10 First Time Cruise Tips for Families – Plan Your Most Memorable Trip

A cruise can be a great vacation. Some travelers even claim it’s the best bang for your buck. If you’re traveling with children, you may wonder how to go about planning the perfect cruise. Well, I’m about to tell you….Since we have traveled on several now in the past five years I wanted to share with you what I have learned along the way.  I am not expertise by any means but I can shed some light.

Cruising was first introduced to me by a close friend in 2008. They had just gotten back from a Western Caribbean cruise and talked about that vacation for months & months thereafter. I remember her describing the beauty of the water, the awesome cruise ship entertainment, not to mention the five tropical Caribbean islands she was able to explore within those seven days. My vacations typically consisted of a cramped hotel, hanging out at the beach or pool every day with the same views and eating out for dinner at overpriced restaurants!

I was not even aware that cruises could be so budget friendly for families! Which is why I never considered one before. When I found out how much she had spent for her seven day getaway with food and entertainment all included, I started to re-evaulate. I realized quickly how much money I was truly spending (overspending) on my same old boring vacations.

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At the time we did book through a travel agent which I strongly recommend doing this.   We chose the seven day Southern Caribbean itinerary and flew into San Juan.  Those seven days were the most unbelievable seven days of our lives! Truly a vacation that we will never forget and still talk about to this day. With such an amazing experience, cruising has now become our favorite vacation of choice. We usually go every year.

Whether it starts with research or leads to finding a great travel agent, these tips will help you plan the most memorable trip you have ever experienced.

First Time Cruising Tips

Here’s the thing about cruises. People either love them or they hate them. For this reason alone, if this is the very first cruise you may want to book a shorter one. There are itineraries as short as three days. Me personally, I felt that a shorter cruise was not satisfying. But don’t base your experience off mine. If you don’t like cruising, you only have to make it through a couple days rather than a week or even a month! Yes there are month-long cruises.

Research Your Options

There are so many different cruises, cruise lines, and ports to sail from. Just off the top of my head, there is Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC, Princess & Disney. We have sailed on most of those I mentioned. Not all cruise ships are the same but most cruises are family friendly. If you are looking for a cruise where there is limited or no children then Princess or Celebrity may be your best choice.  Research all your options and check out the ships, port destinations, and children’s activities available with each cruise. More importantly, read reviews.

 

Get Recommendations

Chances are you have friends that have gone on at least one cruise. Ask for recommendations on their favorite cruise lines and destinations. The last thing you want to do is pick the first cruise you see in a commercial. You need to make an informed decision by having several options to choose from and getting recommendations is a wonderful place to start. Find out what they liked about it, what they didn’t like about, what their favorite islands were, what excursions they went on etc

Get as Much Information as Possible

This is where you’ll want to keep a detailed list. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, start writing down why each cruise is a good fit for your family while also making a list of why it’s not. Write down your favorite destinations and your least favorite. Check out the cruise ships and also the cruise ports.  Compare pricing to similar cruises and also the various cruise lines. You might want to compare airfare too if you are considering flying to the port. Don’t settle on cruise lines. I just recently booked my cruise for next year with a cruise line I had not sailed with before. After comparing their prices with various other competitor cruise lines I was saving thousands for the very same itinerary. So ultimately I made the decision solely based on price. I did compare the same itinerary and days with three other cruiselines to make sure I was getting the best value. It may come down to a close tie between two cruises, but having as much information as possible will allow  you to make the best decision possible.

Make Sure There is Childcare Available

One thing parents always want to check for is childcare options. While you are taking a family vacation, it can be nice to spend time with just your spouse. Whether it’s a children’s cruise or not, you want to make sure there is some sort of childcare available. One year, my husband and I decided to venture out in St. Lucia and Nassau for the day by ourselves. We felt comfortable leaving our children in the children’s program in order for us to do so. They provided us with pagers in case of an emergency. The children didn’t seem to mind and they had tons of fun in the children’s program.

 

Traveling With A Large Group

If you know of a large group or family that wants to go with you, you may qualify for group rates. In most cases, you are group qualified if you have eight or more cabins in which two passengers are in each cabin room.  A lot of times, you will have one person in charge of your family group and they will receive extra incentives by organizing the group. This could equal almost free cruise fare for one person, reduce rates for your traveling family, or extra amenities per cabin. Often times I see groups set up for family reunions or corporate events.

Pack Accordingly

Once you’ve booked your cruise, you want to make sure to pack accordingly. Cruise lines do not carry everything you need. For example, you will need to bring along body wash, conditioner, and other beauty products you like to use. Word of advice…. Don’t overpack! Taking four bathings suits may not be necessary.  Bring atleast 1 – 2 formal wear outfits and pack light on the casual wear. You will find you will be wearing your bathing suits or swim trunks more than anything else on the trip.  Throw a tshirt and some shorts on over it and you will be perfect! Most ships also have laundry service so need to bring extra outfits. Carrying around those heavy overpacked suitcases getting on and off the ship can be a bit cumbersome.   Also, consider the port destinations you’ll be visiting, pack comfortable shoes for both on and off the cruise ship, and remember to bring motion sickness medication for children and adults. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

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Keep the Weather in Mind

You can find amazing deals for cruises during the offseason. I see February and September offering great cruise fare rates.  But with that being said, cheaper fair may mean sketchy weather.  If you’re cruising through the Caribbean, the discount may be due to the fact that the time just happens to fall during hurricane season. If this doesn’t seem to bother you then I say go for it! Take advantage of those lower fares. The temperature will still be nice! Just think you could be sailing in the Caribbean in January while your friends back at home are covered in 10 inches of snow!


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Bring Extra Money

A rumor you’ve probably heard is that cruises include everything you need. Not necessarily. I did mention that cruises are a great value compared to your traditional vacations because it does include your room, entertainment and food. There are extra costs that you should be made aware of. You need to bring along money for drinks in the mini bar (this includes spirits, wine, soft drinks and bottled water), souvenirs, and specialty restaurants. Also excursions on the island are not included. Getting off the ship and walking around is great but if you have no planned activities there is not a lot you can do but walk around the port and stores. In other words, when planning your first cruise, make sure you add money for island excursions into your budget.

Book Excursions

Speaking of excursions. When you book your cruise, I highly recommend booking excursions so you can truly enjoy what the islands have to offer. Every cruise we have sailed we always book a snorkeling trip.  One year we got to swim with the turtles in the ocean. It was the most amazing experience and one we will never forget.

 

One misconception I hear too often is that you should only book your excursion through the cruiselines. I have recommended ShoreTrips for many years with no bad experiences. Don’t wait to book your excursion the week of sailing because many amazing excursions will already be booked. Check the fine print about excursions and the ability to get a refund if you change your mind or if weather contributes to cancellation.

Booking Excursions for your cruise

Check With Your Local Travel Agency

If you’re having trouble finding the best cruise or getting a good deal, check with your local travel agency. Not only will the company be able to recommend a variety of options that suit your needs, but in most cases, you’ll also walk away with better deals that you could get on your own. Travel agents have access to group rates and can offer extra amenities like onboard credit etc that you will not see otherwise advertised online.  There is a misconception that agents charge more but I can assure you they do not. Sometimes, you may have an agent that charges an upfront “research fee” but I have seen in most cases that the research fee is applied to your reservation balance towards the final payment.  In my opinion, paying the research fee is worth your valuable time. Travel agents are there to make your vacation planning as easy as possible. Let them do all the research for you.

Final Thoughts

A family cruise can be a wonderful experience and vacation option. It just takes a little bit of research so that you choose the right cruise for you and your family. Not only do you get to enjoy so much on the ship, but you get to visit some pretty awesome destinations that you more than likely wouldn’t have thought before to visit on your own. It can even be one of the most affordable vacations you’ll ever go on. Are you ready to book your cruise vacation?

What cruise tips would you suggest to families cruising for the first time?

 

 


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Winona is the author of Southern Family Lifestyle, a national blog focusing on food, family and travel. Her site was nominated this year as the Top 10 Parenting blogs in Atlanta according to Care.com. In her spare time, she loves to travel with her family and cook. Winona and her husband have four children and five grandchildren living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

59 Comments

  1. Michelle Elizondo says:
    I love southern California!!
  2. Jacquelyn Cannon says:
    I've decided that I would really love to go on a cruise!
  3. Gloria Walshver says:
    Will never go on a cruise heard many bad things about it like falling aboard etc.
  4. Helen Whaley says:
    I went on a short cruise with my husband and we didn't enjoy it at all. We felt trapped and bored. I'd certainly go with a large group though!
  5. Nancy Burgess says:
    I would love to go on a cruise.
  6. michele soyer says:
    There seem to be so many activities to enjoy but will your children really like to be on a ship for any period of time?? I do not know about yours but my grandson would go crazy...
  7. Christa Bengtsson says:
    Thank you for the tips. I want to go on a cruise so bad and I will, but it was making me uneasy with all the planning , but thanks to this article it doesn't seem so scary :)
  8. I could never go on a cruise. The ocean scares me to death. We were offered a cruise as a wedding gift. I declined because of that.
  9. fiaIve always wanted to do a cruise,ill be getting married soon and we may just do this as a honeymoon idea.
  10. Tess Chalk says:
    I love your tips and recommendations. ..especially the one about checking the weather. I went on one cruise and the weather was bad a couple of nights in a row and it was not fun. Thanks for all your tips.
  11. Kyli Wolfson says:
    Your packing tips are great! I always tend to overpack, and I didn't think about the fact that during my cruise in August I'll most likely want to wear my bikini the whole time, so I can save a lot of space by not bringing a lot of clothing.
  12. marthalynn says:
    Great tips! I really do need some good recommendations. We've never taken a cruise because I'm afraid to commit the time/money to something I may hate. I think it would be so fun to do as a big family group!
  13. Great tips! I'll keep them in mind when I go.
  14. I'd feel too vulnerable in the middle of the ocean. Too many scary creatures live in there.
  15. Cheryl Everitt says:
    Thank you for the great tips. The hard part is talking my husband into it!!
  16. Great tips, but I'm still a little wary about a cruise. I think it's the lack of control you have over everything. One day I'll be brave and give it a try!
  17. I imagine that can be quite expensive. No boats for me.
  18. Heather Anne says:
    I could never get my hubby on a cruise, but perhaps I'll venture out with a friend one day!
  19. It would be so lovely to get away!! *sighs*
  20. Great tips. I've been on several cruises & I agree they can really be a great bargain.
  21. My tip is just don't do it. It's basically a hotel in the middle of the ocean. I don't want to be shark food if the boat sinks.
  22. Anastasia Noelle says:
    wish i could afford it, this makes me want to take a trip :)
  23. There's so much for kids to do on the ships it's awesome much of it is educational too showing them sea life etc. ,Most often there's a guide who does activities with them,allowing you to get some relaxation in.
  24. ReneeHendersonGray says:
    I plan to go on my first cruise soon,but I prefer a short one.
  25. Cheryl Everitt says:
    I think it would be awesome to have the whole family go on a cruise. Such fun!
  26. The photos are nice. I always thought a cruise was expensive, My fear of water keeps from going.
  27. Rebecca Scolari says:
    I would love to go on a cruise
  28. Renee Schuhmacher says:
    Good tips. We've never been on a cruise but have talked about it numerous times. These tips gave me things to think about that I hadn't ever considered. Thanks
  29. I've been on two cruises - a three say and a 7 day. Loved it!
  30. Laurie Damrose says:
    Thank you for the tips.
  31. Jody Cleveland says:
    Thanks for the tips; we are going on a cruise next year!
  32. Melinda Berlin says:
    A cruise is on my Bucket list, maybe someday!
  33. Rebecca Scolari says:
    I hope to go on a family cruise next year. My kid and i will love it
  34. Lisa Fetty says:
    I never thought we could afford it.
  35. Laura Whitlock says:
    Great tips, we love cruising.
  36. I'd absolutely love a cruise ,my stepson loves the water and there are tons of awesome things for kids .
  37. Andrea Jones says:
    Great tips, thanks.
  38. It sounds expensive. I've never checked into a cruise but I've heard that fees can add up quickly.
  39. I've been on two cruises and loved it!
  40. I used to work on a ship and these are great tips! I would say, though, depending on where you are traveling, sometimes it pays to book excursions through the ship. It might be cheaper elsewhere, but booking through the ship ensures that it won't leave you if you get stuck in traffic or weather!
  41. For any vacation it's good to research ahead of time. If you don't, you may end up spending more than you thought.
  42. Kim Benton says:
    I've never been on a cruise & don't see one in my future but i can only imagine how amazing it would be. Thanks for letting me dream.
  43. gloria patterson says:
    I have been on two cruises and loved ever minute. My brother takes his family ever 5 years and they plan ahead and open a special saving account to pay for it.
  44. I've never been on a cruise, but hope to some day! These tips will definitely come in handy.
  45. Marie Gibbs says:
    I love to go southern California
  46. I've heard that people tend to gain weight on a cruise. I'm not sure that I believe it though. You'd have to be on the ship quite a while.
  47. Lisa Konieczke says:
    Sounds like a lot of fun! I think I would enjoy going on a Cruise. Like you, I was thinking that we couldn't afford a Family Cruise... I think I'll look into it now. I'd love to swim with the turtles too!
  48. Nancy Burgess says:
    Great tips very helpful thanks for sharing.
  49. I'll be taking my son on his first cruise for his 18th birthday! A year & a half away but I am so excited! Where would you suggest I take him? I was goung to surpruse him with it or should I let him choose?
    1. Winona (Southern Family Fun) says:
      Hi Cynthia, how exciting your son will be turning 18! Congratulations! My son will also be 18 next year and we are going to take another cruise. If you have never cruised before I would suggest maybe starting out on a 5 day Bahamas. Carnival Cruise tends to have frequent sailings for Bahamas and their fares are always very good. You are guaranteed to always have a good time.
  50. Melissa Bullock says:
    Thanks! Awesome tips. I am a travel agent and would love to help you plan your next trip! Give me a call at Just Cruisin Plus 615-833-0922 or 1-800-888-0922

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