Family cruises can seem rather enticing when you see advertised prices "From $75 per person per day". It sounds like a great deal and generally it is. There is a ton of great value in a family cruise vacation. Still there are also plenty of insidious opportunities to spend a lot of extra money on a family cruise.
One of the first steps in planning a cruise vacation is to calculate a budget. Understanding the real costs of a family cruise and being aware of potential pitfalls will help you to make informed purchasing decisions....
Compare the Right Price - When you're shopping for a family cruise, make sure your price contains the cost of your cabin, all taxes and port charges. In recent years, laws have tightened up to make advertising the cost of cruise vacations more transparent and straight forward. We usually include gratuities with our cruise quotes. Tips are usually calculated by the cruise line at around $11 per person, per day. This includes kids because the staff on board also serves them as VIP guests too. Knowing as many costs up front will help you to understand and stick to your total cruise budget.
Pick the Right Cabin - Be honest with your needs, expectations and the personality of your family members. You may be perfectly snug and cozy together all sharing an inside cabin. Another family may feel claustrophobic and stressed. We respect the need to stay on target with your budget. If you crave more space, luxury or ocean views consider opting for less nights at sea and an upgraded cabin. These types of decisions can make or break a family cruise.
Transportation to Port - With so many family cruise options availability these days, many families can simply drive to port. If this is not an option then book your flights as FAR in advance as possible to get the best pricing and seat choices. Airlines post their flights 330 days in advance. Remember too, you will need to calculate airport transportation or pier parking into the budget. Transfer pricing fluctuates depending on your port city.
Pre-Cruise Hotel Stay - Cruise ships wait for no one. If your drive or flight is delayed for any reason, you've missed the boat. We highly recommend that all family cruise passengers arrive in port one night prior to sailing. Planning for a pre-cruise hotel stay will save you worry and protect your vacation investment. Many pre-cruise hotels will include perks like airport transportation, pier transportation, free breakfast or free parking for the length of your cruise. Port Hotel costs can also fluctuate depending on your port city.
Shore Excursions - Part of the fun of family cruises is having the opportunity to get our and explore all the ports of call you'll be visiting. Shore excursions are big money makers for the cruise lines. The cheap local guide ou bump into in port may not be licensed, bonded or safe. There are reputable local guide companies that we work with that offer excellent experiences at reasonable prices.
Passports - For most family cruises that depart and return from the same US port, you technically your family is not required to have passports. Having valid passports is always a good ideal and we RECOMMEND PASSPORTS to all cruise passengers. Passports cost approximately $100 per person and last 10 years for adults and 5 years for kids. This is a very nominal investment for vacation peace of mind.
Travel Insurance - Travel insurance costs between 5 - 8% of the total non-refundable costs of your vacation. It is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Many people don't realize that their medical insurance may not cover them when traveling outside of their coverage areas or especially outside the U.S. When folks ask us if they really NEED travel insurace we usually say if they "can afford to loose the entire cost of their cruise vacation and pay for any possible emergency medical care they may need then the answer is no".
PITFALL TO WATCH:
Pick your priorities carefully and if you're not sure if there is an extra charge involved ASK!
Drinks - This is a big one to watch because it can add up very quickly. Obviously alcohol on board is pricey and guests are not allowed to BYOB. $4 lattes and $5 smoothies can add up just as quickly with the whole family on board. Most cruise lines offer coffee, tea, water, ice tea or leamonade with meals. Most ships will allow the purchase of soda cards at a cost of about $5 per day for unlimted refills. If you are soda drinks the cards are a no brainer or sail on Disney that offers free soda.
Food Upgrades - The cruise lines offer plenty of delicious dining options whether it's full service in the dining room, tasty buffets or room service. In addition, upgraded dining experiences are also availible on board. This could be something as simple as a $10 per person meal at a chain restaurant outlet or $100 per person chef's tabel experience.
Food In Port - Eating out in restaurants is always pricey. Food in island or tourist destinations is even more expensive. Be sure to bring along a collapsible insulated bag, ziploc baggies and refillable drink bottles for all. Plan to breakfast at the buffet the morning of excursions. Grab some lunchable items for the road and fill up your drink bottles. You can also order up a few sandwiches from room service for take away. Planning port picnics will save you big on the budget.
Stop Talking - BE SURE to check in with your cell phone provider and understand your roaming or international charges of this can cost you big time. Most ships offer WiFi spots and/or internet cafes but charge about $35/ hour.
Extra Activities - Take advantage of the long list of daily free shipboard activities. Be mindful of that $10 bingo card or $50 cake decorating seminar. The casino is another black hole for your wallet.
Photo Ops - Professional photographers are always available to document your family cruise. Taking the pictures is free but purchasing their packages can add up quickly.
Souvenir Shopping - There are plenty of shopping venues on board, not to mention shopping in port. Set limits for your kids and be mindful that what you buy needs to be carted home. If you're flying, this could also mean extra airport luggage fees.
Managing Kid Key Card Accounts - When you board your cruise ship at embarkation, each passenger is given a card that functions as their ID and key to their cabin. Key cards also be used to purchase just about everything on board. It is linked to the credit card that parents use to set up their ship board accounts. Parents have the ability to deny or limit the spending attached to their child's key card. You can also set up a separate cash account for your kids which also limits spending. Limiting key cards usually means a visit to the purcer's office when you arrive on board.