Yes!... It's possible to book a cruise cabin for a family of 5 or more, despite what you've been searching online. We travel agents do it all the time so allow me to share some insider tips with you starting with some basics.
First important thing to realize is that help IS available for you. Use the services of a travel agent! Travel agents generally get paid by commission. Did you know the cost of our commission is already included in the advertised price you see online or on the cruise line website? If you book the cruise yourself, the cruise line is pockets the difference while making you do all the work. Doesn't seem fair does it? Book with a travel agent, you'll pay the same price (sometimes even less), we do all the work and you have a professional resource to answer all your questions.( Keep reading, we do even more).
For example, say you tried booking a family of 5 with one particular cruise line. How do you know if you're getting the right cruise line, the right ship, the best cabin selection and the most value? Do you think the reservation center agent is going to tell you about an awesome deal with a competitive cruise line? Probably not if they want to stay employed.
Which Cruise Lines are Best for Families? - There all sorts of cruises for families, expedition ships, private charters and River cruises that all make for some amazing vacation experiences. For the purposes of this post, we'll stick to the most popular, mass market ocean cruise lines for families. These are generally known as contemporary cruise lines:
- Disney Cruise Line
- Royal Caribbean
- Norwegian Cruise Lines
- Carnival Cruise Line
- MSC Cruises
Disney, of course, is the leader in family hospitality and this comes with premium prices. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian fall somewhere in between depending on current sale prices. Carnival is usually the most affordable cruise line with prices starting around $79 per person/per night. MSC Cruises are the leading cruise line in Europe and have recently entered the US market. They will often offer "kids sale free" deals which are very attractive for families.
Of course there are other cruise lines that are "family friendly" like Celebrity, Princess and Holland America but not all of their ships are created equal. Some ships and sailings are more family friendly than others.
Cruise Cabin Configurations - By and large, cruise cabins are not large (pun intended). Most are designed with two twin beds that can be left separated or put together to create a king bed. Staterooms that do allow 1 or 2 kids either have a pull out sofa or twin beds that pull down from the wall called berths or pullman beds. There simply isn't enough room to add a cot nor is this even allowed.
Everyone one of the cruise lines mentioned in our list above do offer suites. Depending upon the specific ship and cruise line, these suites can sleep up to 12 people. In addition to more square footage, they come with private balconies, multiple bathrooms, bathtubs, separate bedrooms and living areas, plus some even offer additional suite amenities like complimentary concierge service, priority boarding, butler service, priority departure privileges, and more. Most come with a hefty price tag for this kind of an upgrade and all their services.
Many newer ships now offer a "Family Suite" category. Often this is the size of two regular cabins but with an open floor plan. There is a king bed for parents, a fold out sofa bed and two bunk beds built into the wall allowing for 6 passengers. Families suites often don't come with all the bells and whistles of a regular suite so the price is more affordable for those who just need more room. These room are also more affordable because cruise lines charge by the number of passengers sharing a cabin. In this case parents would be 1st and 2nd passenger (let's say adult rates) and the 3rd, 4th, 5th and even 6th passenger would pay lower (let's say children's rates).
Booking two cabins or staterooms - This works great for parents who need a little "romance and privacy". It also works great for families that appreciate an extra bathroom to prevent bickering. Let's just review some very important travel industry lingo here:
Connecting cabins - means two cabins connected by a door, either in the room, on the patio or both.
Adjoining cabins - means a nearby room on the other side of a wall or across the hall without any connections between living spaces, just nearby in location.
Families of 5 would need to book a double and a triple cabin. Families of 6 can do either 2 triple cabins or a double and a quad. Connecting cabins are usually the same category....and inside stateroom, Ocean view or a balcony. Adjoining cabins might not be the same category. For example, many parents will book a balcony double for themselves and put older teens in an inside cabin directly across the hall.
Whether you're booking connecting or adjoining, the cruise line rule is there MUST be at least one responsible adult noted as lead passenger in each room. How you're family decides to share sleeping arrangements once you're on board is a personal decision.
So what happens when you have a family of 5 in either two connecting or adjoining cabins? Dad and the first child pay 1st and 2nd passenger rates...so full fare. Mom and the 2nd child pay full fare and the 3rd child pays the lower 3rd passenger fare. Why?....because cruise cabin pricing is based on "double adult occupancy"....another travel industry term that certainly comes into play here.
Why can't families of five or more book online? Most cruise line reservation systems were built to handle a maximum of 4 passengers per room. When you go online and try to book that 5th passenger either you're not allowed or you'll get an error message saying it's not available. I know, seems weird in this day and age but that is how it is. Disney and Carnival do have family of five booking capability. The rest of the cruise lines you'll need to call, wait on hold, do all that work yourself.
Important Tip for larger families to Understand - You're not the only family with three kids that wants to take a cruise during the December holidays, Spring Break or summer vacation. Family suites and connecting cabins are coveted by many families with 3 or 4 kids and they sell out FAST!!!! To avoid disappointment you need to start planning ahead for a family cruise. Cruise lines start publishing schedules and pricing about 1.5 to 2 years prior to departure. This is when you'll get the absolute best pricing, and more importantly, the best choice of availability. Your travel agent can also set you up with a free vacation layaway payment plan which can save you a ton in credit card interest too.
If you are a procrastinator, don't give up hope. We travel agents often have access to some availability that you'll never find online but please, at minimum, book at least 9 month in advance. Yes, we hear it all the time....one of the hardest thing for some families is to schedule time off from work, school, sports, etc. More often than not it's cheaper to book in advance and protect your reservations with "cancel for any reason" insurance than it is to wait until the last minute and pay last minute prices...or worse, be totally disappointed.
Oh and one more thing....ships control population, especially for school holiday weeks. Even though there may be a family suite showing as available, the cruise line may only allow for passengers in this room. Why?...because they understand the capacity of their on-board kids club, staffing etc.
So what happens when you book so far in advance and the cruise line runs a sale? No worries, your travel agent can "baby sit" your reservations for you. If the cruise line posts a sale that you qualify for, we can adjust your reservation so that you're assured the best pricing.
A travel agent that specializes in families will also be able to help you save on things like shore excursion with better pricing and experience suggestions that again, may not be available directly via the cruise line.
And parents, let's face it, if you're busy trying to raise three or more kids (and I speak from experience), wouldn't it be nice to simply have somebody take care of you for a change?
We look forward to making your next cruise vacation easy!