As you’re reading this our little family just got off the Norwegian Escape for our first cruise as a family of four! John and I have taken several cruises before this, and Ro had his first back in 2013 just before he turned one. It was time to break Kaya in. (FYI your child only has to be 6 months to cruise!)
I’m often fielding questions from other busy moms about cruising (with and without kids) and want to share my tips and our experiences with you.
Most of what I’m sharing refers to sailings out of the U.S. going to the caribbean, as that is what I have the most personal experience with. But you can sail out of many other countries to other destinations on the same lines. (PS Did I ever tell you I used to be a travel agent back in the day?)
I’ve written before on how to choose a cruise and my tips for getting a great deal…But specifically when dealing with cruising as a family (in our case a rowdy toddler and a preschooler) lots of new things come into play:
AFFORDING A CRUISE
One of the arguments against cruising that I hear most often is: “They’re too expensive.” It’s true, they can be, if you let it. Outside of the cruise price there are lots of other places you’ll have to spend money: tips, drinks and other on-board purchases, excursions, taxis, unexpected purchases, etc.
Here are a couple tips to make it easier to afford:
- Save up/Budget for it – I can’t tell you how to live your financial life, but trust me, it’s much better to enjoy a cruise when you can truly afford it and not have to pinch pennies everywhere and feel as if you’re missing out.
- Use a points/miles card – Once you’ve saved up, buy with the best rewards credit card you have and pay it off immediately. You don’t need thousands of bucks hanging around on your next bill and you want the best reward you can get for a nice chunk of payment.
- Plan for the future – To make affording the trip easier, choose a cruise well in the future so the monthly (or per-paycheck) savings isn’t such a big sting. (We have “travel” as a “bill” in our monthly budget so we pay into it every month)
- Catch a sale/promotion – One of the reasons John picked the sailing we recently took was because there was a sale for the 3rd and 4th passenger in the room. Rohan and Kaya each only cost about $120 in taxes/fees. I’ve only seen that particular sale on Norwegian, but Royal Caribbean often has BOGO 50% sales, and discounts on their sailings as well (lots of sites like crucon and travelzoo can get you a good promo price as well)
- Research – I personally love this, but I know it can be tedious and annoying for some folks. Researching the lines, sailings, following pricing etc is really key in catching a great deal without a promotion. Also using cruisecompete.com (as I mentioned here) and a travel agent you trust and can be candid with.
- Keep Checking Prices – after you book your sailing be sure to keep watching the price so when it dips you can call and get the new lower price! It’s worth it. I’ve gotten my price lowered several times for many sailings.
Note: I understand finances are personal and different people prioritize their funds differently. These tips are for the folks for whom cost does matter, and who don’t want to incur un-needed consumer debt.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LINE
There are so many cruise lines. From the major lines we see commercials for on TV, to small yacht and river cruises, luxury lines and discount lines. Picking the right cruise line can make a big difference in your enjoyment of the cruising experience. If you’re used to all luxed out everything at all times, then Regent may be a better choice than Celebration Paradise. And if you’re used to casual life and don’t like fancy shmancy, then a standard line may be a better option.
Luxury Lines: Regent, Cunard, Oceana, Crystal, Silversea
“Standard” Lines: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Princess, Disney, Celebrity, Holland America, Costa, MSC
Least Expensive Lines (often great as a first cruise to see if cruising is for you): Celebration, Carnival
Note: The lines above are just a few of the many, and have sailings from the US. Additionally, many lines have 3 and 4 day cruises for you to get your feet wet if you’re unsure if you’ll enjoy the cruise experience.
Here’s a list of all cruise lines.
Tips for choosing the right line for you:
- Know Thyself – Who are you? What is your lifestyle? What is your travel style? What is your goal for the trip? Relaxation? Partying/Celebration? Family time? Different lines are known for different attributes, however most of the main lines have enough on each ship to satisfy different members of your family.
- Research – Yeah…this research thing again. It really helps to know the vibe of each line so you can make a more educated decision. Besides the cruise line’s website, you can check sites like: Cruisecritic and Cruiseaddicts
- Ask Around – Reviews are great and I personally devour them before any trip, but ask people similar to you or with children the same ages as yours whose opinions you trust which lines they have sailed and enjoyed.
- Include your family – If your children are old enough, let them voice their opinions as well. They may have different desires for their cruise experience than you expect and you can choose the line accordingly. (ex: Your 14 year old may not care about meeting other teens at the kids club, and may want to just chill out by the pool and play game boy -or whatever the newest handheld video game is, I dunno my kids are babies lol)
Note: You can get luxxed out on any of the major cruise lines as well. Royal Caribbean has butler cabins and concierge services and Norwegian has the “haven” with amazing spa suites, and a private cruise within the cruise experience.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SHIP
Once you’ve chosen the line you now have to select a ship that will suit your needs. This may be even more important than choosing the line. You will want a ship that satisfies all the people in your family on some level.
Things to consider when choosing the ship:
- Child-friendly options – From the kids club to the restaurants, the entertainment to the activities…what is offered that is family friendly. Are the comedians clean? Are there activities specifically for families with children of all ages? Does the kids club cater to children your age? Is there a nursery or program for babies too young for kids club? Are the pools/water area child-friendly? etc.
- Your family’s personality – Will you want to chill out together and read in the sun or will you want to jam pack your day with every sport and activity on the roster? This will help you determine what size of ship will suit your needs for your sailing. The great part of cruising is that you can do as much or as little as you like.
- Adult only areas – You may want to get away from the squeals of joy and peals of laughter and just enjoy some solitude for a while. Many lines now have adult only areas, (usually 16 or 18+) where you can have peace and quiet. Some areas have their own restaurant and pool, or just lounges and blissful silence. We enjoyed the adults only solarium on our Royal Caribbean sailings.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SAILING
Now is where we get specific. You can have a great ship on the best cruise line for your family and have it be less than stellar due to picking the wrong sailing. These points below are all out the window if your travel is limited by work or specific vacation dates.
- Is school in session? Some families are fine with taking their children out for family vacations and some aren’t. Just know, if it’s May through August, you’re likely to have many more children on your sailing than September through April.
- What’s the itinerary? There are itineraries known for being older, with less children on board (Alaska, Bermuda). There are itineraries with stops that don’t have many family friendly activities. You can find out what excursions are offered at your sailing’s port of call (as well as how many other ships will be docked in the same port along with yours) online. Check your cruise line website for excursions and also check places like shoretrips.com, viator.com, and simply by googling: cruise excursions in “insert destination here.” When we first sailed with Rohan as a baby we picked an older, smaller ship sailing to Bermuda because we knew there would be very few rowdy partiers, and bad-ass kids on board.
- Is it a holiday cruise? More importantly, will it be a holiday in the countries you’re visiting? Is it spring break? Holiday cruises have more families/children on board, Spring break (and shorter cruises) have more drunken young people. Also holiday cruises have a bump up in pricing.
- Is it hurricane/wet season? This can impact your sailing experience (rocky seas), activities (cancelled for rain on the deck) and experience on the island (no beach days, cancelled excursions, etc.) We tend to roll with the punches and the cruise lines are great at moving some outdoor activities indoors when it rains, but it is certainly something to consider. (Prices drop in late september when hurricane season rolls around)
- How long is the sailing? Shorter sailings attract younger, more party focused crowds and more couples. Sailings longer than a week, and repositioning cruises tend to attract the retired folks who can spend 20 days on a ship! 🙂
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CABIN
To me, this is the least important of all. We have yet to travel in a grand suite on a sailing, but we’ve done everything from an interior to a mini-suite and we have a great time no matter what. The cabins go from interior (no window), to oceanview (window ranging from porthole to large picture window), balcony, mini (or jr) suite, suites. There are a variety of different suite categories on each line.
A few things to consider when booking your cabin:
- The price goes up as the size increases – Obvi. So if you have no need for a family oceanview suite with concierge, lucky you, you’ll spend a great deal less. We took an interior when we sailed with Rohan as a baby and it was fine. (It’s not my first choice though and in the future I believe an oceanview room is the lowest we’d go)
- Mid-ship cabins feel less movement – so no matter what type of room you book, if you’re toward the center of the ship you will feel less swaying when you head to bed each night (unless you’ve been drinking more than expected)
- Think about your family dynamics – We originally had an MSC cruise booked for late may that we had to cancel. On that sailing we had a full suite which was 2 rooms. Our thinking was that we’d be able to have a private area to enjoy while the kids were down for the night. We sailed in a mini-suite with balcony cabin this past week and it was perfect in that we could put the kids to bed then relax out there until they were sound asleep. Consider your family’s needs for naps, feedings, waking and nighttime times/routines.
- Consider the perks of the higher category cabins – For us, being in a mini suite meant we got room service delivered free of charge on Norwegian. Royal Caribbean has many suite perks as well. Some may be worth the up charge if you can swing it.
Last thing to note when choosing your cruise: No matter which line you go with… for the love of all things holy, as soon as you book, join the loyalty program for the cruise line. You get treats, discounts, coupon booklets, and lots of goodies as you continue to cruise.
And Yes. You can get your children signed up with the loyalty program as well! They will level up the same as you. John and I joked that Rohan will be a diamond member on all these lines before he even knows what benefits it affords him. Spoiled brat.
Don’t forget to save this post to return to when you’re doing your cruise planning. It’s a living post, meaning it will be updated frequently with links to helpful sites and resources for you.
Part 2 Coming Soon…
Thanks for reading. Any questions send em my way!