welcome                               

  We’re the cruising family!

 

We’ll teach you how to get INSANE CRUISE DEALS, how to CRUISE MORE, and GET MORE OUT OF YOUR CRUISE!  Check out our 8 amazing cruise hacks below to become a professional cruising family!

We love to travel on cruise ships and we think it’s the absolute best way to travel with a family!  As parents of twins, we’re pretty much always exhausted.  When travelling, we don’t want to end up feeling like we need a vacation from our vacation.  Non-cruising internet travelling families never show you what goes on behind the scenes….. spoiler!, it’s not as fun as it looks! 

Cruising is relaxing, fun, we explore new destinations, we experience new cultures, we eat new foods….. and we do it all on a floating amusement park that has on-demand food, great kid’s activities, babysitting, a spa, and internet prices so high it will cure your iPhone addition.    

Keep in mind our twins (26 week micro-preemies now 2.5 years old) may be younger than most cruising kids and so the advice below may be different the older your kids are, mainly in respect to which cruise line you prefer.

01 book the longest cruise possible

Choosing a Cruise!

If possible, choose a cruise that is 10 days or longer. The longer the cruise, the better the deal you will get! Longer cruises are much more difficult to sell out, and last-minute price drops will be steep!  Longer cruises typically attract a more affluent and retired demographic, and we love that because as a young family the services and ship features we use aren’t utilized by most guests (the gym, the pool, casual dinners, kid’s clubs and activities). We don’t like the feeling of a crowded cruise ship, and this is the best kept secret to having almost an entire ship to your family. The downside, most kid-centric cruise lines (Disney, Royal Caribbean) don’t offer long cruises, generally 6-8 days at most. Holland America is our favorite long itinerary cruise line and while there will be enough kids for your little ones to make friends, there won’t be a ship full.

02 don’t book based on cruise line

Which Cruise Line is Best?

Destination & Cost are the two overwhelming key factors influencing our cruise choice, not cruise line.  Each mainstream Cruise Line has the same basic services and programs (kid’s programs, etc.…) even if the details may differ. Cruises are cheap enough with our method of booking that we go on multiple cruises each year, all on different cruise lines. Yes, some have better features and tailored experiences than others, and ship days on Royal Caribbean for kids have many more quality entertainment options than Holland America, but we’re not going a cruise to hang out on the ship all day. We also pick itineraries that have the least amount of sea days possible

03 book within 60 days of departure

When to book your cruise!
  • If you book early, cruise lines tell you they will honor any price drop before the departure of the cruise. However, cruise lines ONLY honor price drops prior to your full payment being due, and that is almost always 60-90 days prior to departure.
  • Cruise lines also run “regional” cruise deals that are not available to all customers and thus these “regional” deals don’t qualify for price drops.
  • Cruise lines want you to believe most cruisers book early, but it’s just not true. The large majority of all cruises are booked within 6 months of embarkation, with first-time cruisers booking within 3 months of embarkation most of the time.
  • The truth: Cruise lines want a ship at full capacity and within 60 days of departure cruise lines drastically reduce prices to fill every last stateroom. Early bookings miss out on these prices.

04  book at rock bottom prices

Rock Bottom Prices

We look for cruises at an insane value, generally between $33-$66 per night per person (retail is generally $120-$300). Our favorite cruise promotion is either “kids sail free” or “3rd & 4th guests sail free.”

Examples: We did a 14-day Panama Canal on Princess for $1398. We did a 21-day Mediterranean on Holland America for $2772.

schedule

Deals get even cheaper generally between September and May, except for holidays. You might imagine booking a cruise 15-60 days ahead of departure would be frantic, but there are hundreds of cruises available to choose from and the booking process is extremely simple. Flight prices don’t become inelastic until 14 days prior to your trip (see flight hacks at the end of this thread).

GENERAL

The booking “sweet spot” is generally between 30-15 days prior to departure. Of course, if you find a cruise and itinerary you really want within 60 days out, it’s best to pull the trigger. Seasoned cruisers know exactly how the system works (take a few cruises and you’ll confirm in conversation), thus there can be a bit of competition for last minute deals.

 
 

05  don’t use a travel agent (book commission free)

How to book your Cruise!

We watch VacationsToGo.com’s 90-day ticker.  It displays a minimalist, straightforward list of cruises with unsold cabins departing within 90 days, all up to 82% off. The 90-day ticker doesn’t list all last minute deals, so we also use their “Find a Bargain” tool if we are scouting out a specific destination.

 
We also utilize Costco Travel. Costco will generally match or beat any price. Costco agents are employees of Costco and don’t get commission on bookings. AND… Costco generally gives you what would be the “commission” as shipboard credit. Additionally, if you have an executive Costco membership you get 2% back and if you pay with Costco’s credit card you get an extra 3% back. It’s difficult for any other cruise vendor to touch Costco’s final price because of this additional 5% savings.
 
The only exception…. VacationsToGo.com often purchases cabins outright and resales them on their own terms.  In these cases, not even Costco will be able to match. You may be able to find similar “unpublished or group fares” at other cruise vendors.

06  Book an inside cabin, upgrade on the ship

Which Cabin/Room should you choose?

Generally, our recommendation would be to book an inside cabin. There are many times when it makes perfect sense to book a balcony or suite if the price is right, but for our purpose (going on as many cruises as possible) an inside cabin is unbeatable. It is very common for inside cabins to be half the cost of a balcony! We would rather book another entire cruise rather than use that same money for a balcony (depending on the destination however, i.e. Alaska)

 
We almost always have good luck getting a free upgrade once on the ship. You can gauge the likelihood of an upgrade by watching the availability of unsold rooms up until departure. As cruises process upgrades on embarkation, it leaves better cabins available! Upgrading for a fee is always less than what you would have paid booking a higher category prior to departure.
 
With our family of 4 we normally book 2 rooms. 2 rooms are the same price as 1 room because cruises charge per person for double occupancy. When we find a deal that comes with 3rd & 4th guests free, then we will book 1 room and look at getting a Balcony or Suite. This allows you to leverage the value saved up to 5X compared to an inside cabin without a 3rd & 4th guest discount.
Bonus Hack – Try booking an unused ADA accessible cabin! These cabins provide for much more space and have bathrooms 3x’s the size of a normal room’s. It’s like getting a junior suite sized room for the price of an inside cabin!

07  don’t buy excursions from the cruise line

Where to Find & Purchase Excursions!

The #1 rule of seasoned cruisers: don’t buy excursions on the ship!!! There are certain situations where buying on the ship might make sense (a deep discount i.e. 2for1, or limited availability of non-ship sponsored excursions), but generally this is a huge rookie mistake. Rather, once you book your cruise, go over to CruiseCritic.com and join the “roll call” for your sailing. Here you will find experienced cruisers who have already booked excursions through local companies at 1/3-1/2 the price of the same excursions you can buy on the ship. You can join a group excursion of your fellow passengers, or post your excursion details and get others to join you. Regardless, it will be very evident who the best local tour operators are for you to book an excursion through

08  book flights more than 15 days prior to departure & use Priceline for last minute hotel bookings

Booking Flights & Hotel Rooms!
Flight prices tend to go up and stay up within 14 days of departure.  Book before this time frame to save!  To monitor great flight deals we subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights.  They send us automated emails of random and amazing flight deals from our home airport. We use Google Flights when searching for flights and we generally book directly through the airline we’re flying on. We also use Priceline’s Express Flight Deals when we are really flexible.
 
For hotels, we exclusively use Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature. We stay in 4-5 star hotels and most of the time pay less than $120/night for hotels whose normal rates are $300+. We usually book the day before or even the day of, that’s when prices are the best. Use it a few times and you will figure out how it works and will be able to, with 95% accuracy, figure out which hotel you will end up with before you bid. If you are booking on a holiday or in an area with generally high prices (Kauai – Poipu) you won’t get as good of a deal as explained above and using the Express Deal feature will generally be the best deal you can get!
 
Sometimes travel agents can bundle these items and get you a fantastic deal included with your cruise, but in our experience, we can still do it cheaper with our method explained above.

FAQ  

Cruise line loyalty programs

Currently, Cruise Loyalty Programs provide little to no actual value.  The only real benefit is a better likelihood of being upgraded once onboard.  We are hoping that this is something the industry changes in the near future. For now, pick your favorite destination and itinerary and go with that regardless of Cruise Line.

Norovirus on cruise ships

Incidents of norovirus or other gastrointestinal (GI) disease are quite rare on cruise ships. In the U.S., the risk of getting norovirus each year is about 1 in 15; a cruise passenger has about a 1 in 5,500 risk of getting laboratory-confirmed norovirus during a shipboard outbreak. While global information on norovirus outbreaks is not available, the CDC runs the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP), which collects the total number of GI illness cases on cruise ships before the ship arrives at a U.S. port, when sailing from a foreign port.  Passenger and crew member health is protected by a robust system of oversight and enforcement. Public health authorities worldwide inspect cruise ships and enforce health requirements. Cruise ships calling on U.S. ports, for example, receive at least two unannounced health inspections every year. In addition, cruise ships undergo three or more formal internal public health inspections each year. Check out the “Advanced Cruise Ship Inspection Search” from the link above and see how your ship scored on their health inspection.

Safety At Sea

Cruise ships are one of the safest vacation options in the world, with rates of serious crimes that are exceedingly lower than those on land. Data from the FBI supports this fact, and due to multiple layers of security, allegations of major crimes on cruise ships are extremely rare. The cruise industry follows comprehensive security protocols, both prior to departure and at sea. Passengers, crew, and baggage must pass through rigorous security checkpoints before boarding. In addition to video surveillance and around-the-clock onboard emergency contacts, cruise ships keep an official manifest that lists everyone onboard. Proof of identity is required to access a cruise ship, and only crew, ticketed passengers and those on a pre-approved list may enter.

Cruise Planning tips

  • Avoid booking same day flights as embarkation & debarkation
  • Buy beverage & spa packages on the 1st day, generally they will be the cheapest
  • Book a spa day during a less-than-desirable port day (rainy) for a great deal
  • Make friends with the crew (they often have the best tips – where to find the best port internet, where to avoid tourist traps and find real local shopping)
  • Eat breakfast and lunch in the dining room, the meals are much better than the classic buffet
  • Save space in luggage by skipping items such as pool and beach towels, which are provided shipboard
  • Always keep essentials including your passport, medicine glasses and cruise documents close at hand in your carry-on

Helpful items to pack for a cruise

  • Power Strip(s) (generally there are only 2 outlets in a room)
  • Night light (if you have kids and they wake at night)
  • Towel Clips for laying out (your towel won’t blow away on a gusty day)
  • Suction cup hooks for the shower (to hang wet swim suits)
  • Wrinkle release spray for clothes
  • Over the door shoe organizer (gives you an extra dresser almost)
  • Porta-crib sheets (they’ll provide the crib but no sheets)
  • Alcohol (to drink)
  • Familiar books or toys for your kids
  • Kids’ Floaties for swimming
  • Cash (avoid ATM fees)
  • Don’t pack items that are prohibited, such as travel irons (check the cruise line’s web site for list of prohibited item)

Medical facilities on cruise ships

Cruise ships must have at least one qualified medical professional available 24/7 for medical bay visits or cabin “house calls.” Also, cruise ships must have an examination room, an intensive care room and equipment for processing labs, monitoring vital signs and administering medications. Patients requiring more comprehensive facilities or treatment are typically referred to a shore side medical facility.

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