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WHY CRUISING IS THE BEST WAY TO
Vacation with the family.
Trying to plan the ultimate family vacation? Royal Caribbean offers thrills for everyone onboard
Pulling off the perfect family vacation isn’t always easy, especially when you’re trying to cater to different ages and preferences. Fortunately, Royal Caribbean is known for delivering great family getaways designed to wow guests across multiple generations. Every ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet is packed with palate-pleasing dining options, incredible entertainment, and unforgettable activities for all ages included in your cruise fare — not to mention itineraries that take you to some of the world’s most adventure-filled shores. The best part? All the planning has been taking care of for you, so you can focus on bonding with your loved ones while doing as much or as little as you like.
GETAWAYS THE WHOLE CREW WILL LOVE
Your next family getaway is a click away — where will you wander next?
BOLDER FAMILY BONDING STARTS HERE
Family-friendly vacation destinations are always on the itinerary when you sail with Royal Caribbean®. From thrill-topping island hopping to exploring the Last Frontier, max memories like never before onboard the best family cruise ships in the world.
Kick family bonding up a notch at Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas — voted Best Private Island Experience by Travel Weekly readers. Turn up the thrills, like conquering Daredevil’s Peak®, the tallest waterslide in North America. Or unplug and chill along Oasis Lagoon®, the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean.
EXPLORE OUR PRIVATE ISLAND
Sun-kissed shores are yours to explore. Build epic castles on the pink sand beaches of Barbados . Splash into the turquoise waters of Curaçao. Or wander through legendary forts in Puerto Rico . No one does kid-friendly cruises better than Royal Caribbean® — the cruise line voted Best Overall for 20 years running by Travel Weekly readers.
EXPLORE CARIBBEAN CRUISES
WILDEST WEEK EVER
Discover the magic of Alaska, where snowcapped mountains, towering forests and misty fjords dare you to deny their majesty. Spot bears hunting for salmon in Tongass National Forest. Listen to the thunderous roar of Hubbard Glacier . And cross once-in-a-lifetime experiences off your list together — on one unforgettable journey.
EXPLORE ALASKA CRUISES
WEST COAST WANDER
Nothing fuels bolder bonding like an epic adventure with your squad. Set out from L.A. on the family vacation you’ve been waiting for onboard the best cruises for kids. From whale-watching in Ensenada to post-card pretty shores in Puerto Vallarta and lounging on Cabo’s world-famous beaches — make memories that last a lifetime.
EXPLORE THE MEXICAN RIVIERA
SET SAIL ABOARD THE BEST SHIPS FOR FAMILIES
Cruise Planner is the place to get the most out of your adventure. Securing reservations and purchasing packages before you sail lets you score the best savings available anywhere. Add peace of mind to the mix — and you’re ready for big adventure.
OF THE SEAS
CUE THE MEMORY MAKING
From record breaking rides — like the tallest slide at sea — to dining that offers a taste of every culture and shows that will leave you in awe, being onboard a Royal Caribbean ship makes the journey as bold as the destinations you’ll visit.
Each ship offers endless ways for families to fill their sea days. Think epic experiences like a plunge down the tallest slide at sea, Ultimate Abyss℠, and glow-in-the-dark laser tag battles that are bound to boost your adrenaline. Sun-soaked pool parties and hang ten sessions on the FlowRider® surf simulator. A round of Mini Golf with a side of sea views and a rushing zip line ride ten stories above deck — and that’s barely scratching the surface.
EXPLORE ONBOARD ACTIVITIES
DIAL UP YOUR DINNER
With so many delicious dining options onboard, everyone in your family will find something to satisfy their cravings in between adventures. From the endless selection of complimentary flavors at Windjammer Café and family-friendly feasting with My Family Time Dining at the Main Dining Room, to specialty restaurants that take you from the Far East to Italy to Wonderland, there’s something to please every taste onboard.
EXPLORE ONBOARD DINING
NEXT LEVEL SHOWS
Every night is an opportunity for the whole family to enjoy some of the best entertainment at sea. Dazzling original productions and fan favorites straight from Broadway, deck-defying high dives and aerial stunts at the AquaTheater, and the coolest moves you’ve ever seen on ice at the skating rink — you’ll quickly discover that on these ships, every performance is a show-stopper.
EXPLORE SHOWS & ENTERTAINMENT
room for everyone
Finding your crew’s just-right stay-place is easy, with spacious rooms designed with families in mind. Choose from rooms with endless ocean views or suites with wrap-around balconies. And if you’re craving next-level luxury, the first-ever Ultimate Family Townhouse on Icon of the Seas℠ maxes the memories with three tiers of unbelievable amenities and direct access to the Surfside℠ neighborhood from your private patio.
ENDLESS WAYS TO DO DATE NIGHT RIGHT
Who says a family vacation has to be all about the kids? While the young ones are off exploring onboard or having a blast at the award-winning Adventure Ocean youth program, reconnect with your partner over dinner at one of the fleet’s world class specialty restaurants, catch a Broadway spectacular in the Main Theater, or get down on the dance floor to the sounds of a DJ or a talented live band.
KID APPROVED CARE
Craving a little grownup time? Both Adventure Ocean and the Royal Babies & Tots programs provide care and educational activities for kids in different age groups. Adventure Ocean also offers a Late Night Party Zone group sitting for children ages 3-11 between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., so you can enjoy a stress-free adults-only night out on deck.
EXPLORE YOUTH & TEEN PROGRAMS
PENCIL IN A PARENTS’ NIGHT OUT
While the kids are at play, indulge in the ultimate date night with your partner in adventure. Kick things off with a dinner to remember, followed by a glass of your favorite wine at Vintages or a singalong session at Schooner Bar. Then keep the party going long into the night at a live stand-up comedy show before you take a whirl on the dancefloor at Club Twenty.
EXPLORE CRUISE NIGHTLIFE
FAMILY VACAY MODE ON
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO Don’t sweat the details — they’re all taken care of so you can focus on making lifelong family memories.
Family vacations should be stress-free, and Royal Caribbean makes it easy to fuel your wanderlust without worry. You can book unforgettable shore excursions , onboard activities and shows online before you board, making the planning process a breeze. Once you’re on deck, you’ll enjoy award winning service by dedicated staff members that strive to meet every request, whether you’re traveling with special needs or just looking for ways to celebrate a special occasion onboard.
You can even get started customizing every aspect of your vacation from the moment you book. Browse and save big on onshore experiences, beverage and specialty dining packages, spa treatments and more when you reserve in advance online through Cruise Planner . That way, you can go straight to enjoying your vacation as soon as you come aboard the ship.
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Many of the attractions onboard require closed-toed shoes and socks, so pack accordingly.
Even if you’re on a summer sailing to the tropics, pack a sweater if you plan to use the ice skating rink.
Luggage might not arrive in your stateroom until later. Pack a swimsuit in your carry-on so you can dive into adventure early.
Fill every minute with everything you love, anytime you want. Indulge in gourmet globetrotting, applaud show-stopping entertainment, and take on fleet favorites like rock climbing and the FlowRider® surf simulator, plus so much more!
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I've been on 6 cruise ships — here's how they compare and the one I would recommend
- Since 2021, I've spent at least one night on six ships, all with different cruise lines.
- These companies, including Margaritaville and Royal Caribbean, target a variety of demographics.
- They each have their pros and cons , but Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is my favorite.
Throughout the past two years, I've spent at least one night on six ships, all with different cruise lines. While they've all varied in prices and target demographics, one has stood out as my clear favorite.
By no means do I love cruises — the shows can be tacky, the food can be mediocre, and I'm easily bored. If I weren't a travel reporter, I'd probably never board these floating resorts. But duty calls, and since 2021 I've been invited to several nonrevenue media sailings or overnighters with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Oceania, and Norwegian.
While I've been unsurprisingly critical of some cruise ships, others have won me over. Let's take a closer look at the six ships I've been on and the one I'd recommend.
Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Apex: trendy but boring
In late 2021, I boarded the new $1 billion Celebrity Apex for its two-night naming ceremony. At the time, I hadn't been on a cruise in more than 10 years. (As a kid with parents who liked cruises, I remember disliking them.)
The Apex wasn't designed for "zillennials" like me. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the cruise line's former CEO, told Insider at the time that Celebrity targeted Gen X customers . Despite this disconnect, the Apex had some of the best-designed and -decorated spaces I've seen on a ship.
Places such as Eden (a restaurant, bar, and entertainment venue) were attractive and trendy, while the Rooftop Garden looked just the way its name promised. Even the outdoor lounges and frequently overlooked atrium were more exciting than most ships' — the latter had a martini bar that sat under the glow of an LED chandelier.
While my 243-square-foot Infinite Veranda stateroom had some dull decor, the natural light from the large wall of windows made my tiny cabin feel large.
Where these spaces shined, the dining didn't: I wasn't wowed by any of my meals, including my dinner at Le Petit Chef . Here, overhead projectors displayed an animated storyline on the dining table. But this gimmick wasn't enough to overshadow the disappointingly mediocre food.
Ultimately, I faced the same dilemma I remembered as a child: boredom. While the theater was grand, I wasn't wowed by the nighttime show. And as I said at the time, I could wade around the pool only so many times and eat and drink so much. While I loved the design of spaces such as the Magic Carpet, an outdoor extension that moves vertically between decks, I couldn't spend all day staring at it.
If I were here on a weeklong vacation, I'd be twiddling my thumbs by day three.
Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Prima: fun with a great food hall
In October 2022, I was invited on the four-night inaugural sailing for the $1.1 billion Norwegian Prima . It was the first time I had ever enjoyed being on a cruise.
Four nights is long for a cynic like me. But to my surprise, I was consistently entertained by the Prima's long list of amenities , including modern dartboards, a VR arcade, a mini-golf course, and a thrilling free-fall dry slide. These activities — along with the outdoor game court and go-kart track — could've kept me entertained for another day or two at sea.
My 230-square-foot balcony stateroom was also well-designed and modern: I appreciated the roomy bathroom, storage options, and contemporary feel. But the bedding was mediocre, the balcony was tiny, and the "mural" behind the bed and couch was a tacky eyesore.
On the plus side, the Prima had my favorite dining venue of all six ships: an 11-restaurant food hall with tableside tablet ordering systems. Instead of going to a buffet to pick at heat-lamp-fresh leftovers, this concept gave hungry travelers such as me a convenient way to try Indian curries and Singaporean-inspired noodles in one sitting.
But the greatest shock of all was the enjoyable nighttime entertainment, specifically Norwegian's rendition of the Broadway-approved "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" and "The Price Is Right Live." I found myself giggling throughout the latter.
This, combined with the fun activities and food options, made sailing on the Prima an entertaining experience that I would consider booking again.
Royal Caribbean International's Wonder of the Seas: overstimulating and packed with activities
After boarding the Wonder of the Seas in December 2022, I think Royal Caribbean's big bet on mega cruise ships is paying off. My two-night sailing on the world's biggest cruise ship just wasn't enough time to test all of the ship's amenities.
At its massive size, there was plenty of room for "neighborhoods," such as a boardwalk, a park, an outdoor entertainment center with activities such as a zipline, and a colorful pool deck with water slides. Several of these spaces looked more like those of an amusement park than a cruise liner.
The list of Wonder of the Seas' amenities , which included some I'd never seen on a ship before, seemed endless. If it managed to overwhelm me for two nights, I'm sure it'd keep any family booked and busy.
From an ice-skating show to an exhilarating outdoor swim, dive, and dance performance, the entertainment options were also diverse. The former was a bore — I left early. But the dramatics and coordination of the latter made it the most impressive cruise-ship show I've ever seen.
Onto the negatives — to start, the food quality wasn't consistent. While my buffet and dinner meals at Hooked Seafood were satisfactory, the dry and flavorless fried chicken at the new-to-brand Mason Jar was disappointing.
My balcony stateroom was also a massive letdown. Sure, it had all the essentials , large storage units, and a clothesline in the shower. But the bathroom wouldn't be comfortable for two people, water splashed out of the sink basin whenever I washed my hands, and the bland decor was a stark contrast from the sensory overload of the rest of the ship. The stateroom looked more utilitarian than it did fun.
Margaritaville at Sea's Paradise: cheap and quick
The Margaritaville empire's nascent cruise line exclusively operates two-night round-trip sailings like clockwork from Palm Beach, Florida, to Freeport, Bahamas. It's a great cruise for budget travelers — most of these dates can be booked for well under $200 a person, including some at $50.
But Margaritaville at Sea's attraction ends at its eye-catching fares. When I attended the ship's one-night inaugural sailing in May 2022, I realized travelers get what they pay for: a very old ship. Before it adopted Jimmy Buffetts' branding , Margaritaville at Sea was the budget operator Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, and the Paradise was its 30-year-old flagship Grand Classica vessel.
Sure, the vessel had some references to Buffett in the names of its venues, signage, and wall art. But besides that and a handful of new decor (shown above), it didn't seem as if the ship had undergone a massive cosmetic overhaul to align with the Margaritaville brand.
Instead, the Paradise looked out of style and place compared with other properties in the hospitality giant's portfolio. And when I tried to use the public restroom on the pool deck, the flush almost fell off its mount.
Similarly, instead of an immersive Margaritaville accommodation with beach-cottage-like decor, my 176-square-foot oceanview stateroom was bare and looked as old as the original song. While functional, the dark lines in my bathroom shower looked dirty, while the yellowish walls and wood accents made my cabin feel outdated and unkempt.
On the plus side, my meal at JWB Prime Steakhouse might have been one of the best steakhouse dinners I've ever had. But guests have to pay extra to eat there.
The cruise line has since spent millions of dollars updating areas such as the staterooms and adding amenities such as a pickleball court. I haven't boarded the ship since this refresh. But my first experience has left me so cynical that I don't plan on giving it a second try. I'm not sure a few million dollars is enough to fix its " Spirit Airlines of the Sea " reputation.
Explora Journeys' Explora I: luxurious, expensive, and boring
MSC Group's new Explora Journeys is a growing luxury-cruise brand you probably haven't heard of. I spent one night on its first $560 million Explora I ship in October while it was docked in New York City, and I think the new brand made a great first attempt at breaking into the luxury market.
While my ocean terrace suite was the smallest cabin on the ship, it was more luxurious than any hotel I've paid for. My cabin's walk-in closet, welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot, Dyson hairdryer, and balcony daybed won me over. But the cheapest itinerary in 2024 comes out to $500 a day per person — it's up to you if you think these little luxuries justify this steep price.
Like the Wonder of the Seas, there were spaces aboard the ship that looked nothing like an average cruise vessel. Instead of a typical atrium, upscale stores such as Rolex and Cartier surrounded what looked like a hotel bar. And instead of a large central pool deck, the Explora I had four smaller pools, including an infinity pool and one under a retractable glass roof.
At its price, it's fair to expect luxury food. The thinly sliced wagyu at the pan-Asian Sakura was one of the best dishes I've had on a ship. But I preferred my own baked miso cod to the one I was served.
Luckily, the ship didn't have any splashy "production-style shows" for me to turn my nose up at. But once again, I'm not sure how much time I can spend in the spa or at the outdoor gym before I'm bored. So, while I appreciated the rows of cabanas and modern lounges, I think a weeklong vacation on the Explora I would be too quiet for me.
Oceania Cruises' Vista: upscale but boring
In late September, I spent one night on Oceania Cruises' Vista while it was docked in New York City. I think the new ship is a great option for mature travelers who are interested in higher-end cruises but don't want to pay for the likes of Regent Seven Seas.
For a food-focused cruise line, my dinner in the Grand Dining Room had luxurious options such as monkfish and caviar. But in retrospect, it was memorable only because of the ingredients, not the taste. Unfortunately, my lobster didn't beat the comforts of Norwegian Prima's food hall or the wagyu from Explora.
Appropriately for a premium cruise ship, my veranda stateroom was lined with one of the largest balconies I've ever had. And small details such as designated cup holders in the bathroom, a complimentary beverage station, and Bulgari toiletries made it stand out from any veranda cabin on a mass-market cruise ship.
Like my accommodations, the Vista's common spaces, such as the library lounge, had an upscale flair. Even the circular daybed-lined pool deck was more elevated and modern than the typical cruise-ship pool surrounded by generic lounge chairs. And while there were no water slides or arcades, there was a large putting green and walking track.
Unsurprisingly, I did not enjoy the cringy "Headliners'' evening song-and-dance show. And because I had limited time on the ship, I didn't get to experience activities such as cooking or art classes. This might have made a difference — but in the end, I again found the ship to be too calm for my liking.
The verdict: Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is my favorite
While I appreciated the upscale qualities of Explora and Oceania's vessels, I couldn't imagine spending more than three days on either ship. Similarly, while Margaritaville at Sea Paradise's cheap costs are enticing, I don't plan to sail on it again.
My favorite cruise liners are the ones with engaging activities and creative spaces that don't look like those of a typical ship. The Wonder of the Seas executed all of this — more than the Norwegian Prima — perfectly, enough to make me overlook the sore spots of my stateroom and mediocre meal. Because of this, it's the one ship I'll continue recommending to most cruise fans.
But that doesn't mean it has to be your favorite. If your priority is a cheap, quick-and-dirty getaway, Margaritaville at Sea Paradise is great. If you want something luxurious but don't want to spend too much, try the Oceania Vista — or the Explora I if you really want to ball out. And if you're traveling with children, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas and the Norwegian Prima are great options. The latter two are the only ones I'd consider booking again.
How to Cruise Cheap with the Family
Գլխավոր » Interesting Stories » How to Cruise Cheap with the Family
Cruising with your family can be a fantastic way to create lasting memories, explore exciting destinations, and unwind together. However, one of the common concerns is how to make it an affordable option. In this blog post, we’ll explore tips and information to help you cruise cheaply with your family.
People Ask, “How Much Is a of 4?”
Before embarking on a cruise adventure with your family, it’s natural to wonder about the cost. The price of a cruise for a family of four can vary widely depending on several factors. These factors include the cruise line, destination, cabin type, and the age of your children. While infants and toddlers often cruise for free or at a reduced rate, older children may be considered adults when it comes to pricing.However, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 for a family of four on a short cruise during the off-season.
Keep in mind that some cruise lines offer special family packages or discounts for booking multiple cabins, which can significantly reduce the overall cost.
Is a 4-Year-Old Free on a Cruise?
Many cruise lines offer discounted or even free cruise fares for children under a certain age, often around 2 to 5 years old. However, keep in mind that these policies can vary among cruise companies. Some cruise lines might charge a reduced fare for children, while others may offer complimentary cruise fares for those under a specified age. It’s crucial to check with your chosen cruise line to understand their specific policies regarding young children.
Why Cruizon Can Be a Very Affordable Choice
Cruizon, a popular cruise membership club, has gained recognition for its unique approach to affordable cruising. Here are some reasons why Cruizon can be an excellent choice for families seeking affordable cruise options:
- Cruise Membership : Cruizon offers a membership program that allows members to access exclusive cruise deals and discounts. By becoming a Cruizon member, you can enjoy substantial savings on your family cruise.
- Flexibility : Cruizon offers flexibility in cruise planning, allowing you to choose from a wide range of cruise lines, destinations, and itineraries. This flexibility can help you find the most budget-friendly options for your family.
- Personalized Service : Cruizon provides personalized assistance and support throughout the cruise planning process, helping you find the best deals that suit your family’s needs and budget.
In conclusion, cruising with your family can be an affordable and enjoyable experience if you plan wisely and take advantage of the right opportunities. Consider exploring options like Cruizon’s membership program to access exclusive deals and make your family cruise dreams a reality without breaking the bank.
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Disney is the No. 1 cruise line for families, travelers say
It seems to be smooth sailing ahead for the cruise industry , according to recent reporting. A study by Cruise Lines International Association shows that traveling by cruise is becoming one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors. And an October survey from Condé Nast Traveler revealed that 47% of people said they would be interested in setting sail on a ship.
In October, U.S. News and World Report published its 2023 ranking of the best cruises for families. The report ranked the top five ships out of 17 of the most popular ocean cruise lines and gave them a rating of one through five.
U.S. News and World Report assessed the cruise lines based on the following categories:
- Each line's overall rating
- The aggregate traveler rating by "families with kids"
- The percentage of reviews on Cruiseline.com that are left by family travelers
For a cruise line to qualify for this ranking, at least 20% of its total traveler reviews had to come from families.
No. 1 cruise for families: Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line is the best cruise line for families, with a rating of 4.46.
The cruise line has five ships : Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy and Disney Wish. A sixth ship, Disney Treasure , is set to set sail in December 2024.
According to the report, Disney receives accolades from families for its whimsical amenities and well-equipped staterooms. The size of Disney's ships varies, but each vessel promises to have approximately one crew member for every three passengers, according to the report.
Disney Cruise Line allows customers to travel to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean, Australia and the Pacific and trips can last between two and 15 nights.
On board, Disney Cruise Line offers youth clubs, movie theaters and themed pools. Guests also get to eat in Disney-themed main dining rooms, attend character meet-and-greets and experience Disney-inspired entertainment.
Disney Cruise Line is typically more expensive than other family-friendly cruise lines, the report states. If planning a trip, you should expect to pay at least $1,000 on a cruise for two passengers and the price goes up from there, according to NerdWallet .
The 5 best cruise lines for families
- Disney Cruise Line
- Royal Caribbean International
- Carnival Cruise Line
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- MSC Cruises
The second best family-friendly cruise line is Royal Caribbean International with a rating of 4.17.
As of 2022, the cruise line operates 26 ships and two privately owned resorts: Labadee on the northern coast of Haiti and Coco Cay, a private island in the Bahamas.
In 2019, Royal Caribbean International announced it has plans to open a private island in the South Pacific .
Itineraries range from two to 28 nights. Royal Caribbean International also offers The Ultimate World Cruise , which lasts 274 nights and goes to over 60 countries.
The No. 3 best cruise for families is Carnival Cruise Line , with a rating of 3.90.
Carnival has 25 ships that depart from all over the world, including New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami and more. The cruise line offers trips to Mexico, Hawaii, Europe and the Caribbean, to name a few.
Like Disney, each Carnival ship carries approximately one crew member for every three passengers.
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How to Get a Cheap Cruise for as Little as $30 Per Day
Cruises can be expensive affairs.
First, ships reel you in with a “cheap” room and an onboard credit but then smack you around with high-priced drinks, non-included restaurants, and dollar-a-minute Internet.
A couple of years ago, I went on the Oasis of the Seas (one of the largest boats in the world) on a seven-day cruise around the Caribbean . The listed price of this cruise?
That’s expensive for a week of cruising. You could go to Southeast Asia for a month on that kind of money.
Luckily, there are, in fact, ways to take a cheap cruise for as little as $30 per day. It just takes a bit of skill, a lot of discipline, and a bit of sneakiness.
How to Book a Cheap Cruise
Because cruise ships don’t want to depart with half-empty boats, so they drop prices steadily until that boat is leaving port, since for them empty cabins mean less money.
Cruises make the majority of their money from what people purchase on board, so they want bodies on those ships. (Plus, most of the crew earns their money from tips, so they need to keep the crew happy — and besides, who is going to think highly of a cruise that is only half full?)
You can also book early, but I find last-minute bookings to be the best. And since you are booking close to departure, you need to be flexible with where you are willing to go or OK with not booking the actual cruise even if you booked your flights.
Another tip comes Doug Parker of Cruise Radio , “When the kids are in school, the rates are the best.” This holds true in all travel but especially cruising, because it is such a family activity. Don’t travel when everyone else is traveling! If you do that or travel during the shoulder season, you can find the best rates. Chris from Chris Cruises also reiterates my recommendation: “Book far in advance or last minute for the best fares.”
How To Get Last Minute Cheap Cruise Deals
Doug advises that you start with a travel agent, as they have relationships with the cruise companies and can often get better rates and last-minute deals. And my experience has me agreeing. While there are many “do it yourself” options, travel agents often can find much lower prices and can act as liaison to cruise companies when something goes wrong.
If you want to go with the “do it yourself” angle, you only need to go to these three best websites for finding a cheap cruise:
- Cruise Sheet (This site is the #1 site for finding a cheap cruise!!!!)
- Vacations to Go
- Cruise Deals
These websites do a detailed job of scouring the web for cheap cruise deals. Vacations to Go is more of a travel agent/operator and thus often has better deals since they can negotiate with the cruise lines directly, but keep in mind that they add a lot of fees. Cruise Sheet is simply a website aggregator that crawls the web and then displays cheap last-minute fares. This is my favorite cruise site, as it seems to find all the deals and makes finding a cheap cruise easy.
In terms of timing, don’t book early. As Doug states, “the only benefit to booking early is to secure the room you want.” If you want a specific cabin, book early. Otherwise, wait until the last minute. As I said in the beginning, cruise companies don’t want to sail empty ships and so do heavy last-minute discounting — be sure to sign up for cruise company newsletters to stay informed!
Finally, if you book a cruise and the price drops, contact the cruise or your travel agent. They will often give you the difference as an onboard credit.
As Chris from Chris Cruises states, “There are so many ships now, prices are at an all-time low.” Now is a great time to go on a cruise.
Three Things to Remember When Booking A Cheap Cruise
2. Cruise in the off season – Traveling off season (Caribbean during the hurricane season, Alaska in September) will get you markedly cheaper fares.
3. Take a repositioning cruise — Repositioning cruises are when cruise lines move ships from one part of the world to the next in anticipation of the upcoming season. These “cruises” are a great way to cross an ocean or sail down a continent’s coast on the cheap and can be found on any cruise booking website.
What about your flight? Don’t book your flight with the cruise — book it separately. Check out this guide to finding a cheap flight to lower that cost .
13 Tips To Helps Enjoy a Cheap Cruise
Tip 2: Skip the soda — A long time ago, soda was free. Now, you have to pay around $3 USD for a tiny glass, or you can pay $45-60 USD for a soda card that gives you unlimited soda for the duration of the cruise. You’d have to drink a lot of soda to make that worth it. Instead, stick to the free water, iced teas, and juices on the ship. Your wallet and insulin levels will thank you.
Tip 3: Say no to photos — Do you really need some cheesy “professional” photos of your family? I didn’t think so. Get them done back home for less or take a digital camera and have someone take them for you on the ship.
Tip 4: Avoid the restaurants — On most cruise ships these days, there are specialty restaurants that you can book for an added cost. Some are à la carte, some charge a set fee. (The sushi restaurant I tried on the Oasis of the Seas was à la carte.) Avoid these specialty restaurants. The food in the dining areas, the buffets, and the other shops is just as good and less costly. (If you do decide to book, doing so before you board can generally save you 25%. Doug also suggests looking for dining packages, as they work out cheaper, too.)
Tip 5: Limit your drinking — $6 beers and $10 mixed drinks can really add up. Enjoy fun in the sun while sober and skip spending a ridiculous amount of money on booze. I was amazed at how quickly my alcohol bill added up after just a few days of wine with dinner and a couple of piña coladas while sitting by the pool.
Tip 6: Bring your own supplies — Cruise companies will let you bring one case of your own water, soda, and beer, as well as a bottle of wine onto the ship.
Tip 7: Bring extra booze — If you do want to drink hard liquor while on board, get Rum Runners . These handy little bags allow you to pour alcohol into them and — because there are no air bubbles — escape the X-ray machine. You need to be sneaky, but if you’re smart, you can smuggle your own alcohol on board and avoid paying for high-priced drinks.
Tip 8: Avoid the casino — This goes without saying.
Tip 9: Plan your own shore excursions — Cruise-run shore excursions are overpriced and crowded. Instead, do some research online and plan your own activities with local operators who will get to keep all the money. You’ll save money, support the local economy even more directly, and avoid the hordes that will clutter your photos.
Tip 10: Just remember that the boat will leave without you, so give yourself enough time to get back. Doug Parker recommends the company Shore Excursions Group whose activities are 30% cheaper and offers a guarantee that it will get you back to the boat in time.
Tip 11: Clean your own clothes — Having laundry done on a ship costs crazy money. Instead of sending a bag of clothes off to be cleaned, you pay per article like in really nice hotels. Frankly, my socks aren’t worth $2 USD each. Instead, buy some Woolite and clean your own clothes in the bathtub or sink.
Tip 12: Skip the airport transfers — The airport transfers cruise companies offer are overpriced, and you can fit into a cab for a much cheaper rate.
Tip 13: Skip anything that costs money — This is obvious, but I like to cover all the bases. The spa, the shopping, the Internet, the cell phone access, etc. They all cost money. Don’t do it! Save the money for something cheaper back on dry land.
And remember if you do spend money on a cruise, by using the booking tips from the previous section, you should be able to get a free onboard credit that will cover some of your costs!
I like cruises. I think a cruise is a great vacation because it is a chance to get away from everything and have a place where you can just relax. Sitting on a boat by the pool, drink in hand, without a care in the world. I eat well (all-day salad buffet), sleep well, head to the gym, and relax. I don’t think of it as “travel” but more of a relaxing break.
The ancillary costs of cruises are what really add up and make a cruise “expensive.” But if you avoid all the additional costs and take advantage of your onboard credit, you can cruise for just the base rate of your cabin. It takes discipline to avoid that next piña colada, but you can do it. You can easily enjoy an entire cruise without spending a penny!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner . It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld . If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free? Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.
Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.
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I got what I paid for: My cheap family cruise on MSC Seashore
Disney Cruise Line's new ship Disney Wish is getting a lot of attention this summer. But with fares that start at $1,000 per day for a family of four, even a three- or four-night sailing might not be in most families' budgets.
In search of cheap family cruises myself, I followed the deals to a major but more under-the-radar cruise line, MSC Cruises .
MSC offers affordable Caribbean cruises thanks to free kids fares and onboard credits that passengers can put toward things like activities and non-included meals.
I ended up paying less for a balcony cabin on a seven-night cruise to the Caribbean on MSC's newest ship, MSC Seashore, than I would for a three-night Disney Wish cruise in a windowless inside cabin.
For cruise guides, news and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .
Itinerary in hand, I thought I had found the secret to affordable family cruising and that I'd come home bragging to my friends that I had scored an amazing vacation for a fraction of the price folks would pay for other cruises.
The truth is, I got what I paid for and encountered more logistical hassles and nickel-and-diming than I've experienced on most of the 50-plus cruises I've been on.
Can you have a wonderful family vacation on a budget on an MSC Cruises ship? Of course. But for smoother sailing and fewer hassles, you will either need to shell out more money on your MSC voyage — or consider a different cruise line.
About MSC Cruises
MSC Cruises is a Europe-based cruise line, with a large presence in Europe, South America, the Middle East and Africa. Within the last five years, though, the line has made an effort to build and deploy ships with amenities and itineraries that are more targeted at American travelers.
Although it has been offering Caribbean cruises for about a decade now, MSC Cruises recently deployed more of its ships on itineraries out of Florida, many with stops at the line's new private island, Ocean Cay, for a relaxing beach day. The line is known to attract a diverse crowd, including a high percentage of international guests plus a mix of English and Spanish speakers from Florida. The combination of cultures and languages makes the line's onboard vibe a bit different than on other cruise lines that sail from mainland U.S. ports.
Because the line is not as well known among U.S. cruisers as Europeans, MSC Cruises' Florida fares have always been competitively priced and it routinely offers kids-sail-free deals. I paid $2,658 total for four people to share a balcony cabin on a weeklong Western Caribbean cruise in July on the line's newest cruise ship, MSC Seashore.
Contrast that with Disney Wish: The cheapest cruise you can currently book is $2,975 for a three-night cruise in a windowless inside cabin for four people. A seven-night Western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's new Wonder of the Seas next July is close to $6,000 for four people; the cheapest balcony cabin I could find on that ship for a weeklong Caribbean cruise was $3,300 in February 2023. (Of course, older ships on these lines will be priced lower.)
In my mind, MSC Cruises' lower fares and mass appeal make it a direct competitor with Carnival Cruise Line. The cheapest balcony cabin I could find for that line's newest ship, Mardi Gras, was $2,475 for four people on a weeklong Western Caribbean cruise in November 2023.
Going into this trip, I knew I wasn't going to find all the bells and whistles of a Royal Caribbean megaship or the service levels and entertainment expertise of a Disney ship. I was simply hoping that getting to experience a brand-new ship at a low price would give a line like Carnival or perhaps the older ships of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line a serious run for their money. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the case.
MSC Seashore was indeed a beautiful ship with plenty to entertain the whole family. But the logistical operations, dining options and family-friendly amenities were simply not up to par with those offered on other lines. Here's what I took away from my experience.
MSC offers limited free or affordable dining choices
Let's start with my biggest gripe about MSC Seashore as an affordable family vacation — the dearth of complimentary dining options. If you want to stick to the food venues where meals are included in your fare and not pay extra for fancy seafood or steak dinners, you have only two options on MSC: the buffet and the main dining room.
Technically, based on the fare class we purchased, we were entitled to free continental breakfast via room service. But since there was no table on our balcony, and only a cluttered desk surface where you could put down dishes, we'd likely be eating in our beds, so we ended up skipping in-cabin food service.
The dining room was my favorite place to eat on board
The main onboard dining room was very good for a mass-market ship. My mom eats gluten-free and I gravitate mostly toward vegetarian options, and the restaurant was able to accommodate our diets well. The kids menu had a lot of great choices for younger sailors (pasta, grilled chicken, hot dogs, etc.) and both my kids ordered from both the junior and regular menus.
The servers worked quickly and were pleasant though not overly friendly. That said, the dining room manager assisted my mother with her food allergies and was amazingly helpful. He would periodically stop by our table to chat or ask if he could help us whenever he saw us around the ship.
As most parents know, formal sit-down dining is not always your best option for three meals a day with kids — especially when dinner lasts 1 1/2 to 2 hours after a long day out in the sun, and breakfast and lunch aren't as quick as the grab-and-go buffet. My kids (and I) needed alternatives, as they would on any line. That left the buffet.
The buffet was crowded and uninspiring
Unlike on most big-ship cruise lines I've sailed — including Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean — the buffet menu aboard MSC Seashore rarely changed and the venue in which the buffet was set out was both crowded and confusing to navigate.
While having a standard list of menu items for breakfast was fine, every lunch service simply included pizza, a pasta station, grab-and-go burgers and hot dogs, a meat-carving station, a small salad bar and a display of deli meat. Some days there was a Mexican station, though it was hard to find in the enormous venue.
Related: The ultimate guide to cruise ship food and dining
One buffet counter somewhere had a rotating selection of hot lunch dishes, but when I finally found my way there, none of the dishes were labeled. In fact, nothing was labeled anywhere on the buffet, so you just had to guess what you were serving yourself. Hopefully, it's something MSC will rectify, especially for passengers who might have even more stringent dietary requirements than my family.
Only one area of the entire buffet had all the options laid out. That section was, quite frankly, a nightmare. The few times I dared navigate my way there, I found people pushing each other out of the way and cutting in line, which did not result in much friendly feeling among the would-be diners.
Your kids might love having pizza, french fries and burgers every day for lunch (mine certainly did), but after my third lunch of salad and cheese pizza, I was desperate for an alternative. They exist on other lines. Carnival Cruise Line, in addition to a buffet menu that changes daily, offers complimentary Guy Fieri burgers, a deli counter with a variety of options, a Mexican station serving tacos and burritos, 24/7 pizza (that gives the Italian MSC a run for its money) and a sea-day brunch with innovative options. You can even find additional free dining venues on select ships, including Guy Fieri's barbecue restaurant, Shaquille O'Neal's fried chicken restaurant, Mongolian Wok and other Asian or Indian eateries.
TPG tip: If you need an alternative lunch option on MSC Seashore, you can pay extra for a meal in one of the ship's five specialty restaurants, though they're only occasionally open midday. Head to Hola Tacos (a la carte or all you can eat for $17.99 per person), Kaito Sushi Bar (conveyor belt sushi and other Japanese dishes priced a la carte) or Butcher's Cut for its sea day brunch ($12 per person). The prices aren't terrible, but they can quickly add up for family of four — plus, you're looking at another sit-down, waiter-served meal with possibly squirmy kids.
There was no free soft-serve ice cream on MSC
One last food gripe: A highlight of every family cruise I've been on is the free soft-serve ice cream on the pool deck. Your kids should be able to get themselves cones when it's hot outside. It's the quintessential vacation experience.
And every family-friendly line I've ever been on has this option. On Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas , the center of the pool deck is a multimachine soft-serve ice cream station where you can help yourself to as much free ice cream as you'd like. Heck, even my very grown-up cruise on Windstar's Star Pride had free soft-serve by the pool and alfresco grill restaurant.
That is, every family-friendly line except MSC.
MSC Cruises does have exceptional gelato at nearly every poolside bar as well as at the Venchi chocolate store/bar/gelateria. However, it costs $4 for a baby size and $6 for a regular size. The same pool deck bars also have a soft-serve machine, which is located behind the bar. The chocolate and vanilla are complimentary, but only if you purchase a pricy beverage package . If you're on a budget, as we were, and don't upgrade to the package, that soft-serve will cost the same as the gelato. No freebies for the kiddos, either.
There are only two ways to get free ice cream on MSC Seashore. Either you order it for dessert in the main dining room and get whatever flavor they're serving that day (there's no choice), or you head to the one buffet counter that offers snacks for one hour from 4 to 5 p.m. every day, and you get in line with scores of other hot and hungry cruisers to ask for one of two flavors (usually vanilla, chocolate or strawberry) being doled out by one extremely overworked server.
It may seem like a small thing, and I probably thought it was before this particular sailing, but having free ice cream in the afternoon each day has made other cruises feel like truly special vacations, and my kids and I missed that feeling aboard MSC Seashore.
TPG tip: Only the Alcohol-Free and Minors drinks packages include soft-serve ice cream. Book your drinks package online in advance to save 15% off package prices. Or, book a cabin in the Yacht Club or Aurea fare class and a drinks package is included.
Our cabin was great — with 1 exception
Our standard balcony cabin was nice, and my family of four survived remarkably well in one room for a week , which is reason enough to thank MSC Cruises for a successful vacation.
The 172-square-foot cabin was not large, but it had more usable storage space than I anticipated. The sofa that converted into bunk beds meant that my kids weren't sleeping right above my head, and being able to separate the king-size bed into two twins was handy since I was traveling with my mother instead of my husband. Our balcony was a reasonable size and had two chairs and an ottoman, so you could put your feet up.
I had a few minor quibbles (as you do in compact cruise ship cabins) about the shower size and the lack of a balcony table, but one design element did bother me — especially with four people in the room.
It was the closet. In our cabin, the closet was located by my mom's side of the bed, with only minimal space between it and the mattress, which meant that it was difficult for me to get stuff out of the closet, especially if she was actually sitting or lying on the bed. My kids are still small, so I was able to store most of their stuff in the drawers across from their bunks. But if you have older kids who require more closet space, it might be a pain to have to squeeze by the bed to get anything from the closet.
Many other cruise lines solve this problem by putting the closets in the cabin hallway across from the bathroom. That makes them a lot easier to get at — even if your cabinmates might not be able to walk down the hallway while you're debating the day's fashion choices.
TPG tip: Some MSC Seashore cabins swap the position of the bed and the seating area, so the closet is next to the couch. This would be preferable for a couple or a family with one child, but not for a family where you'll have to squeeze by the bunk bed to access the closet. To avoid this layout entirely, you'll either want to upgrade to a suite or downgrade to an inside cabin, where the closet is next to an easy chair. (Though think twice before squeezing four people into a 150-square-foot room where the kids will be in bunks above the adults' twin beds.)
Related: Which cruise ship cabin should your family book?
The kids club had video games and Legos, but 1 kid still wouldn't go
As an adult, I'm not allowed into any kids club activities. Personally, I was intrigued by MSC's MasterChef at Sea event and the Fire and Ice live video game, but my kids weren't interested in those activities, so I can't report back on how fun they are.
What I can tell you is that my daughter, who loved the kids clubs on Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises , was not a fan of MSC Seashore's club and refused to go most of the time. It's hard to say how much this was a fault of the kids club versus my daughter's capricious personality.
On paper, MSC Seashore's kids club looks pretty good. It offers free babysitting for 3-and-unders, which is rare in the industry. The rest of the kids club is divided into groups for ages 3 to 6 and 7 to 11 (both my kids fell into that latter group), and tweens and teens are technically separate but shared a hangout space. When I toured the Junior Club where my kids would be on the first day, I saw a bright play space with large windows, two foosball tables and cool electronics like a virtual piano.
My daughter's report was that, unlike on Royal Caribbean, the youth staff didn't set time limits on video game use, so certain kids would "hog" the Nintendo Switches and she could never play the games. (One of these video game hogs was likely her older brother ....) MSC Cruises' promotional material boasts about its partnership with Lego, and she reported that there were always Legos available for free play and she enjoyed that.
She also gave a thumbs-down to the arts and crafts projects, compared to other lines, because it was just "lame coloring" versus an actual craft, such as beading necklaces or making origami. She didn't like any of the organized games as much as on other cruises, especially as they were often mandatory for everyone in the club instead of one of several activity choices.
One interesting takeaway from our experience was that, because MSC attracts a diverse, international crowd, many of the kids my daughter's age at the Junior Club didn't speak English. This made making friends difficult. On past cruises, she's made little buddies on board and played together with them at the kids club, but that didn't happen this time.
My son, on the other hand, only was interested in the video games and not in making friends or participating in group games, so he liked the club just fine.
TPG tip: After eight cruises with kids, I can say that, despite cruise line advertising, your child may not love the kids club for any number of reasons and choose not to go. Be prepared to be flexible with your onboard plans.
Related: 5 best cruise lines for families
The water park was awesome, but I would have liked additional family-friendly activities
MSC Seashore has a super-fun, pirate-themed water park with waterslides and a splash area . It's got one slide that you ride in an inner tube while wearing a virtual reality headset, and you feel like you're swinging around a pirate ship dodging a giant sea monster, as well as a fast tube slide that's cantilevered off the side of the ship. The kiddie pool has spray guns, a dump bucket and baby slides, with some rope bridges above for the adventurous.
That gives the ship major points in my book.
However, on every other cruise ship I've been on with a water park, you just walk up and get in line for a slide. On MSC, I had to stand in line for 20 minutes just to sign a waiver and get bracelets for the whole family showing we were allowed to slide and that we had to wear for the rest of the cruise.
TPG tip: If you want to ride the slides (and you definitely do, kids and grown-ups both), aim to show up at the beginning of the session before the waiver line gets too long.
As for other family-friendly activities, MSC Seashore's pingpong and foosball tables were always in high demand. The ship has two regular pools welcoming kids, a sports court for basketball and other athletic competitions and an arcade with extra-fee attractions, such as virtual sports, video games and an XD cinema (where the seats move and shake, to simulate a theme park ride).
There was no miniature golf, which is a fun, free family activity found on a lot of other big ships. If there was shuffleboard on Seashore, I never found it; my kids are oddly fond of that game.
For evening entertainment, MSC had a nightly show that was a mix of singing, dancing and acrobatics that were entertaining but also unremarkable. My kids' favorite was a comedy magician who performed one afternoon.
But there were no family-friendly movies on the pool deck LED screen (just one 10:30 p.m. screening of "Wonder Woman"), no obvious activities meant for families to play together (like Carnival's "Family Feud Live") and certainly nothing like Royal Caribbean's kid-wowing high-diving or ice skating shows.
We did find and attend one event meant for the entire family — a cupcake-decorating deck party. It ended up being chaotic, with long lines for the frosting bags (which were more for decoration than for taste, as we discovered), plus a raffle for which we had no idea how to get tickets. I'd take a little more organization over poor-tasting fanciful confections any day.
If my kids didn't want to go to the kids club or get wet, it was difficult to figure out what to do with them on board. They spent a lot of time watching TV in the room, which was not my first choice for a cruise vacation.
Related: Which cruise ship activities should you book ahead of time?
MSC Seashore does not have cruise logistics down yet
I have never said, "No other cruise line does it like this," as much as I did on our first day on board MSC Seashore. And it wasn't a good thing.
For instance, every other line I've ever sailed asks you to attach a credit card to your cruise account before you set sail. Once you get on board, you're already set up to make purchases with your cruise card.
MSC Cruises does not have an option to add your credit card online or in the terminal before embarkation. Instead, you must stand in line to use a kiosk to fund your cruise account after you board. I didn't want to give my kids permission to spend my money on soda and arcade games, and it wasn't clear how I should set limitations at the kiosk, so I had to ask guest services to help me with the confusing credit situation. The front desk queue was so long it snaked beyond the roped-off lanes, nearly out of the atrium lobby.
The cruise industry has mostly moved to virtual muster drills; most other lines ask passengers to watch the safety instructions in their cabin or on the cruise line's app and then check in at your muster station at your leisure.
But on MSC Seashore, we had to watch a video on our TV at an appointed time, then call a specific number from our cabin phone and then proceed in groups to our muster station to get our cards scanned. At which time the entire guest capacity of the ship was in the stairwells, either going down to their muster stations or returning to their cabins. Aside from the inconvenience, it also made social distancing impossible.
When it comes to dining, most cruise lines give you the option of early, late or anytime dining. Some, like Norwegian, skip assigned dining altogether. My favorite is anytime, so I don't have to commit to a set time and can show up at the dining room when I'm hungry. On MSC, anytime dining is only an option for those who book the most expensive fare classes.
Instead, I selected early dining for my family, but it turns out there were three early dining times: 5:15, 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. You couldn't choose among those options, and we were assigned the 5:15 slot, which is unreasonably early. We managed to switch to the 6:15 time, but only after waiting in two additional lines. It would have been nice to be able to designate our specific choice during the initial booking process rather than spending even more time in a line.
And all that was just on embarkation day.
On our first port day, the shore excursions team had no idea how to handle all the people reporting to the theater at their assigned times to get group numbers for their tours. To make matters worse, rain prevented the first tours from departing on time. That led to total chaos in the theater as dozens of people were going down the aisles to present their tickets and collect their group number stickers while dozens more were pushing past to get out the bottom door to head to the gangway.
It took us half an hour to get from inside the theater to outside the ship, including a long stretch squished into a narrow, windowless hallway, barely moving.
Am I complaining too much? I know from personal experience that you'll wait in queues on all big-ship cruise lines, especially on embarkation day if you haven't pre-booked shore excursions or you want to change your dining time. I definitely experienced a terrible muster drill on one of the first sailings of Carnival Sunrise, when the crew was new and working out the passenger flow of the upgraded ship.
But on MSC Seashore — a brand-new cruise ship from a longstanding line that's been sailing from the U.S. since 2013 — the logistical snafus and numerous lines for everything from payment plans to waterslides were more frequent than I expect on your average cruise.
TPG tip: Forget spontaneity: If you want to avoid lines, book your shore excursions, beverage and dining packages and Wi-Fi plans online before your cruise. Not only can you skip lines, but you'll get a discounted rate. Or, upgrade to a room in the exclusive Yacht Club section of the ship, so you can get access to a personal concierge, who can make arrangements for you.
Money can't buy happiness, but it can solve many of your problems on MSC.
Book a suite in the line's ship-within-a-ship Yacht Club, and you have access to more cabin space, exclusive no-fee restaurants and designated sun decks to avoid the crowds, and a butler and concierge to take care of logistics for you. Pay for a drinks package or a fare class that includes one, and your kids get all the free ice cream they desire. Enjoy brunch or lunch at the extra-fee specialty restaurants, and you'll get variety in your lunch menu.
But doing so means your vacation is no longer a budget one, which was my main reason for choosing MSC Cruises. Once you're spending that kind of money, you could look into a costlier cruise line, such as Royal Caribbean or even Disney Cruise Line. With a larger vacation budget comes more choice, too, including a larger variety of ships, U.S. embarkation ports and cruise destinations to consider.
To me, the ship seemed better suited to couples and groups of adult friends traveling together, who are content to spend time in the pools and hot tubs, who will enjoy the onboard nightlife, who will get more value out of a drinks package and the extra-fee restaurants, and who are cruising just two to a cabin.
If you are looking for a cheap family cruise, you can certainly have a great time on MSC Cruises, but it won't be paradise. My kids had a blast; my son will tell you that he loved the video games and the waterslides, and my daughter will say she liked eating french fries and chocolate croissants in the main dining room. We all loved our time in port, river tubing in Jamaica and swimming with turtles in Grand Cayman, but we paid extra for those tours.
At the end of the day, cruising on a budget on this specific cruise line came with more logistical hassles and a lack of dining and activity choices that added stress to my vacation as the adult in charge. I put up with more queues, hassles and TV time than I prefer to on a family cruise. Had I known, perhaps I could have thrown money at the problem, but at that point, I could have a better experience for a similar price on another line.
I'd consider another cruise with MSC with my husband or a girlfriend, now that I'm savvy on how to better work the system. But I'm still on the hunt for that cheap family cruise that offers outsize value for the price. I'll let you know when I find it.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A beginners guide to picking a cruise line
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
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41-Year-Old Man Went Overboard During Heavy Metal ‘Headbangers Boat' Cruise
Posted: November 6, 2023 | Last updated: November 6, 2023
The search for the missing passenger has been called off, a spokesperson for the cruise line said Monday
A man has gone missing while attending a heavy metal-themed "Headbanger's Boat" cruise out of Miami, according to the cruise line.
The 41-year-old was a guest on the Norwegian Pearl when he “went overboard while the ship was sailing near the Bahamas” on Friday, a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE on Monday.
Authorities “were immediately notified,” and crews with the United States Coast Guard began searching for the missing passenger, according to the spokesperson. However, the search was unsuccessful.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones during this difficult time,” the spokesperson said. The passenger's identity has not been released at this time.
Related: Search Suspended for Man Who Disappeared from Cruise Ship While Celebrating Dad's 60th Birthday
In a separate statement, Lamb of God — the group headlining the five-day, four-night event — said they are “deeply saddened” by the “tragic incident,” according to Metal Injection and Metal Hammer .
“Sending love and light to their family and loved ones,” the band added.
The Coast Guard and Headbanger's Boat organizers did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Related: Cruise Passenger Missing After He 'Jumped' Overboard While Ship Was Returning to Florida
The Norwegian Pearl was hosting the Headbanger's Boat cruise , presented by the Grammy Award-nominated metal band, at the time of the incident, according to the cruise’s website.
The cruise’s inaugural voyage began on Oct. 31 and was scheduled to end on Nov. 4, the day after the passenger’s disappearance.
The Norwegian Pearl was on its return voyage from Nassau, Bahamas, when the guest went missing, according to Norwegian Cruise Line’s spokesperson. Passengers spent a day in the capital before boarding the ship, which was headed back to Miami, per the cruise’s website.
Related: 19-Year-Old Who Went Overboard on Cruise Ship Yet to Be Found: 'We Need to Apply Pressure'
Lamb of God was slated to perform two sets throughout the four-day cruise.
Several other metal bands — including fellow Grammy-nominated groups, such as Mastodon, Hatebreed, GWAR and Shadows Fall — were also slated to perform on the boat .
An investigation into the passenger’s disappearance is ongoing, the NCL spokesperson added.
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Read the original article on People .
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How to Take a Cruise for as Little as $30 Per Day
Cruises can be expensive affairs. First, ships reel you in with a "cheap" room and an onboard credit but then smack you around with high-priced drinks, non-included restaurants, and dollar-a-minute internet.
This post originally appeared on Nomadic Matt .
A couple of years ago, I went on the Oasis of the Seas (one of the largest boats in the world) on a seven-day cruise around the Caribbean. The listed price of this cruise? $800 USD. That's expensive for a week of cruising . You could go to Southeast Asia for a month on that kind of money. Luckily, there are, in fact, ways to cruise for as little as $30 per day. It just takes a bit of skill, a lot of discipline, and a bit of sneakiness.
Note: Where did I get that price? That's the cheapest listed price on Cruise Sheet, a website I explain below. I've been tracking prices for months and that is generally the consistent cheapest figure.
How to Book a Cheap Cruise
Booking a cheap cruise is actually quite easy and requires only one thing: flexibility. See, cruise pricing is similar to tour pricing. The closer you get to the departure date, the lower the price becomes. Why? Because cruise ships don't want to depart with half-empty boats, so they drop prices steadily until that boat is leaving port, since for them empty cabins mean less money. Cruises make the majority of their money from what people purchase on board, so they want bodies on those ships. (Plus, most of the crew earns their money from tips, so they need to keep the crew happy—and besides, who is going to think highly of a cruise that is only half full?)
You can also book early but I find last minute bookings to be the best. And since you are booking close to departure, you need to be flexible with where you are willing to go or O.K. with not booking the actual cruise even if you booked your flights.
Another tip comes Doug Parker of Cruise Radio , "When the kids are in school, the rates are the best." This holds true in all travel but especially cruising because it is such a family activity. Don't travel when everyone else is traveling! If you do that or travel during the shoulder season, you can find the best rates. Chris from Orlando Chris also reiterates my recommendation and says, "Book far in advance or last minute for the best fares."
So where should you go to book your cruise? Doug advises that you start with a travel agent, as they have relationships with the cruise companies and can often get better rates and last minute deals. And my experience has me agreeing. While there are many "do it yourself" options, travel agents often can find much lower prices and can act as liaison to cruise companies when something goes wrong.
If you want to go with the "do it yourself" angle, you only need to go to two sources to find cheap cruises:
- Cruise Sheet
- Vacations to Go
Both of these websites do a great job of scouring the web for cruise deals. Vacations to Go is more of a travel agent/operator and thus often has better deals since they can negotiate with the cruise lines directly; keep in mind they add a lot of fees. Cruise Sheet is simply a website aggregator that crawls the web and then displays cheap last-minute fares. This is my favorite cruise site as it seems to find all the deals and makes finding a cheap cruise easy.
In terms of timing, don't book early. As Doug states, "the only benefit to booking early is to secure the room you want." If you want a specific cabin, book early. Otherwise, wait until the last minute. As I said in the beginning, cruise companies don't want to sail empty ships and so do heavy last-minute discounting—be sure to sign up for cruise company newsletters to stay informed!
Finally, if you book a cruise and the price drops, contact the cruise or your travel agent. They will often give you the difference as an onboard credit.
Three Things to Remember
Smaller is cheaper. Smaller boats tend to be less expensive since they offer fewer amenities and attractions.
Cruise in the off season. Traveling off season (Caribbean during the hurricane season, Alaska in September) will get you markedly cheaper fares.
Take a repositioning cruise. Repositioning cruises are when cruise lines move ships from one part of the world to the next in anticipation of the upcoming season. These "cruises" are a great way to cross an ocean or sail down a continent's coast on the cheap and can be found on any cruise booking website.
What about your flight? Don't book your flight with the cruise—book it separately. Check out this guide to finding a cheap flight to lower that cost .
How to Enjoy a Cheap Cruise
Cruises are not often all-inclusive and become increasingly less so each year. Chris states, "the gravy is what people spend on board." Cruise ships want you spending, since that's where they have the best margins. However, if you are smart and disciplined, cruises don't have to cost much more than the price of the cabin itself. Here's how to save money while on board:
Skip the soda. A long time ago, soda was free. Now, you have to pay around $3 USD for a tiny glass, or you can pay between $45-60 USD for a soda card that gives you unlimited soda for the duration of the cruise. You'd have to drink a lot of soda to make that worth it. Instead, stick to the free water, iced teas, and juices on the ship. Your wallet and insulin levels will thank you.
Say no to photos. Do you really need some cheesy "professional" photos of your family? I didn't think so. Get them done back home for less or take a digital camera and have someone take them for you on the ship.
Avoid the restaurants. On most cruise ships these days, there are specialty restaurants that you can book for an added cost. Some are à la carte, some charge a set fee. (The sushi restaurant I tried on the Oasis of the Seas was à la carte.) The food in the dining areas, the buffets, and the other shops—they are just as good and less costly. Avoid these specialty restaurants. (If you do decide to book, doing so before you board can generally save you 25%. Doug also suggests looking for dining packages as they work out cheaper, too.)
Limit your drinking. Six dollar beers and 10 dollar mixed drinks can really add up. Enjoy fun in the sun while sober and skip spending a ridiculous amount of money on booze . I was amazed at how quickly my alcohol bill added up after just a few days of wine with dinner and a couple of piña coladas while sitting by the pool.
Bring your own supplies. Cruise companies will let you can bring one case of your own water, soda, and beer, as well as a bottle of wine onto the ship.
Bring extra booze. If you do want to drink hard liquor while on board, get Rum Runners . These handy little bags allow you to pour alcohol into them and, because there are no air bubbles, escape the x-ray machine. You need to be sneaky but if you're smart, you can smuggle your own alcohol on board and avoid paying for high priced drinks.
Avoid the casino. This goes without saying.
Plan your own shore excursions. Cruise-run shore excursions are overpriced and crowded. Instead, do some research online and plan your own activities with local operators who will get to keep all the money. You'll save money, support the local economy even more directly, and avoid the hordes that will clutter your photos.
Just remember that the boat will leave without you so give yourself enough time to get back. Doug Parker recommends the company Shore Excursions Group whose activities are 30% cheaper and offers a guarantee that it will get you back to the boat in time.
Clean your own clothes. Having laundry done on a ship costs crazy money. Instead of sending a bag of clothes off to be cleaned, you pay per article like in really nice hotels. Frankly, my socks aren't worth $2 USD each. Instead, buy some Woolite and clean your own clothes in the bathtub or sink.
Skip the airport transfers. The airport transfers cruise companies offer are overpriced, and you can fit into a cab for a much cheaper rate.
Skip anything that costs money. This is obvious, but I like to cover all the bases. The spa, the shopping, the internet, the cell phone access, etc. They all cost money. Don't do it! Save the money for something cheaper back on dry land.
And remember if you do spend money on a cruise, by using the booking tips from the previous section, you should be able to get a free onboard credit that will cover some of your costs!
I think a cruise is a great vacation because it is a great chance to get away from it all, but a lot of people think they are expensive. And they can be, because it's the ancillary costs that really add up. But if you avoid all the additional costs and take advantage of your onboard credit, you can cruise for just the base rate of your cabin. It takes discipline to avoid that next piña colada, but you can do it. You can easily enjoy an entire cruise without spending a penny!
I like cruises. To me, it's a good vacation . Sitting on a boat by the pool, drink in hand, without a care in the world. I eat well (all day salad buffet), sleep well, head to the gym, and relax. I don't think of it as "travel" but more of a relaxing break.
How to Take a Cruise for as Little as $30 Per Day ⎪ Nomadic Matt
Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt . He got the travel bug after a trip to Costa Rica in 2004, and decided to quit his job, finish his MBA and travel the world. His original trip was supposed to last a year. Over six years later, he is still out exploring and roaming the world. He's scuba dived in Fiji, played professional poker in Amsterdam, taught English in Thailand, got lost in a jungle in Central America, and broke down in the middle of Australia's outback. Matt's advice has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian UK, Budget Travel, BBC, and Yahoo! Finance. His new 272 page, 60,000+ word book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day , is now available to help you travel cheaper, better, and longer. It contains tons of tips and tricks to cut your trip expenses in half whether you are going away for two weeks or two months.
Want to see your work on Lifehacker? Email Tessa .
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- Cruises for Families
5 Ways to Find Cheap Family Cruises
September 5, 2018
See recent posts by Courtney Elko
There are always ways to save when booking a family cruise vacation. Whether it’s choosing a budget-friendly family cruise line or choosing a departure location that isn’t far from home, you can certainly find a cheap family cruise that is fun for the whole family. Consider these saving tactics for a cheap family cruise.
1. Find a Port Close to Home
Where there’s an ocean, there’s a cruise port! Do a quick search to find the nearest cruise port. By removing the flight from your family cruise, you have already saved a bundle. Some popular ports of call include Baltimore; Boston; Cape Liberty, New Jersey; Norfolk, Virginia; New York; Fort Lauderdale; Miami; Orlando; Seattle and Tampa. There are numerous cruise options and itineraries out of these ports of call (as well as many others), so if you are within driving distance, this is a great way to create a cheap family cruise vacation.
2. Look for Kids Sail Free Promotions
Some cruise lines offer kids sale free packages and promotions. (Be aware that restrictions will very likely apply.) Royal Caribbean, which partners with DreamWorks and offers numerous kid-friendly onboard activities, often features a discounted rate for the “third or fourth person” in your cabin. This deal is not a guarantee, but it’s a good one to keep in mind when researching and booking. Norwegian Cruise Line also sometimes offers the “third and fourth passenger” discounted rates. Holland America, CroisiEurope, Crystal Cruises and the luxury cruise line, Paul Gauguin, also offer similar discounts for kids. And we love this one — MSC Cruises allows all children 12 years old and younger to sail free when they share a cabin with their parents!
3. Book Early (or Late)
A little research goes a long way when it comes to finding a cheap family cruise. Cruise lines often offer sales; you just need to find them. Wave season, considered a promotional time when many cruise lines offer deals, runs between January and March. Holidays can also be a good time to find and book a cheap family cruise. Many cruise lines offer early-booking deals. Advance booking is great if you know your exact travel dates and what you are looking for in a cruise. Or, if booking too far in advance is too much of a commitment, try finding a last-minute cruise deal. Cruise lines consider “last-minute” anywhere between a few days and a few months before the sailing.
4. Have Flexible Travel Dates
Obviously school breaks are the most convenient time to take a family vacation. But the cruise lines know this as well. If you have some flexibility with your travel dates, finding a cheap family cruise will be a lot easier. The summer and holidays are peak cruise times with larger price tags, but if you can set sail in the fall or early spring, it is a great way to save on your family cruise vacation (and possibly enjoy fewer crowds).
5. Take Advantage of Packages
Once you’ve booked your cruise, make sure to inquire about purchasing beverage packages in advance of your sail date. Whether it’s alcohol, soda or water, each cruise line has a different price and policy. Some lines even allow you do bring your own onboard so see what your cruise line and specific ship has to offer prior to boarding.
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8 MUST HAVE tips for cruising with a large family
Cruises / January 15, 2015 by Robyn / 7 Comments This article may contain sponsored content or affiliate links.
Planning a family cruise? Good call! A cruise is a great way to vacation with a large family. Once you get there, the itinerary, dining and entertainment are all taken care of, so you can just enjoy time with the family. I have taken two cruises to the Bahamas with my entire family in the past year and I hope to do it again because we had such a good time.
Here are my tips for cruising with a large family.
Don't be intimidated by booking two rooms
On the Disney Cruise Line, you can book adjoining rooms that feel like one large room. I originally felt like a Disney Cruise was impossible to afford, let alone two rooms, but as I researched further, I found that there were affordable cruises, even with two rooms, to accommodate our family of six. On another cruise line, I could not get adjoining rooms, but I was able to get two rooms next to each other which was also fine.
It's a lot less stressful to go on vacation when you have less to haul around. Cruise staterooms are small and luggage fees add up fast if you are flying to your port. Warm destinations require less bulky clothing. I have found that kids can wear most outfits twice.
Bring the proper documentation
Passports are the best documentation for everyone in the family. However, for most cruises, kids can board the ship with a birth certificate only. Check with your cruise line to make sure. I was told I could bring copies of my kids' birth certificates, but they needed to be a good copy on which the seal was clearly visible.
On our most recent cruise, we accidentally trashed our kids birth certificates in the hustle and bustle of our travel to the port and had to have a friend fax new copies to our hotel. They were not very good copies – for obvious reasons – and the cruise line was hesitant to allow us to board the ship. This was not fun for us and we will spring for passports for future travel.
Related: Cruise Advice – Top Tips for Your First Cruise
Take advantage of the kids club
We have taken our kids on two different cruise lines, Disney and Royal Caribbean, and were impressed with both kids clubs. They give you security bracelets and have activities for all ages. Some of our kids did not want to participate in the kids club and that was fine with us. Some of our kids wanted to go all the time. Kids clubs are a great option that made our vacation more fun.
Plan excursions in advance
My least favorite ports are the ones where I don't make plans. You don't have to book all of the reservations in advance, but do the research so you know your options. For example, we knew we were going to visit Atlantis on Nassau, Bahamas, but we waited until we got on the ship to book our tickets and ended up saving money. However, another excursion we wanted to do got canceled because not enough people (including us) signed up in advance and we had to get creative and make our own excursion.
Related: What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
Keep track of all of the kids on the ship
On the first day of the cruise, we take a tour of the ship to familiarize ourselves with the layout and room location in relation to the dining room and auditorium. It's hard to get lost because there's no getting off the boat. We felt comfortable allowing our older kids to come and go as needed.
Because you may not have have the use of your cell phones on a cruise, communication and planning become more important. We stayed together most of the time for simplicity.
Find alone time with your spouse
It can be easier to work in alone time on a cruise ship than on other types of vacations. On one cruise line, we had two rooms next door to each other, but they did not adjoin. Our children were old enough to stay in one room and my husband and I were in the other room. It gave us time in the evenings to watch a movie or enjoy down time while the kids watched cartoons and laughed with each other next door.
A friend with older kids told me how she and her husband put their kids to bed each night with cookies and milk from room service and then went dancing or to evening shows as a couple. The kids club offers late night babysitting for families with younger children.
Explore your dining options
On a cruise ship, there are several choices for dining. The buffet is almost always open. Additionally, there is an ice cream cone machine and other snack bars available on the swimming deck. On most ships, there are also assigned dining times in the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is open in the morning for breakfast during specified hours and there's also room service – all included in the fare of the cruise.
We found that we were happiest eating at the buffet for breakfast and lunch and then in the dining room for dinner. The buffet is more relaxed and you can eat as much as you want without waiting to be served. At peak times it was crowded, but we were always able to find a table with a little searching and patience.
In the restaurant, our only challenge was that the food was a little less kid-friendly. Of course, the Disney Cruise Line provides chicken nuggets and ketchup in Mickey Mouse form every night if desired, but the other cruise lines serve their regular menu for all ages. Our children found it a little intimidating to try new dishes, but they managed. As a parent, I liked exposing them to new things.
On many cruise lines, you will need to dine at the same time every night in the restaurant, and choose the time in advance. I like the earlier dining time but I have friends who prefer late dining. Late dining is less popular so sometimes cruise lines will offer incentives to encourage people to choose that time. Consider your evening entertainment options and bedtimes and then choose the time that works best for your family.
Related: Everything you need to know about cruise dining
Hopefully, these tips will help you plan a wonderful and memorable family cruise. Have you cruised with a family? If so, please share your tips and experience in the comments below!
Planning a family cruise?
We are proud to partner with Get Away Today Vacations for family cruises. Get Away Today is a family-owned company with 25 years of cruise travel experience and a commitment to customer service. Get $25 onboard credit on ANY cruise when you tell them Tips for Family Trips sent you.
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January 15, 2015 at 1:00 pm
January 23, 2015 at 9:54 am
Really good tips here, especially good to know about the dining options. I’ve never been on a cruise with my family and I have to say, I’m intrigued
January 23, 2015 at 10:43 am
April 3, 2018 at 5:14 am
I’d like to know how you get a good deal on Disney cruises. They are so expensive for this family of 5!
April 3, 2018 at 8:07 am
That’s a great question! Disney cruises are more expensive than most other family cruises because they are in high demand and they offer that special Disney magic. You probably will not ever find deep discounts on a Disney cruise, but you may find better pricing if you book well in advance and look at shorter itineraries at times when fewer families are cruising, like January. I would also call Get Away Today. They can book any cruise for the lowest available price and give you free personoalized advice on finding the best price on a Disney cruise.
January 22, 2020 at 10:29 am
Just an FYI: Royal Caribbean has non-suite rooms for 6 available. They can only be booked over the phone or through a travel agent, and they are not available on all ships. But we have stayed in them twice. They are the size of 2 rooms. Only one bathroom, but you don’t have to pay adult price for 2 kids, like you do if you book 2 rooms. You can also use kids sail free deals.
January 23, 2020 at 7:40 am
Thanks for the tip!!
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A coastal flood advisory and a coastal flood statement in effect for Monroe Middle Keys and Monroe Upper Keys Regions
4 accused of using fraudulent credit cards to spend thousands on carnival cruise, they were arrested after returning to miami.
Chris Gothner , Digital Journalist
MIAMI – Four cruise passengers hailing from Tennessee and Georgia didn’t have much to celebrate after the Carnival Celebration returned to PortMiami Sunday; police say they all spent big on the seven-day trip using fraudulent credit cards.
According to the Miami-Dade Police Department, authorities arrested Decari Demetrius Cradle, 29, of Goodlettsville, Tennessee; Chanell Latrice Howard, 31, of Stone Mountain, Georgia; Dominick Maurice Howard, 31, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and Gilbert Salcido, 31, of Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
Each member of the Southern quartet faces multiple counts of fraudulent use of a credit card as well as a single grand theft charge. Arrest reports don’t specify if or how the four were connected to or coordinated with one another.
The reports state that Carnival flagged each passenger after the multiple credit cards they used on the ship, and, in Chanell Howard’s case, to book the cruise itself, were declined. Police said the four couldn’t produce physical copies of the cards.
Dominick Howard was the biggest spender of the group, racking up a bill of almost $20,000, police said.
His arrest report states he cashed out a large sum of casino credits spent with the stolen cards. Police said U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found nearly $11,000 cash in his luggage.
Police said the others fraudulently charged anywhere from $2,700 to $12,000.
After their time on the “Fun Ship,” cops took the four from the cruise terminal to Miami-Dade’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
A judge gave each arrestee the following bond amount:
- Cradle: $17,000
- Chanell Howard: $16,000
- Dominick Howard: $26,000
- Salcido: $20,000
All four remained at TGK as of Monday afternoon.
Copyright 2023 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.
About the Author:
Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.
Home » Cruise Tips » How to Cruise for Cheap: Top Tips and Advice
How to Cruise for Cheap: Top Tips and Advice
How to Cruise for Cheap: We share our top tips and advice for making the most of your budget while still enjoying all a cruise has to offer.
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We think cruising is a great way to “sea the world one port at a time”. Cruise vacations allow you to see multiple new destinations for one set fare with many inclusions. However, all the other add-ons can rack up the bill rather quickly. Fortunately though, there are several ways to cruise for cheap. In this post, we share our top tips and advice for finding affordable cruises and making the most of your budget while still enjoying all a cruise has to offer.
How to Avoid the Most Costly Cruise Mistakes!
Top 16 Ways You Can Cruise for Cheap
1. cruise during off-peak times.
One of the best ways to save money on a cruise is to choose the right time to sail. Peak season, which typically falls during the summer months and major holidays, can be the most expensive time to cruise. However, if you are flexible with your travel dates and can cruise during the off-season or shoulder season, you can often find significant savings.
Off-peak times or shoulder season vary depending on the destination. For example, seasonal regions like Alaska and Bermuda are cheaper during the beginning and end of the cruise season. Similarly, if you want to cruise the Med for cheap, you should avoid the summer. In Europe, the off-season is generally from November to March, while the shoulder season is from April through the end of May and September to October.
While The Bahamas and Caribbean have idyllic weather year-round, there are still times when you can cruise for cheap. While hurricane season might sound like a bad idea, it’s actually one of the best times to cruise these regions if you are flexible on itinerary.
EXCLUSIVE SAVINGS: Get Top Cruise Deals Now!
2. Book Early
Booking a cruise as far in advance as possible can save you money. Plus, you will get the best selection of cabins, in addition to other benefits . For most of our vacations, we tend to book 8+ months in advance. In general, we have not found the price to get any cheaper than our original booking price over time. On the rare occasion that the price does drop after you’ve booked, you can usually get a price adjustment (be sure to read the fine print when booking though).
On the other hand, some travelers swear by last minute cruise deals. If you are willing to book your cruise at the last minute, you may be able to find discounted rates as cruise lines try to fill unsold cabins. If you have flexible vacation time or live near a cruise port, this tactic is also another way to cruise for cheap.
3. Watch for Cruise Line Deals and Promotions
If you have cruised before, you probably know that cruise lines run promotions throughout the year. These deals may include BOGO 50% off, kids sail free, free perks like drink packages, and more.
If you have a cruise in mind, you should check your email and the cruise line’s website frequently for such promotions to ensure you score the best deal when booking your cruise.
If you are looking for cheap family cruises, you should definitely time your booking with a “Kids Sail Free” or a “3rd and 4th Guest Sail Free” promotion. Most cruise lines will occasionally offer such sales, with NCL’s Free at Sea being the most common.
4. Pick the Right Ship
Yes, we admit that we love that new ship smell. However, if you are trying to cruise for cheap then you should probably avoid the newest ships with all the bells and whistles as these will usually have the highest price tags.
Within the same cruise region, you can usually find better deals on older (and smaller) ships. For instance, you can get a 7-night Caribbean cruise from Florida in July on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas starting at $1100 per person. However, the starting price on an Oasis Class ship for the same time is $600+ more per person.
When comparing these two ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet , Adventure of the Seas is smaller, older, and offers fewer amenities. Still, you can certainly have that same Royal Caribbean cruise experience that you know and love with the added benefit of cruising for cheap.
If you are looking for the cheapest cruise lines , we have you covered.
5. Consider a Shorter Itinerary
This might sound like a no-brainer, but shorter cruises will usually cost less money. Cruise lines now offer several 3 and 4-day options to places like the Bahamas. These quick getaways offer plenty of sun and fun both on the ship and ashore. Most of these itineraries also visit the cruise lines’ private islands .
From Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay or Disney’s Castaway Cay for families, to a relaxing beach day at Holland America’s Half Moon Cay or MSC’s Ocean Cay, to an adult-only experience at Virgin’s Beach Club at Bimini, there’s something for everyone.
Some cruise lines even have newer ships that sail these itineraries like Disney Wish or Scarlet Lady .
6. Sail from a Nearby Port
Another obvious way to save money on a cruise is to sail from a cruise port that is close to home. Eliminating flights and a pre-cruise hotel stay can save you some serious cash. With cruise ships departing from more and more locations in the United States, it might be feasible for you to find a cruise that is within driving distance to the port.
Besides Florida, cruise ships are home-ported in many other states such as Washington, California, Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. While some of these homeports, like Boston or Seattle, are seasonal, many offer year-round cruises to the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Mexican Riviera.
If you live in the New England area like us, Boston (or New York) to Bermuda are popular summer cruises. Canada and New England cruises are popular fall choices as well. Further, MSC Meraviglia will now sail year-round from Brooklyn offering more vacation options for those looking to cruise for cheap.
7. Try a Repositioning Cruise
In cruise lingo , a repositioning cruise is a voyage that begins and ends in a different location with the purpose of moving the ship to this new location. Repositioning cruises typically occur when cruise seasons change. For instance, some ships in the Caribbean move to Europe for the summer season. Other ships reposition to Alaska for the summer season.
A transatlantic cruise travels between Europe and North or South America. Obviously, the cruise ship will sail across the Atlantic Ocean. These cruises can be a repositioning cruise ; though, some lines sail this route regularly like Cunard.
Whether a repositioning cruise or a transatlantic cruise, these cruises typically have fewer ports of call and are priced considerably less than traditional 7-day cruises. Thus, this is a great way to maximize your time on a ship while still cruising for cheap. These types of cruises are for those who enjoy sea days ; though, they are probably not for those who are prone to seasickness .
8. Book an Inside Cabin
While having a balcony or oceanview cabin can be a great way to enjoy the scenery, it can also be more expensive. If you are willing to sacrifice a view, choosing an inside cabin can help you cruise for cheap.
Inside cabins are often the most economically priced when compared to other types of cabins, and you can still enjoy all the amenities and activities that the ship has to offer. After all, most passengers don’t spend much time in their cruise cabins anyway.
For example, when looking at Alaska cruise costs , an inside cabin on a 7-day roundtrip cruise on Princess Cruises starts at about $720 a person at double occupancy. A standard balcony cabin on the same sailing is currently over $1000 a person at double occupancy. So, an increase of 30% from the inside room rate.
9. Or a Guaranteed Cabin
If you can’t bring yourself to book an inside stateroom, then you should consider a guaranteed cabin . This selection can easily provide a cost savings versus reserving an exact room in the same category. With a “guarantee” status, you are locked into a room of that category but will not know your exact room location until closer to the sailing date. While you will be guaranteed a room in your desired category, there is always the chance for an upgrade with this option.
A guaranteed cabin is a great way to cruise for cheap. However, if you are picky about room location, it might be a cabin that you should avoid .
10. Use a Travel Agent
In all honesty, you almost never get the best deal when you book directly with the cruise line. While it is rare to find an advertised price by a travel agent that is lower than the cruise line’s website, the added value comes in other forms.
Of course, the right travel agent can provide first time cruisers with a wealth of information and insight during the decision-making process. However, even seasoned cruisers should use a travel agent if they want to cruise for cheap.
Why? They also offer PERKS! These perks are of a monetary value that is not directly tied to the actual cruise fare. They are things like onboard credit , free drink packages , free gratuities , and more.
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11. Avoid the Add-Ons
While a lot is included in your cruise fare, there are often extra fees for things like specialty restaurants, spa treatments, and internet access. To cruise for cheap, consider avoiding these extra charges or finding less expensive alternatives.
Modern cruise ships offer plenty of casual and complimentary dining options as well as elegant 3-course meals in the main dining room. Instead of paying for internet access, try to disconnect during sea days and use free WiFi in ports of call (or possibly your cell service). If you want a spa treatment, book a massage in a port of call instead.
12. Bring Your Own Alcohol
To cruise for cheap, skip the drink package. Yes, we said it! While cruise drink packages can be a way to save money vs. buying drinks on the ship individually, these packages are pretty pricey lately. Instead of buying a beverage package , bring your own alcohol onboard the ship.
While we would never recommend sneaking alcohol on a cruise ship, most cruise lines do allow guests to bring at least one bottle of wine or champagne onboard with them in their carry-on luggage . Some cruise lines, like Carnival, even allow guests to bring a limited number of non-alcoholic beverages onboard.
In addition, most cruise lines offer happy hours or BOGO promotions on select days and times. Free tastings, the Captain’s Reception, and loyalty parties are other great ways to score complimentary drinks.
Further, you can typically drink in port for much cheaper than on the cruise ship.
13. Skip Shore Excursions
While shore excursions can be a great way to explore a destination, they can also be expensive. To save money, consider exploring on your own. You could hire a local taxi, join a free walking tour, or research the port of call a bit and create you own personalized exploration.
If you would prefer an organized tour, consider booking a cheaper excursion through a local tour operator instead of through the cruise line. You can often find these tour operators online or through the port information center. There are also third party vendors like Shore Excursions Group or Viator that often sell cheaper and more personalized tour options.
If you do decide to book on your own in advance of your cruise, be sure to read the fine print regarding cancellation policies in the event that your cruise ship misses the port of call.
14. Purchase Extras Pre-Cruise
If you decide to purchase any of the above mentioned cruise add-ons, you should do so pre-cruise. Many items like drink packages , shore excursions, WiFi, or specialty dining can be purchased pre-cruise on the cruise line’s website.
Similar to booking your cruise, you will want to keep an eye out for sales and promotions on these items. You can often score deals from 10% to even 40% off certain items. If you book a package and subsequently find a cheaper rate, you can usually cancel up to a few days before your cruise and re-book at the cheaper price.
If you are looking to book a spa treatment, head to the spa on embarkation day . Along with getting a tour and learning about the services offered, you can usually get a deal by booking Day 1 of your cruise.
15. Take Advantage of Loyalty Programs
If you are a frequent cruiser, be sure to join the loyalty program offered by your favorite cruise line. These programs often offer benefits such as discounted rates and free amenities. By taking advantage of these programs, you can save money on future cruises and enjoy additional perks while on board.
For instance, Royal Caribbean gives cruisers with certain status in its Crown and Anchor Society discounts on balcony rooms on top of current promotions. Not to mention, cruisers of certain levels receive free drink coupons and discounts on photos, laundry services, and more.
So, sometimes it pays to stay loyal to a particular brand.
16. Use Rewards Points
Finally, another way you can cruise for cheap is to use credit card rewards points. Many cruise lines now have their own credit cards with which you can earn reward points. Cruise lines including Royal Caribbean , Norwegian Cruise Line , and Carnival Cruise Line all offer different credit card programs that let you earn points towards cruise discounts, onboard credit, and even free cruises.
We have taken advantage of these programs for a few cruises now courtesy of our cruise line credit cards.
Now that you know how to cruise for cheap, starting budgeting and planning that cruise!
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DB & The Princess
Welcome Aboard! We are Don and Heidi, the husband and wife travel team behind EatSleepCruise.com. We took our first cruise vacation together 13 years ago and have been hooked ever since. Follow along as we share our travel tips, cruise reviews, information on ports of call, and the latest cruise news to help you plan the ultimate cruise vacation. Are you ready to embark on your journey to “sea the world, one port at a time”?
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FAMILY TRAVEL ON A BUDGET: HOW TO AFFORD FAMILY TRAVEL
Post Summary: The ultimate guide on how to do family travel on a budget from former full-time family travelers. Our best travel tips, hacks, how-tos, and budgeting advice for family vacations on a budget.
Do you dream of traveling to charming or adventurous destinations together as a family? Who doesn’t, right? Family travel is where lifelong memories get etched into the storybook of a family. But if you’re like most families, you’re probably wondering…is frugal family travel even a thing?
Absolutely. Family travel on a budget is possible ! With the right know-how, resources, and proper planning, you can learn how to afford family travel .
Traveling with a family does provide a good dose of challenge and hearty problem solving, but money doesn’t need to be the reason you don’t travel together.
Here is our complete guide on budget family travel , including planning a family vacation on a budget and tips for reducing costs. It’s long and thorough and based upon our own trial and error experiences.
READ NEXT: 50 Bucket List Ideas For Family Travel In The USA The Best National Parks In The West 50 Inspirational Quotes About Family Travel
*This family travel on a budget post may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you purchase from them. This is at no extra cost to you. We only suggest what we think is truly awesome.
HOW TO DO FAMILY TRAVEL ON A BUDGET
Family Travel Is A Priority
I present this one first because I think there has to be a mental shift in your perspective if you desire to travel with family. Finding the means to travel as a family is a priority for us. It’s never IF we’re going to travel; it’s WHEN are we going to travel.
I say this with caution since I know there are people ready to clamor and shout, but but but I have work ! But but but the kids are in school . I know. Those are all real and valid points , and I would never reduce the realities of everyone’s day-to-day circumstances. Let’s be clear that travel with family requires the privilege of time and finances.
AND, if what you want is to travel, you’ll have to open a window (just a crack) in your mind to allow for the possibility of making travel happen for your family.
Just Say No To Spring Break Travel
If you’re looking to do family trip on a budget, you have to stop traveling during the high season. It’s basic supply and demand. The more people traveling, the more expensive lodging and airfare will be. If you choose to go to Florida in April during spring break, hotels will be astronomically expensive. If you fly to Europe in July and August, airfare will be at its highest.
Visit Arches National Park in winter or Paris in the fall, and you can cut your hotel and airfare costs by 40-70%. We visited Glacier National Park and Whitefish, Montana, in winter and paid $95 a night for a room that costs $400 a night in the summer. I kid you not!
Just because you’re traveling in the off-season doesn’t have to mean cold weather and rainy days. We traveled to Croatia in October when the cruise ships and crowds had left, and we had 80-degree days and plenty of sunshine.
An extra perk of traveling in the off-season is the crowds are gone. We traveled to the Virgin Islands with our son in the off-season, and it was delightfully quiet. Imagine an entire picture-perfect beach with only a handful of people.
In addition, look into traveling right after a major holiday. Instead of traveling on the 4th of July, Memorial Day Weekend, or Labor Day Weekend, look at getting away right after that to see if you can get better hotel and airfare rates. You’re almost always guaranteed a cheaper stay.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Traveling in the shoulder season or after a major holiday is one of the most tried and true tips on how to afford family travel. Research a destination you’re interested in and find out when their off-peak times are.
Consider Taking Your Kids Out Of School
Traveling in the off-season can be difficult when you have kids in school. Consider taking them out for a short period to have your fantastic budget family getaway.
I know. I know. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s disruptive, your school might frown on it, and some kids might not want to miss school.
This is a personal decision that you and your family have to figure out. If you’re hesitant about pulling them out of school, talk about it with their teacher and listen to their concerns so you can work with them to find a solution. Perhaps you have to schedule time on your vacation for the kids to do homework or lesson plans. It’s a great thing to do on the flight! Or maybe you work with the teacher to figure out a time in the school year when it’s not as burdensome for them to leave. For instance, not going right before a big project or test is on the schedule.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Take your kids out of school for a short period of time to get the best off-season rates.
Travel Where Your Money Goes Further
If you’re looking to learn how to travel cheap with kids, you have to expand your mind outside of typical “family destinations” like Hawaii and popular theme parks. You need to travel where your money goes further. Instead of Hawaii, consider other destinations with just as stunning (maybbe even better) beaches like Panama, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Instead of France or Italy, consider other magical countries in Europe like Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. These places are just as charming and, if you travel in the off-season, ridiculously cheaper than other popular European destinations.
Many of the cheaper alternatives listed above can be done with a daily budget of $50-$100 a day. We spent eight days in Nicaragua and paid $800 per person, including airfare! Yes, airfare will probably be your most expensive item, but we’ll get tips on finding good deals later.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Traveling on a budget means trying out destinations that aren’t as “popular” but are easy on the wallet. If you have a dream destination like Hawaii, google “cheap alternatives to Hawaii” and see what comes up.
Credit Card Points Are Your Friend
Credit card points are one of my favorite ways to earn money for a trip. Many people opt to use debit cards as their sole card, but not using credit card points to your advantage is letting your money go to waste!
Now let’s be clear, the following advice is ONLY if you can pay your total balance every month. If you can not, this advice is not meant for you. Any points you earn will quickly become worthless with the interest you pay by holding a balance, not to mention the health of your credit score.
Some people go really in-depth into the points world. They hold multiple credit cards, do all the sign-up bonuses, chat on points and miles forums, and have intricate spreadsheet systems detailing their credit card points. That is not me. I keep it real simple. I use the credit card that’s best for my spending habits, and that’s it. While there are credit cards that offer great rewards for travelers, it’s only beneficial to you if you travel A LOT. Why get a card that offers Uber credits, lounge access in airports, and 5X points for airfare if you only go on a trip once a year?
I use the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card because it’s a cashback card that offers 6% back on groceries, 3% cash back on gas and transit, and a $300 sign-up bonus. Because groceries are our biggest credit card expense, it’s a no-brainer for us to have a card that gives us 6% cash back on groceries. Last year, I earned $900 in cashback. If you’re saving for a big trip, $900 goes a long way to help cover airfare or lodging. You can learn more about it with my referral link to the Blue Cash Preferred Card.
A common travel hack is to open up a credit card with a big sign-up bonus to capitalize on that extra windfall. Most sign-up bonuses for credit cards entail spending a certain amount of money within an allotted time, for example, $5000 in the first three months. For me, it’s only worth it if your everyday expenses are that much or if you know you’ll be buying a big-ticket item like a new washer/dryer or plane tickets.
Another way to capitalize on the sign-up bonus is to sign up for a hotel credit card like Marriott or Hilton which both offer a generous sum of points at sign up. That lump sum of points could get you a few days free in a hotel. A great choice if you know you have travel plans in the future and want to reduce lodging costs. Just make sure to get the credit card several months in advance to ensure you have the points for when you need to book.
We also use the Southwest Credit Card since we fly Southwest a lot, and it’s a convenient airline for our needs. I discuss it in the “choosing a family-friendly airline” section.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Let your spending earn you money by using a credit card with a great cashback or points system that you can use toward your family travel budget.
Price Compare Home Rentals and Hotels
There was a time when peer-to-peer rental services like Airbnb and Vrbo offered the best bang for your buck when traveling as a family. With rising service fees and outlandish cleaning fees, I’m not entirely convinced that home rental services are the best way to go. That being said, it’s still the first place I look when scouring out lodging deals for a destination. When making a price comparison of a hotel to a home rental, you’ll want to budget in the extra perks of staying at a home rental which includes a kitchen to cut down on eating out, multiple rooms, laundry, a backyard for your kids to play in, and the privacy of your own home.
In general, if you’re only staying somewhere for one to two nights, a hotel will be cheaper since the cleaning and service fees can make the final bill more expensive than a hotel. If you’re staying for longer, a home rental typically wins out.
When looking for a hotel, take advantage of a site like booking.com that offers immediate discounts for email subscribers and a straightforward cancellation policy. The cancellation policy is great when you’re in the travel planning stage because you can book something and secure a rate while continuing to look for better offers. Booking also has a free loyalty program that offers 10-20% off, free breakfast, and upgrades if you consistently book with them.
KEY TAKEAWAY : Compare home rentals to hotels to see where the best price is, but don’t forget the value of having your own kitchen, more room, and private space of a home rental.
Consider Camping, Glamping, or an RV Rental
If hotels and home rentals are too steep, a camping trip is ideal for family travel on a budget. When we were planning a trip to Yellowstone , we were blown away by how expensive the hotels were in the park. The only way we could swing it was to camp in the park. We spent seven days camping in the park and paid roughly $225 for our entire stay. $225 is not even enough to cover one night at a hotel in Yellowstone! Plus, we entered the park on one of their annual free days , so we didn’t even pay to visit the park.
Camping does have some significant upfront costs (buying a tent, sleeping bags), but the good thing is you can use it repeatedly, allowing the investment to be worth the price. You can also look into renting camping gear from REI if you don’t want to own camping equipment.
If camping isn’t how you love to vacation, you can look into renting an RV, travel trailer, or campervan through the peer-to-peer site Outdoorsy or the campervan rental site Escape Campervans . You can rent a cozy RV and stay at a lovely campsite for a long weekend or try a long road trip exploring the National Parks of the East Coast or the beaches of the Pacific Coast Highway. You could even boondock and find free camping spots to further reduce your costs.
KEY TAKEAWAY: If hotels and house rentals are too expensive, look into camping or renting an RV as an alternative.
READ NEXT: Our Best Tips For Camping With A Toddler
Find Alternative Lodging
A unique way to do family travel on a budget is to do a home swap. The basic idea is you swap homes with someone in a destination you would like to visit. Typically, you would need to come up with an agreement with another family, but Home Exchange has made it easier by also offering the ability to stay at someone’s house without needing to swap. That’s convenient if you don’t live in a location where people want to visit.
You can sign up for free, but if you register you get a bunch of free points that could get you three to five days at a coveted destination for the cost of a $175 registration fee. My advice is to at least sign up for free to get some signup points. Browse around the site and you’ll see that it’s a fantastic choice when looking for cheap ways to travel with family. You can use my referral code here to get extra sign-up points .
Score Cheap Airline Tickets
That title is a little misleading because I’m not sure I would ever call plane tickets “cheap,” but there are certainly ways to reduce the costs of airline tickets. As a general rule, you’ll want to try to fly from Tuesday-Thursday. Weekends tend to be more expensive simply because more people are traveling.
I suggest using Skyscanner or Scotts Cheap Flights when looking for good flight deals.
Scott’s Cheap Flights is a paid membership program with a pared-down free version. We started with the free membership but ended up upgrading because we liked it so much. They send out emails with mistake fares, and you can sign up to get specific updates to certain areas and airports. If you’re flexible, you can use it to inspire travel. We once saw a deal for a round trip flight to Japan for $170. It was insane! It took everything we had to not immediately board a plane to Japan. You can learn more about Scott’s Cheap Flights here .
Skyscanner is another excellent tool that is essentially an aggregator. With so many different aggregator sites to choose from, it comes down to ease of use. Skyscanner is simple, straightforward, and best of all, you can sign up for price alerts and get notified when prices drop for a flight path you want to take. That’s a KEY feature and something you’ll definitely want to do if you have a set destination in mind. You can also use the site to browse cheaper destinations. Just put “everywhere” for where you want to go, a departing airport, and they’ll show you a long list of options. You can learn more about Skyscanner here .
If you can remain open about our destination, a good tactic is to see where you can get cheap flights and choose to explore that place.
Don’t forget to check out smaller airlines that might not appear in aggregator searches like Avelo Airlines and Frontier . They are budget airlines that reduce amenities (drinks, choosing your seat) to bring costs down.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Use smart tools and price alerts to find cheaper flights, but also be open to not having a set destination and traveling to a place where you can score low-cost flights.
READ NEXT : How To Survive Flying With A Baby
Choose Family-Friendly Airlines
When choosing an airline, most people will understandably pick the cheapest airfare, but don’t forget to include extra costs that airlines tack on to the price. The cost to check luggage for a family can easily be an additional $100 for a roundtrip flight.
While Southwest Airlines isn’t an illustrious airline with a highly developed tiered class system or a fancy airport lounge, they are GREAT for family travelers. What do we love about them? Everyone gets two bags checked for free . While I love to pack light, traveling with a family often means a lot of stuff, so getting to check your luggage for free is ideal.
Whenever you’re searching for flights, remember to go direct to Southwest since they NEVER show up on aggregator sites like Skyscanner or Kayak. Cross-reference the prices and factor in the cost of checking luggage.
Southwest is our ideal choice since they have multiple options for domestic flights, affordable tickets, free checked luggage, and they have a companion pass !!
The companion pass is a benefit you earn where a single person can fly with you FOR FREE for the year you earn it and the following calendar year. Anyone can acquire the pass by applying for a Southwest Credit Card and flying 100 one-way flights or earning 125,000 points.
Most people won’t be able to swing either of those in a year, though it’s not impossible, especially if you’re using a Southwest business card and you have high business expenses. If you can be really organized, and you have a lot of high ticket purchases to make, many people try to earn the pass at the beginning of the year so they can use it for almost two years.
Realistically, your best bet is to get a companion pass when they offer it as a promotional bonus for signing up for a credit card. That’s how we did it! We signed up for the credit card and earned the companion pass plus a slew of bonus points. We did it right before we knew we were going into a year of high travel and used it countless times. We saved well over $1000 using our companion pass for one year. Also, we were traveling with a child under two, so three of us got to travel, and we only paid for one person. It felt like winning the lottery!
Get on their email list and keep an eye out for when they do the Companion Pass promotion. I notice they do it about once a year. You can use our referral link here to learn about the different Southwest Credit Cards .
*Many people don’t like Southwest’s open seating policy where it’s first come, first served for seats. Families traveling with young kids always get to board between the A and B groups, so you’re guaranteed to sit together. We’ve never had a problem getting seats together.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Don’t forget about the cost of checking luggage and factor that into your budget. Also, don’t forget about Southwest Airlines since they don’t appear in aggregator searches.
Use Turo For Car Rentals
If you’re at a location that requires a car, the first place to look for budget car rentals is Turo . It’s a peer-to-peer car rental service, and you can find GREAT DEALS. We have used the service twice and love it. We used it when living in Asheville when we needed to rent a car for two months. We paid $10 a day for our rental!
Typically, there is a set destination for picking up and dropping off, but the great part of using Turo is you’re dealing with a real person. One time we didn’t even have to drop off our rental at the airport since it was more convenient for the car owner to come to our home rental. We literally left the car on the street where our Airbnb was, and he picked it up himself. It was so easy!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Car rental prices are at an all time high. See if you can get a better deal at Turo, a peer-to-peer rental service.
Embrace The Road Trip
You can do all the travel hacking in the world and still not be able to find cheap flights. Even if you find cheap flights, if you have a large family, the deal isn’t so great when you multiply it by six. When flying is out of your budget, it’s time to embrace the road trip.
Yes, gas is expensive, but it’s still cheaper than flying. We are a family that road trips A LOT, and I tell you, once you do it a few times, you realize it’s really not that bad to be in the car for that long. In fact, we made a cross-country road trip in our renovated vintage camper with our three-year-old! The road trip will always be the top choice for anyone looking for how to travel cheap with family.
Do some research to see what is nine to ten hours from you. Or make a family road trip that extends over several days where you hit up a few different places spread throughout an area. An epic family bucket list item is to make a Utah National Parks road trip .
K EY TAKEAWAY: When flights aren’t doable for your family, pack up the car and go on a road trip.
READ NEXT: How To Road Trip With A Toddler Like A Boss 8 Phenomenal Cross Country Road Trips
Limit Eating Out
Not eating out every night is perhaps our biggest tip for when you’re trying to do family travel on a budget. We never eat breakfast out and often try to do all three meals at home. And I’m someone who LOVES to eat out. Believe me, I would much rather enjoy fresh local food than make turkey sandwiches for lunch, but it’s a small sacrifice to make for the pleasure of traveling and being together.
If you still want to enjoy eating out while on a family vacation, try to do two meals at your rental or hotel and one meal out a day. At the very least, eat breakfast by bringing cereal, milk, yogurt, or oatmeal or staying at a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast.
If we’re staying at a house rental, we bring groceries with us or buy some once we get there, so we have supplies in the house. Even if we’re staying at a hotel, as long as it has a mini-fridge and a microwave, we can make a few meals with that setup. Our go-to hotel meal with only a mini-fridge and microwave is Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, ready-made salad packs, and bread and olive oil. Traveling with small packets like this Marconi Olive Oil are game-changers!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Don’t forget about the cost of food on your travel budget! Plan to have 1-2 meals at your hotel or rental to majorly cut down on costs.
TIP : If your hotel room doesn’t have a microwave, you can sometimes call ahead, and they’ll put one in the room for you. It’s worked for me many times!
Look For Free Things To Do
When planning your itinerary, try to do a few free things to curb costs. Waterfall hikes, days at the beach, and self-guided walking tours are excellent kid-friendly activities that are all FREE. Here is where Google is your friend. When researching your destination, do a simple search for “free things to do in XYZ” to discover some exciting options in the area.
National Parks are a great choice since it’s typically one flat rate per vehicle and lasts for seven days. For inspiration, you can read our article about 12 fantastic National Parks For Kids .
KEY TAKEAWAY : On your family trip, plan a few activities that are free to offset costs of pricy tours and activities.
Check Out Package Deals
I’m going to be straightforward; our family doesn’t tend to do package deals. But in the interest of giving you the best information possible on how to score family travel on a budget, I feel remiss if I leave package deals out of our article.
Heres’ the deal, a package deal MIGHT be cheaper, and it also MIGHT NOT. In my experience, it’s not more affordable, but it is definitely more convenient. For family travelers, convenience isn’t something to ignore. Sometimes it’s nice to have everything taken care of in one go. We are independent travelers who prefer to have more control over our choice of lodging.
My advice is to cross-reference and check out the individual costs of the flight and hotel to see if you’re truly saving money.
We can’t recommend any package deals personally, but Costco Travels seems to be the one everyone touts as having the best vacation deals. Check it out and see if their prices (plus the convenience factor) are cheaper than individually buying airfare and lodging.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Package deals could potentially save you money, but you should always individually check the direct hotel and airfare price to see if it’s truly saving you money.
Travel With Friends or Family
Consider traveling with friends as a way to afford family travel. Splitting the cost of a three-bedroom VRBO can significantly reduce your costs.
For example, say you’re planning a long weekend in Boise and needed three nights at a hotel. Three nights in June in Boise at a mid-tier hotel for one room would cost you around $700 total. An upscale three-bedroom home for three nights in June in Boise would cost also you around $700. Except, now you’re splitting it in half, bringing your total to $350, and you have a kitchen, backyard, a separate room for your kids, and free parking. It’s a no-brainer to me!
Plus, traveling with friends and family means your child or children have other people to bounce their all-consuming energy onto.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Traveling with friends and family can cut your lodging costs in half. Find good travel companions and make some memories!
Think Outside Of The Box
Finally, trying to do family travel on a budget requires flexibility, planning, and creative thinking. It might require more work, but there’s something so satisfying about working hard to pull it all off. Or is that just me?
Decide what’s most important to you and let that be the North Star that guides your vacation planning. For us, it’s always about exploration, ease, and having fun together. None of those things require spending a lot of money.
To have your dream family vacation on a budget, you might need to road trip to your destination, camp for two days, and stay at a home rental for three days to make the trip work. You might need to make all of your meals at home and enjoy free activities like playing at the beach or hiking to a lookout point. It might mean scrapping your vision of frolicking on the beaches of Hawaii and instead exploring the pastel homes of St, Augustine, Florida.
I can practically guarantee you that your children value time spent with their family in a loving environment more than they need expensive trips to far-flung destinations.
Are you ready to plan some epic family travel on a budget? We hope our post on how to afford family travel helps you out.
If you have any other tips or tools for planning a family vacation on a budget, let us know in the comments below. We love to hear tips from fellow travelers.
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Hi, we’re Christina and Brad, former full time family travelers who have happily settled into part time nomad life in Idaho. What does that mean? We travel…a lot. As professional travel writers and photographers, we love to help fellow parents and everyday adventurers travel easier and deeper.
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Amazing post!!! These tips are very handy if you have a big family and a limited budget. Even I agree that travelling off-season is the best if you want to save money on your entire travel. Keep sharing such helpful posts with the readers.
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Stuck with a $20,000 bill? Oceania guests struggle for refunds amid major cruise changes
Editor's note: Oceania Cruises issued the Sherwoods a full refund after publication of this story.
Janet and Joe Sherwood's bucket list trip became a burden.
The couple booked a Nov. 29 cruise from Istanbul to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with Oceania Cruises, but in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war , the cruise line – like many others – adjusted its plans, altering the itinerary dramatically. The roughly three-week sailing aboard the Riviera ship, set to visit Haifa, Israel; Luxor, Egypt; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, only retains about half of its original ports, including the start and end points.
After calling Oceania last week, the Hoschton, Georgia, couple said the line told Joe that they also could apply the more than $20,000 they spent to another cruise as long as they rebooked by Nov. 30. But two days later, after Janet heard from another passenger that the offer had been rescinded, Joe called back and was told the same thing.
Oceania Cruises declined USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The couple is among several Oceania guests who have struggled to get refunds or compensation in the wake of drastic changes to planned sailings. Multiple guests said they felt locked into cruises they wouldn’t have chosen to take.
After appealing their case, the line's Vice President of Global Guest Services Carlos Ortega told the Sherwoods Oceania would not issue any compensation or future cruise credits for canceled reservations.
"As all of our itinerary changes were carefully evaluated with the guest experience in mind, the revised voyages feature culturally rich and historically significant ports across Italy, Greece and Turkey, full of UNESCO World Heritage sites, unique culinary experiences and cultural treasures," he said an email last week, which the couple shared with USA TODAY.
“It’s a terrible situation, and I certainly feel sorry for the people who are living there and having to deal with this. It’s just horrible,” said Janet Sherwood, a 77-year-old real estate agent. “But I feel like that really doesn’t affect the decision (Oceania made on how to handle) this.”
She said the trip cost more than they would normally spend but included destinations like Israel and Egypt, where she had wanted to go for years. She said being on the financial hook for a much different trip she would not have booked feels wasteful.
She also has safety concerns. The U.S. State Department has multiple travel advisories in place for the region and issued a “worldwide caution” for Americans overseas last month.
They contacted American Express, their credit card company, who Janet said tentatively offered to reimburse around $18,000 – though the request is still pending. The couple also bought travel insurance through Oceania but said their policy would not cover those kinds of itinerary changes.
Oceania told Joe Sherwood the line would refund the taxes the couple paid if they decided not to go, though the couple did not know how much that would be, and credited the price of excursions for canceled ports.
“They’re within their legal right to do what they have done,” Janet Sherwood said. “But it isn't right.”
Jared Feldman, owner of travel agency Jafeldma Travel, told USA TODAY in June that the contracts guests agree to when they book are “very cruise line friendly.” But while the lines may not owe passengers compensation , they sometimes offer it as a goodwill gesture.
On most Oceania cruises, passengers must pay 100% of their cruise fare for cancellations made 60 days or less before departure, along with any optional facilities and service fees, according to the line’s guest ticket contract .
The Sherwoods received notice of the most extreme itinerary changes to their Nov. 29 sailing on Oct. 20, 40 days before.
'Getting something completely different than what you bought'
Steven Alves and Jeff Hull had to fight for a refund on their cruise. The Florida couple booked a 40-day sailing with Oceania from Barcelona, Spain, to Singapore to celebrate 22 years together.
The stops included many first-time destinations for the pair, including Haifa; Luxor, and Aqaba, Jordan. “We booked it for the itinerary,” said Alves, who is 52 and works in business consulting.
Oceania altered most of the first half of the Nov. 18 sailing aboard its Nautica ship. The line also made changes to the second half.
Alves said the line initially declined to refund any of the more than $35,000 they spent on the cruise. They heard that other guests had received an offer for a future cruise credit, and their travel agent told them Oceania said they could apply their fare to a future voyage if they rebooked by Nov. 30.
But two days later, the couple was told by Oceania the policy had changed – hours before being notified about major itinerary revisions, Alves said. Their travel agent did not immediately respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.
The new portions of Alves and Hull’s itinerary centered more heavily on Italy, where they had been before, and at one point included more than a week straight of sailing. Alves spent hours canceling car and hotel reservations for overnight stops at ports the ship will no longer visit.
Cruise travel insurance: Why you might not want to buy it through the cruise line
After they appealed their case, Ortega told Hull last week that the line was not issuing future cruise credits or penalty waivers at that time for changes related to the war.
“We understand the disappointment these revisions may have caused but hope that our guests and travel partners share in the understanding that these circumstances are outside of anyone's control,” he said in an email, which Hull shared with USA TODAY.
However, the couple's travel agent called on Thursday to tell them the line had reversed course and would issue them a full refund.
"It's a horrible thing that's going on," Alves said of the war.
"But our stance is, the cruise line should understand that you're getting something completely different than what you bought," added Hull. "And this is not something cheap. It takes a lot of time to do, a lot of planning."
Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at [email protected].