Author Topic: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)  (Read 9950 times)

MayDay

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I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« on: January 04, 2016, 06:50:19 AM »
My extended family may do a group trip next winter.  A cruis is a possibility that is very appealing because everyone can do what they want, but also meet back up together.  And no one has to cook.  But the big question mark is price. 

Requirements:
-mixed ages from baby up to 80's, so we don't want a party atmosphere.
-some kinds of kids activities would be nice but we don't need to send them off to childcare all day every day.
-everyone would be flying down to Florida, so leaving from a cheap airport would be nice- for example we found tickets to Orlando last year for half the price of Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
-probably 5 days.
-we would need specific dates and to plan far in advance
-people will not require super fancy, but probably won't be happy with the oldest crappiest boat

So where do I even start with trying to get ballpark prices?  Is there a search engine that will look at all the cruise lines?   What do I need to avoid and look for? 

MandalayVA

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2016, 07:09:35 AM »
This seems to be a good comparison tool:

http://www.cruisecritic.com/compare/

elaine amj

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2016, 07:22:29 AM »
My fave for searching (although I have never booked through them) is cruisedirect.com. I find their interface simple and fairly straightforward. Easy to search through multiple cruiselines and get an idea of prices.

I have used a travel agent to get onboard credits (free money since they offer the same prices as booking direct). For my previous cruises, I had wanted someone to help double check my plans, etc so I went with an experienced TA. if you don't care and just want to do it yourself, Costco's travel agency offers the best money back.

When we sailed on Royal Caribbean, I got the Royal CC and got extra OBC - which was compounded because we paid for ours and our friends' cruise (they paid us back in cash).

We really liked cruising - although because we are stuck to the school calendar, I found it quite $$. Would love to cruise again, but haven't come across the right prices.


MayDay

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2016, 07:26:00 AM »
We will have the school calendar issue too.

This will not be cheap no matter how we organize as lodging and food for 20 people is just always complex. Last time we rented a large house on VRBO.

dandarc

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2016, 07:43:12 AM »
Interior staterooms will reduce your cost.  I like them - it gets very, very dark, which helps me sleep.  Some people really don't like them though.

JoJo

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2016, 07:56:57 AM »
I've done a few cruises.  Not my favorite way to travel but here are a few tips based on your requirements:

* Sounds like you will be doing Caribbean, as all of the Florida cruises go there
* Add about $12 per person per day for tips included in the on boat bill.  It is possible to just have that charge and no others if you avoid drinking and day tours from the cruiseline.  It is possible to ask to not pay the tips but that is quite rude (staff from 3rd world countries make all of their money from tips and work 12+ hours per day cleaning our rooms, serving meals, etc and getting paid way less than minimum wage)
* Cruises leave from FLL, MIA but also Tampa (for western Caribbean) so check Tampa as an alternative
* If you want to avoid parties, you should avoid Carnival.  Holland America & Celebrity are older age but with kid activities (those are the only 2 lines I've traveled with)
* Tours booked with the cruiseline tend to cost double what they cost if you do it on your own or with an independent tour group.  You can find these tours on google or on the forums on www.cruisecritic.com
* As for drinking, you generally aren't allowed to bring alcohol on the ship.  Some lines allow one bottle of wine per room.  I've brought on a couple beers from the shops on some Caribbean islands but they might be confiscated.
* Definitely sign up for www.cruisecritic.com.  There will be a forum for your particular departure and a chance to sign up for a private party with that group one of the first days of the cruise.  Of the 3 cruises I took at these parties we got to meet many of the officers of the ship, twice got to meet the captain, and once even got a tour of the bridge out of it (which is quite rare and often for only the special guests).

Capsu78

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2016, 08:21:21 AM »
Another big fan of cruise critic- I am hard pressed to think of any detail I was not well aware of before any cruise I have taken (5).  A group like yours is tailor made for this method of travel for the reasons you mentioned.
Downsides include, however, that if you are locked into the school calendar chances are everybody else on your cruise is too- If I were just traveling with my wife, I would avoid those times at all costs; however, if you have a patience level that allows you to enjoy being at a waterpark in mid summer with your kids, then you should be OK.  Also I have done 3 Carnival cruises and know the complaint exists that they tend to be party ships but my experience is that ships are large enough to cater to both the party crowd- who stays up late and sleeps late and the family crowd that starts waking up at 7AM.
As for room set up, if I were arranging a group, I would consider a mix of interior, less expensive cabins but a couple of balcony rooms on the same deck as well, were groups can gather.  Everybody does not need to be side by side but just somewhere close give you space and convenience. 

Irishtache

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2016, 08:50:31 AM »
  Is there a search engine that will look at all the cruise lines?   What do I need to avoid and look for?

Hi Mayday. Others have posted very good info, especially JoJo. I would recommend www.vacationstogo.com for comparing cruises and options, embarkation port, ports to visit etc. Their prices are not always the cheapest and they add taxes & fees so just use it for comparison. I think Royal Carribbean or Norwegian Cruise lines would suit you. Carnival has a reputation for raucous party cruises but I have never travelled with them. They are usually the cheapest out of Florida. MSC cruiselines do 'kids go half price' or sometimes free if sharing a  stateroom with adults. The MSC Divina is a beautiful ship with large slide and kids club too. Royal & NCL have rock walls, ice skating shows, crazy golf, dodgems etc but more $. Drinks are expensive so you may wish to explore the packages. Note that they may insist that anyone travelling on the same reservation buys the package as well so beware if booking multiple adults on one credit card. Each stateroom will need to have an adult 'assigned' to it. You can re-arrange the sleeping arrangements when you get onboard. You might consider balcony cabins for the adults with inside cabins opposite for older kids. Alternatively, connecting balcony rooms are available. If you book adjoining balcony rooms, the room steward may agree to open the balcony dividers to make one  big balcony.

Enjoy. I love to cruise.

UnleashHell

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2016, 08:55:02 AM »
I second vacations to go.

its a good start point. you can narrow down your options that way. its only a start point though. every cruise will hav tax, port fees and a service charge of about 13-15 a day per person. Drinks are extra - unless you get a deal on that.
Excursion - you don't have to take them - you can do your own thing or even stay on the ship.

I have traveled with Carnival and found it to be fine for all ages. Something for everyone.

I use an agent to book - doesn't cost any more than doing it yourself but they organize everything - if you want. they can also guise you towards a suitable cruise. Personally i'd recommend a minimum of 7 days-  a nice chance to unwind.




Irishtache

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« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2016, 08:55:37 AM »
Just checking next Jan, from Florida, Royal Carribbean 6 day seems good value. Allure is said to be a great ship.

http://vacationstogo.com/fastdeal.cfm?deal=31294

crispy

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2016, 11:17:45 AM »
We like to cruise although we haven't done it a lot.  The cost really depends on the cruise line.  Disney is one of the best especially for families, but it costs a lot more than Carnival or Royal Caribbean.

We have cruise on both Norwegian and Carnival, and I think they were pretty similar in a lot of respects.

Carnival gets a bad rap, but we had a great time on the ship (we sailed the Glory from Boston to Canada).  I think our ship was probably more subdued because of the itinerary, but we didn't see any raucous parties or bad behavior.  We also found the food to be good (especially loved Guy Fieri's burger restaurant on ship - easily the best burger I've had anywhere).  We also found the staterooms on the Carnival ship to be a lot bigger, and our room attendant was awesome.  Our girls also loved their Kid's Club and spent a lot of time there which actually allowed us a nice break. I would have no qualms about doing another cruise with Carnival.

We did Norwegian to Belize and Mexico before we had kids.  It was definitely more of a party atmosphere, but I think it was because of the itinerary.  Norwegian has a A LOT of upcharges which is something to keep in mind even if the cruise fare is pretty low.  Most of the cruise lines do some upcharges (like alcohol or eating in the high end restaurants), but Norwegian tends to nickel and dime to the extreme.

I haven't done Royal Caribbean, but I think that is one you may want to consider.  They seem to have a good balance of being family friendly (their ships have the Dreamworks characters like Shrek) without the much higher price tag of Disney.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2016, 11:20:06 AM by crispy »

ohana

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2016, 12:09:53 PM »
Don't underestimate the cost of booze.  Not only will they not let you bring it, and is it expensive, but everywhere you go, and I mean EVERYWHERE, they will push it on you.  Endlessly.

And do not forget tips; they usually automatically charge you for them, and you'll get a bill under your door on the last morning.  They add up, and as someone pointed out -- that's how the staff get paid. 

Good luck.

Sailor Sam

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2016, 01:39:47 PM »
Hey Mayday, I know this isn't the super-sexy side of cruising, but don't forget to check out a cruise ship's safety record. The CDC has a website for Vessel Sanitation Program. I'd recommend picking a vessel that scores a full 100.

You can also check out the USCG's site on Incident reporting aboard cruise ships. The data's been consolidated, and probably won't help you pick a line/vessel, but might point you towards things to Be On the Lookout for. Plus this Circular, which is stripped of vessel names and companies, but is still hair raising. If you see any obvious signs of malfunctioning firescreen doors, or poorly maintained life boats, abort the evolution and get back to land.

I know some people prefer the floating palace kind of cruise, but there are also smaller cruise companies, with smaller vessels that go coastwise. These can be really enjoyable.

seattlecyclone

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2016, 02:01:47 PM »
In addition to the tips, be aware that the base fare you'll see advertised on various websites often doesn't include the port fees and taxes charged by the various places the ship stops. You'll often be able to see the amount in the fine print, just don't let it surprise you.

The pricing is kind of a crapshoot. They have various sales from time to time that you can watch out for. Oftentimes the boat doesn't fill up so you can get a good deal on a last-minute ticket. Of course the boat might fill up so waiting until the last minute can also backfire if there's a trip you really want to be on.

Spondulix

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #14 on: January 05, 2016, 01:32:47 AM »
Interior staterooms will reduce your cost.  I like them - it gets very, very dark, which helps me sleep.  Some people really don't like them though.
If you go this route, look at a map of the ship to see where the room is located. Last year I did a cruise and our room was directly under the pool bar and PA system. We could hear loud bass/thumping in our room for about 22 hours a day (no joke). There's a reason some rooms are super deals.

Royal Caribbean is the sister cruise line to Celebrity. Maybe others had better experiences, but mine was a party boat. All the activities were high energy or geared towards selling you stuff (specialty restaurants, casino, spa, duty free). There was no designated quiet zone/area anywhere on the boat til day 5 of a 7 day cruise. It was very kid friendly, though. I'm sure you can find the ship itineraries online for any boat, though, just to get a sense of the activities and costs (RC called it a "cruise compass") like this:
http://www.royalcaribbean.com/content/en_US/pdf/CruiseCompass.pdf

MayDay

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #15 on: January 05, 2016, 07:34:42 AM »
Thanks all, this is all very helpful.

I am going to be pricing out a few options of 4 to 7 day ones on various lines to present to the family. 

Technically we could depart out of any port, but we definitely want a warm cruise, so I assume FL would be the place to go.  But basically any place that is inexpensive to fly in and out of would be fine.

HairyUpperLip

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #16 on: January 05, 2016, 09:33:17 AM »
Root of Good did a 4 part piece on cruises -

http://rootofgood.com/cruise-vacation-overview/

kite

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #17 on: January 05, 2016, 10:12:23 AM »
Depending on size of your group, you can work with a cruiseline's group tours agent to arrange a trip.  I'm going with a group of fifty, and we've got a block of rooms together, on board perks & discounts. 

It's hard to nail down costs, because there are so many variables.  Cruiseline, duration, ports, time of year, cabins, booze (and more) all affect the price you wind up paying.  As a veteran of 10 cruises across various lines and also international travel via flying, resort staying and beach house rental with big family groups, cruising is best value and least hassle.  Yes, backpacking, youth hostel, Eurailpass, camping and couch surfing or AirBNB are all "cheaper" in many respects, but with an 80 year old & a couple or tots, cruising is a great idea. 
Carnival is the most budget conscious line, in my experience.  Avoiding the spring-break party crowd is as easy as choosing a 7 day instead of a 4 day trip.   If you're really cost conscious and they go to the ports you want to see, dive in, it's a good intro. Also, a good travel agent is worth their weight in gold. 

Capsu78

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #18 on: January 05, 2016, 10:19:08 AM »
4 days seem to be where the highest "partytime" levels take place and I have heard it said that the sanitation standards are harder to keep up since they are turning over cabins so frequently- Norovirus stories also seem to be in the news more on the winter cruises than on the summer cruises.  I know you are planning for a group possibly with multiple budget concerns but 7 days is about the shortest I would want to do a "fly in" vacation for. 

I have heard good things about Galvaston TX as an nice off price port to leave from.   Miami from and to the airport at the right times is expensive in my book.

MandyM

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #19 on: January 05, 2016, 10:26:46 AM »
I've only been on one cruise, so my experience is very limited. But most of the above posts seem fairly pro-cruise, so I thought I would offer my (very con) viewpoint:

- I didn't feel like there was a lot to do on the boat. The pool was always packed, the karaoke bar was taken over by large groups (maybe this would be in your favor), casino isn't my thing. The spa and other extra cost items were pretty pricey. I'm not sure what I expected, to be honest. The shows were fantastic in how cheesy they were.

-The dining room food was mediocre. Mass produced, obviously sitting under a heat lamp forever. I had to get dressed up for this?

-The non-dining room food was worse. Edible, sure, but cheap and limited. Everything I heard about cruises was the overflowing food choices, the non-stop eating, etc. Nope and nope.

- (this was before I had a smart phone and so I had my phone off the whole time). I swear the clocks on the boat were toying with me. We tried to get up in time to eat the "good" breakfast, but never made it. We used the clock in the room and set the alarm and were too late two mornings in a row. The second time, we had double checked the clock time to make sure it was correct. It was magically over an hour behind by morning.

-The port was a tourist trap joke. If you think you are going to see the city, plan to get a taxi and get far from the port.

I don't plan to go on another cruise. Yes, this was Carnival and yes, it was cheap. But it wasn't THAT cheap. Once you are on the boat, you are stuck with that food, those activities, etc. Choose wisely. No stateroom with a balcony will improve the rest of the boat.

Debts_of_Despair

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #20 on: January 05, 2016, 10:30:42 AM »
Make sure you consider airfare.  If you are going during a popular school break time, airfare will probably be just as much as the cruise.  An alternative would be to go in the summer when you have some more flexibility with dates.

ck25

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #21 on: January 05, 2016, 10:34:51 AM »
I didn't see anyone mention it but Port Canaveral is a great port if you're flying into Orlando. They will have lots of options and lots of newer ships too. I've cruised on Royal Caribbean and Carnival several times and the partying has never stuck out to me on either. I would say if you avoid college spring break weeks AND get a longer cruise (7 days), that will probably weed out the partying crowd. Definitely research the itinerary ahead of time and make sure there are things you'd like to do and the cost. Excursions add up quickly (often they are 100+ per person), so you'll want to make sure there are some activities that you can do on your own. For example, some of the Caribbean ports do not have easily accessible beaches, so the main (free) activity is shopping.

I've never personally cruised out of Galveston, but flying into Houston would probably be cheap. I've heard the boats are a little older than the FL ports, but I'm sure there are exceptions.

Also, be sure to call the reservations line and ask about getting a group rate. I've been on a few family cruises and the organizer always got a free room.

couponvan

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #22 on: January 05, 2016, 11:50:49 AM »
For the person who said "no alcohol" is allowed to be brought on cruises, Royal Caribbean does allow 2 bottles of wine per cabin to be brought on at your original boarding, or at least they did in 2014.  We did a 3 night cruise, and I think it was the same 2 bottles for the longer cruises.

We had 3 cabins and brought on 6 bottles. Enjoying a glass of wine before dinner was great and saved a bunch.

kite

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #23 on: January 05, 2016, 11:52:28 AM »
I've only been on one cruise, so my experience is very limited. But most of the above posts seem fairly pro-cruise, so I thought I would offer my (very con) viewpoint:

- I didn't feel like there was a lot to do on the boat. The pool was always packed, the karaoke bar was taken over by large groups (maybe this would be in your favor), casino isn't my thing. The spa and other extra cost items were pretty pricey. I'm not sure what I expected, to be honest. The shows were fantastic in how cheesy they were.

-The dining room food was mediocre. Mass produced, obviously sitting under a heat lamp forever. I had to get dressed up for this?

-The non-dining room food was worse. Edible, sure, but cheap and limited. Everything I heard about cruises was the overflowing food choices, the non-stop eating, etc. Nope and nope.

- (this was before I had a smart phone and so I had my phone off the whole time). I swear the clocks on the boat were toying with me. We tried to get up in time to eat the "good" breakfast, but never made it. We used the clock in the room and set the alarm and were too late two mornings in a row. The second time, we had double checked the clock time to make sure it was correct. It was magically over an hour behind by morning.

-The port was a tourist trap joke. If you think you are going to see the city, plan to get a taxi and get far from the port.

I don't plan to go on another cruise. Yes, this was Carnival and yes, it was cheap. But it wasn't THAT cheap. Once you are on the boat, you are stuck with that food, those activities, etc. Choose wisely. No stateroom with a balcony will improve the rest of the boat.

Which port?  Was it a cruise with only a single port stop? 

A cruise to Bahamas and back doesn't compare to island hopping in the Caribbean, cruising up the inside passage to Alaska or from Rome to New York. 

geekette

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #24 on: January 05, 2016, 11:54:10 AM »
Our extended family has cruised on Royal Caribbean 5-6 times, and Carnival and NCL once each.  For families with kids, Royal Caribbean is good, especially the newer ships.  There are so many (free) options, both food and entertainment, on the Oasis and Allure you can easily ignore the paid dining and spa stuff.  The only problem we found with the Allure is that it's best if you have one organized person to book your entertainment before getting on the ship if everyone wants to go to the shows at the same time (there are so many - main shows, ice shows, diving shows, comedy club). It's free; the reservation is just loaded onto everyone's cards so they're sure to get a seat.  About 10 minutes prior to showtime, they'll open the doors to those without a reservation if there are seats available.  AFAIK, the reservation system is only needed for the Oasis class ships (they're HUGE - they have touch screens by the elevators to give you directions where you want to go).

We had a "rule" that we all showed up for dinner, and that may be the only time we see everyone, but usually we'd run into people in various places all over the ship anyway. 

We also really enjoy the other RCI ships, it's just that the new ones have so many more options.

Definitely stick to 7 days minimum if at all possible.  The 3-4 night cruises are barely long enough to settle in before you have to think about leaving, plus they tend to be older ships and more likely party boats.

I've never had a problem saying no to the booze - they're always polite.  What I do mind is the announcements of bingo, art auctions, and other "revenue enhancements", but have generally managed to tune them out.  Our bill at the end is usually tips and a few drinks (DH), although I've seen multi-page bills for others!


Debts_of_Despair

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #25 on: January 05, 2016, 12:19:33 PM »
For the person who said "no alcohol" is allowed to be brought on cruises, Royal Caribbean does allow 2 bottles of wine per cabin to be brought on at your original boarding, or at least they did in 2014.  We did a 3 night cruise, and I think it was the same 2 bottles for the longer cruises.

We had 3 cabins and brought on 6 bottles. Enjoying a glass of wine before dinner was great and saved a bunch.

HA is unlimited bottles of wine last I knew.

Spondulix

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #26 on: January 05, 2016, 02:24:16 PM »
Look into Bermuda cruises, too. It's more continuous days at sea than some cruises, but you are also get more continuous days at port. It might be cheaper to fly to Baltimore, NY, or Boston than Florida.

Debts_of_Despair

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #27 on: January 05, 2016, 02:30:29 PM »
Look into Bermuda cruises, too. It's more continuous days at sea than some cruises, but you are also get more continuous days at port. It might be cheaper to fly to Baltimore, NY, or Boston than Florida.

Probably cheaper flights if you are in the NE but the cruise lines are one step ahead of you; the cruises that sail out of these ports are usually way more expensive.

StacheInAFlash

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #28 on: January 05, 2016, 03:08:20 PM »
I've only been on one cruise, so my experience is very limited. But most of the above posts seem fairly pro-cruise, so I thought I would offer my (very con) viewpoint:

- I didn't feel like there was a lot to do on the boat. The pool was always packed, the karaoke bar was taken over by large groups (maybe this would be in your favor), casino isn't my thing. The spa and other extra cost items were pretty pricey. I'm not sure what I expected, to be honest. The shows were fantastic in how cheesy they were.

-The dining room food was mediocre. Mass produced, obviously sitting under a heat lamp forever. I had to get dressed up for this?

-The non-dining room food was worse. Edible, sure, but cheap and limited. Everything I heard about cruises was the overflowing food choices, the non-stop eating, etc. Nope and nope.
...

-The port was a tourist trap joke. If you think you are going to see the city, plan to get a taxi and get far from the port.

I don't plan to go on another cruise. Yes, this was Carnival and yes, it was cheap. But it wasn't THAT cheap. Once you are on the boat, you are stuck with that food, those activities, etc. Choose wisely. No stateroom with a balcony will improve the rest of the boat.

I had a similar (1st and only) experience with Norwegian Cruise Line on a 7-night Western Caribbean. We found it pretty boring most of the time, with almost all activities definitely meant for the extrovert. We enjoyed a bit of bingo (expensive) and the casino, but otherwise we spent a lot of time just aimlessly wandering the ship. We didn't go in the pools once due to them always being jam packed with party animals. I wouldn't be quite so harsh about the food, as I definitely enjoyed it although I almost always felt I was eating at a conference rather than an actual restaurant--decent, but mass produced; definitely did not have any meals that felt gourmet and what in my head, fancy cruise dining was all about. That includes the premium restaurants.

The excursions were pretty fun (but expensive booked through the cruise), so I definitely would recommend them. We did some Mayan ruins and also a cave tubing one. The ports are hilarious tour traps.We didn't even bother with the last 1 or 2.

I would encourage the OP to look at all-inclusive resorts too! We had way more fun some years later doing an all-inclusive resort. No tipping, all the booze and experiences were included, the food was noticeably better, the beach was gorgeous with no fighting for chairs, and it was just lower key and a better fit for a couple introverts. The downside is that it was $5000 for 2 of us for 5 nights! Pre-mustachian days....although I'd do it again while seeking out a better deal.

MayDay

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #29 on: January 06, 2016, 11:06:49 AM »
OP here.

You know I hadn't even thought about an all inclusive resort, but that would be an option.

I have literally zero knowledge of them. Like less than cruises.

People live in OH, KS, IA, MN, and FL.  Florida flights are plentiful and cheap from the Midwest in the winter, I don't know how other Caribbean destinations compare.

couponvan

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #30 on: January 06, 2016, 12:24:41 PM »
OP here.

You know I hadn't even thought about an all inclusive resort, but that would be an option.

I have literally zero knowledge of them. Like less than cruises.

People live in OH, KS, IA, MN, and FL.  Florida flights are plentiful and cheap from the Midwest in the winter, I don't know how other Caribbean destinations compare.

I've only been to one all inclusive - that was Club Med - Port St. Lucie Florida.  It was older, but actually very affordable if you are planning on taking all their "offered" classes like golf and tennis lessons.  For us, it was especially the child care that we chose them for....That alone was worth it at the time.  We went two summers in a row.  This was obviously pre MMM! I cannot remember how much it cost though.  I didn't feel like it was uber luxurious though....

Schaefer Light

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #31 on: January 06, 2016, 02:25:18 PM »
The absolute first thing I would do if I knew I was going on a cruise a year from now is sign up for a credit card that lets you accumulate points that can be used to pay for the cruise.  The BarclayCard Arrival Plus MasterCard and Capital One Venture cards are the ones I'd recommend.  In fact, I signed up for both of them last year for that very purpose and a cruise that would have cost my wife and I $1600 ended up costing $300 after redeeming our points.  I'm not sure what their sign-up bonuses are like at the moment, but it's not uncommon to get 40-50k points (i.e. $400-$500 worth of travel credits) for meeting a minimum spending requirement.

formerlydivorcedmom

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #32 on: January 06, 2016, 03:29:16 PM »
I've found that the earlier I book the cruise, the better deal I usually get.  On most lines, if the price goes down after you book (and before final payment), you can often get your price reduced to match the sale (or cancel and rebook at the lower price).  I tend to book 12-18 months out.

Besides Florida ports, you can catch a Caribbean cruise out of Galveston (served by IAH and HOU airports), New Orleans, and I believe Mobile will get a cruise ship soon.  I highly recommend a 7-day instead of a 4-day cruise.  The shorter the cruise, the more possibility of it being a party ship.

You will probably be best served by Carnival or Royal Caribbean.  Norwegian has the same type of atmosphere, but they tend to nickel-and-dime you a little more.  Despite Carnival's reputation, they are now family-friendly vacations.  (This was not the case 15 years ago, but they changed policies to "grow up" a bit).

Have fun!!

Debts_of_Despair

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #33 on: January 06, 2016, 03:45:46 PM »
I've only been on one cruise, so my experience is very limited. But most of the above posts seem fairly pro-cruise, so I thought I would offer my (very con) viewpoint:

- I didn't feel like there was a lot to do on the boat. The pool was always packed, the karaoke bar was taken over by large groups (maybe this would be in your favor), casino isn't my thing. The spa and other extra cost items were pretty pricey. I'm not sure what I expected, to be honest. The shows were fantastic in how cheesy they were.

-The dining room food was mediocre. Mass produced, obviously sitting under a heat lamp forever. I had to get dressed up for this?

-The non-dining room food was worse. Edible, sure, but cheap and limited. Everything I heard about cruises was the overflowing food choices, the non-stop eating, etc. Nope and nope.

- (this was before I had a smart phone and so I had my phone off the whole time). I swear the clocks on the boat were toying with me. We tried to get up in time to eat the "good" breakfast, but never made it. We used the clock in the room and set the alarm and were too late two mornings in a row. The second time, we had double checked the clock time to make sure it was correct. It was magically over an hour behind by morning.

-The port was a tourist trap joke. If you think you are going to see the city, plan to get a taxi and get far from the port.

I don't plan to go on another cruise. Yes, this was Carnival and yes, it was cheap. But it wasn't THAT cheap. Once you are on the boat, you are stuck with that food, those activities, etc. Choose wisely. No stateroom with a balcony will improve the rest of the boat.

In truth you went on the cheapest cruise line available and it also sounds like you went to western Caribbean ports of calls which are generally considered the least desirable.  This would be analogous to giving an opinion on going out to eat based on an experience at Taco Bell.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2016, 08:15:43 AM by Debts_of_Despair »

MrsPete

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #34 on: January 07, 2016, 07:45:41 AM »
I think a cruise would be a great extended family option.  You and the other "movers and shakers" in the family pick the cruise line and the date ... and everyone can make his or her own reservations ... people can choose an inexpensive inside room or a more expensive balcony or suite cabin, but you don't all have to make the same choice ... everyone can pay individually directly to the cruise line.  Easy organization. 

I'd suggest you consider Royal Caribbean or Princess.  They're middle-of-the-road lines that cater to families -- not too fancy, but also not Walmart ... I mean Carnival.  And these lines will have activities for all ages.  Look at the age of the ship -- they're not all equal; the newest and biggest ships are more expensive (too big, in my opinion), but the old-old ones are lacking in amenities. 

I'll second what someone else said about avoiding four-day cruises.  They tend to be booze-fests. 

Don't neglect to talk to the family about the need for passports OR certified birth certificates /state-issued IDs.  If you arrive at the port without proper documentation, you will be refused boarding ... and no refund.  Ouch. 

You say you need to work with the school schedule, yet summer is brutally hot and holidays are so expensive.  A good compromise might be a week when the kids are already going to be out a couple days:  Fall break, Thanksgiving break, etc.  Since you don't want a party atmosphere, definitely avoid spring break. 

You're talking about flying.  If possible, choose a port terminal to which you can drive.  That cuts your cost tremendously, and it removes the need for packing to please the TSA; for example, you can bring your own bottled water and sodas onboard (double ziplocked, please, to protect not only your luggage but the suitcases underneath yours). 

Definitely plan to arrive a night ahead of time and spend the night at a hotel near the port.  This accomplishes two things: 1) it assures you that even if you should be delayed on the road, you'll not miss the boat.  2) if you choose the right hotel, they'll allow you to park your car in their lot while you cruise, which means you don't have to pay to park at the port terminal.  These hotels provide shuttles to/from the terminal; you'd be wise to drive the family and your luggage over ... then return the car to the hotel yourself.  With no luggage, you'll hop right on the next shuttle and reunite with your family before they can get through the check-in line. 






MayDay

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #35 on: January 07, 2016, 08:06:35 AM »
Mrs Pete, very helpful!

Almost everyone lives in flyover states, so flying is inevitable. 

I am submitting a proposal to the fam in 2 weeks, so I will be narrowing down to 2-3 specific choices to price stuff out.  Once I do that, I'll post here again to have peoeple help me account for expenses I haven't thought of (taxes, tips, fees, etc).

Wilson Hall

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #36 on: January 07, 2016, 09:12:15 AM »
You've gotten some great input, MayDay. Holland America, Royal Caribbean, and Princess are the cruise lines I've used, and out of those I would say that Royal Caribbean is the most family-friendly. Good thing they have so many free exercise-related activities, including a rock wall, because they do tend to go overboard (ha-ha) on the midnight buffets.

I'd add another vote for checking out the Cruise Critic forums, particularly with regard to individual ports and excursions. Some tours are horribly overpriced while others aren't so bad. If any of your family would like to try snorkeling, that's probably one of your best bets in terms of price and quality of experience.
If you do opt for a Caribbean cruise, please share your itinerary! We've taken cruises to the western and southern Caribbean, and are about to take one to the eastern side next month.

MayDay

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #37 on: January 07, 2016, 09:22:21 AM »
Does it matter what ports we go to?  What makes them good or bad? 

I was sort of assuming similar stuff would be available at all of them (overpriced junk to buy, snorkling, and beaches).  A friend who went on a Disney cruise said they never even got off the boat- they loved being on the empty boat while everyone else was on shore. 

I think the vast majority of the group will prefer free and cheap activities.  I did a quick google, and can see people wanting to: 

-sit at beaches
-swim in the ocean (or swim anywhere- if cruise pools are always crowded, I can definitely see us swimming in the pool all day on port days while everyone else is on excursions)
-Mayan ruins, other non-cheesy cultural stuff
-snorkel, canopy tours, etc, but only if they are cheap (~100$ a person through the cruise is more than we would pay beyond one "treat")

So I don't know that we would care about ports much.  Should I look more closely into the ports or are they fairly interchangeable?

Wilson Hall

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #38 on: January 07, 2016, 11:51:08 AM »
Does it matter what ports we go to?  What makes them good or bad? 

I was sort of assuming similar stuff would be available at all of them (overpriced junk to buy, snorkling, and beaches).  A friend who went on a Disney cruise said they never even got off the boat- they loved being on the empty boat while everyone else was on shore. 

I think the vast majority of the group will prefer free and cheap activities.  I did a quick google, and can see people wanting to: 

-sit at beaches
-swim in the ocean (or swim anywhere- if cruise pools are always crowded, I can definitely see us swimming in the pool all day on port days while everyone else is on excursions)
-Mayan ruins, other non-cheesy cultural stuff
-snorkel, canopy tours, etc, but only if they are cheap (~100$ a person through the cruise is more than we would pay beyond one "treat")

So I don't know that we would care about ports much.  Should I look more closely into the ports or are they fairly interchangeable?

Here's an example: we took a western Caribbean cruise out of Tampa, one of your more economical choices. The ports-of-call were Grand Cayman, Belize City, and Cozumel. We did a snorkeling excursion in Grand Cayman (beautiful and well worth it) and a tour of the ruins at Altun Ha (also worth it, and we got to enjoy the local scene in Belize City afterward).  Both ports were pretty mellow.  Cozumel, on the other hand, was a rambunctious tourist trap. We did a little sightseeing on our own, taking the ferry to Playa del Carmen, which was a little more sedate. It's hard to know in advance what a port is really like-- and whether it's worth it to blow $$ on excursions-- until you get there or unless you know someone who has been there before. Cozumel has the reputation for catering to the let's-get-wasted crowd. If other folks have had a different experience in this port, I'd be curious to know.

Some ports are so small that there's almost nothing to do but sit on the beach, drink overpriced liquor at a bar, or pay for an excursion. Several cruise lines have their own properties that serve this purpose. For example, we spent a day at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Holland America's private island.  If we hadn't booked snorkeling and jet-ski excursions, we would've been sitting on the beach all day, which would have been OK, except for the fact that the cruise line charges ridiculous rental fees for cabanas and other amenities. And, once you get on the island, if you want to go back to your room you have to wait for a tender boat to take you back; it's not like you can walk on and off the ship to freshen up, use the shower, etc. Spending hundreds of dollars on a cabana just so I can enjoy the beach isn't my idea of a Mustachian expenditure.

In larger (city) ports, unless there's a particular landmark or museum that you're dying to see, you're better off walking around town on your own, enjoying the local scenery and cuisine at your own pace.

You've got the right idea about enjoying the ship's pool on port days. That's exactly what we're going to do when we revisit Half Moon Cay on our upcoming trip. Been there, done that, no need to spend any money.

kite

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #39 on: January 07, 2016, 12:14:14 PM »
They'll all have sun and sand and likely a Senor Frogs, but they are unique.  Caracao is a whole different country from St. Thomas. 
Grand Cayman has a turtle farm.  Puerto Rico is different from Bahamas which is different from Jamaica.  Even St. Maarten and Martinique are different from each other.
We bring our own snorkel gear and snorkel off the beach.  Typically, we wing it and don't bother with a planned excursion.  If we can walk, we walk.  If we must cab it, we get some local flavor recommended by the driver.  If the mood strikes, we rent surf boards. 

Bottom line:  yes.  Look into the ports.
But also use a TA. This is a giant task with a few dozen constantly shifting variables.  The odds are excellent that a TA has already priced out a package for a group just like yours and can get you a handful of quotes on a trip with a few price points.   

kudy

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #40 on: January 07, 2016, 01:24:02 PM »
There are a number of ways to smuggle some booze (if you like drinking, but don't like paying $8/drink); when I went on a cruise I was allowed to bring soda on board, so I filled empty contact lense cleaner & saline solution bottles with whiskey to stash in our luggage, and then drank whiskey & coke in my room.

MayDay

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #41 on: January 07, 2016, 02:01:40 PM »
@kite, good idea to ask a TA to help narrow it down since have to book through one anyway.

How does one pick a TA?  We are Costco members, but I think someone said up-thread that they won't do much hand holding?  I probably need some hand holding.

elaine amj

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #42 on: January 07, 2016, 02:51:48 PM »
YES - look at the ports. Especially if you are budget conscious. Some have free beaches/cheap activities right there next to the port (so free/cheap to get to). Some have very overpriced activities/expensive beaches.

e.g. we had one stop in Falmouth, Jamaica. I found it relatively pricey. The only free thing to do was wander the shopping area or tour the town (extra charge for a guided tour). The excursions by the ship cost $50-$100++ pp. Finding a private tour guide, we could cut this down by about half. We were traveling with another family and ended up renting an 8-seater van and driving to Dunns River Falls (only $20pp + car rental vs the $50-$70+ pp with a guide). The car rental ended up being quite inexpensive.

If you have a stop at a private beach/island, your costs are essentially free. no cost to get to/use the beach. No cost for food. you may have to pay for any optional activities, but we always stuck to the free stuff.

For me, I prefer private beach/island ports because i mostly just want a beach day and it adds nothing to the cost of my vacation.

I picked my TA through recommendations. I prefer finding one active on a forum I spend some time in who seems knowledgeable and offers a lot of free advice and sounds like someone I can get along with. No guarantees - but there's no way I would go with a random TA after some of the horror stories I have heard. There are some scammers out there.

kite

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #43 on: January 10, 2016, 10:44:56 AM »
@kite, good idea to ask a TA to help narrow it down since have to book through one anyway.

How does one pick a TA?  We are Costco members, but I think someone said up-thread that they won't do much hand holding?  I probably need some hand holding.

You have to really dig thru cruisecritic for recommendations.  But
Costco has a group travel area for cruises.  You're mustachian, ergo you don't need to much handholding.  The problem with trying to DIY the cheapest option is what you won't know and can't know before actually going on one.  You will spend dozens of hours, just on research when instead you can ask a seasoned guide and not pay more. 
Pick your week or weeks, decide roughly which ports you want and call them to price it out.   
All the lines are good.  In general, the pricier lines have a crowd that skews older (makes sense, that's who has the money).  We like Princess, but we're booked on Holland America and Royal Caribbean this year .  RC is very family oriented, but without the premium you'd pay for Disney. 

MrsPete

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #44 on: January 10, 2016, 07:25:36 PM »
So I don't know that we would care about ports much.  Should I look more closely into the ports or are they fairly interchangeable?
Ports are different, of course, but the main activities revolve around beaches, snorkeling, and other water sports.  Do not take the ship's excursions; check online to find private tours.  And buy your own snorkeling gear at the end of the summer when it's on clearance --  not only is it cheaper, you'll know it's clean. 

Think twice about the Mayan ruins.  Though I've visited them and found them amazing, they are not a good choice for cruising.  The most popular tour is in Cozumel ... but the tour requires that you cross over the island, take a ferry to the mainland, ride a bus to the ruins ... and then repeat, all in a short shore visit.  See the ruins like I did:  During a land-based vacation.

MidWestLove

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Re: I need a brief overview of cruises (and how much they cost)
« Reply #45 on: January 10, 2016, 08:51:36 PM »
you are getting pretty good feedback - we did Princess, Norwegian, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean and as long as you understand what different line is catering to (ship size, experience, target age demographics)  , you should be ok. Royal Caribbean is probably current favorite for family travel, big enough to have more variety (3.5k people) but not huge monster boats that my in-laws just LOVE.

Food is great, there is plenty to pick from just in the dining rooms and of cause additional restaurants. We do not drink so booze charges matter little to us. entertainment is varied (at least one lounge/bar every evening for every decade of music from 50s on plus shows themselves). We prefer to travel into South Caribbean (mostly from San Juan) or take longer trips out of Florida to keep island choices fresh. if you are willing to get away from lifeline of the cruise arranged excursions, it could be fun and cheap way to see more (especially if you contact local tour operators in advance and order tours, much better experience). speaking Spanish helps a lot if you want to do it in relevant islands. we go for inside rooms due to preference of less rocking them boat does move (the closer to center , the less is felt motion). all in all, purchased far in advance, using travel agent , it is enjoyable family vacation where we play ping pong on the boat together, sweat in saunas, work out daily, listen to various edu-tainment events during sea days, and dinner + dancing in the evening. we also shoot for everyone to have their own time so I can put a note in the ships library for chess players (always get someone to respond)  and those braver then me would go to karaoke..