Cruising can be the ultimate family vacation: activities for all ages, unlimited food and the safety of exploring foreign places with a clean ship to return to at day’s end.

When you cruise with a toddler, however, you’ll want to follow some specific rules so that everyone can have a good time. Here a few ideas we’ve picked up from our cruises, and specifically the last Caribbean cruise with our 2-year-old.

1. Pick your ship wisely. It goes without saying that a Disney cruise caters the most to children. If you don’t want to spend your free time with Mickey and can’t justify the extra cost, do your research as to what cruise line would be best suited for your age of child. Children under 3 or those that are not potty-trained are often not allowed in the kids programs.

Certain lines do let 2-year-olds in the kids club (Carnival) or have toddler-friendly events (Royal Caribbean) and many will let your children visit the kids area as long as you stay there to supervise (Princess). A toddler who loves water would be best suited on Disney, which is the only line that allows babies and toddlers to swim in swim diapers (and only in separately filtered splash zones).

2. Expect behavior changes or odd phases to begin on vacation. If your 2-year-old is anything like ours, she’s so entrenched in her home routine that she acts out when faced with any kind of change in scenery or schedule. The funny thing is, just when you think you’ve found an event your toddler will enjoy, his preferences will change and you’ve got a crying and flailing child on the floor. We struggled with this behavior until we learned how to work with her.

For long travel days and extra exciting days, carve out some time in a quiet place with a familiar thing. For us, it meant we spent more time than normal in our stateroom with Toon Goggles or Jake’s Neverland Pirate game on the iPad. She needed to veg out with her iPad until she could relax and actually take a reasonable nap in her big girl bed. Hint: Bring or request a Bed Rail if you’re expecting your toddler to sleep in a twin bed alone.

3. Avoid waiting in lines by ASKING for assistance. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, especially as an introvert. When faced with a long line to board the ship after a day of traveling, we asked if we could cut in line.

It helps to say that your child is exhausted, starving or about to have a major breakdown, most of which is probably true. Be nice and find a crew member who looks old enough to have children. Many of them are away from their children for months at a time and are willing to help out a fellow parent in need.

4. Do less in port and always take a Lightweight Reclining Stroller! Shore excursions booked through the cruise line ensure a reasonable amount of safety and cleanliness in a developing country. With family travel, you certainly want more reliable transportation and easy access to food, and English-speaking tour guides are a real bonus.

When the air conditioning wasn’t working in our bus in Belize, the tour guide called for a new bus immediately. Whereas we would plan long days of independent travel as a couple, it was important for our toddler’s sanity to limit our sightseeing.

5. Take a deep breath and think about the memories you’ve created for your FAMILY. Your child may not remember much of the trip, but you definitely will… If only as a reminder of why we travel in the first place. At 2, your child is forming experiences of travel that sink into the subconscious forever.

Little J keeps talking about the jaguars she saw up close at the Belize Zoo — animals she knew from Diego. It’s proof that you can learn from TV, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. Cruise with a toddler to see joy up close, and try to ignore the messy parts.