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How to Pick the Perfect Cruise for Your Next Family Vacation

Grace Lower | Feb 1, 2021

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The post-holiday slump might have you feeling blue, but fear not, dear reader — sunnier days are just around the corner.

Whether you’re after a quick fix for your current case of cabin fever, or simply dreaming of future summer plans, it’s never too early to start planning your next adventure. When it comes to coordinating a vacation that’s affordable, dynamic, and relaxing, why not consider a cruise? Cruises offer a chance to explore a wide variety of destinations, while ensuring  everyone in the family can join in on the fun.

If you’ve never been on a cruise, you might feel a little skeptical about spending multiple days aboard what’s essentially a floating hotel. While cruises have their share of critics, there’s a reason why they’re such a popular vacation option. When planned correctly, a cruise can be a very affordable way to travel, and cruise lines’ all-inclusive accommodations give your family plenty of options with minimal planning required.

Just as every family has unique characteristics and quirks, so too does every cruise line. If you’re already onboard with the idea of a family cruise, here are a few tips to help you pick your perfect ship:

1. Dive right in!

First, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to research beforehand. Remember: a cruise is far more than just your cabin. For the time that you’re aboard, your cruise ship is your home, your spa, your playground, and your restaurant, all rolled into one. Understanding your options takes time, so factor that into your overall planning process.

Just how much planning time will you need before you set sail? It depends, based on how decisive you are, and when you intend to book your accommodations. According to Cruise Critic, most cruises can be booked any time between 18 months to one week ahead of departure. That huge timeframe comes with pros and cons. Since pricing can vary, waiting to book can lead to serious discounts, but booking early can ensure that you lock in a great rate and get the first pick of available rooms. Your booking time will depend on your level of risk-tolerance.

2. Befriend your budget

While there are plenty of budget-friendly options for cruises, it’s easy to go overboard on spending. According to Cruiseline, a seven-night cruise can cost between $920 and $3,650 per person when expenses like flights, drinks, and excursions are taken into account. With that said, most cruise lines offer packages that can accommodate a variety of budgets. Make sure to research carefully, and ask yourself what experiences you would like to prioritize versus what you can live without.

3. Narrow down timing and location

One of the most challenging parts of planning a family vacation is finding a time that works well for everyone’s schedule. But you may just find that your family’s availability can help you decide on a destination. Cruise Critic recommends an Alaskan cruise for late June through August, while a European river cruise is best for April through October. And remember that some destinations — like the Caribbean — are sunny and warm year-round!

4. Get input from the whole family

As you weigh various options, make sure to check in with your family along the way. Consider your family’s interests, needs, and activity levels, and ask them directly what they’d like to get out of their cruise experience. While it’s true that any cruise will have options for the whole family, different cruises are tailored to different clientele. Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, are geared toward active families and have lots of options for teens and tweens. Meanwhile, the ever-popular Disney cruises offer terrific options for the youngest travelers, including kids’ clubs, nurseries, and meet-and-greets with beloved characters. Think about the kind of experience that your family is after (luxurious? exhilarating? peaceful?) and make your decision accordingly.

5. Ask the internet

You’ve narrowed down your budget, your timing, your destination, and your family’s interests. Now, with notes in hand, take a few days to research which cruises best meet your criteria. During this time, you should not only visit different cruise lines’ websites, but you should scour the internet for reviews, blog posts, and news articles covering different facets of the cruise industry. Cruise-specific sites like Cruise Critic (which is now owned by TripAdvisor), Cruise Radio, Cruise Reviews, and CruiseMates offer everything from general advice to ship-specific reviews. With so much information at your fingertips, you should be able to narrow down your cruise list to three or four top options.

6. Tap into your social network

Some of the best recommendations can come from people you know. Make a Facebook post, survey your Instagram followers, talk to your coworkers, or give your friends a call. Whatever method you prefer, try to chat with as many cruise-goers as possible. You may find that the anecdotes you hear from your friends differ wildly from what’s available online. It’s helpful to hear from people first-hand and ask candid questions before booking. But ultimately, it’s worth remembering that the only person with the final say in your cruise decision is you!

Once you’ve got a clear idea of the cruise you’d like to book, you’re almost done with planning. But don’t forget one final step: finding a travel insurance plan to cover your trip. While no one ever expects a vacation to take a turn for the worse, why risk it? With travel medical insurance and other related policies, you’ll be certain that illness, injury, cancellations, or delays won’t put a damper on your upcoming family cruise.

Choosing a cruise isn’t for the faint of heart, but knowing the right questions to ask is half the battle. Check in with your family, give yourself lots of time, and make sure you’re prioritizing all the right things. With the right balance of organization and flexibility, you’ll be ready to set sail in no time!

About the Author

Grace Lower

Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

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