When clients come to me looking for a “fun for the whole family” vacation with lots of activities for the kids but still gives Mom and Dad time for relaxation, a family cruise is almost always among my list of recommendations.
Cruises are an excellent way for families to see the world and have a ton of fun along the way. Cruise ships have become almost like a destination unto themselves… and they take you to some pretty exciting and scenic locations as well.
There are so many fantastic ships and itineraries out there that it can be hard to pick the one that is right for you.
Here are my top tips for things to consider for your first family cruise…
Get the kids involved in planning.
Find out what your kids feel is the most important part of a cruise vacation. Are they excited by the activities on the ship or by the adventures they can have in port? Are there specific things they want to experience or are looking forward to? There is something for everyone but knowing where everyone’s priorities lie will help you sort through the options.
Tip: Have a family cruise themed night. Plan an evening starting with your family’s favorite meal or take out. Then spend the evening reviewing cruise brochures or watching cruise line overview videos on YouTube. Finally have a discussion and let your kids tell you their favorite ships and activities and make a list on a large poster board.
Does size matter?
When it comes to choosing the right cruise ship for your family, size does matter. Smaller cruise ships feel more intimate, and your family may have an easier time finding your way around on board. You’ll have more interaction with the crew as well. In addition, smaller cruise ships are able to go places the larger ships aren’t such as the Galapagos Islands, fjords in Alaska and Norway, and through the Panama Canal. On the other hand, the larger “mega ships” have more activities and more options for dining. These options may include surfing simulators, rock climbing walls, thrilling water slides, go kart tracks, and ice skating rinks plus many more.
Short trip or longer escape?
Whether you are looking for a long weekend or a two-week holiday, there are cruise options available. Consider the amount of time you have for your vacation. Longer cruises allow for more sea days in addition to your days in port. (For most cruises babies must be 6 months to sail on most cruise lines for longer cruises, usually with more than 2 days at sea, the minimum age is 12 months.) Don’t underestimate the importance of having some time to explore and enjoy your cruise ship. Sea days often provide the relaxation that you are hoping to get from your vacation.
Short – 4 night sailings from Galveston to Cozumel. This itinerary allows a family to try out cruising without the commitment of a week long vacation.Mid length – 7 night Alaska cruises. These cruises are full of beautiful scenery, exciting excursions, and an opportunity to learn about wildlife, history, and some of our most beautiful National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Longer: 14 night Panama Canal repositioning cruises. Not only do you get to experience the canal opening but you can also discover the ultimate experience at sea, with stops at mesmerizing port cities along the Riviera Maya, the Mexican Riviera and Colombia.
How important are the dining options?
For many of my clients, dining is a huge part of their cruise vacation! Cruise lines can vary widely in their approach to dining. From the atmosphere to type of cuisine, the options are just about endless.
Do you want a traditional cruise dining with an assigned dining time, dining room and table where you get to know your wait staff and table mates?
Or would you prefer a system with multiple dining options where things operate more like a restaurant where you can either make a reservation or show up when you are ready to eat and wait for the first available table?
Do you want a ship where all of the dining options are included in the cost of your cruise, or do you want the opportunity to pay a nominal fee for specialty or premium restaurants on board (though free dining options are always available as well!)?
What type of accommodations do you want?
A cruise ship may feel like a floating hotel, but the type of rooms available are much less flexible. Many staterooms are only set up to accommodate 2 or 3 people with a limited number of rooms designed for 4. Families of 5 are even more limited in their choices.
While some ships have a handful of larger rooms for groups of 5, others do not have options for more than 4 people. Are you looking for rooms that connect with a door between them? Those can be limited as well. You may need to book early to make sure you can get connecting rooms.
Stateroom considerations go far beyond just occupancy. How important is the view outside your room… or are you okay with sacrificing a view at all to save money? For some families, the ability to relax on your balcony while you have breakfast is non-negotiable. For others, an inside stateroom with no window at all is perfectly fine, but that saves hundreds is absolutely fine. And where do you want to be on the ship? Is proximity to the “action” like the dining rooms, kids’ clubs, and other activities important to you? Is anyone in your party susceptible to sickness? If so, your cabin location becomes very important.
Favorite Stateroom Categories:
Inside stateroom: Disney Dream and Fantasy – these inside staterooms have Magic Portholes that not only have a video feed of the view of the exterior of the ship but watch closely and you may just see a Disney character swim by.
Oceanview stateroom: Royal Caribbean’s Spacious Panoramic Ocean View Staterooms. These staterooms feature floor to ceiling panoramic windows and can accommodate a family of up to 4.
Balcony: Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah Disney Cruise Line. These staterooms that sleep five have a queen bed, single sleeper sofa, wall pull-down bed and upper berth pull-down bed. They also have a spacious balcony.
Luxury Suite: Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate Family Suite is two stories of awesome thrills on every level. Like your very own in-suite slide where there’s never a line, an air hockey table, and table tennis on your balcony.
Top Tip… Get Help from an Expert
I am an expert travel planner and I know the right questions to ask to match your family to the perfect cruise ship and itinerary. I will also guide you through the process of selecting a stateroom that meets all of your needs and expectations and will assist you with planning activities and shore excursions that will be fun for all members of your travel party.
As a travel professional I have access to special pricing and/or amenities that are not available to the general public.
Whether or not your selected sailing has special pricing available, as a travel professional I am well versed at ensuring that you get the best possible pricing for your cruise. I can advise you on your best options for everything from pre or post cruise hotel options to travel insurance and shore excursions.