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domal02 June 16th, 2012 04:49 PM

Doing research need experienced opinions
I am planning on cruising for the first time next June. With all the information out there it is very overwhelming. I figured I'd ask people who've been what their experiences have been to perhaps help me in making the best decision.
My current questions/concerns are (and I'm sure the list will grow LOL)
I'm going with Carnival cruise lines FYI. This will be a trip for a family of 4.
Is it better to purchase the shore excursions before cruising or once on the ship? Also, is there a way to book the excursions through carnival before cruising if I decide to go that route?
What kind of expenses can I expect on the ship? I have heard $10-12 per day per cruiser for gratuities. Alcohol is a seperate expense. What else?
We are going to talk to a travel agent (my husband is prior military and still can use the travel agent on post). Is there anything we should be asking specifically when we go talk to them?
We are planning on going to the Caribbean, 5 day cruise. I'd like to do a snorkeling and/or dolphin excursion. Thinking about just lying on the beach and doing nothing at one of the shores. I want to balance relaxing and experiencing something new. I want to mix new experience with relaxing so as not to feel overloaded.
For a family of 4, how much money is recommended to plan to save/spend? I know it varies depending on shore excursions etc, but a general idea is nice. It seems the more I read the more I need to be saving for. I'm thinking about $5000 for a 5 day trip (tickets included).
Any extra advice will be gladly received!
Thank you :)

aerospace June 16th, 2012 05:12 PM

Unless you absolutely have to do a particular excursion it's ok to wait and do it on the ship. They can sell out but it's not likely unless you wait until the day before your in port at 8pm and then want 4 seats.

I usually plan $100/day for expenses for each port day including excursions, so a 7 day trip with 3 ports, $300pp extra. If you simply plan on a beach trip, wander around, go by taxi $50pp/day is probably fine. Plan more if you drink a lot though.

Most agents will include an on board credit or a better price than through the cruiseline. Always get something even if it's a bottle of wine or free coke plan.

5 day trip should be about 2-300pp for inside cabin. Sometimes you can get additional people in the same room for much cheaper, say person 3 and 4 for 100 each though I would recommend 2 rooms...they are small.
300pp cruise=1200+tax=1600
100pp per port day(assume 3 ports)=1200
50/day tip=250
=3050 minimum, with 5k you will be fine to drink or gamble a bit, do some better excursions like the dolphin swim, some shopping etc.

Cruise experience: 15 cruises, last one was 30days in May

Donna June 16th, 2012 10:01 PM

Once you book your cruise and have a booking #, be sure to go to the Carnival site and fill in all your information for your fun pass. You should be able to then look through all the excursions they offer and start to decide what you want to do in each port. Always a good idea to pre-book them online before the cruise, some do get sold out...

Let us know what ship you decide on and the itinary.

domal02 June 17th, 2012 09:36 AM

Will do. I'm still a good few months off buying tickets but I'm glad I started doing research now. There is so much to consider and I had no idea. LOL The 2 ships we've really looked at is Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Fascination.

Donna June 17th, 2012 10:41 AM

What are the ports for these ships? Sometimes that is the key factor...

Kuki June 17th, 2012 12:05 PM

I'll suggest, even though it's there for you, using a travel agent on Post is not necessarily the best move for you.

Use of a travel agent has no cost to you! Since it's your first cruise I'd highly recommend using a cruise specialist, rather than a general travel agent. An experienced cruise specialist can find and offer the same deals, and can perhaps offer you more guidance.

Once booked, if you choose, you can indeed book your shore excursions online at the Carnival web site. For a first time cruiser, with family, depending on the island, I do in fact recommending booking ship's shore excursions, rather than going independantly.

Except for the casino, all your onboard expenses will be billed to your shipboard account (which would be charged to your credit card, or you could pay off in cash before the end of the cruise). So, the question of how much money you need, would vary if you're talking about total expenses, or just necessary cash to have with you.

I also highly recommend reading many of the articles accessed from our Home Page. Many of them are designed for first time cruisers, and will offer a lot of information on things you may not have even thought of yet.

Fieldmouse June 17th, 2012 12:50 PM

We found out the hard way...that not all travel agents are equal. Especially if you are a first time cruiser...take Kuki's advice and find a 'cruise travel specialist'.

Most Cruise Specialist are not only familiar with the the different cruise lines but have personally been on most of the ships! This is valuable information when choosing a cabin, knowing personally what the food and ambience of the ship is like. They'll also have the experience if you need to make changes or hit a small snag.

Of course everyone is different and what appeals to one person might not to another, BUT a Cruise Specialist will try to find a cruise line that match the passengers for a nice fit.
(e.g. older passengers might not enjoy a Disney cruise no matter how beautiful the ship..but might love HAL or Celebrity.)

IF we've never been to an area/country before we always book 'shore excursions' through the cruise lines. Might be a little more expensive but we know we'll get where we're going with little or no hassle and back again before the ship leaves, (nothing worst than standing on the dock seeing your ship fade in the distance...this happen to friends of ours) and it gives us a nice over all view of the local area. Then when we return...if we feel comfortable, we book our own excursions.

There will always be, 'coulda, woulda' shoulda, but that's part of the fun and experience. You'll LOVE cruising!!!

domal02 June 18th, 2012 02:29 AM

Where would one find a cruise specialist?

Donna, the port is a huge factor for us. We are driving to the port so want one as close as possible. Both those ships are within our port driving distance! Ecstasy is Port Canaveral and Fascination is Jacksonville, FL.

domal02 June 18th, 2012 02:50 AM

Also to clarify, what is included in the "all-inclusive" pricing? For example, is all the dining experience included in the ticket price or are there dining areas which are extra? Do you tip extra for room service or does the daily tipping cover that service? Sorry for the confusion. I realize this is a frequently asked question.

Donna June 18th, 2012 06:42 AM

The main dinning rooms and the buffet do not require any extra dollars. Some ships have alternative restaurants that are extra, not sure if those ship have them...

Grazzt June 19th, 2012 03:27 AM

Just recently as a 1st time cruiser here is what I found out since I had similiar questions.

I booked a few excursions before cruising and not through Carnival. I had seen this advice on these boards and found the same types usually for much cheaper. Just remember "ship time" vs "port time" when going this route. I know my wife and I saved a few hundred $ doing this. There are companies online that you can book through, which many people on this board have used with success.

"all-inclusive" usually meant standard food areas and basic drinks. We don't drink so no bar bill for us. The soda plan is not bad if you really want to drink a lot of soda. I found the lemonade and juices were plenty enough that next time I wouldn't be paying the $60. Special activities cost extra like bingo, certain contests and so on. We only got room service once and I tipped $2 for each of us.

No clue on the travel agent. Wise or not, Cruisemates was our travel agent in a sense and we seemed to do fine.

I wouldn't pay for a "beach excursion" unless it is something very different. Depending on the ports of call. It is very likely you will stop at a port that has a Carnival established beach. In our case in was in Rotaan. We walked off the ship and a 5 minute walk we were on the beach. We didn't pay a dime extra. But we saw $60-70 excursions for covered chairs and reserved spaces. After being there it seemed kinda of silly.

domal02 June 19th, 2012 05:49 PM

Thank you everybody for the information. I'm sure I will have loads more questions as my plans progress. This is a very informative site!

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