Planning a family vacation is often part fun and part stress. After all, you ultimately need to settle on a vacation idea most of your family will enjoy — without going over your predetermined budget, of course.
While camping or renting a condo at the beach can be both frugal and fun, many families look to cruising to satisfy their family’s desire for adventure for a price they can afford. Not only are cruises jam-packed with activities for everyone in your crew, but they can be more affordable than you think.
Here are some of the reasons cruising is such a smart idea for families with kids — and a few ways to whittle down the cost even more. (See also: What to Expect On Your First Cruise)
1. Kids can (sometimes) cruise free
Several cruise lines, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, offer “kids sail free” promotions that can lead to huge savings. Also, MSC Cruises — which offers insanely affordable cruises worldwide as well as Caribbean cruises out of Miami, Florida — lets kids cruise free on select itineraries (including most of their Caribbean cruises) all year.
Keep in mind that you’ll still have to pay taxes and fees for kids who “cruise free,” and these usually amount to a few hundred dollars. Still, not having to pay regular cruise fare for your kids can help you cut costs quite a bit. (See also: 5 Most Affordable Cruise Lines for Families)
2. Score lodging, meals, and entertainment for one low price
Cruising includes more than a regular hotel stay. Not only is your cruise lodging included, but you’ll have access to around-the-clock entertainment and an endless array of food that’s served.
Make sure to factor in cruise freebies as you budget for your trip. After all, not having to pay for the bulk of your family’s meals can free up vacation funds to spend on other aspects of your family vacation. (See also: 6 Money-Saving Items to Bring On Your Next Cruise)
3. Free babysitting
While cruise ships offer plenty of fun for travelers of all ages, they also offer one perk parents tend to love — free babysitting. Yes, most cruise ship kid’s clubs offer supervised play for kids ages four and up. The majority of kid’s clubs also offer expansive playrooms, organized activities and crafts, and free time to make new friends.
Not only do kids love visiting onboard children’s clubs, but parents love getting a break. Best of all, this babysitting is free during their regular opening hours.
4. You can visit multiple destinations
Name another type of vacation where you get to visit several destinations within the span of a week, without having to drive yourself to each spot. Can’t come up with anything? We didn’t think so.
One big benefit of cruising is the fact that you can select an itinerary that takes you to several different destinations you want to explore. Better yet, the price of getting from place-to-place is wrapped up in your cruise fare.
5. Drive to the cruise port instead of flying
Because cruise ports are scattered all around the coasts, it’s possible you could drive to a cruise port and avoid the cost of airfare. You could easily save up to $400 per person (or even more) on domestic airfare this way, although you’ll have to pay to park your car during your cruise if you go that route.
If you can’t drive to a cruise port — or you simply don’t want to — you can also consider earning airline miles to cover your family’s flights. Southwest Airline’s co-branded airline credit cards tend to be popular for cruisers since their loyalty program is fare-based and the airline flies to numerous cruise port destinations like New Orleans, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale. (See also: 5 Affordable Caribbean Cruise Ports for Families)
6. Excursions can be cheap, or free
Many cruisers complain about the high cost of ship-based excursions, and their concerns are usually warranted. It’s not unusual to see cruise ship excursions that cost well over $100 per person, and those costs can be absurd when you’re planning for a family.
Fortunately, there are plenty of destinations that don’t require an organized excursion at all. You can usually disembark the ship and walk around cruise port common areas for free, and you may be able to hop in a quick taxi for a day trip to a beach or a local landmark.
Don’t assume you have to book your excursions through your ship. Instead, do your own research on cruise forums or TripAdvisor.com and look for ways to have a fun day on the cheap.
7. Watch out for special promotions
If you’re keen to cruise with a specific cruise line, you may want to sign up for their newsletter so you can find out first about special promotions and deals. In addition to kids cruise free offers, it’s common to see promotions for free drink packages, free onboard internet access, onboard credits, and other special cruise discounts.
8. Book early (or late) to save even more
Booking your cruise early is often the best way to get access to special promotions, but you also get your pick of available cruise cabins. In fact, it’s often suggested to book close to one year before your departure date if you hope to get the lowest pricing and the most perks, along with the exact cabin you want.
Then again, you can also save big if you book your cruise at the last minute. For example, VacationstoGo.com offers a 90-day ticket that features unsold cruise cabins at up to 82 percent off the retail price.
9. Cover your cruise with a travel rewards credit card
Finally, don’t forget how powerful a travel credit card can be when it comes to reducing your out-of-pocket cruising costs. Not only can you pick up a travel credit card that doles out rewards to cover your cruise in its entirety (or part of your cruise), but you can also use travel rewards for a rental car to get to the cruise port, airfare, and travel incidentals.