According to USA Tourist, nearly 10 million people will embark on cruising vacations from US ports this year. And whilst many people see picture the cruising scene as an exclusive, adult-only environment, that is simply not the case anymore. Over the last ten years some of the major cruise liners have begun tapping into the family market and in turn there has been a reported 50% rise of children on cruising vacations.
Safety, convenience and the opportunity to visit multiple destinations all rank highly amongst the reasons why families choose cruising vacations. Alongside this are the multitude of kids clubs, childcare services, activities and entertainment available for the little ones. With major cruise liners such as Norwegian Cruise line teaming up with Nickelodeon and Royal Caribbean teaming up with Dreamworks, it seems like family cruises have never been more popular.
But are they good value for money? Often family cruise liners offer all inclusive options or even a ‘kids go free’ fare waive. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other hidden costs that you should be aware of before booking your cruise. Here are some of the main ones to watch out for.
Shore Fees & Excursions
In conjunction with local government law, all passengers are required to pay port taxes and additional fees when the ship docks. This applies to every member of your family – even the little ones. So, in other words, you could find yourself paying a charge each time you disembark and if your cruise visits several different locations then these costs can build up. Before booking you should check that your total quote includes these fees and that they will not be added on extra when you arrive otherwise you will have no option but to cough up or stay on board the ship.
Similarly, you will find that there is generally a large array of excursions and tours laid on by the cruise liner for when you reach your port of call. These are generally very well thought out, family friendly trips that are worth the money and well organised. However, the price reflects that with We Just Got Back quoting anywhere between $30-$50 per person, per tour. That could leave you paying up to $250 for a family trip at each port. A cheaper option is to book your tour in advance through a third party tour operator or plan something when you reach port. It may not be quite as convenient but it will definitely be cheaper.
Despite the advances in catering cruises for families, it is still not a vacation that is generally regarded as appropriate for babies and small toddlers. You can, of course, take them on board but be aware of the complications – for example manoeuvring buggies along long, narrow corridors and the limited sanitary system which means that any children who aren’t potty trained will not be allowed in the swimming pools (even if they are wearing swim diapers). Aside from these inconveniences, there are the additional costs of childcare and hire of equipment such as cots, sterilisers and baby baths. Most of the kids clubs and activities for older children are free but babysitting for babies and under 3’s generally come at an extra cost, especially for ‘in cabin’ care.
On Board Activities
Every cruise liner offers some free entertainment and activities but you may find that the more interesting ones come at an additional cost. These may include fitness classes, ship tours, cooking classes and obviously any spa/salon treatments which are generally charged at high end prices. Many ships also include afternoon ‘parties’ and night time ‘sleepovers’ for the kids usually at an additional, hourly fee per child. Try to find a good balance between free and paid activities and set a daily budget for the kids so they don’t go ‘overboard’ with expensive entertainment.
You may also find that your ship offers the option of childcare and children’s activities while the ship is in port to give adults the option of some alone time ashore. This will almost certainly come at an additional cost – even if it is the same service that comes for free when you’re at sea.
Most cruise liners offer an ‘all inclusive’ option meaning that meals and drinks in the dining area/buffet court are free. However they increasingly seek to tempt diners from their standard option by including numerous ‘extra’ snack and dining venues to their ships. These may include anything from a la carte restaurants to ice cream parlours – all charged at premium rates. You will also find that most adult beverages and sodas are also charged at an extra fee so watch out for any drink offers and happy hours in the various bars or eateries on board. Do remember that for each bar tab you open there will generally be an automatic gratuity added on too.
On the subject of gratuity, ensure that you budget for tips. Not just for the dining staff but for cabin stewards, childminders, butlers, cleaners – basically everyone bar the captain! You’ll find that tipping policies vary by cruise line but the recommended monetary amount is $10-12 per person, per day to be distributed amongst frontline staff. Over a 3 week break this is a cost that can certainly add up.