Admittedly, I am not much of a cruiser. I have been on three cruises in my life, once when I was about 13 and my parents took my sister and I, once when I was about 16 and my grandmother took the entire family, and once when my wife and I were dating, around 2007. So I am not one of the cruise industries leading customers.
However, my in-laws discovered cruising sometimes over the past five years or so and fell in love with the industry. They enjoy the laid-back vibe, the all-inclusive feature, and the price point. My wife’s parents even were susceptible to one of those cruise incidents last year, where the entire boat contracted an illness and were subject to quarantine. One would think a virus cruise would be enough to sway them away from setting ship on another boat again. However, they quickly used their reimbursement to book a cruise through the Panama Canal, which they are on as I write this post.
So now that we are a family with three small boys, we are reconsidering our idea of road trips and thinking about going on a cruise within the next year or so. What would make us reconsider a cruise? Lets take a look.
My wife and I enjoy good food, and I remember being so impressed as a child seeing the midnight buffets and culinary genius on display throughout the cruise. As anyone with kids may know, having boys means having big appetites.
While our boys love Macaroni & Cheese like the best of them, they also are accustomed to finer cuisine. Place a plate of sushi in front of our boys, and you will see it disappear faster than the free champagne at the art shows on a cruise.
A cruise provides an endless supply of food options, 24/7 to meet anyone’s pallet, and is an ideal situation for families.
While the running joke on cruise ships is how many meals you can fit in within a day, there also is a great deal of options for entertainment throughout the cruise. Some people may enjoy laying by the pool all day getting drunk on buckets of beers, while others take in the BINGO games or classes to learn how to make towel animals.
Some cruises also specifically cater towards families, making them an ideal situation for us. There can be kids clubs, where you can pretty much drop your kids off all day, and the “free” babysitting takes care of all the kids entertainment for the day.
What also can be great, specifically if traveling with grandparents, which we would, is that on nights where both the in-laws and kids head to bed early, the wife and I can go out on a date, maybe taking in a late night show and dancing.
3) Ports of Call
Perhaps one of my personal caveats against the cruise industry is the limited amount of time at ports of call. We prefer to go to a destination, explore, and really get engrained into the culture of the destination.
Often on a cruise, one is lucky if they have 12 hours at a destination. Worse, the ports are stacked full of tourist dollars trying to sell you the latest island fare, prepackaged tours, and chain restaurants. To see the real port of call, one needs to head inland and away from where the money is.
However, when traveling with kids, visiting a pre-packaged port of call can also be a good thing. Simply fold out the stroller and walk around within the area surrounding the port.
2) Price Point
Paying for a family of five to fly somewhere, or even drive, then hotel, food, and entertainment can quickly scale rapidly. Fortunately for our family, the better part of the last 4 years has gotten us greatly reduced travel expenses thanks to banked miles and points. Often these days our hotels are usually free on points, saving hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel expenses.
While there are ways to defray the cost of a cruise with points, it is not as lucrative. However, we consider a good price on a cruise $100 per person per day or under a good deal. When you factor in that includes the cost of transportation, all of your meals, entertainment, and ports of call, that can be a great selling point compared to traditional travel.
It has been a while since we went on a cruise, so we are actively pricing out our options to compare how they are to our family’s traditional travel costs. We do know it is buyer beware though.
To give an example, a couple weeks ago Royal Caribbean offered a sale where the 2, 3, and 4 guests in a room were half off. That sounded great, and from the surface looked like it could be an excellent bargain. However, after pricing out some of the cruise on a 7 night Caribbean itinerary with a kid friendly ship, the first person paid a whopping $1400 for an inside cabin room, while the second person was around $700, and the third and fourth were in the $400 range. Not to mention our fifth child would have been sharing a room with my in-laws, at least on paper.
After evaluating all the costs, the 7 days cruise exceeded $850 per person, and we had not even gotten to the port yet. Needless to say, we found the sale to be bogus, with jacked up rates to make it look like guests were getting a deal. We are still shopping around to find a more reasonable alternative, but believe the costs can be brought back into line with our typical travel costs, if not better.
1) Captive Audience
The number one reason to consider a cruise for a family is the set it, and forget it mentality. Once you board the ship, guests no longer need to worry about a thing. Someone else is at the driver seat, making it virtually impossible to get lost, though I have been known to wonder and not remember where I am after seeing the dessert buffet.
On a cruise, so long as we parent and keep our kids away from the side of the ship, everything is safe and within our finger tips. Want to head to the pool? Done. Thinking about hitting up the beach? We can do that tomorrow at the port of call. Are your kids getting “hangry?” Send them to the pizza bar.
Traveling with kids can often be daunting for parents, especially if they do not do it often. Taking a kid out of their natural environment and throwing off their schedule can reek havoc on your plans. Fortunately, a time out or nap is only a couple levels away on a cruise.
The conveniences all of a sudden start to sound appealing without having to go to the hassle of organizing rental cars, finding places to eat, thinking of fun and exciting itineraries. On a cruise, everything is within grasp, taking the stress, or at least some of it, out of the equation.
We might see you on board in the future! Be sure to pour me a boat drink if you see me struggling chasing three monsters around the deck.
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