Updated: May 1, 2018
Family cruises can accommodate a wide range of vacation budgets. There are many reasons you might be interested in examining money saving strategies. Your overall family vacation budget might be slim this year. Or, perhaps you want to keep costs down so that you can cruise more often. Or, it could be that you find pure joy in finding a great deal and squeezing those dollars. Wherever you fall in that mix, take a look at these seven strategies to shave substantial dollars off your final cruise bill.
1. Select Family Cruises Sailing From Nearby Ports.
If you are working with a limited or less flexible budget, the first factor to consider is your departure port. Consider driving to a port that is relatively nearby – a day’s drive or less. Most vacationers in North America live within driving distance of a cruise port. If you drive rather than fly, you will reap substantial savings from not buying air tickets for your entire family. And, if you can comfortably drive in on embarkation day and park at the port, you will also save money on hotel costs. If you don’t want to drive, you can still save money by selecting a departure city that requires cheaper flights.
If you live in the East:
The State of Florida hosts five different cruise ports — Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Port Canaveral and Tampa. Every major cruise line has at least one ship departing from a Florida port. Staying generally along the eastern coast, other major cruise ports include Baltimore, Maryland (sailings from Carnival and Royal Caribbean);Bayonne, New Jersey (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity); Boston, Massachusetts (Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean); and New York City(Carnival, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea). Carnival also sails ships from Charleston, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia.
If you live more in the middle:
Moving west into the central time and the ports near the Gulf of Mexico, the major cruise ports include Galveston, Texas (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Disney); New Orleans, Louisiana (Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean); and Mobile, Alabama (Carnival).
If you live in the West:
Then, moving to the west coast, the State of Washington hosts one cruise port and California hosts another three: Los Angeles, California (Carnival, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Cunard, Silversea); San Diego, California (Celebrity, Holland America, Disney, Norwegian); San Francisco, California (Cunard, Celebrity, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas); Seattle, Washington (Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean).
2. Book Very Early and/or During Sales Season.
You can snag the best deals on family cruises by booking early – as in 9-12 months or more in advance. You will usually find the best rates available, and you can continue to benefit from any additional price drops or promotions that occur later in the year.
For more insights into when to book early, check out this Cruise Critic article: Booking Ahead: 9 Cruises You Should Book at Least a Year in Advance.
You should also look at options during “Wave Season,” which runs from January through March. All major cruise lines will present their most aggressive offers for the upcoming year during this period. The promotional pricing applies to sailings throughout the year, but the special discounts and perks accrue for booking during the wave season and placing a deposit. Deposits are typically refundable with timely cancellation notice. (Although Royal Caribbean recently started offering a reduced fare “non-refundable” option for it’s cruises. Reported in this article from the Royal Caribbean Blog.) Sample promotions: Buy one get one free; Kids sail free; selection of 2 or 3 complimentary perks such as an unlimited beverage package and prepaid gratuities.
3. Be Flexible When Selecting A Cabin On Family Cruises.
If you are flexible and not particular about type or location of your cabin, last minute bookings can yield great savings. In this instance, last minute means three to six weeks out. This will typically be around the final payment deadline, and the cruise line will know how many vacancies remain to be filled. Similarly, you can save money by booking a “guarantee” room instead of a specific cabin. The cruise line guarantees you a cabin within a certain category or higher. Thus, you have the potential for a last minute upgrade. But, you also have the potential of being assigned to the worst possible option in the category you selected. Nor do you have any control over the location on the ship that you are assigned. You could potentially be placed in a noisy or high-traffic area that you would prefer to avoid. (You can find more tips on cabin selection in Our Family Guide To Choosing A Cruise Cabin With Ease.)
4. Consider Alternative Room Configurations.
If you are traveling with a larger family or party, consider whether alternative room configurations will work for you. Have your travel agent price out the various options. For instance, getting two connecting balcony staterooms instead of an expensive suite. Likewise, getting a balcony room with an adjacent inside room. Depending on the make-up of your travel party, this last option could be quite attractive. In many instances, the price of a balcony for two persons and an indoor cabin for two persons adds only a few hundred dollars more than a balcony for four people; and, you end up with almost twice the living space and an additional bathroom.
5. Select an Older Ship For Your Family Cruises.
Investigate itineraries on older ships. Cruises on older ships are usually much cheaper than the sailings on whatever the latest addition to the cruise line fleet happens to be. Many times these older ships have been recently refurbished or upgraded and can provide great value. So, for instance, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas first sailed in 2001. Royal Caribbean subsequently refurbished the ship in 2009, and then upgraded it again in 2016. The 2016 upgrades included the addition of a new waterpark complete with water slides, a new two-story golf course, and a flowrider surf simulator. These are amenities comparable to ones found on the newer Oasis class of ships, but without the Oasis class pricing.
6. Plan Ahead While Still On-Board.
Finally, once you are on-board, you should consider booking another cruise for next year. The on-board “future cruise” or “next cruise” desk offers some of the best deals available to repeat customers. These deals often include reduced deposits – or essentially free deposits, fare discounts, and on-board credit that could be available immediately (as in on the current cruise). And, you need not be afraid of getting too far ahead of yourself in future vacation planning. Typically, booking your next cruise on-board will not lock you into a specific itinerary or time window. You can freely change your plans later. The cruise line can also transfer the booking to your favorite travel agent.
Are you ready to start planning a cruise vacation for your family? Download our free Quick Start Guide now!
If you have other strategies for saving money on family cruises, please share in the comments!