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If you're an experienced cruiser, come dream with me (and help!)


Meadowlark
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Hi!
I'm assuming if you opened this, you've been on a few cruises..OR you're like me and just dreaming of one.

I've decided that it's time to take my crew on a cruise, or at least investigate to see if it's financially possible. I know some people have gotten killer deals. I want to be that person! As you can see, I have 8 people in my family so I don't expect it to be cheap. But I also don't want to go into this blind. I want to have a fair idea of what it will cost and how to get the good rates. Here are my specific questions to get started:

1. Which cruise line will give me the most "bang for my buck"? Right now I'm thinking Norwegian, Royal Caribbean or Carnival.
2. Which specific ships of those above provide a wide plethora of activities for my active kids?
3. Where do I look to find the deals?
4. What are the good promotions to watch out for if you're familiar with any of the above cruiselines?

5. When should I book for a Fall cruise?
6. What's the best fare you think I could get for the 8 of us?
7. Are there hidden fees or lines that nickel and dime you?
8. Do you know of any good blogs or websites with real people giving reviews or advice?

Let's start here. I sincerely appreciate your advice.

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Okay, here is my input:

We have mostly travelled on Royal Caribbean and really liked it. However, I think Carnival or Norwegian would be fine as well.

Looking at your signature, I see that you have a one year old. Often, kids clubs don't take kids that small so if you want to enjoy some grown-up time you might want to wait until either your littlest is a bit older or possibly leave her behind with grandparents etc.

The best website is probably cruisecritic - it is pretty comprehensive. There aren't really hidden fees but there is a fairly high expected tip - this is pretty much part of the fare price as it is a significant part of the employees' pay so you'd have to include it in your calculation. Many also spend a lot for drinks, shopping, gambling, or excursions. Shopping/gambling can of course easily be avoided depending on what you like to do. Drinks will depend - there is generally water/lemonade available for free so it is quite possible to spend little or nothing, again depending on personal preferences. Excursions also depend - what itinerary are you looking at? You can generally go and visit some beach (if in the Caribbean) fairly cheaply. However, there are also often excursions that are quite expensive so it would be possible to spend A LOT. 

If you want to take the entire family, you would need at least two cabins. I think you would have to book one adult in each cabin - generally it is easy enough to switch however it will depend on your kids if you think leaving them alone in a cabin would work (you could probably get connecting cabins but they might not be guaranteed?). Alternatively, a suite might work but not sure how many those sleep - they are expensive but you'd have to do the math to see if it is that much worse than two (or more) cabins.

As far as deals etc. are concerned, it is difficult to say. Generally, prices are low(er) very early on (1+ years ahead) and then go up. But they will go down if a specific itinerary does not sell well. 

I would probably recommend one of the bigger ships - they do offer a lot of activities. My kids have always enjoyed the kids clubs but there are generally climbing walls, miniature golf, and maybe ice skating rink, zip line, flow rider etc. (this is on RC but others have similar offerings).

You will also have to consider how you get to the port. Of course you will save money if you can drive there or can get an inexpensive flight. Like any other vacation cruises tend to be cheaper outside of school vacation time.

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I think Carnival has very reasonable prices.  They also allow you to bring a little bit of alcohol on board if that is something that you are interested in.  

You do not have to do excursions through the cruise line, and our family generally just hires a taxi and goes to the beach.  On Carnival you can do pre-paid gratuities, I’m not sure about other companies.

We have always driven to the cruise terminal, so I am not help on trying to find flights.

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I find the best deals on CruCon and Vacations To Go. We cruise on Celebrity, which IMO has the best food and experience of the major cruise lines. They do have a kid's club, but it is not a kid's cruise per se, like RC would be, with waterslides and zip lines, etc. It really depends on what you want. My kids (10 and 5) were very happy on Celebrity. The cheapest would likely be on Carnival or MSC, but it is much more of a cattle car and party environment. We were just in the Cayman Islands last week. There is no dock there, so the cruise ships all have to take tender boats to shore. Carnival and MSC had a couple thousand of their people lined up in the hot sun, waiting for boats back to their ships. On Celebrity, there was no line for the boats, and we had cold towels and cucumber water waiting for us. Princess is another line that many say is similar to Celebrity, although I have never cruised with them. Royal and Norwegian are also very similar. Holland is for a much older crowd that would not be a good choice for kids.

Just to give you an idea, we spent 4k for our family of 4 in a two-bedroom family veranda. We have another cruise booked in May (to Alaska) -- same type of room and cost. That includes all of our food, drinks (including alcohol), and prepaid gratuities. I typically use credit card rewards for the flights.

Hope that helps. I have had a wonderful experience with Celebrity and cannot recommend them enough.

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We're a family of six and have taken our kids on two cruises over the years. Both times we were able to get adjoining cabins, each of which were able to sleep four. Once we took my dad with us, so we had seven people in adjoining cabins, and it was fine. You can save money by booking interior cabins with no windows, which is what we have done. We only use the cabins for sleeping and changing clothes, so we didn't need or miss a view.

However, if you will be taking little ones and will be in the room with them while napping, a balcony would be nice, so that you can sit and relax with a view while baby sleeps. To save money, you could have one room with a balcony, and an interior room right across the hall (instead of adjoining rooms). Check out the rules for childcare and the kids' clubs before booking -- the ships are usually not willing to bump children up (or leave them in a younger room) to be in the same room with siblings. So if it is important for your kids to be in the clubs together, only go on a cruise line that offers the right age span in the clubs (they are all different). I think it is standard to have to be at least three and potty trained to be in the free clubs; any childcare for younger toddlers has to be arranged and paid for.

Use a travel agent. It won't cost you any extra, but they are able to offer perks, such as onboard credit.

You can go on a cruise and pay nothing extra, other than the tips, if you are willing to not buy drinks, eat only the complimentary food, and avoid booking excursions. We have done it ourselves. But most people spend a lot extra onboard.

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