Short cruises are great for families with tight time or budget constraints. If you decide to sail away on a quick cruise vacation, make sure to follow these tips:
1. Pick the right itinerary
Short cruise itineraries include a varying number of in-port and sea days, so choose the option that best fits your preferences. Some people find “at sea” days boring, while others enjoy the chance to relax and unwind aboard their floating resort. If you’ve cruised often, you might want to choose an itinerary that includes some of the cruise lines’ newer destinations.
2. Choose flights wisely
Flight cancellations and delays are common these days. Government regulations require all cruise passengers to check in at least 90 minutes before departure or be denied boarding. Some cruise lines require arrival 2 or more hours before departure – make sure to check in advance. With a short cruise, you have little time to spare if you miss the ship. Avoid tight flight connections, plan to arrive at your departure port early in the day, or get there a day in advance and spend the night. If you purchase an air-sea package through the cruise line, it’s possible that the ship might be held in the event of flight delays – but don’t count on it. To be safe, purchase travel insurance.
3. Decide on a shipboard budget. Additional costs for shore excursions, sodas and drinks, spa treatments, arcade games and Internet charges can add up quickly – even on a short cruise. Determine what your budget will allow and let the family know. Take advantage of money saving programs, such as soda programs for kids and teens.
4. Make your shore excursion reservations in advance
Get the family together in advance of your cruise and decide what you want to do at each port. This will save time while onboard the ship and help avoid disappointment when shore excursions sell out. Shore excursions can be purchased a few months before departure, so visit the cruise line’s website to see if advance reservations can be made. Weigh the options offered by the ship along with independent shore excursion opportunities. Message boards at www.cruisecritic.com and www.tripadvisor.com can offer good insights and suggestions.
5. Get onboard early and unpack
Time is at a premium on short cruises. The last thing you want to be doing as the ship sails away is unpacking your clothes. Bring only carry-on luggage if possible and plan to come aboard for lunch. Once rooms are available, head straight to your cabin, unpack, and get ready to go.
6. Check the daily schedule
A copy of the ship’s daily schedule should be waiting for you in your cabin. Look it over to find out about the timing of the muster drill, as well as details on dining and entertainment. The program will also provide information on spa and fitness center tours, port and shopping talks, sail away festivities, and other events. You might want to bring a copy along with you as you make your way around the ship.
7. Work out your dining arrangements.
Check out the available restaurant options. If you did not receive the dining time, table size, or seating location of choice, visit the dining room as soon as you arrive onboard and find out if changes can be made. In addition, if you’d like to try out the alternative restaurants, make those reservations as soon as you arrive onboard the ship.
8. Explore the ship and find out what’s available
Once you find your cabin and get settled, take some time to look around the ship. Many families like to bring walkie-talkies onboard to allow parents to stay in touch while kids are on their own – and this is a great time to try them out. Some cruise ships, like the Disney Magic, provide these types of tech devices for guests. In addition, make sure to check the ship’s newsletter to learn about the entertainment and activities planned for the day.
9. Sign up for youth programs ASAP
If your kids are planning to participate in the ship’s kids and teens programs, it’s important to get them comfortable and involved as soon as possible. Make sure to visit the appropriate age group areas, sign them up for the program, have a look around, and strongly encourage them to participate in the first scheduled event. Friendships are often forged in the first evening and timely participation can make all the difference – especially on a short cruise. In addition, if your cruise line offers in-room babysitting and you want to take advantage of this option, book your dates and times as soon as you get onboard.
10. Relax and get ready to set sail
Ease into the experience and get into the short cruise frame of mind. As the ship leaves the pier, meet up with the family at the sail away party and leave all your worries behind. When it comes to fun, wallet-pleasing short cruises are definitely in the money.
Nancy Schretter is the Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network.