Taking a family cruise is an exciting and fun-filled vacation experience that kids and parents will both enjoy. It's a convenient way to visit some of the world's best beaches and most exciting cities on the planet. It's an easy way for a family to see and do a lot of different, new experiences in just a week or two.
Here are 6 Insider tips to planning your first family cruise:
1) Book Early
Cruise ship schedules and prices are published about 18 months in advance. For the best prices, book early. If possible, book as soon as cruise rates are published. This is when you'll get the best possible deal when it comes to price. Also remember, most families travel when schools are on break...December holidays, Spring Break and Summer Vacation. The longer you wait, the more availability and cabin preferences become an issue. By making a small deposit far in advance will also allow you to take advantage of vacation layaway and will help you save a ton on credit card interest.
2) Select the Right Cruise Line
All cruise lines offer plenty of activities, great food and lots of exciting experiences. But some cruise lines are more kid friendly than others. All the major popular cruise lines like Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC offer complimentary kids camps. When it comes to more premium cruise lines, Disney leads the way with their kids camps, innovations and character experiences. Other premium cruise lines like Celebrity, Holland America and Princess also offer kids clubs. There are even family programs available on some River Cruises and Expedition sailings.
3) Pick the Right Ship
Just like each of your kids has a different personality, so do cruise ships. Selecting the right cruise ship is key to your family's vacation enjoyment. Cruise ships are like floating resorts and offer all sorts of activities....water parks, zip lines, skydiving, Broadway shows, ice skating to skydiving at sea. For days when you're "out at sea" you'll want to enjoy everything your ship has to offer.
One mistake first time cruisers often make is choosing a short cruise for only 3-4 days. The cruise line usually use older ships with less features and amenities for shorter sailings. For the best cruise experience, select a minimum 7 night sailing. Not only will you sail on a newer ship, you'll enjoy a better crew and service.
4) Choose the Right Cabin
Space on board a ship is at a premium. We always advise clients to choose as much cabin as you can afford. It's not that we're trying to part you from your hard earned vacation dollars. We say this because cruise ship cabins are generally smaller than most standard hotel rooms. Every family and each situation is different. Some families don't mind a lot of togetherness but most of the customer feedback we hear is that a larger stateroom or adjoining cabins added to their comfort and enjoyment.
5) Customize your Family Cruise with Port Excursions
When your ship docks, this is your opportunity to customize your family's vacation experience with sightseeing. By selecting the right port excursions, you can customize your vacation based your family's interests. If your family likes to stay active, choose activities from hiking, biking or snorkeling. Looking to add a little culture and education, consider a museum visit, walking city tour or even a cooking class. Need a little more relaxation, spend the day sipping refreshing drinks on a resort beach...or all of the above. You can make your family cruise into any type of vacation you want it to be.
6) Use a Travel Agent
You may be planning your first cruise but cruise planning is something travel agents have done hundreds of times. You can spend hours doing all the above mentioned research (on average about 20 hours). Travel agents know all this stuff off the top of their heads. A short conversation with a travel agents can save you hours of frustration online while giving you peace of mind knowing you have the right cruise line, ship and cabin. In addition, a good agent will monitor the cruise you choose. If the cruise line offers a better sale or perk, they will have it applied to your reservation for you to help insure you get the most vacation for your money.
Oh...and did you know the cost of working with a travel agent is already included in the price of your cruise. Travel agents are paid via commission from the cruise line. If you book direct, you don't save any extra money. Instead the cruise line pockets the difference. Most importantly, travel agents sell all the different cruise lines and can give you impartial guidance to insure your vacation is the right vacation. When you call the cruise line directly, they won't tell you what better options may be available on competitive cruise lines. And when it comes to customizing your sightseeing and answering all of your first time questions....this is where a travel agent becomes an invaluable partner.
If this is your first time planning a family cruise, no doubt you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and have a lot of questions. Relax, this is normal but I have to warn you, once you book your first family cruise and use the help of an experienced travel agent it won't be your last.