Traveling as a group is rewarding, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Deciding where to go, what to do, and who to bring, often makes the entire experience exhausting. After deciding on a group cruise, the work intensifies. You may wonder how to organize a group cruise in a way that guarantees a great vacation.
If the initial prospect sounds daunting, don’t despair! You’ll enjoy a worry-free group cruise with a bit of planning and dedication. While you can’t avoid some of the hectic aspects of planning, we’re providing some helpful tips on how to organize a group cruise as easy as possible.
Why You Might Want To Plan A Cruise For Your Next Group Vacation
Deciding on a group cruise is a great adventure. You have the experience of the ship, plus all of the amenities that come with it. Many times, pools, hot tubs, water parks and even live music grace the lido deck throughout the day and night.
Beneath the party up above are, countless opportunities for shopping, gambling, shows and more food than you could possibly eat. Plus, there are innumerable activities for groups depending on the ship. You’d be surprised at the options, like ice skating, ropes courses and even go-karts are available for some cruise lines.
Regardless of the goal, an epic adventure awaits. Keep reading to learn how to organize a group cruise, and the next time a group trip comes up, there’ll be nothing to worry about!
How to Organize a Group Cruise
Whether the group cruise is for a school function, family reunion, a company retreat or just a large group of friends looking for a getaway, we’ve got you covered. The first step in organizing a group cruise is to take a deep breath. It doesn’t have to be too stressful, and some easy-to-remember steps will keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
Keep in mind that cruises can be expensive. Traveling to and from the port city alone will add hundreds of dollars to the adventure. And, whether you’re on ship or shore, vendors tend to inflate prices. Additionally, cell service and Wi-Fi also cost extra. Reach out to carriers to see if they offer discounts, or for tips on how to avoid costs altogether.
The following suggestions for how to organize a group cruise will help keep your vacation planning on track.
Appoint a Group Leader
Every group has a leader. That includes the group going with you on the cruise. Whether you are the one who came up with the idea, or it was a group decision, someone needs to be in charge.
The group leader is the person who’ll be responsible for the majority of the planning and research for the group cruise. They’ll maintain clear communication, organize prices, manage booking details, and even send out invites if necessary. With one person directing the logistics, you can ensure the plan runs smoothly.
Organization is vital, and ideally, the leader should be the most organized member of the group. Forgetting crucial aspects of the trip is not an excellent way to keep everyone happy. A group doesn’t need to necessarily vote on a leader, since the person who came up with the idea can appoint themselves.
Regardless of who you decide, someone needs to be in charge. Appointing a group leader will prevent confusion, debate and hurt feelings. It’s a necessary step in the planning, and will make the rest of the groundwork much more manageable.
Also, remember that the group leader doesn’t have to do it alone, and everyone should help with planning when necessary.
Choose a Cruise Line and Location
Once a group leader is appointed, the next step is deciding your cruise destination. The group leader, or someone else if the trip is a sponsored event, might have already determined the cruise’s location. Otherwise, plenty of excellent cruise vacation options exist. Popular destinations include the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Mediterranean.
Deciding where to go can be done as a group or individually. Many groups opt for the invite solution, where the leader has already decided both the location and cruise line, and simply invites guests to be a part of the experience.
After deciding on a location, it’s easier to determine a cruise line since the options will likely narrow. It’s essential to balance the goals and experience of the group when deciding on a line. Several companies offer themed ships, ships that cater to families, and adults-only cruises. Also, different cruise lines will offer different discounts and arrangements for groups – depending on the size. Check several to try and get the best deal.
Every cruise line will offer different amenities. Check for these additional offerings before booking. Finally, know where the ship will make port. Shore excursions are half of the experience, and finding the best beaches, points of interest, and activities should be in your calculations.
Book Everything Well in Advance
Don’t wait too long to book everything. Especially when traveling with a large party, nothing is worse than encountering sold-out events, or limited ticket offerings that leave half the group on the out. To avoid those dissappointments, book everything well in advance.
By booking early, you don’t just ensure that you have a place, but there are often early-bird discounts you can take advantage of. Plus, you’ll find the best rates, with the most extensive availability, by booking early.
Early booking is also advantageous for those with specific travel requirements or tight schedules. Families with children traveling during peak season or high-traffic times find that booking early eliminates much of the stress, allowing everyone to focus on the cruise, not the planning.
Partner with a Cruise Travel Agent
It may seem somewhat cliched, but a travel agent can help navigate the difficulties of planning a cruise for a large party. They specialize in handling groups, and booking at group rates.
Often, travel agents have excellent relationships with many cruise lines. These great relationships allow agents to secure discounts, special pricing, or group rates when booking. You might not have access to many of these options when planning on your own.
Travel agents can potentially land extra perks like ship credits, better cabins, free photos, cocktail parties, etc. You may even secure yourself a suite for doing all the work organizing the group cruise! Be sure to ask about what incentives they offer.
Finally, travel agents have access to tools to split invoices and send individual itineraries to group members. By partnering with a cruise travel agent, much of your planning is streamlined, leaving only the vacation to enjoy.
Email is Your Best Friend
Verbal communication is the worst way to communicate when organizing a group cruise. Details often get forgotten, and trips end in disaster because someone didn’t properly communicate something. These scenarios are where email is your best friend.
Emails are a great way to communicate with everyone all at once with the exact same information. It provides a hard copy of all the content and ensures data is easy to access.
Communicate with your agent via email to avoid confusion, and have a paper trail to track promises, or other confirmations. It’s likely that they’ll already be emailing you constantly, but be sure you can trace every detail back to an email.
You can also use technology to create digital content with crucial dates, reminders, times, locations, links, maps, and tickets. This can be a great way to connect everyone in the group, as long as group members are technologically savvy.
You can also create dedicated social media groups. These groups will allow you to communicate information, so everyone knows what’s going on. Plus, it’s a great way to share all the fun once you’re on the cruise.
Build a Master Timeline
By this point in organizing your group cruise, you should have a master timeline set up. This master timeline should include everything from payment dates, travel dates and shore dates. It’s also a great way to make sure you know when to start packing. Last-minute packing is how you forget essential items.
A master timeline can also help solidify your group’s itinerary and other scheduled events. It’ll be evident if activities don’t line up, and you can make arrangements early rather than later.
The master timeline will be your go-to for finalizing your itinerary when organizing your group cruise. Be sure to share the master timeline with everyone in the group if deciding things diplomatically, so everyone has an opportunity to have their input valued.
While a master timeline is essential, it also must be established early in the planning process. Build in some flexibility to the schedule, too. So should something go wrong, there is wiggle room.
Sharing the timeline early also allows everyone to get familiar with it. Again, remember that the group cruise is to have fun, not to stress.
Establish Off-Ship Plans Early
Most cruises have opportunities to leave the ship for a while and explore some exciting places. The group leader should decide, or decide as a group, on how to spend shore time. Obviously, not every moment needs to be spent together, but you should figure that out in advance. Now’s an excellent time to book any last-minute group activities or events to avoid any issues.
As you organize your group cruise, you may want to do a special event. Depending on the cruise line, private tours are sometimes possible, as is special shore time or excursions not available to other passengers. Check with your agent to see if any of these apply.
Some cruises also offer sponsored excursions like on-shore adventures, swimming, scuba diving or snorkeling experiences. These offerings are also an excellent way for your group to split up and have adventures in a tighter setting.
If you plan to visit local towns when the ship makes port, understand local customs and regulations. Also, check to see if there are warnings against travelers making their way outside of tourist areas. Some cities, like Cancun, are safe only to a point. Any space beyond the tourist areas can be pretty dangerous.
Schedule Some Alone Time
Speaking of splitting up, the point of a cruise is to have fun. When organizing your group cruise, fit in some alone time so everyone has an opportunity to explore the ship, or shore, on their own. Everyone has a different idea of what excitement looks like, so give everyone the chance to have fun.
Free time is healthy for your group, too. Some away time from the larger group can be excellent for relaxing and recharging. Many ships offer shopping, spas, sports, swimming, dining, and more, for everyone to have a great time.
Splitting up doesn’t have to mean everyone is on their own. It could mean splitting into smaller groups for activities aboard the ship. Suppose the group cruise is part of a company retreat or school function. In that case, small group activities can be a great team-building exercise. You can even plan a scavenger hunt that includes items across the ship, or on-shore.
It’s essential to be flexible with your schedule. Stressing out about sticking to the plan every minute of the day will take away from relaxing on your cruise.
Plan to Arrive a Day Early
While it’s necessary to keep stress to a minimum, it’s also vital to mitigate unforeseen circumstances as they happen. One of the easiest ways to do that is by planning to arrive a day early. When organizing your group cruise, build this day into the itinerary.
Nothing would be worse than missing the ship, and arriving a day early can help the group leader track arrivals if everyone comes from somewhere different.
The extra day is an opportunity to catch up with the group, where everyone can come together before boarding. Plus, the group leader can do some special events, or activities, to get the vacation kicked off on a solid note. This celebration can include big dinners, gatherings, or exploring the port city.
Want to get creative? This extra day allows for “shipping-off” themed parties. Many groups use these parties to hand out matching shirts, or totes, to carry with them. It’s a great way to get everyone in the sailing mood.
T-shirts are the most popular way to celebrate the occasion. It helps when track everyone down if everybody is wearing the same shirt. It’s also a great idea to commemorate the event. Matching hats, totes, or some other kind of object, are a great way to unify the group.
Establish a Check-In Plan
Once you’re finally underway, establish a check-in plan — certain times of the day or certain milestones in the itinerary. Work this plan into your group cruise schedule, so everyone is clear on where and when to meet up. This step should be in place before splitting up, so that you’re not running around trying to find a missing passenger.
Create a physical meeting place and set a specific time to meet there. Don’t stress if everyone isn’t right on time. Cruise ships are enormous, and many people are on board. Getting around can be challenging at times. The scenario you want to avoid is everyone moving around while looking for each other.
For large groups, school groups or company groups, it’s wise to perform a headcount once it seems like everyone is back together. A headcount ensures no one is missing and is crucial when returning from shore.
The whole point of organizing a group cruise is to spend time together as a group. Plan a meal, a show or other meaningful activity together. Even if the whole group doesn’t do activities together, it’s worth checking in at least once a day.
Meeting as a group also provides an opportunity to pulse check. Check to see if everyone is having fun. Do you need to modify or adjust the plan? Is anyone seasick? Checking in makes the group feel connected and engaged.
Share the Memories
Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end, and for your group cruise, that means everyone parts ways. While it was fun, what good is getting home from a cruise just to forget it right away?
Someone in the group, or the group leader, can compile the photos and videos to create a montage of the cruise. Then, you can share the montage with the group, so nobody forgets the experience! With cameras attached to virtually everything, several group members undoubtedly caught some great moments on film.
Follow up after the trip to see how everyone enjoyed everything. Would anyone do it again? What would they do differently? If the group cruise was a wild success, it could be a regular vacation idea. If the idea was a bust, then at least you experienced what it’s like to organize a group cruise, for better or for worse.
A group cruise is an exciting way to spend a family vacation, friends’ trip, or conference. If you’re in charge, don’t feel that you have to do everything alone – reach out to members of the group for help, or hire a cruise travel agent. Having a plan early, staying organized and communicating with the group clearly, will help you organize a group cruise as seamlessly as possible.