Do you find yourself "lost at sea" trying to compare prices on a cruise vacation for your family?Having a working budget is a critical part of vacation planning for a family cruise. That said, it's hard to set a budget, plan a savings goal or even know if a family cruise is affordable. Why? - because there are SO many different variables that factor into the cost of any cruise vacation...Sail date, booking date, departure date, cruise line, cabin type, class of ship, number of nights at sea - it makes a true price comparison difficult.
Let's take a look at a real world comparison example. We've tried to keep our variables here as "middle of the road" as possible. This means that their are certainly MANY other cruise vacation options that will cost less than the examples here just as there are those that will cost more.
So here is our comparison criteria.....
- 2 adults and 2 kids ages 7 and 13
- April 15th sailing (not a spring break week)
- Pricing cruise 1 year prior to embarkation (departure)
- 7 night sailing
- Eastern Caribbean Itinerary
- Sailing from Miami/Fort Lauderdale ports
- Balcony Cabin - cruise only not include any flights or transportation to port
- Prices include taxes and port charges
There are many different cruise lines that welcome children and families. For our comparison study here, we've selected the 4 most popular family cruise lines based on over 15 years of Vacationkids bookings.
Disney Magic - $4785 cabin total - Average $1196.25 per person
Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas- $4369.88 cabin total - Average $1092.47 per person
Norwegian Escape - $4,04756 total - Average $879 per person
Carnival Vista - $2384.12 total - Average $475 per person
As you can see, a Disney cruise costs nearly 3 times as much as a sailing on Carnival. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian fall in the middle. This is pretty much the case across the board despite changes to specific variables.
Disney is always going to cost more, Royal and Norwegian in the middle and Carnival is usually the least expensive. No matter how many hours you spend searching the internet, you are never going to find a Disney sailing for the cost of a Carnival cruise...period! You can however make a Disney cruise a bit more affordable by compromising on some variable for example, sailing off season, selecting an ocean view or inside cabin and/or sailing for less nights.
If we're going to have a conversation about money and spending then we have to address "value". People always say they want a discount or the cheapest price. 9 times out of 10 these folks only look at the number at the bottom line with their purchase decisions. They don't take the time to dig a bit deeper with their comparison shopping. This is where a travel agent can be a great ally. We travel agents want you to be thrilled with your cruise vacation. We're not trying to break your budget in a lame attempt to make more commission. We understand that spending a few dollars more yields you much greater vacation value or prevents you from paying out of pocket expense down the road.
Let's take a closer look at the values behind your cruise vacation dollars here....
Disney Cruise line...Their higher price tag comes with obvious differences and others that are a bit more subtle. First and foremost, Disney has the mouse, princesses, pirates, storm troopers and a whole array of beloved Disney characters. Disney is also a world leader in overall hospitality They KNOW how to insure you have a magical time at sea - especially the kids with the most amazing children's camps at sea. Fear not adults, there are plenty of adult only spots on board where you can skulk away for peace, quiet and a refreshing cocktail.
Disney is considered a "premium" cruise line - richer finishes and decor details, larger staterooms and an increased food and beverage budget for all those crab legs on the buffet and unlimited soda. Their shows rival those on Broadway and who doesn't love fireworks at sea. In addition, there is a "shipload" of behind the scenes technology like hallway paintings that move and kids dinner table drawings that can animate themselves. With Disney the higher price tag does come with great value and a bit of pixie dust.
If your kid's dream is to meet a princess then the experience just became priceless. Don't look for any discounts or even group freebies with Disney. The mouse is in high demand and doesn't do discounts. The best value here is to book FAR in advance, as soon as sailing dates are released and use our Vacation layaway program.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line - RCCL gives Disney the most competition. They have a partnership with Universal/Dreamworks so the animals from Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon are on board to entertain the kids. Royal's ships have some magic of their own. Depending on the specific ship you'll find - 18 story water slides, observation pods, sky diving and surf simulators, zip lines, rock climbing, bumper cars and lots more bells and whistles at sea. Exceptional Broadway productions and Vegas style entertainment. Impressive selection of different stateroom types from inside cabins with virtual balconies to 2 story panorama penthouses complete with butlers. Royal has considerable more ships, sailing itineraries and more dining choices compared to Disney. Again digging a bit deeper, our family of 4 would need to pay approximately $225 more for a soda package with Royal Caribbean compared to having soda included with Disney.
Norwegian Cruise Line - NCL is the only family cruise line that does not have beloved children's characters as part of their on board entertainment. That said they still offer a phenomenal children's program of edutainment. They have done a massive overhaul of their menu offerings deliciously orchestrated by the chefs of their luxury sister line Regent cruises. Speaking of luxury, their newest ships offer "The Haven", which as the name implies is a separate sanctuary for luxury guests with butlers and VIP access.
Of most recent note, NCL now offers guest a choice of perks that make your cruise comparable to an all inclusive resort. Guests have a choice of a free beverage package (including alcohol for adults), specialty restaurant dining, Internet service or sightseeing discounts. The number of perks is determined by choice of cabin. We don't have a crystal ball to know how long these perks will be offered or if they will continue to be a standard feature.
Carnival Cruise Line - Carnival often gets a bad rap and is misunderstood by many. Straight up, let's break down the math a step further here - $475 per person for a 7 night cruise breaks down to $70 per day. Remember that includes all your meals AND shipboard entertainment. Most people would be hard pressed to find a comparable highway motel for that price not to mention all the entertainment and meals. It also includes complimentary child care starting at age 2 so parents can enjoy a well deserved vacation too. My staff and I have remarked on many occasions how the food on board Carnival surprisingly surpassed the menus offered on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Carnival offers a fun filled, family friendly cruise vacation to the same beautiful ports of call at a great value.
Last but not least Carnival is one of the best at groups and especially family reunions. Remember that $475 per week is for a balcony cabin. Ocean view and inside cabins are even less expensive. That said, Carnival also offers Presidential suites with baby grand pianos cater to every price point. This makes them an excellent choice for large groups traveling together who need lots of options to make everyone happy.
Hopefully we've helped you navigate the waters of booking a fun family cruise vacation. If you still have questions, reach out to one of our Vacationkids cruise experts who will insure smooth sailing for you and your family.