The following post is written by Jen from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department. Jen set sail on Disney Cruise Lines in September 2017.
Confession: Despite having spent my childhood summers on the water from Maine to Maryland on my family’s small speedboat, I had never considered taking my own family on a cruise. Although I loved my summers on the ocean on our tiny little boat, graduating up to a huge ship wasn’t necessarily something that ranked highly on my vacation bucket list. But after several friends came home from a cruise raving about their experience, and after our kids kept hinting that they’d like to visit islands and the beaches in the Caribbean, we decided it was time to set sail. With the help of an experienced Travel Specialist to guide us through the planning process, we planned a memorable vacation our whole family enjoyed. Here are a few things we learned along the way:
It’s so much more helpful to plan a cruise with a Travel Specialist
At first, planning a cruise seemed simple and something we could on our own (we planned the trip prior to me joining the Boscov’s Travel team). But we quickly realized that everything—from picking a departure port, cruise line and a ship, and then a category and room on the ship, as well as an itinerary that worked well for us at the time we needed to vacation—was not nearly as simple as it originally seemed. Although we pride ourselves on being able to research and plan many of our own family vacations to the beach or other nearby locales, as inexperienced cruisers, we quickly became overwhelmed by the choices and realized that we needed expert help to be able to craft the perfect vacation that also fit into our budget. Our Travel Specialist, an experienced cruiser herself, quickly put us at ease and started to explain the process to us: First, roughly decide on your budget. Next, decide which cruise line appeals to you. For us, this was our simplest choice since we own a timeshare through Disney Vacation Club and had the option to use our points in lieu of cash (which we ultimately decided against doing since our points didn’t go very far towards covering our fare). But had we not been so committed to sailing Disney, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of cruise lines and the sometimes subtle or not-so-subtle differences among the ships, as well as price-points for sailing on each line. Once we had that narrowed down, we took a look at what ships and what itineraries were available during the timeframe we wanted to sail, and from where the ship departed so we could factor in any additional transportation and pre- and post-cruise lodging costs into our overall budget. At this point, with our Travel Specialist, we compiled a small list of suitable cruises and went to work on researching the ships and itineraries to decide which one appealed the most to us. Taking the information back to our kids, we determined as a family that we wanted to experience a short 3-night cruise for the first time to ensure that we all enjoyed it (and no one would be prone to motion sickness) before we invested in a longer week-long stay aboard a cruise ship. At this time, our Travel Specialist also advised us she felt it was best to fly to Florida at least a day before our cruise’s departure to take some of the stress out of worrying about flight delays or cancellations, which might affect our ability to get to the port on time. This pre-cruise stay allowed us to get in two nights at Walt Disney World prior to our cruise, thus extending our short cruise into a longer land and sea vacation, which was great for us since we knew we’d be blending together a familiar and fun vacation spot along with a new and unfamiliar experience.
Figuring out your budget and what’s most important to you
Once our ship, date and itinerary were chosen, it was time to tackle where to stay on the ship. Unlike most vacations where we’re placed wherever the hotel chooses to put us, cruising is much different with cruisers selecting the exact room they’d like to stay in. Prices can also wildly vary with those staying in interior rooms low on the ship paying much less than those staying high on the ship with verandahs or balconies. Additionally, like airfare, cruise pricing is not set: Generally, cruises are least expensive when the itineraries and dates are first announced (often a year to almost two years in advance – see current itineraries here http://boscovstravel.com/temp/Disney-Cruise-Line-Sailings-2017-2018.pdf), and steadily increase in price as you near the sailing date. Because our family chose a short cruise, and because we were not sailing to many ports of interest, we decided to splurge on our accommodations to make the most out of our time on the ship. As first-time cruisers, and since communication to our Travel Specialist would be cut off as soon as we sailed away from Port Canaveral unless we wanted to pay exorbitantly high roaming charges on our cell phones, we decided it would be in our best interest to have the help of a concierge staff to help us with any request, including personalized help with booking on-board experiences and off-ship excursions both before and during our stay. Our concierge privileges also enabled us to be among the first to board the ship, maximizing the time of our vacation, plus gave us access to a special lounge steps from our room that offered specialty coffee, hors d’oeuvres, and beer, wine and cocktails, which are not normally included in your cruise fare. While our concierge stay nearly doubled the cost of our cruise compared with us sailing in a less expensive cabin on the ship, as first-time cruisers unfamiliar with cruising and overwhelmed with the options each day both on and off the ship, we were glad we opted to go for a shorter cruise to save money and instead splurged for the extra help and truly personalized service we received from the concierge staff—they made everything incredibly easy and stress-free for us from the moment we arrived at the port to the moment we stepped off the ship. While we were definitely spoiled this time by the amazing service of the concierge staff, we certainly feel more confident to sail without such a luxury next time now that we know the lay of the land and what to expect during a cruise vacation.
Because we allocated so much of our budget towards our concierge room, we didn’t have much left over for excursions off the ship, nor for much pampering or paid-activities on the ship. Cruises are packed with hourly entertainment for the whole family, and while most activities and dining are included with your fare on a Disney cruise, some activities are not, such as wine tastings, spa treatments and specialty dining and beverages. Additionally, nearly every excursion off the ship cost something—whether it was a couple of bucks per person, or sometimes several hundred per person. Since our next cruise will likely be longer in length, and we’ll place importance on the ports over the on-the-ship experience, we’ll likely sail in more moderate accommodations to be able to afford excursion adventures and some additional fun things on the ship while we’re at sea.
Other financial considerations also include the cost of passports for your family if you don’t already have them, gratuities for your dining and stateroom attendants, as well as travel insurance. We were incredibly fortunate to be the last unaffected sailing prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival, and didn’t stress too much about her impending arrival since we knew our trip would be covered due to any delays or disruptions.
Because we received such experienced guidance by our Travel Specialist when planning our trip, and had such personalized help with the concierge staff on the ship, we were truly able to simply relax and enjoy every second of our cruise, making it a truly unforgettable and fun experience for our whole family.
If you’re ready to start planning your next cruise, email email@example.com, call 800-755-8020 or direct message us.
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