If you’re reading this, you’re thinking about booking a cruise and looking for tips and ideas on where to start. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard nor intimidating as it may seem at first. Most people overthink this. It’s very simple. Once you start cruising however, it is an addiction. It is a ton of fun and will likely not be your last cruise.
The first thing you need to do is choose a cruise line you want to go with. There are lots of cruise lines out there such as Carnival, MSC, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Celebrity, Norwegian, Holland American, Princess, Etc. Disney is top of the line in pretty much anything they do and cruise lines are no different. Disney Cruises are amazing. They’re very expensive however, but you get what you pay for.
Personally, we prefer Carnival. My family is on the younger side of things (at least I like to think I am young, work with me here…) so Carnival appeals more to us. When I cruise, I want go have fun, be active, lots of activities, etc. I don’t want to be with white top retirees sipping wine and cheese for a week. That’s just not for us nor does it appeal to us. If you like that sort of thing, Norwegian, Holland American, Viking and those lines may be better for you. If I didn’t cruise Carnival I’d probably go with Royal Caribbean. The reason I prefer Carnival over RC is because of price and RC nickel and dimes you to death. Carnival is also more casual which is what I like. When I go on vacation in the middle of the summer, I don’t want to take dress clothes with me. That kills a vacation vibe to me. I want to relax and unwind. Here are some tips I’ve come up with to help you pick your next cruise.
The first thing people typically think of first is the cost. Years ago cruising was expensive and many people couldn’t afford to cruise. Things are different today, cruising is very affordable and anyone who goes to Myrtle Beach or Pigeon Forge each year can afford to cruise. Let me break down the math for you. A family of 4 can get an oceanview room on a Carnival ship for 7 days with 4 stops and 2 sea days for $2,863.00. That includes your gratuities also. That’s all inclusive. From that point, you don’t have to buy anything else. That’s your room, all of the food you can imagine, your port fees, everything. That averages $715.75 per person, for the 7 days. That’s $102.25 a day per person for a 7 day cruise. Now you show me how you can go anywhere on vacation for $102.25 per person where that includes your lodging, meals and entertainment.
Early Saver Rates
We typically book cruises in advance so I like to book ES rates. Be sure to read the fine print on ES rates when you book though, such as penalties to cancel, change, etc. When I book I know we have no anticipation of changing/cancelling anything. I book early so I can lock in the room that I want. With ES rates, you are guaranteed the lowest fare as well. Prices fluxuate on the cruise fares so if the price drops, you fill out a simple form and get the price difference in OBC (On Board Credit).
When you’re budgeting your cruise add about 60% of what you plan on spending to that total. You will want it, though you may not need it. Everything is included in your final cost of the trip. However there are optional things that cost most. The casino, alcohol, sodas, excursions, spa, pictures and shopping all cost extra. You can get by with spending $0 as long as your gratuities are paid in full up front and you don’t do any of those extra things I just mentioned. You will probably want to do at least one of them though. After all, you’re on vacation.
On occasion Carnival has a special where you can put a deposit on a cruise for just $50. If you’re smart and plan ahead, you can put a $50 deposit down on a cruise a year or 2 in advance and make payments on that cruise leading up to the final cut off payment date of the cruise. If you use the $2,863 total I mentioned above and make payments over 20 months (booking the cruise 2 years out), you can make a $140 a month payment then won’t owe anything on your cruise. This may be more manageable for people who may be on a tighter monthly budget.
Don’t make this more complicated on yourself than it should be. Go to the cruise lines website and get your cost. You’re not going to find it much cheaper anywhere else. If you’re traditional or not comfortable managing your own vacations, you may want to use a travel agent. They can sometimes get you group rates, on-board credit, upgrades, etc., but they’re not going to be drastically cheaper. Also keep in mind if you use a travel agent, the cruise line cannot talk to you or help you in any way. You have to go through that travel agent. Your best bet is just to book directly with the cruise line. Personally I would never use a travel agent but that’s because I love the researching and planning of my vacations and I want full control over my families vacation.
There are a few discounts available, such as military and senior discounts. You can also get discounted gift cards through AARP & Allstate Rewards. Verizon Wireless did away with their discounts in late 2017. You can save 10% on your cruise with these.
If you want a young party crowd then you probably want a 3-5 day cruise to the Bahamas. The short cruises that are 5 days and shorter typically have a young party crowd on them. They’re also known as “booze cruises”. Cruises that are 6 days and longer are more for the adult crowd and families. The Alaska cruises typically are geared toward the more older crowd.
Time of year
If you go during the spring months, you’re going to have the spring break crowds which consists of more college kids, a lot of drinking and a lot of partying. ESPECIALLY the shorter cruises. In the summer, you’ll get more kids since they are out of school. In the winter time you’ll get more adults since the kids are in school.
If you want to book in the fall the prices will typically be lower. However you need to keep in mind that this is hurricane season. It’s a gamble to take, especially without trip insurance.
Don’t wait until the last minute to book your cruise. Cruise prices don’t drop much as the sail date gets closer. They have no problem selling out rooms and almost always sail full. They have no reason to drop prices to entice people to book. Book early, that way you lock in the stateroom that you want. If the price does drop, you get that amount back in on-board credit through the price protection.
The best tip that I got from a cruiser on CruiseCritic to describe the rooms is this. Make a fist and stick your index finger up and point to the sky. Now motion like you’re telling someone to ‘come here’. Pretend your finger is the ship. Notice the top of the finger moves more than the bottom of the finger? That’s the same concept of the ship. You feel less motion the lower you go. It’s also typically cheaper to stay lower. Also the ships forward and aft will feel more movement than the center. So if you’re prone to seasickness, you want mid-ship, lowest floor.
Before you book, check out the deck plans of the ship you’re wanting to sail on. Also see what stateroom you may want to book. Look at what’s above and below it. You don’t want a stateroom under the lido deck, galley, clubs or theater. If you’re under lido you may hear chairs being moved around early in the morning. If you’re under the theater you may hear the shows going on until past your bedtime. If you’re under the clubs, you’ll hear the music until late at night. If you’re under the galley, well, the galley is open all night so….
First I will start basic, because this is what you will likely be wanting to know. There are 4 basic types of rooms which are:
Interior – This is exactly what it says, an interior room. It has no window, just a basic inside room. (Category 1, 3 & 4)
Ocean View – This is a room with a window where you can look out. These vary between a porthole or an actual window. (Category 6)
Balcony – There are actually 2 types of balcony rooms, 1 is a regular balcony and the other is a cove balcony. (Category 7, 8 & 9)
Suite – A suite is a larger room with more things included with it and typically has a balcony. (Not referenced by category number)
Remember when booking, you’re not going to be spending a ton of time in your stateroom so you don’t need something extravagant. We always book either a balcony or an ocean view.
Each cabin type is then divided into categories based on their “desirability”. A letter is used to denote the category. Generally the later the letter is in the alphabet, the more desirable the cabin would be. The more desirable categories will have higher price rates. The more desirable cabins are typically on the middle to upper decks in the center of the ship. Although aft cabins are considered quire desirable. Other things that affect desirability are obstructions, balcony size, noise, etc. For example, a 1A would be the least desired cabin. So here are the categories:
Interior – 1A, 3J (picture window), 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E, 4F, 4G, 4H, 4J (picture window & obstructed view) and 4K (french doors)
Ocean View – 6A, 6B, 6C
Balcony – 7A (obstructed balcony), 7C (cove balcony), 8A, 8B, 8C, 8D, 8E, 8F, and 8G. 8M and 8N are extended balconies. 9B is a premium balcony. 9C is a premium vista balcony.
Suite – JS (junior suite), OS (ocean suite), GS (grand suite)
These are the average sizes of the staterooms
Interior – 186 square feet
Ocean View – 220 square feet (except Fantasy & Spirit Class ships, which are 185 square feet)
Balcony – 185 square feet
Junior & Ocean Suite – 275 square feet
Grand Suite – 300-345 square feet
8A through 8G – 35 square feet
8M & 8N – 60 square feet
9B – 75 square feet
9C – 75-275 square feet
Junior Suite (JS) – 35-40 square feet
Ocean Suite (OS) – 65-85 square feet
Grand Suite (GS) – 85-115 square feet