As I write this article, I am sitting on a cruise ship spending a ridiculous amount of money to use the Internet. It’s my daughters’ spring break and it was time to head for warmer temps and fewer responsibilities. We boarded the Princess Emerald after flying to Houston the day prior. Our first three days were at sea, followed by a day each in Roatan (Honduras), Belize City, and Cozumel (Mexico) respectively, followed by our last day at sea. We disembark tomorrow.
Going on a cruise is a great travel option, especially if you have children. But it’s not for everyone. Here’s the low-down:
PRO: It’s affordable
Generally, you can find some incredible deals for cruising. The most expensive part is often flying to the departure port. I’ve seen prices go lower than $500 per person for a seven-day cruise, which, once you’re on bored, includes all your meals and most activities. Granted, those are usually for interior cabins (you have no windows), and that means you generally have no idea what time of day or night it is if you don’t have a watch on. Once you’re on the ship, you can keep it as cheap or pricey as you want, it all depends on you.
CON: It can be really expensive
Once you’re on the ship, be very careful. Your costs can add up fast. Food and basic beverages are included, which means coffee, iced tea, water, and sometimes lemonade. If you want soda, beer, wine, spirits or coffee upgrades, it all costs more. On this trip, I purchased one soda card at $5 per day and one day, it’s my older daughter’s to use, and the next day, it’s my younger daughter’s. I also purchased a coffee card, which means that for an additional $35 I get 10 coffee beverages. You can also purchase alcohol cards, upgrade restaurants for better cuisine, go on tours, hit up the spa, take in shows or listen to live music, go dancing, and shop. Be extremely careful to turn off your phone while on the ship, or at least put it on airplane mode. Because if you don’t, you’re paying outrageous shipboard prices. Last year, we spent a week on a ship in the Mediterranean and I used my phone liberally to Facebook, text, make phone calls, and even blog. When I got home, my phone bill exceeded $1,200 for that week! I complained but all my phone company did was give me a $50 credit towards my next bill for my troubles. Never again!
PRO: Visiting lots of cool new places is easy
Ready for a sample of ports? Cruising is definitely for you! But if you love a port and want to spend a bit more time there, too bad, when it’s time to get back on the ship, YOU ARE DONE. It makes it a bit of a cattle call. Everyone rapidly descends off the ship and then everyone gets back on. On this trip, we were absolutely not ready to leave Cozumel but too bad/so sad. Nonetheless, it gives you a great opportunity to quickly see places and you may just want to return to one of your favorites. It’s how I discovered Split, Croatia. I never heard of Split before and now it’s one of my favorite places on the planet. Thanks Norwegian Cruise Lines!
CON: If you love a destination, don’t visit it on a cruise
If there’s a port you really love, you will not enjoy the cruising visit very much. Generally, you never have enough time in any port. To see the best stuff, you often must buy a tour. And on tours, you can’t veer (much) from what, when and how they are showing it to you. Cruise visits are highly structured so if you like exploring some place and doing it at your own pace, avoid cruising. When we visited Peter the Great’s summer palace outside of St Petersburg, Russia and it was time to go, I wanted to cry. Oh well, get back on that bus!
PRO: There is a ton of stuff to keep kids busy
Every cruise I’ve ever been on has a Kids Club and Teen Club. That means you can drop your kids off for supervised activities mostly all day long and well into the evening. None of that costs extra (though expect to tip generously). That means you have plenty of adult time to nap, hit the casino or spa, or simply do anything you want.
CON: Your cabin is extremely “cozy”
You may wonder how four people can sleep, shower, and get dressed in such tiny confines. Well, it’s not only possible, it’s to be expected on a ship. Unless you’re paying huge bucks, you will be cramped in your cabin. That said, you still get surprisingly ample closet space, a decent shower, and a flat screen TV so you can keep abreast of news or many English-speaking shows and movies.
CON: Expect to gain weight
There is more food available to passengers than you can imagine. With pizza, burgers, desserts and ice cream ready for the grabbing, it’s almost impossible not to over indulge. And at night, you can indulge in seafood, steak, pasta and pastries. Even though we’ve not once taken an elevator on this trip (and our cabin is on the 14th floor!), and I’ve mostly skipped breakfast (minus a coffee and yogurt), I’ve more than stocked up on the calories at dinner. I am fearful to hop on the scale when I get home. If you want to shed pounds, this is definitely not the place to do it.
PRO: You’ll never be bored or lonely
On a cruise, you and your children can stay as busy as you want. Even single cruise passengers have options and activities for fellow solo travelers. If that’s not your thing and you want quiet alone time, that’s fine, too. With cruising, it’s your trip, your adventure, and (despite all the time restrictions) your experience.
A few cruising tips:
- Bring lots of nice clothes for dinner. Depending on which cruise you take, many passengers dress up at night. Plus, dressing up is fun. We brought two cocktail dresses each, plus summer dresses and skirts to fill in the other nights. I’m glad we did.
- Be careful which tours you book. Some of them include a ton of travel time to see a site, then it’s back to the ship. On this trip, we spent eight hours traveling for 35 minutes (no exaggeration!) of touring. I am not happy!
- Be careful of using your phone or laptops on board. It is shockingly expensive. Best yet, turn them off or only use phones on airplane mode.
- Buy trip insurance. I met a woman on this trip who walked into a fence and tore up her eye requiring stitches. I also know another family whose child needed to have his appendix removed in Greece. After two days in a hospital, they flew to another destination to meet back up with their ship. If you don’t have travel insurance, those prices are yours to pay; with insurance, you’re covered with often-times no deductibles. Trip insurance doesn’t cost much either.
- Be prepared to tip, even though many gratuities are added to your bill. Some ship employees take extra time in making your trip amazing and you’ll want to tip them extra. For me, it’s generally the cabin steward, kid activity supervisors, and waiters.
- Bring great walking shoes. Trust me, your feet will thank you.
- Bring extra prescription meds just in case. My daughter developed an ear infection on our last trip. Thank goodness I brought her ear meds just in case. Otherwise, it would have cost $250 to see the ship’s doctor (unless you have trip insurance, in which case, it would have covered than expense).
X DeRubicon says
Cruises are great, but can be kind of spendy. Fortunately my kids are not big on sodas. They charge bar prices for a coke if you don’t have the soda pass and the soda pass is expensive.
I loved the kid/teen zone. Keeps the kids busy and having fun and give me a bit of a break. Also, it connected me a bit to others traveling with kids the same age as mine.
I liked that how dining worked out. I opted to feed the kids first and send them to the kid/teen zone and then do dinner on my own in the dining room. I thought it would be weird to be seated with a bunch of couples, but turns out they were not all couples. By mid week, we were all good friends. It’s nice to see someone you recognize when you head to the show or out on a tour.
One caution if you are leaving the country, is to make arrangements with the other parent. I have sole custody, so my exwife couldn’t object, but giving her a detailed itenerary and contact info lowered her anxiety (and kept her from passing it on to the kids). I encouraged them to send emails as well, but keep it short to limit the data charges.