Family Cruise Deals: What to Consider
April 15th, 2010
Family vacation planning can be a challenge – with all the components you need to factor in, the different age groups you need to keep entertained, the disparate interests inherent in any family group, and the expense that seems to go up exponentially, it’s no wonder that package trips are so popular for traveling families. For those of you who prefer the idea of visiting more than one location during your vacation – but who don’t want to pack and unpack constantly or schlep an entire family’s worth of luggage from hotel to hotel – then a family cruise is a great option to consider.
Family cruises offer many of the same perks as an all-inclusive package trip – namely the idea of paying for many of the elements of your trip up front – and they have the added bonus of being floating hotels that transport you and your family to a new destination every day. You get to explore several places in one trip and you only unpack once.
Here are some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re looking for a family cruise deal to make sure that you’re getting a good deal and that a cruise vacation is the right choice for your family.
What’s Included – and Not Included
Just as it’s key to know what you might have to pay for along the way when you book a stay at an all-inclusive resort, it’s critical that you know what’s included and what’s not included in your cruise. You’ll likely know whether the big items are included – things like airfare, activities, and meals – and you’ll certainly know that your accommodation is part of the deal. But if you don’t find out until you get on board that – for instance – drinks, shore excursions, or kids’ activities aren’t included and you’ll have to pay extra for them, that can really put a damper on your fun.
That’s not to say that any cruise that doesn’t include everything is a bad deal – it just means you need to factor in the costs of anything that’s not included to get an accurate idea of what your trip is really going to cost you before you know whether it’s a good deal or not. There’s a list on this post about finding all-inclusive family package travel deals of some of the things that may not be included in a package trip (or a cruise) – find out before you leave and you’ll be much happier.
Kid-Friendly Activities On Board
Any cruise billing itself as a family cruise had better offer a wide variety of kid-friendly activities for children of all ages – or it ought to be doing some serious re-branding. But you can’t just rely on the cruise identifying itself as family-friendly without looking at what’s available to keep your kids interested on board the ship. Because even if there is, by any objective measure, a nice array of stuff for kids to do, your kids’ interests might not be covered – and only you can know that.
The things to keep in mind when you’re looking over the on-board activities available are whether they’ll keep your kids occupied for the duration of the cruise (at least when they’re not sleeping, eating, reading, watching DVDs, or whatever else you know will occupy their time) and whether they allow for the adults to go do their own thing at the same time. Do you have to hang around to supervise your kids, or (for instance) is there a lifeguard on duty or someone assigned to act as a daycare provider?
Family-Friendly Shore Excursions
Again, if a cruise calls itself family-friendly you would think that meant they offered family-friendly shore excursions in addition to on-board activities – but as with the on-board activities, you really need to do some homework here to make sure that the available shore excursions are age-appropriate for your family group, interesting to everyone in your family, and that there’s enough variety to keep everyone engaged.
A list of shore excursions that include things like horseback rides, zipline adventures, volcano hiking, and mountain biking may sound exciting – but if you’ve got a toddler in tow (and there’s no daycare option on the cruise ship) then one parent may end up serving as the babysitter while the other enjoys the outings with older kids. And that’s only fun for half of the family.
What Age Restrictions Exist for Kids
Okay, so you’ve read through the cruise literature and everything sounds perfect – there are plenty of fabulous kid-friendly activities your kids will love both on and off the ship. Before you go any further, however, make sure you find out whether there are any age restrictions for those activities.
Generally speaking, age restrictions are going to impact the youngest travelers. Some cruises aren’t equipped to deal with kids who aren’t yet potty-trained, for instance, so if you have any kids in that category you might end up doing more babysitting than you’d bargained for.
Look Out for Special Family Discounts
Family cruises are popular vacations partly because they can be great for families on a budget. There are regular sales offered by the cruise lines on both general things (like free upgrades to outside cabins or free ship credit), as well as particular deals that are great for families (such as “kids sail free” deals).
Anyone planning a cruise vacation should start doing research several months in advance. This way, you’ll know what the going rate is for the cruises you’re interested in, and will also be paying attention when sales and special discounts pop up so you can snap them up quickly.
photo by divemasterking2000