If you have never taken a vacation on a cruise ship before, it can be a little intimidating. Taking a cruise vacation is different than planning vacations on land. Your planning and booking process will be different. You will need to figure out what your budget is, how long you want to go, where you want to go and what port you want to leave from. You will also have to decide which cruise line you want to use and how you will book your trip. So how do you shop for your first family cruise? Here are some tips on how to plan your first family cruise and a first family cruise planner to get you started.
Set Your Budget
Setting a budget for a cruise can be tricky. At the bare minimum you should plan on $100 per person per day for a cruise. So if you are planning to do a weeklong cruise with four people, you need to budget a minimum of $2800 just for your the cruise fare. This does not even include airfare, hotels or other travel expenses. The distance between you and your departure port, the length of the cruise, the type of cabin you desire and the uniqueness of the itinerary will also factor in to your cost. Your finances will also play a role. You will have to have an idea what you can realistically spend for your vacation. The amount of time you have to save for your vacation will also be a factor. Here is the process I use for setting a Realistic Cruise Vacation Budget. Your cruise budget will be one of the biggest factors in deciding where you can go and for how long.
Decide who is Traveling With You
The first step to figuring out your cruise vacation is to know who you are traveling with. This is important because it will determine how many cabins (rooms) you need to book. Your cabin options will vary depending on how many people are in your party. Even if you are only traveling with your spouse and kids, this will determine what kind of cabin you can book. Some cabins sleep only 2 people while others are better designed to hold more than that. You will also need to know what type of cabin everyone wants and can afford. There are big price differences between interior, ocean view, balcony and suite cabins.
Decide on the Length of Your Cruise
The amount of time you can be on vacation will affect the type of cruise you can take. Most standard cruises are 7 days from start to finish. There are shorter and longer cruises. Most shorter cruises will have limited itineraries stopping in only 1 or 2 ports. These cruises are often on older ships with less amenities. Longer cruises will be more expensive and will not sail as often.
Choose Your Itinerary and Departure Port
The time of year that you are able to take your cruise and the amount of time you can be gone for will impact your choice of cruise itineraries. If you are only able to take your cruise in December you can forget about cruising to Alaska. Most cruise lines only go there between May and October. If you want to go see the Panama Canal you will be limited to ships that are repositioning at certain times of year. Most repositioning cruises happen in April and October. To get a better idea of what cruise itineraries are available to you when you want to take your vacation, you can search specific cruise line pages, cruisecritic.com or sites like Expedia. This will give you a pretty good idea where the ships are departing and going to at the time of year you are able to vacation. If the itinerary you want is a popular one it is best to book early.
If you don’t live near a busy cruise ship port like Fort Lauderdale or Long Beach, you will need to plan for transportation to those port cities. There are also many cruise ship itineraries that are almost identical that depart from different ports. For example, there are cruises to Alaska that leave from Seattle, but cruises also depart from Vancouver, British Columbia. It never hurts to see which departure city will cost you less for airfare and accommodations.
Narrowing down your destination will help you narrow down which cruise line to take. While many cruise lines travel to the same destination. Not all of them do the same itinerary at the same time of year or depart on days of the week that are convenient for your.
Choose Your Cruise Line
Choosing your cruise line is a big decision. The type of cruise you want, who is traveling with you, your budget and your destination will all impact the cruise line you will choose. Most people are familiar with the bigger cruise lines like Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean. There are also smaller cruise lines and luxury cruise lines. Each cruise lines has their own reputation in the travel industry. Each of them caters to different types of cruisers. Some are known to be more family friendly, some cater to singles and younger cruisers and other cruise lines cater to retired cruisers. Each cruise also has different dining options, alcohol policies and childcare policies. It is important to know this information before picking out your cruise. Each cruise line also has different size ships to choose from with a wide variety of amenities.
To start learning about each cruise line I would read the cruisecritic.com webpage. It is very helpful and has reviews from every ship from passengers who have recently sailed. I would also join the Cruise Crazed Facebook page. Each cruise line also has a Facebook page where people who regularly travel them will answer questions. These are all good resources for learning about your cruise both before and after you book.
Book Your Travel Arrangements and Choose Your Cabin
The final step to shopping for your first cruise vacation is to purchase your trip. As with everything else in planning your cruise ship vacation the options are plentiful. You can book directly through the cruise line, a travel agent or a 3rd party website like Expedia, cruisecritic.com or cruises.com. It really doesn’t matter how you do it, but take the time to shop around for a great rate. As soon as you know you are thinking about going on a cruise, go to all the websites on the cruise lines you are interested in and get on their mailing list. Several times a year the big cruise lines offer great incentives to travelers such as onboard credit, room upgrades or special fares for children or extra guests. You usually just have to make a deposit at first, so it is nice not to have to pay it all upfront, but the full fare will be do about 90 days before you sail so plan for that.
Purchase the Travel Insurance
I highly recommend travel insurance for each person traveling on your cruise. It is not that expensive and worth it should you have to cancel. If you should have a family or medical emergency before your cruise and need to cancel you could lose your whole cruise fare. Also, if you have a medical emergency while on board you will be glad you have this insurance. You can book it with your cruise line or through a 3rd party insurance company. Be sure to get it.