we had planned, but I found myself enjoying a few hours during the day on my own. Things that would have driven me mad if we had been with each other 24-hours/day, didn’t bother me in the least and I took it in stride. On my last day on the ship I enjoyed the late morning on Deck 17 in the outdoor private area for suite holders. There is a bar up there and although I didn’t spend much time at the bar with all of the cigar smokers, I did hang around the corner in the sun and part shade enjoying my last day at sea.

When I picked Anna up from the Royal Tots program I knew it would be her last time with the staff and they were genuinely sad to see her go. I heard that she was a model child and overall did really, really well all week. She watched movies, played with the other kids, took good naps, ate well, went on walks around the ship, etc. I know that she is just coming into her own, but with a regular nursery schools schedule at home, she didn’t seem to exhibit a lot of separation anxiety as she knew that I would come back to get her. Actually, it’s enjoyable as she screams with glee when she sees me at pick-up. It makes my day!

During the final day with Anna in Royal Tots I packed our bags, so I had little to do in the evening. The challenge was putting everything we needed in our one carry-on bag that we had from that evening through the trip home. It was jammed to the gills, but I made it work, barely. That evening, I ordered our dinner’s as usual, and I spent the evening watching TV, put our large suitcases outside the door with our valet tags and Delta luggage tags (ship to home Baggage Claim select service) and then crawled into bed early as I knew that it would be a very, very long day Saturday.

OASIS – DAY 8 – DISEMBARKATION AND TRIP HOME

I was up early… couldn’t sleep. The day would be very long, but I just couldn’t rest. I got myself ready and then got Anna up earlier than usual. I got her dressed and as Room Service was discontinued on this day, we made our way to the Concierge Lounge to wait out the last call from the ship. Due to flight scheduling, we couldn’t take the 11:15AM flight to Detroit as we missed the cut-off by 15 minutes to book that flight. The cruise line wouldn’t guarantee our bags would make our flight nor would they guarantee we would get the airport shuttle to the airport in time. Our only solution was to take the 4PM flight. We had to wait it out 5 hours at the airport.

As I said, we went to the Concierge Lounge and got whatever continental breakfast was available – not much. I had extra food from Room Service (pastries, yogurt, fruit) that I had ordered the day before and held it in the refrigerator in our cabin. I am glad I did this and will remember to do it again. I stretched out the Concierge Lounge visit to the bitter end when they called us off the ship at 9:30AM. We went down to Deck 5 and it was a mob scene. There is no way Anna could have made it without a major meltdown, so I jumped the line and started just walking around Deck 5 with her in the stroller. I remembered that there was a family lounge/waiting area in one of the bars on Deck 5, so we headed there and there was one family still waiting. I let Anna out of her stroller and she ran around. She is a bit of a “runner”, so I have to constantly keep my eye on her as there are no doors, it seems, on a ship (except to your cabin and restrooms)! It can be very stressful.

Fortunately, the family waiting area had crayons and blank coloring pages of Shrek characters, so I kept Anna occupied for about 30 minutes. Thinking ahead for the flight home, I grabbed some clean pages, a few crayons and two empty balloons for the trip home.

In the end, I think that we were the absolutely last ones off the ship. We still had to wait to disembark the ship and go through Customs, but the line had gone down so much so that the wait was only about 15 minutes as we made our way off the ship and into the Immigration area. We easily went thru Customs and then headed outside to the coach for the trip to the airport.

Anna was antsy already by this point, but once we got going on the shuttle to the airport (about a 15 minute ride), she was okay – she actually had fun sitting in the front seat on the coach and looking out the window. Once we got to Ft. Lauderdale airport, the absolute worst part was waiting and then getting through Security. Shoes off, stroller thru the scanner, iPad out of the bag, Anna getting super antsy the entire time (I am being kind here)… and the Security people not being helpful, just telling me to move her out of the way, etc. and not being considerate one bit.

But once we got thru Security we were okay. Fortunately being Diamond Medallion on Delta, I have access to the Sky Lounge. Considering the size of the terminal, the lounge is really large. I found a quiet place and we had some of the snacks in the lounge as I wasn’t ready to tackle the food court with her yet. It was only about 11:30 by now and we had to wait until 3:30 PM to board the flight. 4 hours lay ahead.

There was a “Quiet Room”, but I couldn’t get Anna to lay down. She was pretty manic and wanted to just walk/run around the entire time. I wanted to close the door of the Quiet Room, but the attendants wouldn’t let me… I was not happy as I needed to find a way to contain Anna. There were few people in the lounge on a weekend day and I kept the door open, but managed to put a chair on an angle to stop Anna from leaving the room (a few glares from the staff, but no one told me I had to move it). She wasn’t happy, but it kept her in there so I could actually sit down and try and get her to relax. I had also remembered to bring a balloon in my pocket from the family waiting area on the ship, so I pulled that out and blew it up as something to play with.

Essentially every 15-20 minutes or so, I had to come up with a new activity, balloons-drawing-eating-changing diaper-iPad-singing, etc. just to keep Anna occupied until we got on the plane. It was very much a moment, by moment, experience. Having the crayons, paper, balloons and everything else to keep her occupied was necessary to survive the day. Take advantage of whatever you can around you and be as prepared with activities that are small and travel well.

About an hour before we boarded the flight we went and had some chicken fingers in the food court. Afterwards Anna crashed at the worst time… 5 minutes before the flight she fell asleep in her stroller! I was racing through my head trying to figure out logistically what to do. Fortunately there was a young guy behind me boarding the plane, I asked him really nicely to help me, and he was great. I told him how to fold the stroller and he did that, and put it at the end of the gangway for gate check right as we got on the plane.

Anna immediately woke up, clearly emotionally and physically exhausted, and I tried to get her to go back to sleep but she wouldn’t do it. I tried and tried to get her to rest before take off and then into the flight, but then just gave up as it wasn’t happening.

I spent the next 2-1/2 hours trying to keep her happy, occupied and not bothering the other passengers. This plane also didn’t have a changing table in the bathroom, so I was stuck again… I hate to say it, but I had to change her diaper on the toilet seat (lid down of course) and make it work. She was scared and upset, but I had no choice as I couldn’t do it on the seat – just not enough room. In the end it was okay. She cheered up after she got a clean diaper and the people in front of us and behind us were actually really understanding – the guy behind her smiled and played a bit of hide-and-seek over the seat with her. I kept her as quiet as possible, but again, a challenge with a 21-month old for sure.

Once we landed I was frankly, overjoyed. My legs were so sore from Anna standing on them on the plane and I ended up with some bad bruising on my thighs. I got her back in the stroller and I was so happy to head down to Baggage Claim to meet JB.

In retrospect, even with all of the gear, I wish I had taken her car seat. Traveling on the plane down to Florida and home would have been much easier and she would have been more comfortable. She didn’t sleep on the way down or the way home. If you can manage it, rental car or not, bring a car seat for your child’s plane seat. They will feel secure – secure enough to sleep, they’ll be contained, and you’ll get a bit of rest on the flight as well.

This was not my first trip with Anna – and the previous journey was much longer. But the difference was by far traveling solo with a 21-month old. As organized a person as I am, I learned some key lessons that I have shared here with you all. But the biggest advice that I can give you if you have to take this on is – don’t be afraid to ask for help…. Help loading, unloading, short cuts wherever possible, help from a security officer at an airport, from another passenger, etc. The worst they can say is “no”, but everyone said “yes” and were very helpful, smiled and were kind. I normally don’t ask for help – I’m very much determined to do it on my own, but in this case, I was humbled. It was a life experience that I will always remember and look back fondly on – really. It wasn’t ideal for sure, but after 8 days on my own with my 21 month old, I think I can pretty much tackle anything now.

And in Baggage Claim one of those truly memorable life moments was as Anna went running to JB screaming “Dada, dada”… and running so fast that she fell over in front of him. He scooped her up, gave her a big kiss on the cheek, she turned and was grinning from ear-to-ear… and I was overjoyed that I was home and solo no more.

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