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Family Cruise Savings Tips (Part 2)
By Luisa Frey
January 9, 2009

The more relatives you sail with, the better deal you can get. Third and forth passengers in the same cabin cruise free or at a discount.

On Board Savings

If you haven't taken your children on a family cruise before, be aware that supervised youth activities are free. In most cases, youth programming is free from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., after which there is an hourly fee for group babysitting. (The time at which the free programming ends at night varies per cruise line; at Disney Cruise Line, there is never a charge for late-night babysitting.)

For the most part, youth activities are top-notch -- just as good as those at land-based resorts where you are charged $35 to $50 for a half-day session. In addition, many cruise lines feature family-friendly, free activities such as water slides, water play areas and rock-climbing walls that you and your children can enjoy together.

While it gets pricey paying for a family of four to book shore excursions sold through the cruise lines (instead, hop in a taxi with your family and hit the beach independently in the Caribbean to save money), many lines offer reduced shore excursion fares for children on select tours. These reduced rates are usually listed on the shore excursion order form on board ship. For example, on Celebrity Cruises, a three-hour ATV adventure in Denali National Park is $95 for adults and half price for kids at $48. Similarly, a substantial reduction is taken at Disney Cruise Line, where a shore excursion to Trunk Bay costs $62 for adults and $39 for children nine years and under. MSC offers a 30 percent reduction on all shore excursions for those 11 years and under in the Caribbean and those 13 years and under in Europe.

MSC Cruises recently rolled out My Teen Card, targeted to 12- to 17-year-olds. The prepaid card can be used by the holder for onboard purchases (sodas, gift shop items, etc.) and as a stateroom key. In the Caribbean, teens can choose from a $30 card with a $5 bonus added or $50 with a $10 bonus; in Europe, the same amounts are applicable in Euros.

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Food and Drink Packages

If your children are soft drink guzzlers, purchase a soda fountain card once you're on board. Most family friendly lines offer a discounted soda fountain card for kids and teens compared to adult rates. For example, typical prices are $4 per day per child aboard Carnival and Royal Caribbean. On premium cruise lines like Disney Cruise Line and Crystal Cruises, all soft drinks are complimentary.

Princess Cruises recently rolled out its Ultimate Kids Package for those under 21 years. The package costs $9 per day and includes an unlimited soda fountain package; unlimited soft serve ice cream; free hot chocolate, juices, and mocktails.

NCL charges $39.50 for its Kids' Crew Backpack with Unlimited Soda Program, which provides an NCL backpack; NCL T-shirt; NCL baseball cap; and unlimited soda package. For teens, the Teen Passport Program costs $34.50 and includes a booklet with 20 tickets for non-alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic smoothies; and admission to an afternoon dance party with DJ, pizza and unlimited soft drinks.

A few lines offer a lowered kids' rate at their alternative restaurants. On Holland America Line, children under 12 are free and those 12 to 18 years pay half price ($10 in the Pinnacle Grill and $15 at Tamarind for dinner). Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises charge half price for children three to 12 years old in their specialty restaurants.

Families as Groups

A number of cruise lines offer family reunion packages with numerous perks.

Holland America Line has a Family Reunion Program with reduced group fares for families booking eight staterooms or more on any cruise. They include the following amenities:

  • Reduced group pricing (varies by cruise and cabin category)
  • Fountain soda card for every member of the family (soda card is good for 20 glasses of soda and a souvenir cup)
  • One family photo per stateroom
  • Lunch for the entire family in the alternative Pinnacle Grill Restaurant
  • Head-of-the-Family reward: One stateroom in the group receives a complimentary upgrade from an outside category to verandah

Crystal Cruises offers a Crystal Family Memories package. Included are:

  • One complimentary berth for every 10 full-fare berths
  • $500 credit towards a Crystal Private Adventure of $2,500 or more
  • Complimentary family portraits

Even if a cruise line does not have a family reunion package, most offer some type of added value perks or a free cabin for small groups. If you have an extended family that wants to vacation together, ask your desired cruise line about small-group deals. At Costa, the 16th passenger in a group of at least eight cabins is free; other perks include on-board credits, shore excursion and photo credits.

NCL's new Groups 2.0 program, for guests booking eight or more staterooms, features advance Freestyle Dining reservations in any restaurant prior to the sailing, and a cocktail party for the whole group. One stateroom in the group of eight gets shipboard credits ranging from $50 to $150 (depending on cruise length); one bottle of house wine or sparkling cider at dinner and in stateroom; 10 free gourmet cups of coffee; casino credits; bowling in the newer ships; adult and children's soda package; a $50 spa credit and 130 free Internet minutes.

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