Are you thinking about taking a Caribbean cruise? These 1-2 week vacations are a really great, affordable way to enjoy your vacation in a variety of warm, tropical destinations.
Planning your first cruise can be a bit overwhelming, so we have offered these tips for beginners.
1. Determine Who Is Going On the Cruise
Large cruise ships are designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages. Many parents have found that a cruise is the greatest vacation ever for their children, because there is so much to do and so many kids they can play with.
You should think about the ages of the people who are going to go on the cruise. If you do not have any children with you, it might be worth your money to think about a cruise line that does not cater quite as much to children. Two cruise lines that tend to be more for adults are Celebrity and Holland America. Not that you cannot take children on those ships, but there may not be as much to do for them, as opposed to ships from Carnival or Royal Caribbean.
If you do not have kids with you, we advise staying away from Disney cruises, unless you want other people’s kids running all around you.
2. What’s Your Budget?
Shopping around at various websites can net you some real savings. A typical 1 week, Caribbean cruise starts out at around $500 these days. That’s for a basic inside room, not including airfare. If you want a window or a veranda, you can spend $800-1,000 per week or more.
If you are trying to cut costs, we recommend that you book more than two people in a room (check the policy on this with your particular cruise line). You also can often save if you book just a few weeks before the cruise. If there are rooms left, the cruise line might drop prices to sell those remaining suites.
If you are on the East Coast, the good news is that more cruise lines are offering cruises that depart from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, such as New York, Baltimore, and Norfolk. You can save yourself airfare and just drive in the day of your cruise.
3. How Many Days?
A week is a typical cruise, with usually 2-3 ‘sea days’ and 2-3 ports of call. If you have only 4-5 days, you probably will go to the Bahamas or Mexico. You also can choose a weekend ‘cruise to nowhere’ that just takes you around out of port into the Atlantic for a few days and then takes you back.
If you do 10-14 days, you will be able to hit the southern Caribbean and other parts of Mexico.
4. When Do You Want to Go?
You often can get a cheaper cruise in the spring and fall. Weather is not always as good, and more kids are in school at these times. If you don’t want to experience too many kids on vacation, we advise sticking to spring and fall cruises. Try to avoid college spring break periods, though, unless you’re into the party scene.
The weather in the Caribbean will not vary that much from season to season as far as temperature. It will be warm. However, you can get more rain in the winter months. It probably won’t rain non stop; you might have to deal with some afternoon showers, though.
5. What Do You Like to Do?
One of the big advantages of cruises is the huge array of things to do on board and at port. If anything, you will find you do not have time to do everything that you want!
For example, on the ship Carnival Pride, here are some of the activities on offer:
- 4 swimming pools
- Nautica spa, steam rooms, beauty salon
- Fully equipped gym
- Large library
- Jogging track
- Shopping mall
- Card room
- Several bars, lounges and dance floors
- Full array of children’s activities
- 72 foot waterslide
- Kids’ pool
- Ping pong, shuffleboard, wine tasting, entertainment shows
- Video arcade
In ports in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, the Grand Caymans, Key West and Cozumel, you can enjoy all sorts of activities. Whether you want to just lie on a beautiful beach or take a tour of the town, or take a swim with sting rays or dolphins, you will have tons of fun things to do.
It is not usually essential to book all of your excursions before you get on the ship. However, keep in mind that you might find out that the most popular attractions sell out.We generally prefer to book our excursions before we set sail. You also can choose to use private excursion companies at each port. You do not have to use the cruise line’s offerings.
One nice way to save money in port is to always go back to the ship to eat lunch. Why spend money to eat on shore, unless you want to experience a particular local treat?
6. When Do You Want to Eat Dinner?
Most cruise ships have a dinner in the main dining room at about 6:30 and about 8:30. The advantage of eating early is that you can get done by 7:30 and enjoy the night life on the ship. The downside is that you may have to cut your shore excursion short to get ready for dinner.
The later dinner option allows you to enjoy more fun on shore. But you may not finish eating until 9:30 or later, which means you can miss out on evening activities.
You also need to choose what size of table at which you want to eat dinner. Most cruise ships have tables for 2, 4, 6 or 8 people.
Be sure to note the dress code for each dinner evening. Most cruise lines will have about 2 ‘formal’ evenings during a week cruise. The definition of ‘formal’ can vary a lot depending on cruise line. ‘Formal’ on Celebrity means a suit or tux for men, and an evening gown for women. On Carnival, it means a sports jacket for men and a nice dress for women. Generally speaking, no shorts are allowed at dinner time.
7. What Kind of Room Do You Want?
The least expensive room is an inside room with no windows. You also can opt for a room with a window or one with a veranda. There also are number of large suites available on most ships.
We personally prefer to get an inexpensive inside room, or a cheap exterior room with a window. We find that you do not spend a lot of time in the room anyway, given the huge number of activities available each day.
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