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Two adults, a four-year-old and a two-year-old in a single cruise cabin can be rough sailing. After all the naps and early bedtimes, the adult’s day is pretty much over when the kids’ are, thanks to the tight quarters. While this wasn’t our first cruise, I wanted to find another solution without paying obscene prices for a suite. So for the first time, I went hunting for two connecting staterooms for our family of four with the intention of keeping the price down.

Richard, his wife and their oldest on a cruise
Richard, his wife and their oldest on a cruise

(Spoiler alert: I found success and scored almost $600 in onboard extras as well…)

Cruise Compete

If you’re new to cruising, the cruise industry is a place where travel agents still thrive. The deals and extras they can find make it worth booking through an agent 95% of the time. Enter CruiseCompete.com, an online marketplace where travel agents compete with each other to earn your booking.

Just enter a specific cruise you’re interested in along with any details you’d like travel agencies to know, and agents will submit quotes for you to review. Pick the quote you like the best based on price, agent response (some pay close attention to the details you submit and some don’t), any extras like an onboard credit and the agency’s reputation. Next, call the agency, give them the Cruise Compete reference number from the quote and you’ll be off sailing in no time.

I’ve found outstanding agencies and extras through Cruise Compete that I would have never found through traditional web searches. Some of the benefits these agencies provide are really staggering, as you’ll see on my own booking…

Booking Two Staterooms for (Almost) the Price of One

I was looking for a five-night Royal Caribbean cruise to the Caribbean. Cruise enthusiasts can debate their favorite cruise line for days, but Royal Caribbean is ours. One reason it’s our favorite is that the kid’s club for our little ones is broken into age groups that we like (18 to 36 months and 3 to 5 years). Additionally, even after nine years in the Navy, I can’t ever get enough of being on the water, and to fully enjoy being on the open water, I want/need a balcony stateroom.

The cruise that fit our dates was for five nights on the newly renovated Mariner of the Seas. According to the Royal Caribbean website, the total cost for a balcony stateroom with all four of us was $2,100, which included the cruise line’s currently advertised deal for 50% off the second guest.

But because of our two young kiddos, we wanted more space than a single stateroom could provide, so I went back to the Royal Caribbean website to find the price of the same category balcony stateroom with only one adult and one child. That total came to $1,200 all-in. Two staterooms by that logic would be $2,400, or only $300 more than the cost of one room. Yes, please.

Cruise ship red balconies on fantail, guard rails and chairs, and cabins. (Photo by: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

I headed over to Cruise Compete armed with an idea of the basic prices I could expect. About 45 minutes later, I received four quotes, all with a matching price of $2,400 total for the two staterooms. However, one agency was offering an additional $65 onboard credit per stateroom, one free specialty dinner per stateroom, pre-paid gratuities for two ($116) per stateroom and two coupon booklets which can turn out to be nice or pretty lame. For just $300 over and above the cost of us all sharing one room, we’d have two cabins and $462 in onboard extras.

Connecting Cabin Confusion

However, I quickly learned that finding connecting cabins wasn’t going to be easy. One agent said I couldn’t book one adult and one kid per room and get connecting cabins. Another agent didn’t want to go deck by deck and see if connecting cabins were available. Other agents were on hold for extended periods of time trying to figure who goodness-knows-what.

I ended up going to CruiseDirect.com and making a dummy booking for my cruise, since the Cruise Direct website shows you the exact cabins that are still available on a deck plan map that denotes connecting cabins. I picked out the exact two connecting cabins I wanted, then called the agency from Cruise Compete that was offering all the extras to feed them the exact cabin numbers to book the cruise.

Points and Hyatt Elite Status Sweeten the Deal

I was already over-the-moon about the deal I found, but I wanted to see if I could take it to the next level. First, I made sure the agency I wanted to use would allow a split payment so I could use two different credit cards. I then paid $560 of the cruise with my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard since I had 56,000 Arrival miles which could be used to erase $560 of the cruise bill if I charged at least that much to the card.

Next, I remembered the partnership between casino loyalty program M life and Royal Caribbean which offers onboard benefits if you’re an M life elite. Thanks to my Hyatt Globalist status, I’m matched to M life Gold status, which affords you some rather nice benefits when you’re onboard Royal Caribbean cruises.

I called the Royal Caribbean casino line at (800) 762-0702 and an agent verified my sailing via the Royal Caribbean confirmation number, along with my M life status via my M life number. She applied the M life benefits, and immediately after I got off the phone, I logged into my Royal Caribbean account to find this pop-up confirming my onboard credit:

We now had another $125 in onboard credit, for a total of $587 in extra benefits by booking through the agency found via Cruise Compete and having M life Gold status (thanks to Hyatt status). I did have concerns as to whether or not the M life benefits would apply to me since some of my cruise agents in previous years have told me I needed to book direct with Royal Caribbean to get the perks. I’ve also heard that M life status earned through Hyatt matches would not receive the benefits. However, I had no issues getting the benefits applied to our sailing on the first try.

Bottom Line

There are a plethora of agencies out there to book cruises, as well as cash back shopping portals if you’re going to book directly with a cruise line. I found that using an agency and scoring additional benefits through Cruise Compete resulted in the best overall deal. I also love that we got a second stateroom for our young family for just a little bit more than the cost of a single stateroom. Using miles earned from our Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card and receiving an extra onboard credit thanks to my M life status proved to be the icing on the cake.

All in all, this was the best cruise deal I’ve ever booked, and it will surely make for a fantastic family adventure.

Featured image by Rawpixel/Getty Image

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