Family Travel Series: Choosing A Cruise While Maximizing Points

by on April 26, 2012 · 81 comments

in Cruises, Family Travel, Guest Blog Posts

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This is part of the Family Travel Series on Choosing a Cruise by TPG Director of Operations, Danielle. Other posts include: Choosing a Cruise While Maximizing PointsIs the Disney Credit Card Worth It For A Cruise?How to Choose a Cruise Based on PointsUsing Frequent Flyer Miles for Cruise FlightsHow to Get a Passport for Your Child.

As some of you may remember, last spring I wrote a guest post about tips and tricks for traveling by air with young children. It was based on the first plane trip my husband and I took with our two toddlers and we kept it simple – a short, direct flight on Southwest with lots of extra hands on deck to help (grandparents and an aunt/uncle). It was a great experience overall, and I learned a lot about how to prepare and what to expect when navigating an airport with passengers who are under 3 feet tall and drink from sippycups.

Now, a full year later, and another flight with plenty of help from family under our belts, my husband and I decided it was time to plan an actual family vacation.

We have our sights set on a cruise – and given that I’m Director of Operations for The Points Guy as well as Brian’s sister in law – we would obviously like to utilize our points portfolio and know-how to make the most economical and savvy travel decisions – both in cashing in our miles and accruing points from trip-related spending.

A Princess Ship

The Parameters

-The numbers: There are four of us traveling: two adults and two kids, aged 3 and 4 years.

-The dates: We are fairly flexible, but ideally want to travel anytime from late May to early June for about a week — that is if my mean boss will let me!

-The destination: My sister lived on St. Thomas and St. John for a bit and raved about those islands, so the Eastern Caribbean is where are sights are set – though really anywhere in the Caribbean, Bermuda, or the Bahamas sounds great.

-Ports of departure: We don’t want to spend too much time “at sea” so the best cruise options for those destinations leave from Fort Lauderdale or Miami which means our plans (well, budget) depend largely on finding award seat availability to Florida from our home near Philadelphia.

-Our points: Our main source of points income is in the currency of Avios, acquired during the 100,000 mile BA Visa sign-up bonus last spring.  Since British Airways’ partner American Airlines has a hub in MIA, we are hoping to cash in our Avios for roundtrip award tickets on AA. Philadelphia-Miami requires just 15,000 Avios roundtrip because of BA’s distance-based redemption schedule, so four of them would cost 60,000 Avios plus $5 each – nice.

-Earning potential: The Ultimate Rewards shopping mall is offering 5 points per dollar spent on cruises right now, so the icing on the cake would be to book through that portal to make the most out of the money we do have to shell out and get some Ultimate Rewards points in the bargain.

The Cruise Options

The options are a little overwhelming, but we considered several different cruise lines based mainly on their availability during our timeframe, their entertainment amenities, and the childcare options. This is by no means a comprehensive listing.

Jumping Through Hoops to Search Online

One of the challenges that we’ve faced in this early phase of fact finding is finding a useful search engine to find a deal on a cruise.  For the most part we’ve used Expedia and the websites of each of the cruise-lines.  These are all clunky and getting the final price is not easy.  We consider ourselves pretty savvy when it comes to arranging travel but finding a cruise is not easy.  I can definitely see why so many people go straight to a travel agent to get their trip booked.  However, we’ve never used a travel agent before and wanted to do this online if it all possible.  Does anyone know of a good cruise price comparison website?  It is currently taking about 5 screens worth of information to get a final package price from Expedia (do they really need to ask the ages of your kids every time you click on a new cruise?) and the websites for Norwegian, Disney and Carnival all have the same issues.

Our Narrowed Down Choices

-Princess Cruises offers a supervised youth lounge called their Pelican/Shockwaves Club (for children ages 3-12 years), as well as late-night “day care” in a group setting so parents can have a few hours to themselves for an additional fee (though reader beware, we’ve learned that there are no options for little ones under 3 years old and your child much be potty-trained to participate in any of the children’s programs). Princess also offers splash pools, and child-friendly menus – though the options vary widely from ship to ship. For the adults there are shows, art galleries, onboard casinos, the Princess signature Lotus Spa, fine dining and even a book club!

A suite on Carnival

- On Carnival children are invited to attend Camp Carnival, a childcare and entertainment options for passengers aged 2-11. Kids enjoy their own outdoor wading pool, arts and crafts, activities around the ship, and their own menu. Parents who’d like to stay out late can register (and pay extra) for the Camp Carnival Night Owls – group babysitting until the wee hours. There are also teenage themed lounges and programs and the adult offerings include shopping, karaoke, a multitude of dining options, live music, art, and sports among other activities. Although the kids program looks fun, Carnival’s reputation for catering much more to spring breakers than families proceeds it and we are shying away. Has anyone had a contrary experience?

Camp Carnival

-Royal Caribbean has the Adventure Ocean kids’ program, extra beds or cribs available for the rooms, Sitters at Sea (babysitting in your stateroom!) for when mom and dad want to slip away, My Family Time Dining so you can all enjoy a meal together, and seemingly endless onboard activities (from ice skating and surfing lessons to a rock wall and mini golf). Mom and Dad can relax in one of Royal Caribbean’s Vitality Spas, enjoy a more formal dinner, gamble, and sweat off some of those vacation pounds in the fitness center.

Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean Youth Program

-Norwegian piqued our interest with their Splash Academy with activities for kids including arts and crafts and circus lessons, and they also have a group childcare during the evening option at the “Late Night Fun Zone.” For big kids Norwegian offers bowling, casinos, spas, fitness centers, and freestyle dining. Right now this cruise line is offering unlimited free shore excursions for kids 12 and under, and 50% off for teenagers!

Norwegian's Cirque Du Jour

-Disney Cruises would have to be the most-coveted family cruise line from what I can tell. Cruises include character experiences, magic mirrors and “talking” paintings in the halls and rooms, lots of activity pools, Broadway shows, and more – who wouldn’t want to attend “Pirate Night”?  But we noticed when comparing the price of suites (we decided interior rooms would be a little claustrophobic for the four of us) that Disney consistently came in at a much higher pricetag than other comparable rooms on the competition, and we’re just not sure they’re worth it. Plus, Disney cruises leave out of Port Canaveral which may add a 3 hour drive to our vacation if we can’t fly find the same availability to fly into Orlando on points.

Mickey Pool on Disney

Your Help

So readers, we need your help! What are your experience with these cruise lines? Are the children’s options really as good as they seem and is Disney really worth double the cost?

Are there other questions we should be asking or considerations we should be taking into account?

Since this trip is coming up shortly, we are planning to move on this quickly and this weekend I’ll be researching the different ways to maximize points on cruise purchases, so stay tuned!

The Haven Garden Villa on Norwegian - Gonna need a raise!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Bryan Schmiedeler

    I am an ardent cruiser and might have some good advice.

    I have cruised on Disney and Holland America, which are obviously on the two extremes of cruising. Disney is geared to young kids, HA to an older crowd. Having said that, I love both lines.

    But is Disney worth the premium over Carnival or Norwegian or Royal Caribbean? I would say yes. Although geared for kids, EVERYONE in my family loved Disney, including myself, and I was very skeptical. Service is absolutely top notch, the shows are great, food is great, and the ship is spotless.

    As for a good web site to find info, I can’t recommend Cruise Critic highly enough. It is THE source of information on cruises.

    As for pricing, I use Vacations to Go. They have a great search engine and their prices are much lower than the standard sites (most of the time). They are great for snagging good deals.

  • Dil

    I cruised 3 times so far and have used to scope out prices. I booked with cruise line direct due to return guest discount. And once you are set on the which cruise to take, try

    One thing i will say that I have cruise with NCL twice and really love the anytime options of dinning. No need to wait around

  • Jt Gonzales

    My wife and I traveled on Carnival two years ago for our 9th anniversary without our 3 children. We did 7 days 4 stops.

    The pluses: The locations we got to see were great. (We did Grand Cayman, Honduras, Cozumel, Belize) We booked all Carnival excursions which made things super easy. We had a sit down dinner every night. The shopping seminars were very informative and the ship had a personal shopper whose job was to make sure you got a good deal, she would walk into the stores and tell you if you were getting a good deal or getting swindled. She helped us knock off over 6K on a tanzanite ring we bought for my wife. The theater/singing/dancing shows were great. Plus we dined at the private dining club for an additional 30/ea and it was the best lobster I’ve ever had.

    The minuses: Carnival nickels and dimes you for everything. You want a coke, that’s extra, you want ice brought to your room that’s extra, starbucks coffee? that’s extra too. You want to take a spin class or a body pump class? Sure that’s $15 extra. Expect to add between 10-25% to your final room bill for gratuities. You are expected/required to tip your housekeeper and your waiter. You are strongly encouraged to tip your excursion guides and the personal shopper. Tweens everywhere. Having never been aboard another cruise I can’t speak to what’s normal but Carnival was at times over run with tweens. The not old enough to hang out in the cool teen lounge areas but old enough that their parents felt safe with them running around the ship b/c really how much trouble could they get in too. Playing the elevators, playing on the deck chairs, in the gym. The magician’s and comedians were really bad.

    I can’t speak to Club Carnival but we have some friends who have cruised three times and their kids were 5 & 6 the first time and they loved Club Carnival. The kids came back to school raving about it, not wanting to get picked up from up and waking up at 6 to go downstairs to club carnival the next day.

    I got no sense that this was a party all the time boat as there were kids everywhere both supervised and unsupervised. It is possible that it was but the one night we went up to the hot tub at night it was pretty quiet. We had breakfast with a couple who commented that this was not the party boat they had heard about and they were disappointed. There were several nights that the free shows had almost as many kids at them as adults. I’d guess that with it being a summer cruise it’s more geared toward families but I’m not sure.

    My advice to you is to budget an additional 20-50% of your cruise price for tips, excursions and onboard activities. Also make sure you pack some clothes you want to be photographed in. Carnival has lots of opportunities for you to take photos and some of them are fun and we spent a few hundred dollars picking up pictures of just the two us that we never get the time to take when we run in to get Christmas cards made.

    I don’t know if we would Carnival again as a couple but we would definitely consider it for a family trip.

  • Nikki O

    I’m really interested to see the trip that you end of picking! I haven’t yet taken a cruise and would love to take one with my husband and two young boys. Also, we live in Delaware, so we’d also be flying out of Philly :)

  • Wesleywillis88

    I’ve booked cruises for my parents and in-laws with reported success (don’t enjoy cruises myself). Here is what I have found is the easiest way to find the best cruise.

    1. Use Kayak’s cruise search function, and sort it by departure points (since ultimately your reward tickets determine where you will be flying to). It has the simplest interface. To get to it, you need to run a search first and then mess with the options panel on the left in the results pane.

    2. Once I find some interesting cruises, write down the cruise name and cruise line, and search for reviews on Print out the reviews (or save somewhere).

    3. Check if there are any comparable deals on travelzoo, and other travel deal sites (on the off chance).

    4. compare with family their options (reviews and price). select one.

    5. Once one is selected, call up the cruise line and see if they can beat the price offered by the travel site on kayak or can offer any complimentary upgrades (they normally can since they work on commission).

  • Asdfasdfasdasd has been helpful. The biggest problem is how opaque cruise pricing is. There are dozens of categories with pseudoupgrades. there are resident discounts past cruiser discounts etc etc but sometimes only a few cabins in each. if you need 2 cabins it is a total clusterPHUK to try to sort out how you can find the exact cabin you want if 2 different categories. The web site sucks. Travelocity’s search also sucks. Frequently you can call in, and the vacation planners and agencies all suck.

    There needs to be an ITA search of cruises.

    Lastly, Ultimate Rewards may give a Krapload of points, but other agencies will rebate you some of their commission as onboard credits, so you need to watch for that.

  • Kim

    This is the thing about cruising – no one ship is perfect for everything that is important to you!
    Even within a cruise line there are different groups of cruise ships where amenities can vary greatly.
    For instance, size. Some ships carry 5,000 passengers, some 2,000. Do you want to be on one of the mega ships? If no, narrow your search to the largests ships from each of the lines.

    Also, many of the premier ships are making their way across the Atlantic to begin European cruises in mid-May. That will impact your decision as well.

    You should go to and read some of the reviews for the ships you are most interested in. Doing that will give you a sense of what to expect, what works for your group, etc.etc.

    Disney will consistently come in higher priced. Always. Is it worth double the cost and the extra travel time involved for you as a first time cruiser? Probably not. Additionally I don’t believe Disney ships have casinos, so that may impact your decision if you think that will be part of your night time entertainment.

    I find the Carnival lines to consistently have inferior food compared to the other lines you mention.
    If you decided to cruise Carnival, I would only choose their newest ships.

    If you think you can handle a mega ship, I recommend RCI Oasisi of the Seas, or the Allure of the Seas.
    Even RCI’s Adventure or Liberty ships would be great for your family.

    The Norwegian line is know for ‘free-style cruising’ which means they have many dining options other than a main dining room with one or two specialty restaurants on board (like the other lines you mentioned)and more of a casual ‘country-club’ feel on board. A relaxed atmosphere prevails.
    I have sailed this line with teenagers and they love it, but never as young children.

    I think of Princess ships similiar to RCI , but I do believe the RCI ships are better for families with children your ages.

    Do some homework on before you book. Anyday on a cruiseship is a fantastic day!

  • slider34

    I have done Disney and RCL with 3 kids (ages 10,8 & 4 currently) and here are my thoughts…

    Disney – Shows are fantastic, food is good (not great), kids club was good. Lot’s of family activities and more of an upbeat group.

    RCL – Food was really good, shows were not very good (we left 2 of them halfway through). Less to do with kids on the ship. Quite a few family activities but not as many as Disney. Rooms were bigger but as someone said below, some more nickel and dime type feel to everything.

    We also paid about 1.5 times the price for a 4 night disney as a 5 night RCL. I enjoyed the longer cruise but if prices were the same, I would NO DOUBT pick the Disney cruise. But for double? That’s a really hard decision, especially if the choices were to take 2 cruises NON-Disney vs one Disney cruise.

  • twiggers

    As an elite cruiser:

    1. is fantastic and allows you to compare cruises
    2. for reviews/forums
    3. Don’t waste your time booking through UR. Use a Sapphire Preferred for double travel and start calling travel agents to get perks. always waives gratuities and on our upcoming Alaska we got $400 onboard credit, free dining in a specialty restaurant, $225 balcony discount from the cruise line for our elite status, and free gratuities.

    You DO NOT need to book through the cruise line. Travel agents are the way to go for perks.

    Royal Caribbean is my cruise line of choice because travel agents are not allowed to discount the rates….so I don’t need to shop around for price. I just shop around for perks.

  • MJH

    I am an outside travel agent and worked at an agency for a few years. I am by no means an expert but some of the comments posted are spot on. As an agent my suggestion would be to look at the port you want to cruise out of and the itinerary. If you don’t have a preference I would make those two things your starting point.

    I would then search what ships and dates are available. You have picked one of the most expensive times of the year to cruise, mid-May through the end of August. If there is a travel agency that is in your area I would go speak to them for help after picking out a few cruises. Some agency’s have the capability to have “groups” on cruises which just means that they can sometime offer lower prices and offer amenities such as onboard credit, etc. I would speak to friends for recommendations for a good agency in your area.

    As far as being nickeled and dimed to death that is going to be on every cruise line to some degree. Gratuities are really required and are based on a per day charge and vary by cruise line. It does take the worry out of how much to tip and the cruise line gives the money to those workers. You can tip extra if you want to but is not required.

    If you find an agency that offers pretty good pricing I would then compare those prices to the online portals that offer points to purchase cruises. In my experience you sometimes don’t get the same service for cruises by booking online. If you anticipate any problems and think you may need the help of an agent then that may be your better choice.

    As an agent we have to click through many screens to get final pricing also. The cruise lines don’t make it easy.

    I do have to give you my opinion on one thing. I have cruised on Disney and highly recommend it. It really is the total package and your kids will love it. Disney as usual offers a very high quality product and does not dissapoint. I agree that it is pricey but if it is something that your budget will allow, you should consider it.

    My last suggestion is to travel to the port the day before the cruise. Nothing is worse than sitting in a plane with mechanical problems and getting to the port after the ship has sailed. Almost happened to me once and it is very nerve wracking. I always suggest that clients travel in the day before just to be safe.

    Have a great time!

  • WorldRDXTravels

    Great topic.

    Question: Does one need a “visa” to go on certain cruise (non-US passport holder). Is there an option which allows you not to embark from the ship itself? Likewise, I’m more curious about any worthwhile local cruises where visa won’t be a requirement (ie: something that goes to HI/AK and back). Any recommendations?

  • Sean

    Hi there,

    I’ve been on over 30 cruises and worked in the cruise industry for several years. I’ve found a great resource to compare cruises is This site simply lists out the ships that match your time frame and itinerary. Additionally, you can furher check on other discounts (resident promotions, etc) from this site.

    There are so many variables in booking a cruise — it is pretty hard to do online and get the results you want without talking to somebody (travel agent or somebody who has “been there – done that” MANY times).

    As others have referrenced, cruisecritic is a great resoruce for cruise reviews, but don’t get too bogged down by that — there are so many different opinions on that site… you will see glowing reviews and horror stories from EVERY ship.

    The best three lines for families are Disney, Royal Caribbean, an Carnival — with Disney as the clear leader. I have not cruised with Disney, as they do not have casinos on their ships, and that’s an issue for me! I have, however, been on pretty much every other mass market line there is (Carnival X 22, Royal Caribbean X 5, NCL X 2, Princess X 2, Holland AmericaX 3, CelebrityX2, etc), so I’d be happy to answer any other specific questions.

    I will be at FTU this weekend, and can chat there if necessary, otherwise, shoot me an e-mail.

  • Sean

    Absolutely travel the day beforehand. If you do decide to travel the day of the cruise, BUY INSURANCE. We missed a cruise departing MIA once on Royal Caribbean (due to a Tropical Storm in Houston… the first week of June). Had to meet the ship the following day in the Bahamas, which necessitated a flight to Nassau and an overnight there. The insurance compenstaed us for all of our additional expenses, as well as 1/7th of the cruise price.

  • Sean

    Unfortunately, the “nickel & diming” exists on every mass-market cruise line. I’ve found that Carnival actually does this less than competitors (Royal Caribbean and especially NCL). Those lines have multiple (in some case a dozen or so) “alternate” dining venues that charge extra. On Carnival, most of the food is included with the exception of the steakhouse and coffee bar / pastry shop.

    Of course, soft drinks are extra on every mass market line… that’s just an expectation one needs to have when taking a cruise.

  • Ten60

    I like this summation.

    I would like to add Cru Con as they seem to have slightly better deals than which I have used and like. I just booked on Cru Con and after some chatting they all of a sudden came up with some other special offer that was 10% lower than A small word of warning I have never been charged for canceling with But cru con does charge $50 per person for canceling before the final payment.

    Also when it comes to cabins I try to make sure there is a cabin above an below me for the noise factor.

  • Travis

    I’ve cruised with NCL and Princess. Though I haven’t sailed on Carnival, through friends and family that have, I can echo JT Gonzales’ comments that you’ll have to pay for extras every step of the way and stand in A LOT of lines.

    Between NCL and Princess, NCL is probably your best bet for kids. We found out the last night of the cruise that there were over 800 kids on our voyage, and we were shocked because it never felt that way. The staff did a great job keeping the kids busy, and where we saw activities, they all seemed to be having a great time. Their ships are also generally better for kids with lots of bright colors, more amenities like water slides and kids pools, and kid-friendly meal options. We LOVE Princess, but think it’s more geared to adults.

    I’ve had a lot of luck using Their search function is useful for narrowing down your cruises. If you want to leave or return by a specific port, you can do that. If there’s a port you want to make sure you visit, you can include that as well. You can also search by a specific range of dates rather than a month at a time. The downside is that it doesn’t display prices until you select a few cruises that you want to receive pricing on, and various travel agencies send you quotes. The agencies don’t contact you directly–it’s all handled through the site, so you login anytime and can view new quotes. One of the lowest quoting agencies is often cruises-n-more, which does show pricing on their site. A downside to using, or a discounter like cruises-n-more, is that it’s no frills. You book your cruise through them, that’s it. All other communication is with the cruise line. So if you’re looking for someone to call with questions, arrange special requests, or obtain upgrades or shipboard credit, it’s best to go with a full-service agency.

  • Lark

    Don’t be cheap. Disney is the best choice.

    Why wouldn’t you use DavidO or another competent, experienced Virtuoso agent to research and book this cruise for you? Virtuoso is the way to go…

  • Mikes

    As you’ve discovered, Expedia sucks for cruise searches. It is profoundly bad. You did not mention, but when you need a quad it will routinely offer cabins that do not exist and then error with “no cabins left in this category” when you get to the cabin selection step. Any other search engine is better than Expedia, but vacationstogo is good or just use each line’s website to narrow the scope at any given time.

    Carnival is really not a party line, and much less so than it was 10 years ago. If you go during spring break you get spring break. If you go when school is out, you get lots of kids (and higher prices due to higher demand). That is the case on all of the family-oriented lines.

    How do you access the 5pt UR bonus? I searched the site with no success. I have used a discount TA and they have substantially screwed up the booking about 3 times now. On top of that, they just aren’t very knowledgeable. I would happily take the 8% (or more) back in UR points and be able to manage my booking myself, if the T&Cs are right. (FYI, in an effort to remove TAs from the $picture$, many cruise lines will not talk to you if you book through a TA.)

    We haven’t done Disney yet as our twins are just 2.5, but I’ve seen that they do occasionally run a decent sale. That’ll never happen during a school break, and probably not in your future given the timeframe, but keep an eye out.

    Don’t worry about too much time at sea. A cruise really is about the voyage. 6 or 8 hours in a port will never be enough to see a port, and if you decide to run in each port for 4 days in a row you will find the vacation is not so releaxing after all. But… if you have more ports you can pick and choose what days to run… then go back to see the other ports next year (or this fall)!

  • mikes

    Agree with Sean, and I just don’t believe they charged for ice. Room service is free (except drinks). You should tip, but there isn’t a charge. In any case, that’s another good reason to book on the Lido deck: just a few feet to the ice (cream) machine!

    Starbucks is extra, but actual coffee is free 24×7… they’ll even bring it to your room for free (but do tip.)

    Tips are now $10-11 per-person per-day on all lines I believe (except those where you pay $5000 to get on the ship). It should be part of the fare, but it’s not. It can really total up though: ours will be ~$300 for an upcoming7-day cruise on Carnival with 4 people. Of course, it goes on the Sapphire!

  • mikes

    Pretty good. Who did you have? We buy insurance, more for medical and evac, but it’s good to know that it works.

  • Lockhart Brian

    I’ve experienced several of the lines and would recommend Royal OR Disney for the premium.

    DO NOT go with Carnival. Check out this trip report:

  • Cz4ever

    There’s already a lot of great data in the comments. I won’t repeat them other than to agree with the suggestions to check out, (the forums are amazing, but can be daunting for a beginner),, and If you are a member of Costco, their online travel agency offers good deals, too. I’d start by doing a search on for Eastern Caribbean options during (say) May-October 2012, then filter by either source port or cruise line. That will show you very quickly what cruises are currently deep bargains and a quick-and-dirty rating, and you can refine from there.

    I’ve cruised multiple times with young kids, and we’ve recently shifted to having three-generation vacations that include the kids and grandparents. Cruises are a wonderful way to do that, since there are lots of activities so everyone can usually find one that appeals to them… and there is a lot of space to get away from the kids/in-laws/siblings when they start to get on your nerves.

    Regarding the cruise lines, Disney is a clear step above the others you are considering, but as you have seen they are considerably more expensive. One mitigating factor is that their cabins are also considerably larger in a given cabin class (at least in the lower tier cabins). A Disney “Interior” or “Oceanview” is often 50% larger than cabins with the same names on other cruise lines. In a typical (non-luxury) line, an oceanview cabin set up to hold four people (parents + 2 kids) will involve two separate “bunk beds”, which is fairly cramped. In contrast, on Disney we had a separate queen bed area, then the kids were in bunks (dropping from the ceiling) in the “sitting room” portion of the cabin, where during the day there was a sofa and table. Disney’s shows are also a step above in quality and the “Animation Studio” dinner experience is a real treat.

    That said, given the large price differential and fact that we’re traveling with more price-conscious relatives, we’ve been using Princess and have been very happy with them. The kids club is excellent — the kids literally want to spend all their time there on the ship. It’s not as amazing as Disney’s (how could it be without access to the Disney characters), but definitely serves its purpose. Personally I’d avoid Carnival based on my less positive experiences with them, but I suspect they’d be ok.

    Finally, as several people have noted, you should really consider adjusting your schedule so that you can take advantage of the fact that your kids are not in school yet. Cruise prices are often a LOT lower if you cruise during school, since demand is much lower. There will be less kids on board, which is a plus (less annoying for you) and minus (fewer kids for your kids to play with), but should represent a serious savings.

    Good luck and have fun!

  • Paul Thomas

    You may also want to consider booking through various airlines sites if you fine miles to be more vaulable. I booked my last few cruises through the united site (see the banner on the bottom left). Using my united visa I got 3000 miles for booking the room through their site, a bounus 3000 for using the united visa, and then the miles for the purchase price (around $1200).

    American has a similar program but I find the United to be more of a value to me.

  • Larry

    I think a comment above gets a bit lost, but I think it’s very accurate — the three extra points per dollar you get for booking through Chase UR is not likely to outweigh the benefits you can get by booking through a travel agent that will offer a different type of incentive. Basically, most travel agencies will find a way to rebate some of their commission to try to get you to use them. Whether it’s cash cards (like costco travel often gives), onboard credits, or extra credit card points.

    The trick is to find a responsive agency that will give you the benefit that works best for you. So, for example, on a disney cruise we’re taking, I was choosing between $300 on board credit, a $425 costco travel card, or 12,000 extra UR points. I actually took the $300, because I really like the travel agent and she did some extra stuff for us that was worth the money.

    The “reponsive” part is important. One you book through a TA for incentives, you cannot do anything to your reservation yourself, except perhaps book excursions. You’ll need your TA to do it. And if it takes 3 days, it will be stressful.

    One issue that I would consider very carefully is whether you’re booking so late that you’re going to be screwed with respect to dining times, excursions and other bookings. Disney cruises are great, but the competition for the best dinner times and the best excursions is pretty extensive. For a May or June cruise, people have already been able to book stuff for many weeks, and so stuff will be sold out. If your family is not amenable to an 8:30 dining time, don’t book a cruise where that’s all that’s left. You need to know the booking windows for each line — usually 60 to 120 days — and if you’re booking inside that window, just know stuff you might like to do on board might be sold out or full.

  • Bottom-Feeding the High Life

    We are not spring break people at all and we have had a fabulous time on Carnival 7-day cruises. Our kids love the kids club. The best part of the vacation is that you get a night out every day of the week, if you want it. Food is good, not exquisite but perfectly edible. However, food on their 3- and 4-day cruises is awful.

    We have also been on Princess and Norwegian cruises and found them to be less enjoyable, mainly since the entertainment was pretty much done at 11 pm, whereas Carnival has more late-night shows. Princess in particular was a little more “vanilla” i.e. dull. However Princess had a fantastic piano lounge singer on our cruise, and the one or two of Norwegian’s upsell restaurants that we went to were very good.

    One thing I really like about Carnival is that they give a lot of leeway to the cast and crew to do things they think might be interesting even though they don’t fall into what you would think of as mainstream entertainment. For example there was a great jazz quartet that played a few times a week in one of the lounges when the lead singer wasn’t going through the motions of pop hits on the promenade, and clearly he much preferred playing the jazz. Also one night they showed the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I hadn’t seen in about 10 years, and was pretty amusing. Not that it’s for everyone, but the point is that it isn’t the mass-market mainstream entertainment that you would expect. Carnival also has a lot of entertainment until late at night, so if you like to stay up late at the shows there

    Also, I can barely handle a day of Mickey Mouse let alone a week, so I wouldn’t even consider a Disney cruise, even if it were the same price. I’m a bit concerned that “Carnival 2.0″ is revamping in a way that Guy Fieri will be their next Mickey Mouse.

    There will always be upselling; cruises are basically a loss leader especially on the off-peak periods and they make their money on the things you buy onboard. Stay away from the spa – absurdly expensive and many treatments are just plain wierd. Cocktails are about what you would pay at a bar on land.

  • Sean

    I agree. I have been on most of the cruise lines, but keep returning to Carnival (22 cruises down now). I feel that for the money, they are by far the best value. Their 7-day product is on par with any other mass-market line. I find their food to be superior to that of Royal Caribbean, Princess, NCL, and Holland America (Celebrity is the only mass-market line whose food I’ve found to be better).

    I enjoy activity on the ship, and I feel the entertainment on Carnival is superior to other lines. There is more nightlife, and generally more activity. The assumption that Carnival is a “Spring Break” cruise line is not at all true. Yes, the shorter, 3-4 day cruises to the Bahamas can be that way, but generally speaking, their 7-night + product is very nice and on par with competitors, for a much better value, IMO.

    I find that Carnival almost operates as two, distinct cruise lines. Their 3-5 day product and their 6+ day product. The 3-5 day product is definitely several steps below the 6+ day product. The longer cruise product features their newer ships, more experienced crew, and frankly, better food.

  • Sean

    @ Mikes… I believe it was with CSA travel protection. This was back several years ago, and it was with whatever insurance was offered by CruiseOne. I think it was CSA.

    We also had to use Princess’ insurance in the past, and we had no problems with them either. Just keep your receipts and the claim is pretty straighforward.

  • Sean

    Agreed. Unless you are an experienced cruiser who knows exactly what you want, it is probably best to use the assistance of a TA to book a cruise. There are just so many variables involved in a cruise vacation from itinerary, to cruise line, to cruise ship, to cabin type, to deck, to forward / midships / aft. I always recommend to friends to get some help — they usually come to me and I advise them on the best plan, adn then set them up with a TA or reps I know at the cruise lines.

    If you do want points, AMEX usually has some pretty decent cruise specialists if you have an AMEX rewards card.

  • mikes

    Thanks. I’ve used CSA but we have Access America on this next cruise (10 days! woo hoo!) I usually go through to compare pricing and details.

    For others: one thing about purchasing insurance through the cruise line is that they (reportedly) don’t cover if the company goes out of business. As recents event show, things can get exciting pretty quickly in this industry so it’s not out of the question for a smaller line to go out of business unexpectedly.

  • mikes

    While driving to work it occurred to me to ask if you say “ice” but you actually ordered setups? They do charge for setups, probably because they assume you’re drinking from the bottle and cutting into the profit margin. :)

    As a side note, some lines will allow you to order from room service by the bottle (and most will sell you booze by the bottle in advance). It’s not cheap, but much less than $7/drink by the glass.

  • Jackie

    I wanted to start by asking if you’ve considered cruising from a cruiseport close to home so you don’t have to fly at all… From Philly, you can drive to Baltimore to catch a Carnival cruise or to Bayonne, NJ to take a Royal Caribbean cruise or you can take the train into NYC… all in under 2 hours and a lot less expensive and trying than flying, I think, when traveling with young children. There are fewer choices of sailings than from Florida, but if you’re flexible, you will probably find a cruise you will enjoy. I love the Celebrity line, but didn’t see any Caribbean sailings on Celebrity that fit your requirements from Northeast cruiseports, but I have happily sailed on it’s sister line, Royal Caribbean, several times. …and RCL seems to have a nice children’s program. I have not sailed on Carnival myself, but a friend with children has been sailing them for years and really likes Carnival. All of the major airlines have an associated cruise booking site which offers bonus miles for booking through their sites. I like to look for cruise possibilities on the Delta Skymiles Cruises website to compare itineraries and prices; they often offer additional bonus miles and/or onboard credit as incentives to book. Also, Tuesdays are usually one day sale days for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, so that can be a good day to look for sale pricing and book. I always find what I want online, and then call the 800# to talk to a representative. If I don’t think the person I’m dealing with is knowledgeable enough, I simply say thanks and call back later. You can pay with any credit card that benefits you, of course, and you will bank some Delta Skymiles for future use without using any miles at all for your current trip since you wouldn’t be flying. PS.-The Celebrity Summit cruises to Bermuda from Cape Liberty, Bayonne, NJ, but the weather isn’t as warm there in the Spring as it is in the Caribbean since Bermuda is much further north than the Caribbean Islands and even the Bahamas. PSS- I have cruised Norwegian out of NY and Boston and have had a good time and great pricing, but I haven’t liked their food as much as other lines but I haven’t sailed on them in the last few years. Finally, I have often gotten good pricing on cruises when I’ve book very early OR very late …the latter meaning past the date where people who have booked have had to make their final payments which I think is 60 to 70 days prior to sailing. If you book inside these dates you might have a chance to get a good price on a cruise if they have empty cabins. GOOD LUCK! HAVE FUN! I have found that it is hard to have a bad time on a cruise as I love being on the ships and I try to enjoy whatever ship and itinerary I am on.

  • Empathyrus

    Try Once you submit a request, various travel agencies will put in their best offer.

  • Sean

    Many don’t know about the bottle by room service option, as I don’t think Carnival openly advertises it. Many times (usually on longer cruises), I’ve asked my room steward for a bottle of vodka or bourbon, and I’ve never had a problem. Then again, I’ve rarely had a room steward tell me “no” lately (the power of Carnival Platinum status!). My room was billed $30-40 (I think), but I didn’t have a problem with this.

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  • Ike

    I think you are a little late to the party if you are planning a cruise a month or two out and have no idea what line, ship, cabin-type, or ports you want. There is plenty of good advice here already but you are simply going to be overwhelmed trying to figure all of this out on your own.

    A. Cruise line. Like airlines, hotels, and many other things in life, Cruise Lines are not one-size fits all. You need to figure out what is important to you. Ports? Price? Entertainment? Kids’ activities? Food? Service? Do you like to relax? Do you want to dance the night away? Do you want lectures about ports and history? Do you want to shop, gamble, etc.? Remember also, that the demographics on ships in the Caribbean in May are different than in Alaska in August or Europe in July. Check out to help you decide on what line is going to fit your style and budget. Like FlyerTalk, FatWallet, DansDeals, SlickDeals, etc., there is a ton of information and experience there and if you do your research before asking the same question the Thousandth time, you will get better responses.

    B. Cruise and cabin. Figure out which itinerary(ies) is going to work for you and what cabin type. There is no reason to have a balcony if most of your time is spent at sea. But if you sail the Inside Passage it is worth its weight in Bald Eagles. Inside cabins are often far roomier and cheaper and more stable. A Suite might provide amenities that are worth paying for. If you get seasick, get a window amidship as close to the water as possible. Check out for itineraries and rough pricing.

    C. Purchasing a cruise. Use Tell them which ship, date, and departure port and cabin type and you will get ~4-6 agencies sending you bids and usually you can access live, online pricing. Check the prices online for the cabin type(s) you want and select the one with the best price. I save ~10% over the cruise lines, Vacationstogo, expedia, etc. Most of the perks (champagne, chocolate, coupon books, free pictures, etc.) are worth very little. Onboard credit is pretty much the same as cash as you can use it to pay tips at the end. The airline/card cruise sites are badly overpriced and not worth the miles/points you earn.

    D. Excursions. DO. NOT. BOOK. EXCURSIONS. THROUGH. THE. CRUISE. LINE. Seriously. They are cattle cars that see half as much in twice as long for twice the price than if you booked it directly through a local operator. The only redeeming feature is that they guarantee to hold the ship for you if you are late. To say that the chance of this being an issue is extremely remote is a vast understatement.

    E. Other costs. Realize that there are a lot of potential costs other than the price of the cruise. Alcohol. Starbucks-style coffee. Gambling. Bingo. Gratuities. Excursions. Spa. WiFi. Book/CD/DVD rentals. Laundry. High-end restaurants. Soda. Fitness Center. Activities. Etc., etc. These vary by cruise line and some people can go a whole cruise without spending a dime and others will double or triple the price of their cabin.

    F. Insurance. Is almost always a waste of money. If you can afford the price of the cruise, airfare, etc., then most travel insurance is simply a bet that you are making with someone—who is far better informed—that your vacation is going to go awry. If your medical insurance provider (etc.) does not provide to med-evac you from some foreign land and you can’t afford to on your own, that may be insurance you should get. However, for every story of someone getting hundreds or thousands of dollars from a trip insurance claim there are tens-of-thousands of people who spent hundreds of dollars on insurance they did not need and that paid them nothing. Insurance is to protect you against losses you can’t afford to sustain. If you can afford to go on a cruise you can afford to lose the money. Spend the money in the casino instead, at least that way you might come out ahead. If you really want to get insurance, get a policy that only covers what you need. Identity-theft insurance, lost luggage insurance, etc., etc., are added into the price and if they have no value to you, don’t pay for them.


  • BATraveler

    Go for a Disney Cruise – they are worth double the amount and you will not be disappointed. I have a six year old – we took our first Disney Cruise in April 2010 – our daughter was four at the time. We just finished our fourth Disney cruise and have two more booked. They are Magical and your chilren are at the magical age. Imagine your children in the kids club and Mickey Mouse or Snow White stop by – the kids don’t want to leave when mom and dad come to pick them up. The shows are true Broadway productions. We are not the type to cruise often but that changed after our first Disney cruise. The further out you book with Disney the better your price. Also, cruise while school is in and Disney prices are much better. Book thru Costco and receive a Costco Cash Card as a rebate (Disney does not allow discounting by travel agents). Book your next Disney cruise while on board and receive a 10% discount plus an on board credit – transfer that booking to Costco travel and receive a Costco Cash card as well. Charge on your Costco AMEX and recive 2% rebate. Your access to characters is unimaginable.

  • ksh

    I have cruised with Carnival and Norwegian. On Carnival, the kids were herded around in groups, A LOT! Seems they were all over the ship. Nothing against kids, but when you cannot have a meal with tablemates due to kids screaming, it is a problem. Food was not to my liking, either. I admit I have allergies, so limited as to what I can eat, but the food was problematic. One of the shows was awful, but the others were good. Lots of random contests, entertainment, etc. Way too many on board announcements about stuff they want you to buy. Lots of emphasis on the party atmosphere.

    Cruised Norwegian for 9 days in Europe. Food was much better. Kids were in kids club, and they loved it, didn’t want to leave. With the Free Style dining, we had a lot more flexibility. Downside was shows. They were full, tried to attend several, but never any seating. Not as much day time contests and fun.

    Trying to plan a Cruise for September, and having the same dilemma of Disney vs Royal Carribbean or even giving Carnival another chance to make us like them.

  • Michele

    My husband and I have been on a few cruises with Disney, Carnival, and Celebrity. The Disney Cruise was an extended family trip which included 8 kids of all ages. My DH and I dont have kids. Disney has really catered to the families — but in a way that allows adults to also have a special time as well. From the larger size cabins, two bathroom areas in cabin, kids clubs, adult only areas on the ship, I really recommend this cruise line if you are traveling with kids. I agree with other posters that with your kids not in school yet, schedule your cruise during an off-peak time. Carnival 7 days cruises are fantastic for the value and don’t deserve the “spring-break” like atmosphere comment. We do enjoy the more laid-back atmosphere. We always use vacations to for booking our cruises. Great discounts/on-board ship credit and really has given us sage advice over the years that you wouldn’t otherwise get “booking it yourself online”.

  • A.D.

    Hi all,
    Great suggestions! I recently booked my cruise through Hilton Honors and will receive 24,000 HH points. Some of the hotel programs may have deals in which you can benefit by gaining points/miles. I discovered Regent cruises which is on the expensive side but is an all inclusive cruise line. Airfare, excursions, transfers, port fees, and even an hotel stay the day before the cruise leaves is included (as we all know there are certain terms and conditions) but it may be an option. Have a great cruise!

  • DavidBernstein

    We’re veterans of Carnival, Norwegian, and Disney. We’ll never do Carnival again, because we had a 1.5 year old, and they promised us (everyone) that they’d have an event for that age group twice during the cruise from noon – two, with free babysitting. We dropped our daughter off, and got a beeper from them 5 minutes later. They were having a build a bear workshop in the exact same place at the same time, and there was such chaos that they couldn’t properly watch our child, so we had to go pick her up. I complained about this both on ship and to Carnival’s customer service, and they were COMPLETELY UNAPOLOGETIC. FU, Carnival!

    We’ve had GREAT experiences on two different Norwegian cruises–our kids, 2 and 5 and then 3 and 6, LOVED the kids program. They refused to leave the ship with us the second time. The downside is that if you want to leave the kids on the ship while you tour, they charge $6 per hour for one kid, $10 for the other.

    By contrast, Disney has free child care all day. Disney is definitely worth a premium over Norwegian–the rooms are MUCH bigger, the food and service is better, they have an awesome kids’ pool, its full of families, and of course the kids love the characters. HOWEVER, I would wait until the kids were five and older for Disney. They group 3-7 year olds together, and we found that they didn’t have sufficient staff to deal with the little ones. One morning we went to drop our kids off, and there was a three year old in the corner, crying, and no one was paying attention. Norwegian divides the smaller kids off, and in general gives better personal attention, in our experience. But Disney has a huge kids’ facility, with video games and more, but this is better for older kids. If you have a 3 and 4 year old, go with Norwegian, but consider getting two rooms, the rooms are REALLY tiney.

  • Gav

    How are you using UR Mall to book Cruises? Are you just talking about the few they have FEATURED? You cannot pick and book any cruise you want with UR Mall and get the bonus right?

  • Jmw2323

    no, Disney isn’t worth double the cost. Grant it we were not on one of the newer ships but the food was awful. The shows, while elaborate, bored even my kids. Really not much for adults to do on the ship in the evening.
    If it wasn’t for the fact that I saved over $2000 with last years capital one match the points offer, I’d be more upset.

  • Jmw2323

    “Go for a Disney Cruise – they are worth double the amount and you will not be disappointed. ”

    I was highly disappointed. Food was mediocre to awful. Cold food on the buffet. Frozen crab claws. Poor evening entertainment choices. Rather do carnival, NCL, princess for half the price.

  • Danielle

    We will be talking about our experience getting passport for the kids in a future post and will def look into the visa question!

  • Danielle

    Thanks for the tip – we hadn’t even thought about cruise insurance. and we were hoping to be able to fly in and leave from a day before and after the cruise just to pace the trip a bit.

  • Danielle

    We are learning so much from these posts – honestly the stars just aligned for us to take a vacation next month and we decided to go for it. Being such cruise newbies we didn’t really even take the timing into account!

  • Danielle

    That sounds like a great tip about the room positioning since we will have kids going to bed early and taking naps!

  • Danielle

    Love the steps! We will try them :)

  • Danielle

    Stay Tuned! We are so excited :)

  • Danielle

    Thanks – Looking forward to browsing cruisecritic!

  • Danielle

    This seems like a much nicer idea for cutting down on the booze bill while on a cruise than the “slip it into the Listerine bottle” youtube videos I’ve seen!

  • Danielle

    All of these comments about Carnival are really making us rethink some of our “assumptions” about the different cruiselines. Camp Carnival does look really fun for the kids. Thanks for all the tips about all the tips!

  • Danielle

    Thanks! Once we decide on a specific cruise we will def be looking into what is the best option for purchasing – be it an airline or credit card portal or travel agent

  • Danielle

    Our original idea was that we wouldn’t want to spend too many days at sea so we wanted to depart from a port that was “closer to the action,” but after reading so many great comments by experienced cruisers we may now look into the Baltimore and NY options – seems like island hopping might be challenging with the kids and there’s so much onboard for them! I guess we might be saving those Avios for another day! We have our fingers crossed that our very late timing (albeit a gamble) will pay off. Thanks for the well wishes – can’t wait!

  • Danielle

    Sounds amazing! That’s quite the feat with Costco, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who follows TPG :)

  • Danielle

    good to know –

  • Danielle

    Do you mind sharing your agent?? ;) I actually hadn’t even realized you need to register for those things ahead of time – this is really a learning experience for us!

  • Danielle

    Will be in touch with Amex!

  • Danielle

    Our strategy is going to pick one or two cruises first and then search for the best points accrual option – you are right that you do not have open access to all and all cruises through UR or the airline sites.

  • Danielle

    You didn’t like “pirate night”? ;)

  • Danielle

    Thank you for your excellent synopsis – especially about the ages and room size – lots of food for thought!

  • Larry

    Hi Danielle — her name is Tracey at Dreams Unlimted Travel, which specializes in Disney. I just got the sense that Disney was fairly distinct in terms of cruising, and I also got the sense that Disney patrons are a lot more obsessive about planning, getting the best boarding times, and competing for various excursions and stuff that I needed someone who could answer questions. Having the expertise was worth taking slightly lesser benefits. For other cruise lines, I didn’t feel like expertise would have been as critical — I can figure it out myself on cruise message boards.

  • MissInformation

    I just took my first cruise ever over Presidents’ Week, with my 15yo son. We did Carnival and as much as I was worried about the party atmosphere, the whole experience turned out to be fantastic. He did the teen activities the whole time and had a blast. I hung out on the Serenity deck and caught the comedy and other shows and was very happy. We met other families who had younger kids in Camp Carnival and they were loving it. We did the 6pm dinner seating but next time I would definitely choose the My-Time dining or whatever they call it so we have more flexibility, as well as a constantly changing group of tablemates.

    I booked directly with Carnival (online) and am glad I did. The only points I was able to get was some onboard credits for putting my sign & sail on my MasterCard (that was an LTO avail when I booked last Oct) and I got another credit from Carnival for booking during National Cruise Week. Of course, I used my AMEX for everything except the Sign & Sail so I got my Amex points. And I did use airline points for the flights and I earned points at the hotel the night before we cruised. I booked everything on my own (I used to do travel and tour management) and second the comments about booking your own shore excursions and not going thru the ship.

    Even tho I booked the cruise directly with Carnival, I DID do tons and tons of research, particularly on We did an older/smaller ship (the Imagination) and I loved the layout and don’t think I’d want to do one of the mega-ships, but that’s just me. All the lines have last-minute deals for people sailing in the next couple months but you may not get to choose your cabin the way you do when it’s further out. But if that’s not as important to you, you can probably book something now for next month.

    CruiseCon seems to be THE place to get great deals, often with onboard credits, upgrades and balcony rooms (if you want one), etc. I’d check them out. I think the savings you get booking thru a site like that or with a cruise line’s promos is often worth more than the value of the points you’d earn booking thru another channel.

    Whatever you do, enjoy!

  • Elizabeth

    I booked a Carnival cruise to Alaska for this summer back in the fall of last year. I needed two cabins for my family of seven so I booked one cabin through Carnival direct and the other through Ultimate Rewards.

    When booking through Carnival direct you can utilize gift cards which you can obtain for Southwest points. I had recently received 50,000 points through Southwest’s Chase credit card bonus and combined with my 30,000 points was able to exchange for $800 in gift cards.

    I booked the other cabin through Ultimate Rewards. My husband and I both obtained Chase Sapphire cards and received the 50,000 point bonus. When you book through UR, you get a 25% bump in the points you can use toward a cruise. When all was said and done, our UR points saved us close to $1,500 on the second cabin.

    I hope this helps and you have a great time on whatever cruise you choose.

  • tber

    Just my experience…Mother of an 8 year old..he has been to Europe twice and about 30 other flights (most free thanks to extra help from TPG)…We have been avid cruises for about 15 years and since he was 4 – he has been on about 9 cruises to date. Diamond on Royal Caribbean and something on Celebrity from back in the day.

    I find that there there is little competition for pricing. While I love love love to earn points, I find that an online travel agent (I use offers the same prices AND they are so big in volume that they offer excellent onboard incentives. These can be hundreds of dollar so sometimes you have to weigh the cruise incentives or prices rather than who you can get points from. I usually do better with prepaid grautities and onboard credits worth $500 over XX points. We have tried in recent years to stick with RCCL as they offer loyalty benefits as well for every cruise so it really adds up. Get their credit card and last I checked, it was free for a year and points equivalent to $100 onboard credit!

    We are a bit spoiled as having been Disney timeshare owners, we have had many vacations there. Therefore, we have saved the big time costs of Disney and have enjoyed many Royal Caribbean ships. From Oasis to Voyager, we have sailed out of Galveston, Puerto Rico, NJ, Fla. They never disappoint and my son can never wait to see what the next one has in store! He rushes through dinner just to get to the kids club at night for a few hours! We have sailed just as a family, family with grandparents and as many as 4 other families and each time they have something exciting to offer.

    Like some other posts, HIGHLY recommend They have extensive information on ships, islands and their boards cannot be beat. I have not purchased a ship excursion in years due to the information provided there by other people. An amazing commnuity! So complete, you could read for weeks and still not decide!

    I also DO recommend insurance on this very large investment you are about to undertake. We have been stuck in sea fog for 7 hours thus missing all flights on a holiday weekend. A company such as (recently brought out so may have a new name) has covered us in all situations from the hotel costs to the changed flight fees. Children are usually ‘free’ with an adult and a small price paid for peace of mind.

    Just remember, once you get on board it is not a completely ‘prepaid’ vacation. There are TONS of charges that you will incur onboard so make sure you save some of the funds to pay your bill at the end of the week. It is our favorite ‘type’ of vacation and once you go once, you will be hooked!

  • Kim

    have cruised with our daughter since she was 2 months old, all over the world. She is now 19 and has visited over 47 different countries, and counting. 17 cruises. Remember: they all nickel- and dime- you in some way.

    Every cruise line and ship is different. Since your children are not in school take advantage of shoulder season: lower prices . Also, you will have more attention from the staff that deals with children.

    RCL: Plenty to do, but we found the mega ships (Oasis) too large. The largest we were happy with were the Explorer and Adventure of the Seas (which are not small–they have the skating rink!). Problem with RCL is that cabins are small compared to other lines and there is no self-serve laundry. The way the newest mega-ships were designed, there is very little, if any, public seating in the Promenade/Main Street area. This was purposely done so the public would have to wander into bars, cafes, shops, which are all revenue generators. The Freedom/Explorer have more public seating, which helps for little children with short legs. etc. who need to rest. Of all cruises, our daughter had the best time on the RCL Vision class mid-size ship on an SE Asia (22 days) cruise when she turned 8. About 10 children on board. The staff took the kids to shows every night, and the kids got lots of personal attention.

    Celebrity: Owned by RCL, fairly upscale and larger cabins. No self-serve laundromat. Good adult food, though not sure if it matters to the children. Children’s program not quite as well-known as other lines, but we’ve had excellent experiences. Best show we’ve ever seen that the children loved, “James Bond, ” believe it or not!

    Princess: Owned by Carnival, we’ve sailed the Caribbean and Europe on Princess ships. They are very similar to RCL but with slightly larger cabins and self-serve laundry. Good as RCL. Child care seemed comparable to Celebrity. Food was good but in the British Isles was geared toward the Brit market and was not quite what we liked (lots of beans, white bread, grilled tomatoes, porridge, etc).

    Carnival: shoulder season Alaskan cruise 78 ton ship was fantastic. Not a lot of children, but enough for diversity. Huge veranda cabin. Great service and food. Self-serve laundry. Christmas cruise on a 110 ton ship surprised us, we thought it would be crazy with activity, but in fact the families on the ship seemed quite low-key and children not out of control. Best family entertainment was the family Karaoke shows, with ad-lib karaoke from all ages. Food better than anticipated.

    Disney: nice large cabin, good food. Disney ambiance is great but after all is said and done, we prefer to keep our Disney stuff in the theme part. Too pricey–save the extra $$ and make an add-on to the park for a couple of days, or do another trip. food okay but not quite what we thought it would be.

    NCL: can’t say, never cruised them.

    TIP: Use and get a feel for the different lines. TIP: Do get insurance: children are unpredictable and tend to become ill at the least convenient times. TIP: Use a good cruise-only agent like CruCon. TIP: Don’t try to go on such short notice–you’re really pushing it.

  • Jen

    Disney all the way! My experience with Disney cruises was so excellent that I book a cruise with them every year. Worth every penny. My son was 4 years old on our first cruise and he’s normally shy when it comes to leaving him somewhere he’s not familiar with. After the 1st trip to the kid area he didn’t want to leave. He had such a great time he wanted to go and play with the kids all day. Also he became good friends with our dining guest. They set you up the cruise to a table with the same guest with kids the same age as your so they have a great time. The food was excellent and the wait staff was amazing. They even helped cut up food and feed the kids so the parents could actually enjoy their hot dinner. I loved the 2nd seating option (although kind of late to get dinner 8pm) but 2nd seating offers the option for the kids staff to come around the dinner tables and take your kids to the kids area so the parents can enjoy dessert and coffee in peace. LOVE IT!
    Super clean, large rooms and the kind of service that you expect from Disney.
    Highly recommended!!!

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  • David

    Hi Danielle,

    So our family has travelled several times on Royal, Carnival and Disney. Everything the majority of the other folks have said is 100% true to word. All have their ups and downs and all are only “so” predictable from trip to trip. While we have enjoyed all of the other lines and have frequented them all, our best experience as a family cruise has been with the Disney cruise line. We have an 8 year old (was 6 at the time) and a now 5 year old (was 3 at the time). Every day the kids would be dying to get up and go. They always had so much fun and were constantly chattering about it each night before totally passing out and going again.

    The food is OK but overall good, but as you generally move restaurant to restaurant per night bound to find something you like! The shows were EXTREMELY GOOD for both the kids and us. While the ship is extremely family/kid-oriented and have loads of targeted activities in this regard, the adult activities were also extensively available and often not packed which was a nice bonus.

    Regarding pulling the trigger and the logistics before and after the cruise:

    So did a little checking in the event that you do decide to do the Disney run in June.


    A. You’re cutting it close but you still can do it if you hurry. I would recommend you at LEAST go for the Jun 16 Eastern Caribbean Cruise. Prices are still reasonable (1500-1800 for standard rooms) w/o bonuses, discounts, etc. as of 5/3. I Highly recommend booking through travel agency to get best deals/save headaches and YES there are numerous specials from A-Z, target what benefits you most – the usual suspects – points, cash back, freebies on sea (unless really really good, no) .

    B. Get Insurance – We all warn for good reason. Murphy follows all – Explaining to your kids why they couldn’t make it due to a “Flat-Tire” Day is never fun! That said, you’re lucky in that likely you’d have a direct flight, i.e. less risk.

    C. Go a Day Early – Beyond being far less stressful, reduces risk and gives you the ability to have some more fun time in Orlando area – Loads of fun here alone as you can imagine – even if for one day – Sea World, Universal City, Discovery Cove, etc. Orlando is little less than 50 minutes away from Port Canaveral and its just a straight shot so really easy trip. Beyond that, most hotels in the area offer free shuttle service to the Port, just look for it when booking. If cost is a concern, just stay in Kissimmee which is right outside Orlando and still offer the shuttles, etc. but overall I’ve had great experience getting good rates in Orlando even at the 5 star resorts in the middle of summer.

    D. I took a look on the flight availability for ya as you mentioned concern for getting to Orlando through Avios. This is pretty wise and if you hurry (looking like around 7 award tickets left each way as of 5/4) you could book a “perfect” itinerary for the Jun 16 Cruise as listed below for 60,000 Avios and $20.

    JFK -> MCO

    Outgoing: Jun 15 AA1777 Departing @ 7:10a Direct.
    Returning: Jun 23 (cruise return date): AA1782 Departing @ 7:00p Direct.

    Frankly, this is about as good as it gets for availability/working to what you’d want. Don’t wait too long on it. With kids about to get out of classes, vacation planning goes into high gear.

    E. Some final notes of encouragement: 1. Port Canaveral is significantly less of a headache then Miami. 2. Totally worth the extra money on the Disney Cruise when you have a large family going at the ages you have going. 3. Even the standard boardrooms are large enough to fit bigger family as that’s the targeted audience, however if you still feel squeezed go the route of a suite if feasible. 4. You have the added bonus of taking the Disney Fantasy, which just had its maiden voyage in March 2012 – so its just barely done with shakedown and thus is CLEAN, the largest, and extremely current/active with activities.

    Anyway hope all that helps! Have lots of fun and Bon Voyage!


  • David

    So just so you know, obviously my recommendations would require a tiny bit of driving to get to NYC to fly out/in. However, given the availability of the area it’s one of few options. PHL is a tough port to branch from with avios overall. So the 2 hour drive up to JFK for the direct flight and avail. is probably worth it. Also small clarification – the price was per person. Which when you include food and all the entertainment and value is not terribly bad (plus you’re paying for being so close).

    Hope that clarifies things a bit more.



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  • Kathy

    I would agree. Carnival nickels and dimes less. My kids weren’t as young as yours, but we had GREAT family experiences on Carnival. They also let you bring in wine and sodas. If the room size is truly a factor, look into two connecting rooms.

  • Kathy

    I’d agree on the insurance. My daughter’s camera was stolen at the pool and our trip insurance covered it.

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