THE FAMILY HOLIDAY PLAN: CRUISE THE OPEN SEAS

Cruise ships are a family holiday planner’s best friends. Picture a floating, mega-resort with tons to do for everyone in a confined space where you know your kids are supervised and safe.

Many cruise lines offer voyages designed specifically for families, with expanded activity programs and shore excursions for all age groups and waterslides, ice rinks and climbing walls that keep kids and parents happy for days.

Some cruises have even developed onboard programs that not only feature family together time, but also arrange crucial alone time for parents. Together, parents and kids can participate in mock game shows, story hours, treasure hunts and other activities. Later, adults can schedule a massage or spend time on the sun deck knowing their kids are enjoying a host of supervised games and activities. Cruises are much like an all-inclusive holiday with the added benefit of being able to explore new and various places. They are especially good bets if the grandparents are coming along.

There are morning-till-night activities for children as young as three on most major cruise ships and plenty to keep adults busy, no matter what their ages. And, because of increased competition in the industry, cruising has never been more affordable.
Even Disney has jumped into the cruise market which can be an especially fun time for your kids!

As for cruises, experts say to “never, ever” go to the cruise lines directly or “general” travel agencies. If you’re going with a travel agent, you want to book with a cruise expert, one that specializes in discounting cruises. These companies get special discounts and upgrades for selling such a large volume of cruises that other sources simply don’t get such discounts. But even then shop around before you book, as prices will vary from agency to agency.

If you’re going it on your own, use the Internet as your most valuable tool. Many cruise ships offer kids free programs with the purchase of an adult ticket. You’ll need to look around and above all – ask for discounts!

The two most popular family cruise companies we’ve found are Disney and Carnival. Kids will love Disney’s private island – Castaway Cay – and the waterslides aboard Carnival ships will be a big hit! Both ships offer plenty to do for adults as well including spa services, nightclubs, and entertainment for adults. Disney, of course, gears a lot of its activities toward children and teens with special shows, on board discovery activities and special teen nightclubs – no alcohol allowed!

It will depend on when you book your cruise as to what type of savings you can realize.
Disney will publish “Magical Rates” on its “Specials” page on their website. With these special rates, you may be able to find a 3 day Bahamas cruise for £469 or a 7 night Caribbean cruise for £859. Children 3-12 get special rates in a room with two parents and kids under 3 are free!

When you will be putting out most of your holiday budget buying entry onto the ship, you’ll want to know how to save money once on board as well as during the visits to the ports of call. First and foremost, purchase a soda package for the kids. This allows them unlimited soda refills anywhere on the ship – a huge money saver!

When on shore, you’ll want to see as much as you can. Instead of booking excursions through the cruise line, rent your own vehicle and explore on your own. You could also use our excursions website to purchase your shore excursions cheaply and in advance. Maps of the ports of call are readily available and this allows you maximum flexibility with what you want to see and do.

A note of caution here, be sure to take note of the departure time of your ship and don’t be late! If you’re on your own and don’t make it back to the ship when it pulls out of port, meeting back up with them at the next port of call will be at your own expense.

On board, they’ll be taking lots and lots of pictures of you and your family. You’ll be tempted to buy these right away, but don’t. Those pictures will still be in the photo shop at the end of the cruise and they will often be discounted then, so buy right before you dock on the last day and be sure to bargain.

The same goes for souvenirs and such. Often, the gift shops will discount souvenir merchandise the last day of the cruise. The same T-shirt that sold for £25 at the beginning of the cruise might be £10 at the end, so bide your time and realize savings.

Check your account balance daily to be sure there are no charges on there that you didn’t make. Also, don’t pre-pay your tips. Many cruise lines have this built into the package price, but ask to have it removed then take care of tipping yourself.

Cruising with your family can be a very satisfying experience. However, there are many other family holiday options to look at as well.

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