Is this your first time planning a family cruise? Figuring out how to pick a cruise can seem overwhelming at first glance, but let’s break it all down and help get you focused on the fun!
Who Is Going?
Let’s start with the most obvious question… who is going on your cruise? The number of people might determine whether you get one cabin or more, what size cabin you need, whether you might consider a suite, etc.
For your reference we’ve done fine with a family of 5 in a single cabin, even with young teenagers. Yes, it can get a bit cramped, but you will not spend a lot of time in your cabin (at least if you’re doing things right!).
If you can afford a suite, however, there are a number of perks that go along with those premium options that may peak your interest. Details differ for various cruise lines, so you can dig into those details later on.
Which Port To Cruise From?
How far you are willing to travel just to start on your vacation? The broadest selection of cruises is available out of ports in south Florida, such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, but there are many other ports available on the Gulf of Mexico, as well as along the East and West Coasts.
Remember, you not only have to travel to get to your cruise, you also have that return trip to consider! One time we decided we were OK to drive from Nashville to Miami in order to go on a cruise, a 16-hour drive. We arrived in Miami the day before and had an evening to relax at a hotel before boarding the ship, and had a wonderful time on our vacation.
The drive back, however, was another story. We were wiped out by the end of that drive, but instead of staying at a hotel and then getting on a cruise ship, we had to get back to reality! Consider that a lesson learned!
To help with picking your port, I’ve created a Cruise Port list on Google Maps which you can use to see how far you are from various ports. Just zoom out from your current location, and you can easily get travel time estimates and a better sense of what your options are!
Where To Go?
For new cruisers, my advice to you is that when thinking about how to pick a cruise, this is the least important of the major questions, and should be the point on which you use some flexibility.
Now if there is a definite location you want to visit, then absolutely make this a major part of your planning. For most people without much cruising experience, however, you will enjoy yourself and have plenty to do in any of the ports that the major cruise lines visit. There will be beaches, shopping areas, local cuisine and activities of all kinds.
When And How Long?
Usually, families have a specific time in mind when starting to think about a cruise, like Spring Break or some other slot in your schedule. Even having a vague idea like “sometime between mid-July and mid-August” can help.
Cruises are typically described by the number of nights you enjoy on your trip. For example, if you take a 5-night cruise that leaves on a Monday, that means you board Monday (usually early in the afternoon), with your final night being Friday, and a return to port Saturday morning.
Again, keep in mind your travel time from home to port before and after the cruise!
Which Cruise Line?
Now that you have an idea of which ports you are considering and how much time you have available, you can look at specific cruise lines. We’ll get more into the details of this area in a separate article, but here is how to start with telling the major cruise lines apart:
- Carnival Cruises: affordable with wide variety of ports, dates and ships
- Norwegian Cruise Lines: affordable, offers many teen-oriented programs
- Royal Caribbean: mid-range price, giant ships and many activities for kids of all ages
- Disney: expensive but amazing quality, especially for families with younger children
Keep in mind that all these cruise lines will offer features that appeal to travelers young and old, but certain cruise lines have earned a reputation for having more to offer for one group or another.
Now You Know How To Pick A Cruise!
Hopefully by walking through these steps you have a better idea of how to pick a cruise, and have really narrowed things down.
At this point you can engage a travel agent or consult a cruise booking service online, and you already have a good description of the vacation you’re looking for.
Good luck! If you have further questions or comments about how to select the perfect cruise for your family, let us know in the comments below!