Every couple of years we take a nice vacation with the Scoma family. It’s an awesome time to be together as a family, and get to know the extended family better. This is the second cruise we have done with the kids, and my 5th cruise. We scored an awesome 7 day cruise out of New Orleans to Montego Bay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel Mexico.
Our entire trip cost us less than $400 for our family of FIVE! I have to give most of the credit to my father in law, Tony who bought our (and about 20 other’s) cruise tickets.
Flying to your Departure Port City
I flip credit cards, so between new card offers and flying for work we rack-up quite a few miles. For this trip we were able to book our round trip airfare out of Salt Lake City to New Orleans for all five of us with Southwest miles. You pay about a $10 /person round trip security tax on top of using your miles.
I prefer Southwest when traveling as a family. While there are other perks, like family boarding and the friendliest flight attendants, their two free checked bags is the real benefit. I love checking pretty much all of our baggage and letting the airline deal with it. So far, we haven’t ever had any lost/late baggage ?
Number 1! Food
It’s a huge part of any cruise. You have access to food all the time, and a variety that any kid will love. Our favorite is the unlimited soft serve ice cream machine.
2. Onboard Activities!
Fun at Sea! There are a ton of events going on throughout the day. There really isn’t any way to participate in everything the ship has to offer so you have to pick and choose. Most of the shows are lame, in my opinion, so we prefer to just hang out in the common areas, near the FOOD, or go swimming. This last ship had a few really awesome waterslides where we spent many hours getting sunburned and facing our fears of fast slides.
There is also a dedicated area for kids called “Club Ocean” which is basically a glorified daycare. While I feel bad for the kids that are in there every hour of the day, they do offer fun crafts and activities. Bella enjoyed going for a couple hours each day, but the boys preferred to chill with us and do different activities around the boat.
3. All expenses are covered in your ticket (don’t gamble or drink alcohol, you’ll live longer and save money)
Food, lodging, and most entrainment is included. If you drink, go to the spa, or have some high class taste buds that require special orders at dinner then you will get some extra charges tacked on to your account. There are some pretty cool shops onboard with pretty good deals. Wait till the last couple of days to make your purchases, most everything goes on sale. When you purchase your ticket your travel agent can normally score you some onboard credit. I always buy new cologne, of course it’s all duty free on the water. Just be careful to not get in the habit of swiping your charge card or you won’t be happy when you get your final bill the night before you leave.
4. Have fun on your way to your next port
It’s sometimes nice to not worry about your itinerary and just go with the literal flow of the boat. Tomorrow’s schedule is given to you each evening when your room steward comes to clean your stateroom during dinner.
It’s also really nice to only unpack your bags once, yet still see many countries or islands.
5. Shore Excursions
Now you’re speaking my language! Getting out to see the country you just landed in is my favorite part of a cruise. It’s nice to get off the boat and explore. The cruise will offer many shore excursions for you to choose from.
This is a cool family pic on the very popular Sting Ray City excursion. My suggestion is to use the cruise website to get ideas for excursions, then book somewhere else online. If you want to be even braver, then get some ideas online and wait to book until you land on shore. The first time Angie and I did this swimming with sting rays excursion we only paid $15 each by walking off the boat and bartering rather than the listed $80 each from the carnival website.
6. Elegant Dinners
This might not sound like a pro to you, but it is nice to have a reason to look… nice. The kids can still order chicken nuggets or pizza, and you can have a go at some of the nicer food on the ship. The waiters are normally very kind and fun and you’ll generally get some entertainment as you eat.
The Biggest Con, NOT ENOUGH TIME IN PORT
You just can’t get a true taste of what life is like, or see the culture and experience a country with a short 6-10 hour port time. Yes! You can have a great time, and you can get that special typical food but you are in a very touristy town and it takes a lot of effort and preplanning to get out to the villages and back to your ship on time. Even if you want to just spend the day at the beach, you need to keep an eye on your watch so you don’t miss the last boarding time. We normally don’t chance it and figure we will go back to the places we want to visit on our own time.
2. Expensive Internet
You can buy an internet package for around $100 on most boats, depending on how long your cruise is.
3. Tons of Waste
So much food goes to waste on a cruise. If you don’t like it, leave it to be thrown out and go get more food. Not to mention how hard the huge ships are on the environment.
4. Cruise Workers
It is always hard for me to talk to the cruise workers and hear about the sacrifice they make to work on the ship. They leave their families for months at a time, sometimes 9 months of the year. They have to wait on us, hand and foot while their families live in poverty. It definitely makes me want to clear my plate before getting more food. On a happier note, they are so good to kids, I think it’s because they really miss their own.
5. Waiting for Food
In the elegant dining room it can take a long time to get your food if you have anxious or hungry kids. It’s not a huge problem, you can always skip the fancy dinner and go get most of the same food at the buffet.
To quote my father in law, I own a daycare to make myself feel tall, I cruise to make myself feel skinny
Explore Your Port City
We’ve boarded ships in Tampa, New Orleans (pictured above), San Diego, Rome, and Puerto Rico. Each city has much to offer and I’d recommend you take a day before and after your cruise to explore the cities on your own (obviously you’ll need even more time if you’re in a place like Rome!
- Get to your ship early, you can generally board before your assigned boarding time.
- Print boarding tags for your bags before you get to the port.
- Book your excursions outside of the cruise website or wait until you’re in port to arrange your excursions. Angie and I went to StingRay City a few years back for $15 each vs the advertised $80/person on the Carnival website and $40/person online through a third party.
- Remember luggage storage is important if you’re going to spend an extra day in your port city. Debarkation is generally over by 10am and you don’t wanna be stuck with your luggage until checkin at your hotel/airbnb at 4pm.
- Look for car rentals at the port. This can be more expensive, but it’ll save you lots of time and when you factor in the cost to get your whole family from the port to the airport to pick up a car, it might be worth the extra $$
I love travel. I love boats. I love being with family. So yes, I love cruises and recommend them with kids. But I also love planning a trip. I enjoy deciding how much time I get to have in one place, and I like the freedom to change my plans when/how I want. So we’ll cruise for the cruise experience, not for the travel experience. Go and enjoy the ship and all it has to offer, while also enjoying your hours in the sun when you are at port. But don’t pass up an opportunity to explore the Caribbean, or Mediterranean, or Riviera Mexico on your own time as well. Maybe use the cruise as a way to scope out your next week long vacation. This last trip definitely has me thinking about spending some more time in Jamaica. And hey, even Southwest flies there now 🙂