We are trying to plan a family vacation (Caribbean crusie) for Feb 2005 for Mom's 60th Birthday. We would like to make it a surprise (shhhh don't anyone tell). We are a family of 8 adults & 2 children (ages 3 & 6 by next Feb). We are all first-time cruisers. So the big questions are:
1. Which cruise line & ship? We are leaning towards RCCL, Princess, or NCL due to the little bit of research we have done on the internet. We don't want to spend an arm & a leg, but we do these family vacations only once every 6-7 years, so a little bit of a splurge is ok. We want to make sure that we are not catering just to the kids or just to the adults.
2. Eastern vs. Western? Our last family vacation was to Cancun in 1998, so do we go Eastern b/c we've seen that part of Mexico already?
3. The one couple with the kids, what what room size is necessary
4. Is our group big enough for a group rate?
5. How exactly do extra charges on these cruise lines work? I understand the excursions, but how much on average are soft drinks? Alcoholic Drinks? Coffee? Is there some sort of drink card for the week? Other things not included in the price of the cruise?
Anyway, maybe they are not all big questions, but it would be nice to have some input from people who have been on cruises & specifically with little ones.
We went on RCL Sovereign of the Seas last year (4 day cruise) and took our four children. We got two rooms - adults in one and kids in the other, but our kids are older (range in age from 9-19). We book inside cabins on a lower level due to price. I've found we've spent very little time in the room and prefer to save our money for other things.
We bought soda cards for the kids. It was around $20 for the four days for unlimited soda. I found my kids really didn't drink as much as I thought they would because they had to go to the bar to get it so I don't think I would do that again. They mostly drank the free lemonade and ice tea. We bought alcohol beverage cards. Got 10 drinks for about $44. Not sure if they still sell them.
We did find the rooms on RCl to be small. This year we booked with Carnival. Also, my younger children weren't thrilled with the kids program. They ended up hanging out with us most of the time. We have friends that have cruised both Carnival and RCl and they've said that their kids love the Camp Carnival program and they think the food is better on Carnival, although we all thought the food on RCL was excellent.
We're doing the W.C. this year. Did Bahamas last year and really were not crazy about it. Loved Coco Cay but was not impressed with Nassau. From reading these boards it does look like shore excursions for smaller children are limited in Costa Maya and Belize. You might want to check into that some more before deciding on which to go to.
I'd suggest one of the Royal CAribbean's Voyager class ships for this family cruise. They really cater to cruising with families/kids and something for everyone to do. We did a Voyager cruise a few months ago and really enjoyed it, virtually something for everyone. NOw, to choose a destination, they have one in all parts of the Caribbean.
My top two picks would be the Grand Class Ships of Princess and the Voyager Class ships of RCCL - these are the really big ships with lots of stuff and things for all ages. Both have very good kids programs and cater to families. Now for the hard part - where to go. Make a list of what you and your kids like to do on vacation. Is it just hit the beach and hang-out, or do you want to try something more adventurous like swimming with the Sting Rays, climbing water falls,snorkeling, visiting ruins and of course shopping. I would get some brochures for everyone to look at. It helps to have something in hand.
Accomodations - for familes we found that it was cheaper to book a mini-suite than it was to book 2 cabins. 4 people in a standard cabin is tight.- especially when it comes to the bathroom. 4 or 5 people in a mini-suite is comfy.
Soda cards/stickers worked great for our kids. 7 day cruise on Princess $22.50 for unlimited fountain sodas.
Coffee, Tea, Iced Tea, tap water and fruit juice is included in the cost.
The average price for alcoholic drinks is about the same as what you would pay for a drink in a nice restaurant back home. The fancy frozen drinks are more expensive, look for drink of the day specials.
We just got back from the Southern Caribbean. We were on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas. We had the best vacation! We have a 3 year old girl and a 7 year old boy. WE were very impressed and the kids had a great time. They have a kids program that runs all day if you wish to put your kids there for a while. We did not use it, but we heard wonderful things from the people who did. We did get a babysitter in the room for a few nights so we could go out to the night life activities on the boat and do a little gambling at the casino as well. Wonderful girls watching the kids, and believe me, I don't ever get a babysitter and I was very comfortable doing this on my vacation. The wait staff was absolutely fantastic with our kids. We took a cruise on Carnival a couple years back and after doing this cruise would never go back to Carnival. They can't even come close. Our room was a decent size. We had a stateroom. We were a little concerned when we first got there because there were only 2 twin beds and a small couch, but when we came back from dinner the first night there were bunk beds which just made the whole trip for the kids. I can't say enough good things about The Adventure of the Seas. We had a great time and highly recommend it. As far as drinks... sodas are$1.50 each plus automatic gratuity. There is a soda card you can purchase for unlimited refills. Beer and wine and mixed drinks don't cost more than if you go to a nightclub. You get a sea pass card which you use for everything on the boat and you pay at the end of your trip. This was nice because you don't have to worry about carrying cash unless you go to the casino. Coffee, tea, lemonade and milk are all included as well as your meals and there is always somewhere on the boat you can get food anytime you want. The kids thought it was the greatest and they do all cater to the kids, but they cater just as much to the adults!!!! Have a great cruise!
Just another opinion. Congratulations on planning another Family Vacation.
1. Which cruise line & ship?
One cruise line that I did not see mentioned was Carnival and it's newly built ships. As a grandmother and person who loves to travel without kids in my face, I was amazed at how wonderful the Pride, Legend and Conquest were for all age brackets. They are not necessarily the all party rowdy fun ships. However, Fun can definetly be had by all age groups. There are some great early purchase rates, too. Cabins are also bigger comparing size of inside, outside or regular balcony categories. The best thing to do is narrow down your dates and itinerary and port of embarkation. President's week is a majoy family cruise week, thus you will have anywhere from 500 to over 1000 kids on a Disney or RCCI Voyager class ship. Any other week accept Holiday weeks would be much better.
( We are leaning towards RCCL, Princess, or NCL due to the little bit of research we have done on the internet. We don't want to spend an arm & a leg, but we do these family vacations only once every 6-7 years, so a little bit of a splurge is ok. We want to make sure that we are not catering just to the kids or just to the adults.)
2. Eastern vs. Western? February can be still a little cool and there may be some showers in the Eastern Caribbean ports. We have now sailed the last week of February 3 times (our school vaction week) and had rain in 3 ports of call with brisk breezes at Nassau, too. A Southern itinerary although port intensive, might be another option. Cruise ships on a Western itinerary include Jamaica, Grand Cayman, a private island and Cozumel or a tour to Playa del Carmen and Tulum. (Our last family vacation was to Cancun in 1998, so do we go Eastern b/c we've seen that part of Mexico already?)
3. The one couple with the kids, what what room size is necessary - A quad with a balcony will work well or two adjoining outside or inside cabins to save money. Celebrity's 3rd. & 4th. passenger rates were $400 each this past Winter season and their Millennium Class ships are great for families.
4. Is our group big enough for a group rate? - No, I don't think so. However, many good large travel agents can "make" a group by adding more of their customers for the same cruise. Mine did that, as I have very little family. We only had 3 other cabins booked for my immediate group and our total number ended up to be 32 people. Usually it is one free birth (bed) for every 8 cabins at double occupancy. The kids or 3rd. & 4th passengers in a cabin don't count. Contact a good large cruise agency. Mine was an American Express agent.
5. How exactly do extra charges on these cruise lines work? I understand the excursions, but how much on average are soft drinks( $2 each)? Alcoholic Drinks ($3.50 to $8.95) plus Wine is from $20 to $$$ a bottle all plus a 15% gratuity which is automatically added to your Sign & Sail Account. Coffee $2.50+ Specialty like Latte or Espresso. Is there some sort of drink card for the week? -RCCI, Celebrity ($40) and Carnival sell soda cards. There is juice, coffee and tea, iced tea, leomanade and fruit punch available in the buffet area during the day and at the dining room table. Other things not included in the price of the cruise? - Photo's a big expense especially for those once in a lifetime family photo - 8x10 = $20, 5x7 + $10, 6x8 $8, etc. Bingo, Souvenirs, Princess charges for Ice Cream at its bar, Pastry from the Cafe's, Massage's or spa treatments and special exercise programs like Pilates, Kick Boxing, Spinning, Computer/Internet time.
Tips not automatically included: Porters, Room Service - pay when served $1 or $2 depending on the size of your order - food is free. Tips for tour guides and bus drivers. Tip ($1) for taking someone's photo in a foreign port. These folks are needy and trying to earn a living whatever way they can.
Bingo or Casino Gambling - I save lots of money here and just don't go!
Tours - you also can save lots of money by making tour arrangements before you go on your own or at the port of call in most Caribbean ports. These vendors know the ship's routine and rely on your tourist dollars. Check out the Ports of Call threads for some recommendation on this and other cruise forums.
If I can help in any way, please feel free to write. Let me know what ship you decide upon, I too may like to sail again next February. I am looking at the Mariner of the seas, but a Western Caribbean itinerary for 2005.
Thanks to everyone. You just can't get this kind of info from the cruise lines directly. Quick question to Janice, you said you had a 3 & a 7 yr old in a stateroom, was this inside, outside, or balcony? Also, the bunk beds, do they come out of the wall? Did the kids have any problems with these? Did you feel cramped in the room at all, with the four of you?
Nana, thanks for the info, since this vacation is for my mother-in-law's 60th birthday it is great to also have someone's perspective, other than couples with kids. Good to know she will have enough to do to enjoy herself.
Thanks again to everyone & if you have any more comments I certainly welcome them!!!