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Have you seen this viral post sharing a Granny’s awesome outside-the-box Christmas idea? When I saw this, we were celebrating our first Christmas aboard and I thought…this. is. perfect. for cruising kids. I don’t know how much downsizing you had to do to move onto your boat, but we had A LOT, and so did our kids. Every holiday, birthday, special occasion, heck…when they went to someone ELSE’S birthday party…they’d receive stuff. Clothes, toys…oh so many toys. 

Clutter stresses me out, and there is zero room for clutter on your boat. So, instead of buying your kids more stuff on special occasions, instead, try giving them experiences. Experience gifts provide just as much happiness without the clutter. If you’re like us and gifts to your children were previously ‘stuff gifts’, help them navigate the transition to ‘experience gifts’ by still having something for them to ‘open’ but it’s merely a symbol of the upcoming experience. Opening ‘something’ helps them understand that there is more to come and builds excitement and appreciation.

Some experience gifts cost nothing. Some cost a small fortune. For those more expensive experiences, invite your friends and family to participate! They probably don’t understand that their well-intentioned material gifts are sinking your boat. Help them understand that living on a boat is like living a minimalist lifestyle. Experiences, especially if they are…experienced with their loved one who provided it to them are even more special, in fact, they’re PRICELESS.

9 Experience Gifts for Cruising Kids

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America The Beautiful Annual Pass

If you cruise the U.S. coast and like history and nature you want this pass. It covers entrance and standard amenity fees to over 2,000 national parks and wildlife refuges. 6 agencies participate in this interagency pass including the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and more. It covers up to 4 adults at ‘per person’ entry areas and covers the driver and all passengers at ‘per vehicle’ areas. Yes, kids under 15 get in to national parks for free, but when you add up all the adult entry fees you’ll pay over the year visiting forts, parks, etc. you’ll get your money’s worth after visiting ~ 3 sites, and you’ll likely be visiting many more! This pass is valid for one full year from the month it’s purchased. They also have passport books ($9.95) that will help your kids log their national park visits by collecting each park’s unique stamp. Together, you’ll be gifting endless future adventures and a treasured keepsake!

What they can open:

Wrap the membership card, passport, and print the information for a few of the parks you know they’ll love to visit!

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State Park Annual Pass

above link is to a site noting which states have park entrance passes

If you cruise primarily in one state, see if your state park system has an annual pass. For example, many families heading to the Bahamas spend a fair amount of time in Florida. This Florida state parks pass pretty much covers all the history and nature things that the national pass (above) doesn’t. That’s almost 200 more parks: Fort Clinch, Bahia Honda, even Weeki Wachee! Like the national parks, Florida has a Florida Parks Passport, which works like the national stamp system described above.

What they can open:

Wrap the membership card, passport, and print the information for a few of the parks you know they’ll love to visit!

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Destination Ticket Packages

Often as family cruisers we visit destinations with our kids with the intention of doing as many of the location’s tourist attractions as time, money, and little legs allow. Many areas offer ‘city passes’ like this one from Boston, MA or this one from Key West, FL. They know which places tourists want to see when they visit their location and bundle these tickets into a more affordable package. It’s a better deal than buying tickets at each attraction individually and often has extra perks (like transportation).  

*If you don’t plan on visiting all the places bundled in the ticket, do the math…sometimes it’s still cheaper to buy the bundle and just not use all the tickets, sometimes it’s not.

What they can open:

Print a brochure about the destination’s tourist attractions and if there are options to the package, let them help you make the decisions! Of course, if you’re able to print the tickets in advance, you could add those too.

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Make Memories Playing Games

Yes, at first glance, this is ‘stuff’…the very thing that this list is advocating against. I promise you, it’s not. Playing board and card games as a family brings everyone together and creates great family memories. Gaming lets your kids practice social skills in a friendly, competitive environment. It also gives them an opportunity to think critically. It teaches them about following rules and fairness, but also helps them understand perseverance, and, some games are even, dare I say, educational. 😮 Our favorite cruiser friendly games are listed here.

What they can open:

The game! You can make it extra special by adding some game night snacks so your child can host their own ‘family game night’.

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Make & Hide Kindness Rocks

While exploring, have you ever found a kindness rock? You might have run across one but just didn’t know what it was. Long story short, they are painted rocks that are hidden in plain sight. Some are from organized FB groups, others, just from kind souls who want to brighten someone’s day. The whole kindness rock process is great and it’s really fun for kids. This site shares more details about kindness rocks and specifics on how to participate. How do you make a kindness rock? Start by going on a rock hunt walk with your kids. Let them pick out a half dozen or so smoothish rocks to paint. Together design what you want to put on the rocks – a heart, a flower, a quote, your boat name,…the choice is yours. Paint the rocks, seal them, and decide where you’ll place them for people to find. After they dry, go ‘hide’ them! Now, go celebrate (with ice cream?) knowing that when someone finds one of their rocks, it’ll make their day a lil’ bit brighter.

*We hid our rocks in Rock Sound, Eleuthera and noted them in the Buried Treasure: Bahamas Facebook group.

What they can open:

Fill a basket with the supplies they’ll need (sans rocks) to make their kindness rocks: acrylic paint, a few small brushes, maybe a paint pen or a sharpie, and some sealing spray.

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Cruiser Kid Coupon Book

Coupon books are an excellent no cost gift. These coupons can be anything about something they love or getting out of something they don’t. For example, does you child always ask to drive the dingy? Give her a coupon! Does he always groan when it’s his turn to wash the dishes? Give him a coupon! Some kids will blow all their coupons in a week, others will save them, and you’ll swear they forgotten about them, and then BAM, they’ll turn one in when you least expect it. It’s so fun! You’re welcome to use this one with color backgrounds or this one without backgrounds. The last two coupons on both are blank so you can personalize a few.

*If making your own, know there are a lot of great coupon ideas on Pinterest.

What they can open:

Print the coupons, cut them out, and personalize a few. You can even make them cute by putting ‘em together with a curly ribbon.

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Cruiser Scavenger Hunt

Kids love scavenger hunts, and cruising invites so many opportunities! It’s a fun way to explore nature, history, and culture. Here is a cruising beach/anchorage scavenger hunt. Break up into teams, each with a camera. Do your hunts separately then after an agreed upon amount of time, share your shots! If your crew likes friendly competition, decide which photographed item is best and reward that team with a point. This, of course, sparks great conversation. 😆 Whoever has the most points at the end wins the big prize! 

*Feel free to tweak this to better suit your cruising grounds.

What they can open:

A few of the scavenger sheets and ‘the big prize’.

*For my kids, ‘the big prize’ is usually a larger portion of a shared chocolate bar.

*This idea was inspired by this post. (I hate that the pictures aren’t viewable anymore because they were precious. Above is one of them.)

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A Package of Love

This one will take some preparation, and is best orchestrated before casting off, but…imagine your child on their special day opening up letters from the people they hold closest to their hearts: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, former teachers, coaches, etc. All these letters telling your child how awesome they are. To do this, well in advance of your celebration, secretively reach out to the important people in your child’s life and ask them to write a quick note about something they admire about them, or maybe a favorite moment they shared. Collect all of these notes and store them in a secret place on your boat. When the day arrives, surprise your child with all of their letters!

What they can open:

Put each note in it’s own envelope and let your child open up each note individually, or have one big envelope stuffed with all of the letters. Do whatever you think your child will like best!

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Mystery Video Chat

Similar to the idea above, well in advance of your celebration, secretively reach out to the important people in your child’s life and, together, write a few questions that will make your child think of that person. Create a schedule for your child’s special day, and plan a time for each special guest’s chat via FaceTime, Hangout, Skype, etc.. Remember, initially you don’t want your child to know who it is on the other side of the video, so you’ll want to hide your screen. If you have a rear-facing camera, you can video your child while their secret special guest reads their questions. (This will allow the guest to see your child’s reaction too.) See how many questions it takes for them to figure out who their guest is! Once they know, turn the device around and let them have a chat. Imagine doing this a few times on their special day. So fun!

*Of course, this depends on the dependability of your wifi. I recommend testing your connections in advance.

What they can open:

Print this card. It explains what a mystery video chat is and how they play.

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More Experience Gifts Resources: