Editor's note - This post was updated May 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Family cruises are a great value for a family vacation. If you're trying to plan a family cruise vacation, cost and budgets are top considerations for most parents.
If you're new to family cruises, how do you know how they will cost for your family and how much to budget for such a trip?
Cruise prices start at average cost of $79 per person per day. Remember cruise ships charge by the number of passengers sharing the same cabin. This is an AVERAGE price based on four family members sharing an inside cabin on a Carnival ship sailing to the Caribbean.
This $79 per person/per day price includes your inside cabin (meaning a cabin with no windows), All of your meals and snacks, regular coffee, tea, ice tea, lemonade, taxes and port charges. It also includes many ship board activities, nightly entertainment and daytime child care for ages 2 thru teens. So to expand on this math a bit...for a family of four it would cost @ $316 per day. You can expect a 3 day Caribbean sailing to cost this family of four roughly $948. An entire week at sea would have a price tag of about $2212.
Have we got your attention?
When you look at the idea of $2212 for four people to enjoy a week in the Caribbean - room, food, activities, a family cruise is a great bargain! Many folks don't realize how affordable family cruises can be.
Factors that influence the price of your family cruise:
1) Cruise Lines and Ships
Again, we based this price on a family of four aboard a Carnival Cruise Line. Carnival is one of the largest Cruise lines and their volume translates into great values for families. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are the next lines as far as family popularity and options for kids. Disney is considered a favorite for families but it is considered a premium cruise line. This means families can expect to pay almost three times as much for a Disney cruise and they would for Carnival. If you're looking to keep your price tag low, bear in mind the newer the ship the more in demand it will be and the price to sail on it will also be higher. The newer ships offer more ship board amenities and those translate into higher price tags.
Some destinations like Alaska come with higher price tags starting at around $100 per person per night. This is because this destination is in high demand and there is a short summer sailing season. The Caribbean offers shorter 3 night sailings all year round but depending on your departure city, if you need to add flights to get to port that will add to your vacation budget.
As with all family vacations, prices for family cruises are based on supply and demand. Popular family vacation weeks like the December holidays and spring break often come with the highest price tags. If you can vary your sail dates, sometimes by just a couple of days, you'll find extra savings. If you're kids are little or your family is not tied to a school calendar then you will reap big rewards by sailing some of the off season dates like early Sept or Dec.
4) Departure Ports
When budgeting the cost of family cruises, parents need to factor in their travel costs to get everybody to their departure port in order to sail on their family cruise. It's generally cheaper for four people to drive to port than it is to fly, especially if your traveling less than 400 miles. Bear in mind parking your car at the cruise ship terminal can run about $30 per day.
If you're flying then airfare will need to be calculated into your overall budget. Hopefully you can use loyalty or credit card points to help with these costs for your family. If you do fly, you'll need to factor in airport to pier transfers. This can be a little as a $25 roundtrip cab fare in a port like Fort Lauderdale or $50 per person each way from say Orlando airport to Port Canaveral.
5) Pre Cruise Stay
Our Travel Agents at Vacationkids HIGHLY recommend that families arrive in port at least one day prior to sailing. Remember...ships wait for NO one! If you experience any traffic or flight delays and arrive late to port, you're simply out of luck. You will forfeit the entire cost of your cruise. Who wants to start their family vacation under that kind of stress? Vacationkids offers many park & stay or fly & stay packages at local port hotels that include a room for your family the night before your cruise in addition to free parking for the week or transportation to pier. Many of these options cost around $250 for a family of four. These affordable options can really cut down on stress and agnst making them worth the few extra pennies.OTHER SHIP BOARD EXPENSES THAT YOU'LL NEED TO PLAN FOR:
Cabin upgrades - $59 per person per night is based on an inside cabin for four people without any windows. If you choose to upgrade to an ocean view cabin with a window, figure on an additional $30-$50 per person to stay in that type of cabin. A balcony cabin will cost an additional $125-$175 per person. Suites start around $300 per person per night and their prices climb with added amenities like hot tubs, butlers and even baby grand pianos.
Tips - Just about everyone on board from housekeeping, to kids club staff to your waiters will expect a tip. The cruise lines make it very easy for passengers to pay gratuities. Most cruise lines charge between $12-$15 per day for "gratuities" or tips. Children are expected to pay tips too because they too receive the care an attention of the crew. Gratuities can be added into the total cost of your family cruise right from the beginning. If not, it will be charged to your ship board account before you leave.
Soda & Drinks -Alcoholic beverages, soda and bottled water are not included. Passengers must pay extra for any or all of these beverages. The cruise lines do offer Soda cards for both adults and kids. The average cost is $5-$7 per person per day and they definitely are worth it if your family members plan to drink one or more sodas per day. Open bar alcohol packages are offered on board. Full packages start at around $50 per person/per day. Just know there is an additional 15% bar gratuity added to the total amount. Some cruise lines will offer drink packages as a perk or limited sale option. Just know if you select that option for free, there will still be a 15% gratuity charge.
Activities - Many activities on board your cruise are free but there are charges for some activities. For example, using the on board fitness center is free but taking a spinning or yoga class may have a $16 price tag. Daily kids clubs are free but evening babysitting starts at $7 per hour with a 15% gratuity. Most activity prices are clearly marked but if you're ever in doubt, just ask.
Sightseeing - Every time your cruise ship docks in another port, passengers can take local sightseeing excursions or experience different local activities. These activities can range from a round of golf to scuba diving to dog sledding to helicopter tours. They can last for a couple hours to the entire day complete with meals and transportation. The average cost for some of the more average sightseeing options is about $100 per person per excursion but with longer or more exotic experiences prices can run several hundred dollars. If your ship is stopping at 3 or 4 ports of call, these excursion prices can add up very quickly. Remember guests are free to stay aboard the ship and enjoy all of the ship board activities. Often there are great deals for things like spa treatments on port days when most folks are off the ship.
One of the great things about family cruises is that every ship and every sailing offers both affordable and luxury options depending on your particular budget. Our Vacationkids travel agents are experienced and knowledegable and can help you get the most value for your cruise dollars.
Of of the great features to help with the cost of family cruises is our vacation layaway program. family cruise vacations can be booked up to two years in advance. With a minimal deposit our vacationkids staff can set up a monthly credit card payment program. You can pay off your cruise a little each month so that you can set sail without worry.
And here's a secret, become a group leader. Invite 8 cabins of family and friends to sail with you and you get to sail for free!
Speak to one of our Vacationkids travel agents about planning a fun filled cruise for your family. Our agents will make sure you get the best pricing and best values. We monitor your cruise and we can apply any sales or perks to your vacation, even after you make your initial deposit. If you're new to cruising, our team will be with you every step of the way so by the time you get on board, you'll be a cruise expert.