Have you ever thought about taking a cruise with your family but had hesitations? There are many reasons why a cruise could be your next family vacation. First of all, it’s not that expensive if you look for ways to save money. You will only have to unpack once, and you will get to see many beautiful places. If you choose, all of your food, entertainment, and travel is also included when you book your trip! It can be a stress-free vacation, if you plan appropriately. We took our toddler daughter on her first cruise last year and we had an absolute blast! Below are some tips for what to consider and how to save lots of money if you are considering taking a cruise with your family.
Things to consider before you book
A word about budget: We have prices that we will simply not go over when we cruise. This was the same before and after we became parents. However, now that we have a child, we only look for cruise lines which offer kids sailing free specials or pricing where the 3rd and 4th guests in your room are 50% off or more. It saves a lot of money to look often online at the prices and not overpay for what you want! When we consider how much we would pay a night for a hotel (which doesn’t include food or entertainment), cruising just makes sense to us.
Consider cruising in the off-season if you can. Prices are usually cheaper from approximately October through March. If you do book in the summer, book early as many rooms sell out quickly. Beware of hurricane season if you do book in the off-season, and know that itineraries often get changed during this time.
Think about what kind of a room to book. Inside (no window) rooms are the least expensive. These rooms are smaller, but offer all you need for sleeping and bathing accommodations. These rooms are best for smaller families. Window (or sometimes called ocean-view) rooms offer a window and a slightly larger room. Balcony rooms are even larger and have room for a few chairs and small table outside on a balcony. These rooms are great for those families wanting to spend quiet time outside while the kids nap or who families who just want to relax and soak up some sun on the balcony. For those wanting to save money, I think you cannot go wrong with an inside room. When we cruise, we are only in our room to sleep or take a shower, so it makes sense to book an inside room. If there is not much difference in price between rooms, we have booked balcony rooms and enjoyed the extra space, outside views, and sunshine. Many ships also offer suites that are even bigger and will have more space and can accommodate more people. Just remember that the bigger the room is, the bigger the price tag per person! Another word about types of rooms: know that on most cruise ships, bathtubs are just not available due to space issues (unless you book a much bigger and expensive room). If you have a baby or small children who will not tolerate you holding them for a shower in a tight space, bring a small inflatable bathtub for them and fill it up for bath time.
Along with thinking about what kind of a room to book, think about the sleeping arrangements. Often, there will be two twin beds that can be pushed together for a larger bed for you and your partner. Some rooms have pull-down beds on the wall for kids or extra guests. For babies or smaller children, you can request a pack ‘n play bed for no additional charge on many cruise lines. Just make sure you ask about this ahead of time. Some rooms will also have a sofa bed in the bigger rooms that can be used for kids.
Ask about laundry services. Self-service laundromats are the most cost-effective, but only a few cruise lines offer these. Send-out laundry services are available on pretty much all cruise lines, but expect to pay a lot for this. Some lines have specials where you can fill a bag up for a flat fee for laundry. Being able to do laundry yourself, however, saves a lot of money and room in your suitcases! We typically bring some quarters and do laundry halfway through the trip so we can wear clean clothes over again.
Ask about kids’ areas and pools. Most all cruise ships have strict rules and will not allow kids in the pool areas unless they are potty trained. This is something to consider if you plan on spending your days at the pool with your kids. Many cruise ships also have kids’ programs at no additional charge. There are age restrictions on this, so, again, be sure to ask. If your kids qualify, it is nice to be able to drop them off at the play area where they are guaranteed to have fun with new toys and with other kids. You and your partner can enjoy some much deserved alone time!
Think about how much to budget after your trip is paid for. In all honesty, once you step foot on the ship, you do not have to spend another penny except for tips. Some cruise ships automatically add a certain amount per person for day for tips. You can ask that this be taken off of your account on the ship if you would prefer to bring cash and give cash tips at the end of the cruise. As I mentioned above, when you book a cruise, your food, entertainment, and travel to the ports is paid for*. If you choose to dine in a specialty restaurant (not the main dining rooms that are always free), then there is an extra charge for that. Some ships charge extra for some of the shows and entertainment that they provide. Again, this is your choice whether you want to pay for this or not. We never have paid for anything extra, and we have always been very happy with the food selections and entertainment that is included with the booking.
What to pack
Consider what to pack thoughtfully. If you have younger kids, think about diapers and wipes (or buy them after you arrive at the airport if you are flying so you can save luggage space), a stroller or carrier, car seats, hats, swimsuits, hoodies for cooler nights, shoes and sunscreen on top of the obvious variety of clothing. My daughter hasn’t liked her stroller since she was about 18 months old, so we don’t bring that when we travel. We also don’t bring toys because we knew she would be entertained by everything on the ship. She was allowed to bring one of her favorite stuffed animals and a blanket. Know what your kids like and think about what they will really use if you bring it with you. Remember, the more or less you pack, the more or less you have to lug through the airport and/or cruise terminal!
Do some research about what port you will be leaving from. Some places in Florida and the east coast are easily drive-able and will save you lots of money on plane tickets. If you drive, you can pack as much as you want since you will not have to worry about baggage fees. If your kids aren’t fans of long road trips or you would rather fly, compare airlines to find the best rates. We typically use credit card points as well as airline points that my husband has accrued for at least one or two free tickets. This helps keep the cost down.
On the Boat
If you choose to get off the ship in any of the ports, know that it just depends where you are traveling as to whether or not you can walk to certain beaches or attractions. Do your research up front as to whether or not you will need a taxi. Also, you can consider booking an excursion through the cruise ship. These are pre-planned activities in conjunction with the ship and local businesses. Ask when you book or look at the options online ahead of time as these do sell out. Know that excursions are an extra fee.
Your ship will have some sort of a daily newsletter that lists all of the next day’s activities. These will be delivered the night before in your room. Read through this each night so everyone has something he or she can do the next day. If parents want to do something without the kids, plan this up front so the kids know and make arrangements in the kids’ area for them. If you want to do something solo, take a turn with your partner and do something fun with the kids. If you have older children, know what age that they can be unaccompanied by you on the ship. This varies on most ships, but make sure you ask about it before you book. This can give older kids more flexibility and freedom on their vacation. Most importantly, have fun, no matter what you do!
Have you ever taken a cruise with your children? What tips do you have?