For many families, a cruise represents the ultimate vacation—an all-inclusive trip aboard a fancy yacht with endless buffets and activities, plus shore excursions on some of the world’s most beautiful islands. But cruises can also be pricey, and sticker shock can put these dream escapes out of reach for some parents.
At Cruiseline.com, general manager Faraz Qureshi is on a mission to lift the veil on the cruise industry, with unbiased reviews, ratings and tips for first-time cruisers and vets alike. And with insider advice on booking, Cruiseline also helps families score the some of the best rates available. He’s sharing some of those secrets here, so you can get the most bang for your cruise buck.
DailyParent: What time of year offers the best rates on cruises, and when is the best time to book that cruise? Caribbean cruises are often cheaper during hurricane season, but is it really safe to travel then?
Faraz Qureshi: The best time to cruise really depends on the destination. For the Caribbean, January, May and September tend to be the least expensive months to sail, but there can be deals during other time periods as well.
It used to be that the advice was book early or wait for the last minute to get the best deal. While that still holds true to some extent, there are more and more benefits to booking early—sometimes a year or more ahead of sailing. Increasing demand has led to fewer last minute deals, and the cruise lines are doing their best to offer the best prices and incentives to those who book well ahead. And if you do book early and the price drops, you can usually get an adjustment for the lower rate. (To get an alert when the price of your cruise drops, you can sign up for free price alerts at cruiseline.com. The mobile complement Ship Mate App is also a great resource to monitor cruise prices and talk to fellow cruise community passengers.)
Cruising during hurricane season in the Caribbean shouldn’t be too much of a concern. The ships will not travel into danger, so if a storm threatens, the Captain will re-route the ship to keep it out of harm’s way. That said, it’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance, but particularly so during hurricane season. It’s better to be covered in case of unexpected delays or problems.
DP: What’s the best way to for large families of six or more people to secure the best rates on a cruise?
FQ: Booking early is critical when you’re traveling as a large family. Not only will you get the best price, you’ll have the best selection of cabins so that you can book two rooms next door or across the hall from each other. While most standard cabins won’t fit more than four people, cruise lines are increasingly adding staterooms and suites specifically designed for multi-generational groups.
It’s important to do your research before cruising with a large family group—especially if it’s your first cruise—so that you know what to expect. We have a great guide for first time cruisers at cruiseline.com/advice.
DP: What’s the best method for booking a cruise? Should people book online, through a travel agent or directly with the cruise line?
FQ: If it’s your first cruise, you’ll likely want to book through a cruise specialist travel agent. They’re trained to ask the right questions and match you and your family with the right cruise line and itinerary. After you’ve got a few cruises under your belt and you know what you’re looking for and what to expect, it might be okay to book online or directly with the cruise line. But, initially, it’s best to tap into the knowledge and experience of an agent. It won’t cost you anything extra, and they sometimes can even get you a deal or special offer that you won’t find anywhere else.
DP: What’s the best way to save on excursions, spa treatments and other activities that are not included in the price of the cruise?
FQ: Book your shore excursions in advance through an independent vendor like Shore Excursions Group or ShoreFox. These companies are reputable and offer a guarantee that you’ll get back to the ship on time, or they’ll get you to the next port of call. Independent shore excursions tend to be smaller groups and priced much better than the trips you book onboard with the cruise line. We’ve got a list of the top independent shore excursions in every port at cruiseline.com
To save on spa treatments, stop by the spa on the first day of the cruise right after you board the ship. There may be an early booking incentive or perhaps a discount if you book a treatment on a day when the ship is scheduled to be in port.
Most cruise lines are now offering some sort of drink package that can save you quite a bit of money if you’re planning to spend some time at the bar. And some cruise lines offer savings on the extra-cost specialty restaurants if you have dinner on embarkation day.
Be sure to read the daily newsletter that’s delivered to your cabin each night to see what special offers or details various venues around the ship are offering the next day.
DP: Are “kids sail free” promotions really a good deal? What are the best offers that parents should be on the lookout for when booking a cruise?
FQ: “Kids sail free” deals can be a great way to save money when cruising with your family, but, as with any special offer, you’ll want to compare prices. Sometimes, there might be another promotion that’s not combinable with kids sail free that will ultimately give you a better price. That’s another reason why a travel agent can be your best friend when booking a cruise. They know the ins and outs of all the promotions and can find the best deal for you right away.
DP: For specialty cruise lines, like Disney, is it possible to get discounted rates? If so, how?
Yes, even specialty cruise lines do offer special rates from time to time. If there’s a sailing that’s not booking as well as expected, even Disney Cruise Line will lower the price to get more bookings. You can sign up on cruiseline.com and we’ll email you a list of all the best cruise price drops each day to make it easy for you to find a deal.