Choosing the Right Cruise for Your Family
You can generally find the same departure ports, ports of call and cruise length from several different cruise lines and even more different cruise ships. A Fantastic Memories Travel professional will help make sure that your family gets the cruise experience that is right for you (and for your budget), by helping you weigh considerations that are more varied, like ship size, dining style and options, travel dates and activities.
Ship sizes can vary substantially. The chart below shows the relative number of cabins/staterooms on just a few representative ships among mainstream cruise lines. Disney Wonder offers just over 30% of the number of staterooms as does Harmony of the Seas. Choosing a ship size involves balancing the advantages and disadvantages at the ends of the size spectrum, and matching those up with your family’s preferences.
- Disney Cruise Line – Disney Wonder
- Carnival Breeze
- Norwegian Escape
- Royal Caribbean – Harmony of the Seas
Some cruisers feel that the largest ships lack the personal service touches that have long been the hallmark of cruising. Larger numbers of passengers on board also means larger numbers of passengers in each port of call along with you and greater demand for limited-availability activities both on and off the ship. On the other hand, many cruisers feel that the largest ships offer more stability on the open sea. And greater size also means more space for a broader variety of onboard activities, and often the opportunity for more diverse specialty dining options.
All major cruise lines include at least basic dining in the cruise fare. But beyond the basics, there is a huge amount of variety from cruise line to cruise line (and even ship-to-ship) in the number of restaurants to choose from, kinds of food available, and what is included in your cruise fare versus subject to an additional charge. Some cruise lines offer primarily buffet meals, while others focus on a la carte dining. Meal times on a cruise can be a great opportunity to meet new people when seated at larger, communal, tables with fellow passengers, or opportunities to reconnect with family that have been off enjoying different activities until that point, at a private table for just your traveling party. Dining times and locations on a cruise can vary widely from line-to-line, as can the availability of adults-only fine dining alternatives (and quick service choices). Your travel professional will work with you to determine which approaches to dining are the best fit for your family’s preferences.
Often, when people ask, “when is the best time to take a cruise,” what they’re really asking is when it will be least expensive to cruise. But cost is highly dependent on other considerations that all need to be balanced to figure out when the best time is to take a cruise in your unique situation. As the popularity of cruising has grown, it has become more important than ever to book your cruise as early as possible, to ensure the best stateroom selection options and (usually) to enjoy the best pricing. While some deeply discounted last-minute deals still exist, trade-offs like no ability to choose your cabin, higher last-minute airfares, and sometimes limited excursion options make them less of a value than they might seem initially.
Generally speaking, Caribbean cruise prices are lowest in January/February and September/October/November time frames. Average temperatures in the Caribbean in January and February are about 10-15 degrees cooler than average (for beach relaxers, this may be a positive, while for divers and ocean swimmers, it may be a drawback). The official Caribbean hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, but the peak of hurricane season is mid-September to mid-November, when the vast majority of significant tropical storms hit. While cruise lines have gotten very good at re-routing ships to avoid storms, the trade off for lower prices during this time frame is a much greater chance that your trip may be subject to cancelation or re-routing. (We always recommend travel insurance for cruises, but it’s especially important during hurricane season). Peak Caribbean cruise pricing is generally mid-March through July, due to warmer and drier weather in the Spring and a spike in the number of vacationers in the Summer. Other cruise destinations feature similar trade-offs.
Caribbean Cruise Price Premium in July vs. January or October
Activities On Board and On Shore
Modern cruise ships offer an incredible array of activity options both on board and in port. Different cruise lines and different ships offer different activities. Your Fantastic Memories travel professional will help you identify the line and ship that is the best fit for your family, and then help you choose activities that match your preferences as well. In addition to excursions offered by the cruise lines, we work with carefully-vetted third party tour operators that can offer even more options. In many cases, our third party providers are offering the same or similar substantive experience as the cruise line, but may be offering it at a better price, with a smaller group, or a longer, more in-depth experience.
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Preferred Ocean Cruise Partners
Disney Cruise Line
Voted Best Cruise Line for Families 2017 by Cruise Critic readers, U.S. News & World Report, and Condé Nast Traveller.
Come Seek the Royal Caribbean
YOU ARE AN ISLAND HOPPING
WHO LOVES ITALIAN FOOD
FROM A BRITISH DUDE
YOU ARE NOT A TOURIST
Norwegian - Experience Freestyle Cruising
Carnival Cruise Line
Fun Ships® for the whole family
come back new
Meet the brand-new MSC Seaside
Do you have frequent traveler status with another cruise line, hotel chain, or tour operator? Ask about the MSC Status Match Special Programme! You could jump straight to top status levels with MSC, earning discounts, on board credits, and additional on board amenities.
Crystal Cruises - The Evolution of Luxury
Crystal Serenity and Symphony
Viking Ocean Cruises
Reinventing Ocean Cruising
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Preferred Excursion Partners
Shore Excursions Group
Shore Excursions Group offers over 3,000 excursions at over 300 ports worldwide. Their prices are often as much as 40% lower than excursions booked through the cruise lines, and are almost always in smaller groups, resulting in a higher quality experience. Shore Excursions Group provides 24/7 support, a money-back guarantee, and guarantees that guests will return to their ship on time for departure to the next port. Our travel professionals can help you select the best options for your traveling party. But if you prefer, you can book these excursions yourself.Explore Shore Excursions
Project Expedition is a newer player in the excursion market. They’ve gathered together some intriguing and unusual options, especially for some of the ports that are a bit off the beaten path. And their unique Split Payments option makes them especially good to work with for group excursions where participants are sharing expenses. Our travel professionals can help identify the perfect expedition for your traveling party, or you can explore Project Expedition’s offerings on your own.#ChooseYourOwnAdventure
Viator is the single largest vendor of tours and activities in the world, offering over 60,000 destination activity products. Fantastic Memories Travel professionals can help you leverage the size and reach of Viator to book skip the line tours, exclusive VIP experiences, and even the relaxation and comfort of limited-access airport lounges.
Cruise Travel Terminology
Your room on the ship. Cabin and Stateroom refer to the same thing and are commonly used interchangeably. Some cruise lines prefer to use one term or the other. (And still other cruise lines refer to all rooms as “Suites,” whether or not they are more than one room).
Every cruise ship offers multiple levels of accommodations, divided into categories. You can think of cabin categories like hotel room types. Just as a hotel may charge a premium for a room with queen beds instead of double beds or a larger room or preferred location, cruise accommodations are divided similarly.
Common category divisions include: Inside (no window to the outside of the ship); Outside, a/k/a Ocean View (a window to the outside, but usually that window does not open); and Balcony, a/k/a Veranda (open to the outside, with at least a small landing outside the room). Some lines offer additional specialty categories. These broad categories are usually subdivided into subcategories.
An itinerary referred to as a “crossing” is one that traverses an ocean, usually one-way. For example, an Eastbound Atlantic Crossing usually travels from a United States port to a European Port.
Cruise Contract (a/k/a Contract of Carriage)
The Cruise Contract is a long list of Terms & Conditions of sale that describes what you are entitled to receive on your cruise vacation from the cruise line as well as your obligations. Important terms include payment requirements, cancelation and/or refund provisions, your rights if a cruise must be re-routed or canceled, limitations on what you can bring on board with you, etc.
The Cruise Fare is one part of the total cost of your cruise. The Cruise Fare outlines exactly how much is due for each passenger, and what is included by the cruise line for that fare. Additional components of the total cost of the cruise include port fees & taxes and gratuities. Some cruise lines, particularly luxury lines, now include gratuities in the cruise fare. Other lines are now assessing gratuities against the passenger’s onboard account automatically (though they can be increased, reduced, or removed at the directlon of the passenger).
A cruise ship map. The deck plan helps you to locate various restaurants and activities around the ship, relative to your stateroom location. Your travel professional will review a deck plan at the time of booking, to help you select a stateroom location that best meets your needs from the rooms remaining available.
Most cruise staterooms are sold based on “Adult Double-Occupancy,” which means that the cruise fare requires (at a minimum) that the room be booked for two adults. A single adult is still permitted to book the room, but will usually be required to pay a “Single Supplement” that is the equivalent of the full fare for another adult in the room. Cruise lines occasionally offer special discounts, waiving the single supplement for solo travelers on select sailings. The Adult Double-Occupancy requirement also means that, on many cruise lines, one adult and one child sharing a stateroom will pay the same fare as two adults sharing a stateroom, even if the fare is usually reduced for children.
A guarantee is a particular type of cruise fare. The passenger books a category, rather than a specific stateroom. The room assigned, usually just before the cruise, can be any subcategory within the major category booked. It depends entirely on what is available after other passengers who booked specific rooms have selected their staterooms.
The itinerary is the ship’s official daily schedule. It will usually list whether the ship is at sea or in port on each day. On port days, the itinerary will usually also list the planned arrival and departure times.
A Repositioning Cruise travels one way, rather than returning to the starting port, usually for the purpose of moving the ship to a new home port. Repositioning cruises are often priced lower than average for the particular ship being repositioned. Things to keep in mind when considering a repositioning cruise:
Even within the Western Hemisphere, a Passport is required, because the cruise is not a “closed loop.”
When considering the cost, remember that airfare either to or returning from the cruise may be substantially higher than usual.
If you find a repositioning itinerary you like, BOOK IT! Each relocation generally only happens once per year per ship. So while the prices may be lower when they first go on sale, availability is limited because of the unique nature of each such itinerary.
A day in which the cruise ship does not visit a port of call and stays on the open water. These are often the best days for onboard shopping, as stores on the ship are often required to close while the ship is in port.
Shorex is a shortened reference to a “shore excursion” – which can be any activity you engage in while at a port of call. On most cruise lines, the vast majority of shorex are not included in your cruise fare.
Because most cruise fares are based on Adult Double-Occupancy (as discussed above), when a solo traveler books a cruise stateroom they are usually required to pay a “Single Supplement.” The Single supplement is intended to cover the lost revenue from the second passenger, so a single supplement of “200%” is common (meaning that one person pays double the standard per person cruise fare for a solo room). Some cruise lines offer single staterooms without any applicable single supplement, or reduced supplements.
A transfer is your transportation to or from the cruise ship. Transfers can usually be booked as an optional addition to your cruise fare, or separately through a third-party vendor.