Cruising is among the best ways to see a region’s highlights without the hassle of driving, foreign languages or changing hotels. But veteran cruise passengers often get a lot more value from their experience than first-time cruisers simply because they know the ropes.
Before choosing a ship or itinerary for your family, learn the basics of cruising to find the best value, see the best places and make the most of the shipboard experience.
Look for the Real Value of a Cruise
Free airfare and shore excursions mean big savings, especially if the cruise line doesn’t ordinarily offer them. These bonuses are often added to attract passengers on less popular sailing dates or fill empty cabins close to departure. Ask if some sailing dates include free air or other perks not normally included that represent real savings. Compare costs with and without airfare packages to be sure it’s a better deal than making separate air arrangements. But be sure the cost of getting from the airport to the ship, normally included in packages, doesn’t eat up any savings.
Consider whether all-inclusive ships, including alcoholic drinks, are a real savings — for those who drink sparingly, the added cost of these cruises might not be. Tipping adds significantly to the cost of a cruise. Know if tips are discretionary, added on to your bill automatically, or if the ship has a no-tip policy.
Read the Fine Print About Destinations
What is the purpose of your cruise? If it is to have family time together in a different place with lots of activities, the destination and shore stops don’t matter so much. But if it’s to combine this with real-time travel experiences, then details of port stops matter a lot. Be sure they are places you really want to see and interest your family members.
Check the Fine Print for How Long the Ship is in Port — and Time of Day
A three-hour stop in a major port may barely be time enough to get off the ship before it’s time to re-board. Consider what time the ship arrives and leaves. A stop late in the day may arrive after museums and attractions close. An overnight stay departing early in the morning may leave little useable time. Some cruise lines cut docking costs by arriving at less-popular hours when other ships have left, but they can still list the port on the itinerary.
Know the Real Value of a Shore Excursion
Before booking expensive shore excursions, do a little research to learn the sightseeing alternatives. With more than three people it’s often less expensive to hire a private English-speaking guide with a car — you can reserve these easily in advance. Or take a taxi — there are always plenty waiting at the docks and you can arrange with the driver to pick you up for the return. These details are often as simple as looking at a map on the internet. Remember many shore excursions are just bus rides past the sights without entering — your kids would rather actually explore a place than drive past.
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