Family Vacation Tips

Family Cruise Guide For Beginners

[fa icon="calendar"] May 9, 2017 8:00:00 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Planning a cruise for the first timeDon't miss the boat on a really fun filled family vacation!  

A family cruise is not only a wonderful family experience, you'll get to visit some of the most beautiful and iconic ports of call in the world.  Modern cruise ships offer sports, activities and entertainment suitable for all interests and ages. Families can choose the amount of togetherness and independence helping to insure the experience is a true vacation experience for every member of the family. With prices starting around $79 per person per night, it's also a wonderful value.

There are simply so many reasons to make this your family's next big adventure.

1. If your family is brand new to the world of cruising....welcome! 

2. Perhaps you were on a cruise a long time back. SURPRISE! Things are incredibly different now. There is simply so much to see and do on a cruise that you probably never thought about.

3. Maybe you don't think your a cruiser. Perhaps you're curious because your friend's family just got back raving about their cruise. Perhaps you're trying to make a dream come true for a spouse or family member. There are a lot of myths out there about cruising so hang in there with us and will help you sort thru fact and fiction.

So if you're completely new to the world of family cruises, a little out of practice or willing to consider a whole new world of travel then -WELCOME ABOARD!

If you're considering a cruise for your next family vacation, you're in great company. 75% of American families say they are interested in taking a cruise vacation. According to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) 27.2 million passengers are scheduled to set sail on a cruise in 2019.  While that may sound like a lot of people it's less than 1/2 the number of visits to Las Vegas each year. 

Right now the cruise lines are scrambling to keep up with demand.  There are only a handful of shipyards worldwide with the capacity and technology to build these beauties. 13 new ships began welcoming guests in 2018. Shipyard orders for new builds have been placed by all the major cruise lines up until 2027 by which time there is expected to be more than 427  ocean going cruise ships.

Family Cruise Planning Basics

One reason so many folks get overwhelmed trying to do their own travel planning online is because they head to google without any plan. Searching "warm and cheap places to travel" will yield you 398,000,000 results (and we get this question a lot!).  We're looking for an "Affordable family vacation" will give you 610,000,000 offers. 

Who's got time to shift thru all that while waiting in the school pick up line or when your boss isn't looking?

So to efficiently create ANY travel itinerary, you'll need to answer some very specific questions to help you stay focused - otherwise you'll head down a black online hole and everyone will end up watching cat videos for vacation.

Here are the most important, travel planning 101 basic questions you need to define for every trip. 

Do not hit search without a family discussion and answers to these vital questions:

  • What are you travel dates - departure & return
  • Number of adults and children traveling
  • Children's ages (at the time of travel)
  • Where will your be leaving from?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • How do you plan to get there/transportation?
  • What's your travel style?
  • Last but certainly the important...what's our budget?

Family cruise guide for beginners

Answers to these questions will build the framework or skeleton to your vacation itinerary.  You can't build a house without a strong foundation.   All of these answers are interconnected and all of them will influence pricing.  No point in searching sightseeing if the cost of flights to this specific destination is way over budget.

  • When clients come to us looking for help planning a vacation the first thing we ask for are answers to these questions. You'll see them on our request forms. If you call us or we meet you in person, we'll ask you for the same information.

Really good agents will go a step farther. We'll ask to schedule a consultation call, video chat or meeting.  To help you plan a really special, memorable vacation we need to dig a bit deeper. It's not that we're nosey or trying to get all up in your business.  We want to listen and truly understand your vision, goals, needs and desires so that we get all the details perfect.

What's your "Why" for this vacation...Why now? Why this destination?

Family Cruise Guide for BeginnersWhy Take A Family Cruise?Why Take A Family Cruise?

This image from CLIA boasts the benefits that cruises offer compared to a land based vacation.  When it comes to parents traveling with children, there are additional benefits that can be very significant in making vacation decisions:

  • Complimentary child care
  • Nursery programs (available for a fee)
  • easy to budget/know the full cost of your vacation up front
  • Supervised teen activities
  • Vacation experience can be customized to please every member of the family
  • Parents can relax and enjoy their own well deserved vacation

Family Cruise Guide For Beginners

How Much Does A Family Cruise Cost?

 A family cruise vacation can be a very affordable option. Cruise prices can start @ $59 per person per night. This price includes an inside cabin with no window, all meals, certain drinks, ship board activities, nightly entertainment and transportation to exotic ports of call. Of course, this is a starting point. From here, the sky is the limit. There's also massive suites that can include everything from private butlers, private jacuzzis and a completely all inclusive vacation experience.  A cruise vacation is also a wonderful option for extended families who may want to spend time together but have different budgets and vacation styles. 

If you're sailing for the first time you'll need some help comparing the costs of different cruise lines.  You may have your heart set on doing an eastern Caribbean sailing on the week that your kids are off from school but your cruise line or ship of choice is sailing a western itinerary that week. Maybe your family prefers a smaller ship with less attractions and more enrichment activities. All of these choices can affect your pricing.

When comparing the cost of a cruise vacation to a resort stay, theme park stay or even a road trip, folks often fail to calculate and compare total vacation package costs. There may be other costs involved like does your family need flights to get to port or can you drive? Does your family need to invest in getting passports for your cruise?


What's Included in the Cruise Price?

As we mentioned, cruise prices start on average at around $79 per person per night.  Of course if the budget allows, cruise ships offer extravagant family suites, butler service and plenty of extra perks and amenities. Regardless of what type of cabin your family selects, the price of your cruise fare includes:

  • Your cabin/Accommodations
  • Transportation to visit exciting and exotic ports of call
  • All your family's meals and snacks
  • Certain beverages
  • Complimentary child care starting around 2-3 years of age depending on specific cruise line
  • Daily shipboard activities for all ages
  • Nightly shows and entertainment


What's NOT included in Your Cruise Fare?

Some of these items are necessities. Other items on this list will depend on your family's specific circumstances. For example, you may decide to drive to port for a Caribbean cruise but your family will need flights to sail the Mediterranean.  Finally some of on this list are discretionary spending.  You can choose to indulge or not. The choice is up to you:

  • Airfare to get to port
  • Pre-Cruise Hotel
  • Airport/hotel transportation to port
  • Port parking
  • Gratuities
  • Alcohol and specialty drinks (plus tips)
  • Spa Treatments
  • Special fitness classes or personal trainers
  • Sightseeing and port excursions
  • Travel Insurance!!!

Cruise Myths

Part of a travel agents job is to know and understand all the family travel options that are available.  We work like a match maker to connect the right families with the right vacation packages.

Often when I "float" the idea of a cruise vacation to a client, the conversation goes like this:

Client: No Way! I am NOT a Cruiser!!!!

Me: OK, it's your vacation and you're the boss but please help me understand why you say this...have you ever been on a cruise?

Client: NO...I've never been on a cruise ship. I just know I won't like it.

Me: (Sigh)....You do realize you're giving me the exact same argument your kids give you every time you beg them to try a new food?...Something you know is tasty and really good for them.

Most of my parents laugh and get this. Fact is, there are a LOT of myths out there about cruising.

True Confessions time:  When Vacationkids first began in 2000, we didn't offer cruises. I had sailed a few times, always got deathly seasick and I didn't find really anything appealing about it. I personally thought it would be hard for me to convince other parents to take their kids on a cruise if I didn't honestly believe in this type of family vacation.

That was then!....Now things have changed DRAMATICALLY!

Allow me to bust a few Cruise Myths so that you can truly make an informed decision:

Seasickness - I can speak to this with first hand experience. Most ships built in the last 5-6 years have high tech stabilization systems.  Often I can't whether the ship is actually moving or not unless i look out a window.  Your doctor can also prescribe a Scopalamine patch. This looks like a tiny round bandaid that you wear behind your ear.  If I plan to sail on a new ship that I am unfamiliar with or an older refurbished ship I will bring this along "just in case".  There are doctors aboard all ships who can prescribe if need be but it costs more so best to be prepared.  There are also many holistic treatments that others swear by.

Cruises are for Old People - At the time of this writing, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas is sailing it's inaugural season.  This brand new ship was built with ziplines, a slide that plunges 10 decks, surf simulators, rock climbing, ice skating and water parks....even two story family suites with a slide in it!  This "ain't" your grandma's cruise ship! (Although...this Grandma LOVED it!)

Sailing dates will affect guest population. School break weeks will certainly mean more kids  and larger crowds. Cruise ships do watch and control population during holiday weeks so that ships are not over run with kids. For privacy reason there is no way for me to tell you how many other 11 year old girls will be on the ship for your daughter to make friends with.

We're "Beach-ie" people" - A family cruise will allow you to visit ports of call that offer some of the most amazing beaches in the world.  Many of the cruise lines have invested millions in some of the most spectacular private islands in the world....and a cruise is the only way to visit them.

"A Cruise would be over our budget"  - With cruise prices starting around $59 per person per day and when you consider everything that's included, Cheap family road trip vs family cruise - a cruise will most likely be the winner. Considering cruises can be booked up to two years in advance and we offer free vacation layaway - no brainer.

We don't want to be trapped at sea with a bunch of kids -  Every family friendly cruise ship on the 7 seas has adult only zones where kids are not allowed.

Hurricanes Freak me out! 1.  Ships can sail out of harm's way, hotels and resorts are sitting targets.  2. If your family plans to sail in hurricane season, we'll protect your vacation and investment with travel insurance so that you can change your plans with peace of mind.

Are Ships safe?...I've seen Titanic! - Me too, it's a great flix, I've watched it many times and that song always gets me. The Titanic sank over 100 years ago. Technology, navigation, ship building and safety have changed dramatically. Here's a picture of me testing out one of today's lifeboats during a recent inaugural....and if you're worried about icebergs then head to the Caribbean.

Family Cruise Guide for Beginners

We want to spend more time in our destination sightseeing - Cruise ships transport you while you're asleep.  You can cover a lot of ground and wake up in a new exciting place every day.  Your family can pack and unpack once.  When you're planning a trip with multiple stops like Hawaii or Europe, you'll often lose an entire day of your vacation training, planing or driving.

"I Will Get Fat" - With plenty of delicious healthy menus created by celebrity chefs along with tricked out gyms with trainers and classes, cruise ship dining has changed dramatically from the days of midnight buffets and Captain's formal nights....and if say "I don't want to have to get dressed up", good news is, you don't have to!

We're NOT social butterflies - Many ship activities do encourage families to mix, mingle and make friends while having fun together.  That said there are plenty of private spaces where you can be by yourself, chill and read a good book. If you don't want to share a table at mealtime with other guests you don't have to.

I'm Still Not Sure - There are no vacation do-overs. This is why when we counsel clients, the ultimate choice is completely up to them. 

If there is one important lesson we've learned in our 20 year history of planning thousands of vacations for many different types of families....compromise is often a huge ingredient when it comes to overall family happiness and enjoyment.  Perhaps you, your spouse or one particular family member may not be keen on the idea of a family cruise and ultimately you want to keep everyone happy and save your sanity.

Just know many cruise lines do offer short sailings of 3 nights. If you're family is trying to plan a week long vacation, we can always combine a 4 night hotel or theme park stay with a 3 night cruise so you can test the waters for yourself.

Connect with a Vacationkids Cruise Advisor

Here are some tips to make planning your family's next cruise easy and stress free...


family cruise guide for beginners

Deciding Where to Sail

 Chances are if there is water, your family can visit by cruise ship.  This map illustrates all the places your family can visit on a family cruise. The Caribbean including Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and the Bahamas are the most popular cruise destinations. European Cruises are understandably top sellers too because families can conveniently visit many different countries in a short amount of time. Each day you can wake up in a different country ready to go explore.  Alaska and Pacific/Hawaiian Islands are tied for third place for the same reasons....Lots of completely different adventures covering a lot of territory in a short amount of time.

This deployment graph also points out other amazing destination for family cruises that you may have not considered.  Australia and New Zealand are Island nations perfect for exploring by cruise ship.  Perhaps you've dreamed of exploring Asia or South America but were concerned about the language or culture shock. A cruise makes it VERY easy to explore new worlds with all the comforts of home.

There are so many incredible cruise itineraries and ships to choose from that it can feel very overwhelming.  If you have your heart absolutely set on a particular cruise, a certain itinerary and a specific cabin then you need to book early.  

If you're planning your cruise closer to your departure date (not advised, but hey, life happens) many cases, I tell clients, "Your ship will often decide for you".

What does this mean?

If you have a large family that needs connecting cabins or a family suite, it may only be available at your date of booking on one of the three cruises you're considering.  if you want to sail to a specific destination on specific dates, there may only be one or two ships sailing that itinerary.  

Family Cruise Guide For Beginners

How Far in Advance Do you Need to Plan and Book Your Cruise?

This boring graph clearly illustrates the weeks in 2018/2019 when over 6000 primary and secondary schools are on break.  Just think about how many families from those 6000 schools across the country are all out their looking to book cruises, flights and hotels during the same exact holiday weeks.  

Luckily most cruise lines publish their sailing schedules and cabin pricing about 1.5 to two years in advance.  Smart parents know to plan ahead.  The amount of deposit required varies by the length of your cruise, the type of cabin and the number of guests sharing that cabin.  It can range from $200 to $1000. Booking far in advance insures you get the best chances of getting the best availability. it gives parents plenty of time to pay off with free vacation layaway if they so choose.

It's also important to understand all pricing in the travel industry is based on supply and demand.  Cruise ships, airlines and hotels all employ very sophisticated "yield management" systems that automatically adjust prices every time a cabin, hotel room and airline ticket is sold. Hospitality businesses do this to maximize their profits. that you understand this very important economic principle, take another closer look at the dates on our graph.  All the peaks, when kids are out of school will be your most expensive times to cruise. On the flip side, see those dips and valleys - that's when you'll get the best perks and cheapest prices.

Nobody can predict the future and life happens. Most cruise lines will allow guests to cancel or change their cruise reservations with little or no penalty between 75-90 days prior to sailing.  This is also final payment time which means you'll need to make sure your cruise is fully paid otherwise your reservation will be cancelled.

Again each cruise line and stateroom reservation comes with different terms, conditions and penalties. Cancellation policies do get steeper the closer it gets to your sail date.  This is why travel protection insurance is HIGHLY recommended.

If you're one of those people who has commitment issues or suffers from FOMO when it comes to sales and discounts, it's important to know travel agents can "babysit" your reservation and apply and better prices, even after you make your deposit.

Choose Your Family's Sailing Style

This list of destinations noted above here are for ocean going cruise ships. When people think of a family friendly cruise they usually envision big family friendly ships with waterparks, slides, sports and plenty of activities to keep the kids happy.

Did you know there are plenty of other cruises styles to choose?

River Cruises to different European, North American and Asian cities used to be synonymous with retirees. So many grandparents wanted to share these amazing experiences with their grandkids that Ama Waterways built new ships specifically for families to set sail on the rivers of the world.

There's also Expedition Cruises for those families who really want to get  out into nature and become world class explorers. Imagine getting up close and personal with the creatures of the Galapagos, Panama, Iceland, Norway or Antarctica.  These family adventures are about as far away from a Captain's table formal dinner as you can get. Activities on board include naturalists and photo safaris.

Small family groups of extended families can even charter their own ship and crew. Visit tucked away Croatia islands or


Work with an Experienced Travel Agent

Planning a cruise for the first timeThis is especially true for first time cruisers. There are a lot of planning decisions you'll need to make in order to get it right. So many people try their hand at DIY travel planning thinking they will save a buck or two. After a short time online they find themselves dazed, confused and frustrated by millions of choices, low ball pricing and other people's opinions. This often leads to travel hassles and higher costs. Use the services of an experienced Travel agent.  

Did you know the cost of working with a travel agent is already included in the advertised cruise line prices you see online?   When YOU do all the research and work it's the cruise line that pockets extra profits.  Meanwhile, you're not getting the care and service you deserve. When you understand how a travel agent works you can appreciate how they can save you money and time while protecting you from costly travel mistakes. Travel agents are experts at calculating vacation package costs.  We help insure you get the most value for your vacation dollar, stay in budget and know all your costs up front and not after it's too late.

Vacationkids often has exclusive deals and perks that you won't find anywhere else. Your agent will consult with you, listen to your family's wishes, wants and needs to insure you get the perfect vacation experience.  In addition, they have expert insights and insider tips that can make your cruise even more memorable. PS...did you know I've created training programs and speak at travel industry events teaching other travel agents how to help families plan family cruises?

Choose The Best Family Cruise Line

There are so many great cruises for families that finding the right family cruise can feel overwhelming.First let me say there is NO one "Best" cruise line for families. They are all good.  There are no wrong answers here but the trick is finding the one that offers the most fun and best value for your Planning a family cruise for the first timefamily. Every Cruise line and cruise ships, just like people, all come with different personalities.    Think of your travel agent as a matchmaker.  They know how to match your needs, budget and vacation expectations to the right cruise ship experience. The reason they are in business is because they've successfully created perfect vacation matches for their clients thousands of times over. 


Select the Right Stateroom

Once you set a budget, choose a destination and find the right cruise line you need to be certain that you choose the right cabin or stateroom you select is the right fit for the size and needs of your family. Cruise lines price cabins differently than hotels and resorts.

Families and pocketbooks come in many different sizes. The good news is that there are cabins and staterooms to fit all.  The only problem is large families many not find all the options available to them by simply searching online.  If there are 5 or more people in your family planning to sail away then you certainly want to avoid frustration and work with an agent.

Of course every parent wants the most value for every vacation dollar they spend and we're here to make that happen. That said, nothing spoils a vacation quicker than too much togetherness.  Generally speaking cruise ship cabins are smaller and more compact that a standard hotel room. Ask your agent about the sleeping options that are right for your family. Having the right expectations and level of comfort for everyone will prevent disagreements and keep everyone happy.

Enjoy Activities For Everyone

While at sea family friendly cruises offer marvelous kids clubs, separated into age groups that offer supervised activities all day long. Most kids clubs start around age 2-3 all the way through special entertainment programs for teens.  Some even offer infant nurseries.This means parents can relax and enjoy a "real" vacation. Grown ups can rest assured that every family friendly cruise ship, even Disney, offers adult only activities and areas that are completely off limits to children. In addition there are plenty of fun activities, sports and shows that families can all enjoy together.

Know The Rules

If this is your first cruise you will have a ton of questions.  What's included in the cost of my cruise? What costs extra? Do we need Passports? What's the drinking age on board for teens? What's a muster drill? Do I need to dress up? Age Requirements for kids? Is there a nursery for my baby?  Swim diapers...the list goes on and on.  RELAX!  Your travel agent has the answers and is happy to hold your hand throughout the planning process.  This will save you countless hours of searching, wonder and worry.

Save on Expensive Airfares 

Yes, you really can drive to the Caribbean!  Close to 75 percent of North Americans live within driving distance of one or more of the country's 30 or so cruise ports positioned along the East, West and Gulf family cruise guide for beginnerscoasts, according to the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  When you consider the Department of Transportation suggests an average U.S. plane ticket from NY, Chicago or LA to be in the neighborhood of $400 per person, driving to port offers significant savings for families.

If your family does need to drive to port for your cruise vacation, your agent can help insure you get the best rates on flights.  Many "cheap" connecting flights folks see online are priced accordingly because there's a good chance you'll miss your connection.  Remember, ships wait for no one so this could mean a swift end to your cruise.  Again, many "cheap" online flights look enticing but when you see the additional luggage costs, they are not such a bargain.  Once again, your agent can help you with all the travel math. Your agent will give you the right insider tips to help you save time and money.

Age Doesn't Change the Price 

Most hotels and resorts charge according to the ages of their guests. Generally kids are defined as being under the age of 12.  Once they turn 13, they are charged full adult rate.  

Cruise ships charge by the number of guests sharing a cabin - their age doesn't matter.  The 1st and 2nd passengers sharing a cabin are charged a higher rate and 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th passengers (depending on cabin) are charged at a much lower rate.

This is why a family cruise with teens and tweens can offer significant savings.

On the flip side, this may mean more of a cost for families with infants and toddlers.  Another big difference between resorts and cruise ships is that many resorts require all parents to stay on property while their children are in the kids camp.  Many cruise lines offer child care while ships are in port. This offers parents the opportunity for a bit more freedom. Parents can visit a museum, play a round of golf or go scuba diving with the knowledge that their kids are entertained and safe.

Customize your Cruise with Shore Excursions

A family cruise is an ideal way to see a lot of the world while only unpacking one time. Every port of call holds a world of different adventures your family can enjoy. Sightseeing while in port is a great way to customize your family's vacation adventures to specific tastes. For example when in Rome, Dad and the boys may want to become Gladiators for the day while Mom and Grandma would prefer to do a culinary tour and learn how to make gelato.  Real beach lovers might prefer to spend their day in port relaxing on the beach of a  luxury resort for a day before heading back to the ship.  The possibilities are online limited by your imagination. 

Get Group Discounts

Cruise lines offer some of the best perks and group discounts compared to many other types of vacations.  If you're family is looking for a really fun and memorable vacation there's a very good chance you probably know dozens of people in the exact same boat (bad pun intended). Invited 16 cabins of people to have fun with you on your cruise and your cabin can be FREE.  Just think about it, I'll bet that made some of the travel dreams you have for your family far more affordable right.  Best part is, your travel agent knows exactly how to help you achieve those travel dreams.  They can do all of the heavy lifting for you, automate payments, chase after everyone for reminders....You simply need to invite people and take all the credit.

Connect with a Vacationkids Cruise Advisor

Topics: Family Cruises

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts