Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cruising...the Perfect Balance of Family and Alone Time! Tips and Tricks to Cruising

I've often said that cruising is the perfect balance of family and alone time.

Choosing a vacation in which your whole family agrees upon or that you can afford is often a challenge.  Choosing a cruise for your family vacation solves those problems, as there is something or everyone on a cruise, and a cruise for every budget!

     The great clubs for kids and teens on most ships ensure that the younger members of your party are delighted, and the adult areas (pools, clubs, spas, casinos, sometimes even private beaches) guarantee there are plenty of adult oriented activities to be enjoyed.  You come together for pool time, meal time, activities of your choice…but planned correctly, everyone gets to experience what they enjoy, and you still spend quality time as a family!


     Your vacation budge will make it easier to choose a cruise line, ship, and destination.

Economy Budget (under $500 per person)

     If you are on a tight budget, compare flying to driving to see which makes more sense.  There are ports all over the country, perhaps closer than you might think.  There are ports in places you would expect, like Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, but also Miami, Charleston, Long Beach (great option for West Coasters), Baltimore, Mobile and New Orleans.  Even Seattle has departures!  Don’t forget to keep in mind baggage fees for the airline, and transfers to and from ship.  Next, make sure the price you get for your cruise includes what you think it does.  There may appear to be awesome deals out there…too good to be true!  Often, they are too good to be true.  Be certain that they include taxes and fees, and also be aware that fuel supplement charges may be added if the price of oil gets too high. 

     One of my top picks for lower budget are the 3 and 4 day cruises on the Carnival Inspiration and Imagination. I've seen cruises as low as $169 per person to start, and you visit Ensenada, the four days go to Catalina Island, and you get a day at sea.  You can also extend your trip a day and stay at the awesome, rumored to be haunted Queen Mary.  To save even more money, choose an inside cabin or a lower category ocean view cabin.

Carnival Inspiration

Middle of the Road Budget ($500-$1000 per person)
     If your budget stretches a little further, consider a longer cruise, or a nicer ship.  Three and four day cruises out of Port Canaveral, Florida are available on the Disney Dream, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay (pronounced Key), is like heaven on earth. At various times of the year, you can find reasonably priced cruises on Disney's smaller ships, the Wonder and the Magic, with various destinations.  The Wonder even has a couple right out of San Diego.  Disney also provides the best clubs for kids and teens that I have seen, and embarkation and debarkation is usually seamless and pain-free.  

Royal Caribbean has several options in this range.  The Freedom is a great ship that has a ton to do onboard, including a surf full water simulator called the Flowrider and an ice skating rink!  


     Explore shore excursion options – there are dozens.  There are also usually specialty restaurants available for a nominal fee for an extra treat, and don’t forget to check out the spa onboard!

Splurge Budget ($700 and up per person)
     My top cruise ship pick for families with a little more cash to spend is the Disney Fantasy, preferably in a balcony cabin.  Keep in mind that the Captain usually backs into Castaway Cay when you choose your cabin location and ask your travel agent what spot is best for you for the best possible view of the island!  Or the Royal Caribbean Oasis or Allure, the biggest ships in the world and floating cities, complete with more restaurants, shows, and activities that you can count, and "interior" cabins with verandahs overlooking Central Park or the Boardwalk.
     Consider an exotic itinerary on a higher budget, such as Alaska.  Princess is a great choice of cruise line for families going to Alaska as they have a direct train to Denali, and lodges in the national parks. There are ships like the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas that leave right from Seattle, or try the Disney Wonder out of Vancouver. Alaska is simply stunning, and a great educational opportunity.  Children will enjoy the wildlife and appreciate the view more than you think!  

Whale Watching in Victoria Island from the Explorer of the Seas

What is included on a cruise?
     Normally, the price of your cruise includes cruise fare, taxes and port fees.  Food, many non alcoholic beverages, twice daily cabin servicing, room service, and most entertainment onboard are also included.
What is extra?
     Gratuity, flights, transfers to and from the airport, alcohol, soda on most lines, shore excursions, specialty restaurants, some activities, babysitting very young children when available, photos internet service, souvenirs, and some specialty food onboard such as coffee bars and smoothies.
How can you save money?
·       Most ships have soda cards available for purchase if you drink a lot of soda, which can be a good savings over buying sodas individually.  On Disney ships, soda is included.

·       Gamble on a guarantee cabin.  What that means is you don’t choose a specific cabin, you choose a guarantee, and give the cruise line the ability to put you where they need you to be.  You may be bumped a category or three by giving them that option, although you are taking a risk on where you end up.

·       Alcohol can be costly on a cruise.  Most lines will allow each adult to bring one or two bottles of wine or a certain amount of beer onboard, although it must be hand carried and not in checked luggage. Another savings option is to learn to like the featured Drink of the Day (they are usually quite good!) since they are usually a savings and also include souvenir glasses.

·       You can save money on shore excursions by booking through outside companies instead of through the cruise ship.  Your travel agent is the best source of shore excursion options.

·       If you have a large family, hire a car service for your transfers to and from the ship rather than use the cruise ship transfers, it will save you money.

·       For air travel, I don't usually book it through the cruise line. If you are considering that option, make sure they don't assign the flight at a later date, make sure you can choose the flight you want and your seat assignment.

·       Buy travel insurance, but you should determine which is a better value: buying through the cruise line, or a separate travel insurance company.
Other cruise tips
·       Choosing a cabin can be completely confusing.  Your travel agent can explain the different categories, or you can study the deck plans available on each cruise line website.

·       Arrive in the port area the day before cruise departure.  It might be an extra hotel expense, but invaluable for peace of mind.  If your flight is delayed the morning of departure and you miss embarkation, you will have a terrible time trying to get to the next port to join the ship.  This gives you an opportunity to explore the area, and is a good excuse for a longer vacation, but it is really a great precaution.

·       Embarkation and debarkation can be taxing on your patience.  Make sure to fill out the pre cruise planner on each cruise line website completely, and print off necessary paperwork (if you have a travel agent, they should provide you specifics on this process.)  Have all of your paperwork and documentation available in hand when you join the embarkation line.  A passport is always a good idea, although currently not required for closed loop cruises (departing and returning to the same US port), but ALWAYS double check what is required. You can check here for the latest passport information:   If you do not have the correct documents, you will be denied boarding.  If you are concerned with crowds and waiting, get to the ship around 1:30, there will be much less wait, you might even walk right on and your cabin will be ready.

·       When you embark, get lunch right away, since the restaurants will close way before sailing.  The buffet on the ship is usually where staff will direct you, but often one of the other restaurants are open and are much less crowded.  Try to get into one of those if possible.
Bottom line on cruising
     Do your research.  I suggest choosing a qualified Travel Time agent to assist you.  Using a travel agent should cost you nothing, and can save you not only a lot of money but a lot of time; they often have contacts for shore excursions and can arrange all aspects of your cruise including transfers.  Choose a travel agent that has experience and can speak freely when discussing cruises.  Many have deals or specials that aren't readily available to the public, like discounts or onboard credit specials. Better yet...choose a qualified travel agent AND do research.  And happy cruising!

By Lucy

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