Although cruise ship cabins may appear to be floating hotel rooms, room rates are calculated differently. This is especially true when it comes to children's rates. It's important for parents to understand the differences when they are planning their vacation choices.
Hotel rates are based on the occupancy and the ages of their guests. You'll see lingo that reads $150 per person "based on double adult occupancy with existing bedding". Translated it means that hotel room costs $300 per night. When it comes to kids rates, you'll most likely see something that says "kids under 17 stay free with parents using existing bedding". This means if there are 2 queen beds in that room, then 2 kids under 17 can share the room with their parents for $300 per night.
With all inclusive resorts, food, drinks (including alcohol) and entertainment need to be calculated into the total cost. Here you'll see the same lingo but instead of kids staying free, children under a specified age will pay a reduced rate. So let's say a particular all inclusive resort offers reduced rates for kids under the age of 12 and your child is age 13, that "child" would need to pay a full adult rate. True your teen won't be drinking at the bar but these are the rules.
Cruise lines calculate their prices differently. They too need to include food and entertainment into their fares. Cruise lines charge but the number of passengers sharing a room, regardless of their age. Instead of saying "prices are based on double adult occupancy" like hotels do, cruise lines base cabin prices on 1st and 2nd passenger rates. Just like hotels, cruise lines adjust their pricing according to two people sharing the same cabin....the distinction here is the word "adult". So on a cruise ship, you could have a 75 year old Grandma sharing a cabin with her 3 year old Grandson and both would be paying the same price for that cruise.
Cruise lines also offer "reduced fares" for the 3rd and 4th passengers sharing the same cabin and regardless of passenger ages. This means the family with a 1 year old and a 5 year old would pay the same 3rd and 4th passenger cruise rates as a family with a 25 year old and a 19 year old.
So from these examples it's clear that cruise vacations offer a distinct pricing advantage to families with tweens, teens and older adult children. Families with infants, toddlers and young children may find better value per dollar with a land based resort or hotel vacation.
Cruise lines will often advertise enticing deals like "kids sail free", 50% off 3rd and 4th guests or even BOGO offers. While these tag lines certainly catch the attention of vacation desperate parents, they may or may not actually be a deal. Often these discounts are calculated against the highest rates known to man followed by extreme fine print limitations. In other situations 1st and 2nd passenger rates are actually higher to offer the illusion of a discount for 3rd and 4th passenger rates.
It's always best to check with an experienced travel agent to make sure you're getting the most value out of your vacation dollar. Agents monitor cruise line prices. We can spot a proper sale from a mile away. Travel agents will often have their own exclusive deals that you won't find online like upgrades, extra perks and even On Board Credit. That's extra vacation credit to spend at the bar or at the spa. Your travel agent also have deals and contacts to help you customize your vacation when it some to shore excursions.
PS....when you're researching online hotel, resort and cruise prices for your family, travel agent commission is already calculated into those advertised prices. When you book your vacation online yourself, the hotels, resorts and cruise lines pockets the profits....and they are secretly hoping they've dazzled you with their creative math. Do yourself a favor and work with a travel professional who wants to be your trusted travel partner and not just sell you a trip.