Congratulations on your decision to take a family cruise vacation!
Cruise ships offer plenty of fun for kids of all ages (especially grown ups). Just like ice cream, cruises, come in all sorts of flavors....ocean cruises, river cruises, big ships, small ships, luxury ships, adventure sailing and more. The trick is finding the one best suited to your family's tastes. But with all the choices out there, finding and planning the perfect family cruise can be confusing and overwhelming.
Here are some tips to help you get the help you're looking for....
1. Work with a Travel Agent
Did you know your travel agent's commission is already included in the published cruise prices you're finding online? When you call the cruise line or make cruise reservation yourself online, you're doing all the work and the cruise line pocketing extra profits. If you have follow up questions, have fun finding your answers online....and you may or may not get the right answers. So why worked harder than you have to? After all, this is your vacation so why do extra work to enjoy it?
Also, if you speak with a cruise line rep directly do you think they will volunteer information about a sailing on a competitor's cruise ship that might be exactly what your family is searching for? Maybe there's a l
and based vacation package that might be a better fit? A travel agent has a "bird's eye view" of the entire family travel market and can give you a complete perspective. A good agent doesn't want to sell you a cruise. They want to become your trusted adviser for years to come.
In addition, Travel agents often have proprietary deals and promotions that consumers will not find online. We can also babysit your reservations to insure you get the best available value and prices. When you see tip number 2 here, you'll see how this makes sense.
2. Book Ahead (we mean 1 - 2 Years in advance)
Most families vacation during school holidays. This means family cruise cabins are in very high demand during these weeks of the year. Cruise lines publish their schedules and rates 1.5 to 2 years in advance. This is when you'll find the best prices, your best choice of availability and you can take advantage of free vacation layaway saving you on credit card interest.
Many parents will say their family calendar is so chaotic it's impossible to plan that far ahead. If you're waiting to plan a family cruise during a school holiday week then I guarantee you'll pay more and may be disappointed all together. It's better to book ahead and protect your advance travel dates with cancel for any reason travel insurance.
3. Pick the Right Cruise Line
The most family friendly cruise lines on the seven seas are:
These are the contemporary, mass market cruise lines that offer the most family friendly activities on all of their ships...amenities like kids clubs, water parks, slides, zip lines, kid character events, shows and more.
Of course there are other cruise lines like MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America and others that also offer family activities and programs but not every one of their ships are all family friendly. Family cruise prices start around $79 per person per night for a Carnival cruise. Luxury suite prices on some family ships can be as high as $10k per person per night. Of course there is just about every price in between.
4. Home Port Advantage
Did you know that 70% of U.S. families live within an 8 hour driving distance to a cruise port? If you're trying to decide on a family cruise, consider choosing a ship that sails from a port city that you can easily reach by car. This can save a family hundreds of dollars worth of airfare. Your travel agent will know ways to save you big time on parking your car while you're out at sea.
5. Pick Your Ports of Call
This is the fun part where you and your travel agent can really customize and tailor your family's cruise vacation experience. Much will depend on your family's likes, dislikes, abilities, and the ages of your children. Depending on your specific cruise itinerary your port activities can include sightseeing, animal encounters, beach activities, sports....the only limits may be your imagination and budget. Everyone knows when the kids are happy then the parents are happy...and yes, parents deserve a fun family vacation too. Most cruise lines offer in port baby-sitting for parents who may want to scuba, play a round of golf or simply have some time to be grown ups.
6. Choose the Right Cabin
Cruise ships basically offer 4 types of cabins and you'll want to select the option that will make your family relaxed and comfortable:
- Inside cabin (no window)
- Ocean View (cabin with a window)
- Balcony staterooms
Cruise lines charge by the number of passengers sharing the same cabin....not by age. There is a 1st and 2nd passenger price followed by a 3rd and 4th passenger rate which is lower. This is why a cruise vacation is an excellent value for families with teens over the age of 12.
When selecting the right cruise cabin, think about our pal Goldilocks. There is no one "best" cruise cabin. Instead consider which type of sleeping accommodation is "just right for your family". Having everyone share the same cabin may be the most affordable option but may mean too much togetherness. Some ships offer family suites for 4-6 guests. These sell out quickly but they do offer more affordable space but not much privacy. Upgrading to either a multi-bedroom suite or two separate cabins connected by a door will cost more but give you much more space, privacy and room to relax.
7. Kid's Club Activities and Needs
Most family friendly cruise ships offer complimentary kid camps. Most offer programs for children ages 4-12 and teen programs for kids ages 13-17. Norwegian starts their children's programs at age 3. Disney and Carnival children's programs where parents can drop off their children for free baby-sitting start at age 2. Disney does offer a nursery program for an addition fee for infants as young as 6 months of age. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival and others may also offer a similar program but not on all ships. Most all of the family friendly cruise lines offer either in room paid private babysitting or evening group babysitting activities for children so that parents can get a night off for good behavior.
8. Eat Your Heart Out
One of the things parents appreciate about a cruise is that they can budget and know the cost of their vacation up front. Food is included in the price of your cruise. Your family can choose menus from healthy choices to over the top indulgences in all sorts of venues from hamburger shops to elegant dining rooms. Basic drinks like coffee, tea, lemonade or ice tea are included. Drink packages can be added for an additional fee for things like soda for the kids or even alcohol for adults. Norwegian has been leading the way recently by offering the choice of "perks" with certain cabins on their ships which includes unlimited drink packages and specialty dining in some of their specialty restaurants that usually come with a surcharge.
When it comes to families, we'll often have someone in the family that has food allergies or needs to follow a special diet. Many families are vegetarian by choice. The good news is that cruise line chefs are phenomenal when it comes to making guests with special dietary needs feel right at home.
Really all you need to do here is follow step one. A good travel agent who is experienced in the family cruise market will help step you thru the remaining 7 tips here and many more. Unlike some other things in life, there are no "do-overs" for a family vacation and parents only have a limited time to create these kind of enduring memories with their children. A professional travel agent will help you create the memories your family deserves.