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BEFORE YOU GO

Best Time to Cruise The Caribbean By Month

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If there’s one question we hear over and over, its this: When is the best time to cruise? And to be honest, it’s a tough one to answer because it can, in some ways, be subjective. Maybe you want to cruise when there will be the fewest children on board. Maybe you’re looking to go to Alaska, which has a limited season, and want the best weather possible. There are as many different factors as there are cruise options. But there are ways to get a general idea of what you’re going to pay during various times of the year.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering you month-by-month breakdowns on a typical cruise to some of the most popular destinations. I’ll also offer up some pros and cons to each time period. First up? Perhaps the destination most people think of when they think of cruising: the Caribbean.

cruise the caribbean

Keep in mind that when we get into details about pricing, I’m only talking generalities. For each month, I looked at Carnival’s fleet sailing out of Miami and tried to find the lowest price for an inside stateroom. I only looked at Carnival cruises in order to give us a starting point, as opposed to trying to aggregate a price point across numerous cruise lines. But as anybody who has ever booked a cruise knows, the price quoted today could be higher or lower than the one you got yesterday. But the prices mentioned below — which are per person, based on double occupancy — will give you a general idea of how things fluctuate from month to month. And of course, I always recommend that the minute you either find a cruise you’re interested in or actually book one, you set a price alert. (To find out how to set a price alert — not to mention exactly why you should — click here.)

So now… let’s talk about why you should (and, in some cases, probably shouldn’t) book a cruise in each of the 12 months of the year.

Save Money: Set a Cruise Price Drop Here

January

Whether or not you’re actually planning to sail in January, this is a great month to shop for a cruise. Why? Because it’s the kick-off of wave season, which means you can often find great deals. As for prices on January cruises, you can find some pretty good deals. For one thing, there tend to be fewer people sailing. Why? Because we’re just coming off Christmas and New Year’s, which are two times when a whole lot of families take advantage of the fact the kids are out of school. Now that the kids are back in class, ships might have berths to fill. And as we all know, the rule of supply and demand says that the more staterooms they have to fill, the better the odds of you getting a good deal. Now, it’s worth noting that it can be a tad chilly sailing out of Miami in Florida. (People in the north assume it’s 70 and sunny year round, but that’s not always the case!) Also, while the air temperatures in the Bahamas are great during winter months, the water temps can be chilly.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $419 per person.

February

Swimming with the Sting Rays in Grand Cayman.

As with mid-to-late January, this tends to be a very good time of year to sail as kids are back in school. There will, however, be competition for the best deals, as a whole lotta people want to get away from the winter blah’s. The holiday season is over, summer seems so far away… and there’s the Caribbean, beckoning with her white beaches and blue waters. Be warned that it’s tougher to find a good deal around President’s Day. Why? Say it with me: The kids are out of school.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $429 per person

March

Spring Break season means prices are going to go up. Even those 3- and 4- night sailings that were running around $169 just a few weeks ago are now going to jump up into the $300 price range. Spring Break can also mean a whole lotta college kids on sailings, so how you feel about a March cruise may depend on whether you think they’re a party waiting to happen or to be avoided at all costs. There are also going to be more families with kids because, as it turns out, college kids aren’t the only ones who get a spring break! As we discussed earlier, the rules of supply and demand are kicking in again. More people want to cruise, so the cruise lines are going to charge more.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $489 per person.

April

We’re definitely seeing the prices go up as spring hits. For one thing, many lines reposition ships this time of year, meaning there are fewer options. And fewer options means higher prices. Weather wise, we’re just outside the season for ideal temps (which typically runs from January to March), but all those days of warm weather mean the water temps are just about perfect. And of course, sailing out of Miami in April is usually pretty ideal as well. So… guess what? The prices are continuing to go up.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $549 per person.

Cruise the Caribbean in Grand Turk

May

If you want to sail during May, make your plans early. Better to book at a higher price-point and keep your eyes on that price alert I know you set than to wait. Because when May actually rolls around, a lot of people look for last-minute cruises. They might find something, but they won’t get a prime cabin (“We have something directly beneath the theater in which the River Dance Cloggers will be performing, sir… ” ). “The first week of May still offers reasonable pricing,” says Becky Smith from Becky’s Travel. “But with many colleges getting out around the second or third week in May, the prices for cruises start to increase as the month progresses.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $519 per person.

June and July

So you want to sail during the summer months, huh? Well, have at it… but you’re going to need to break out that wallet. When the summer cruise season hits, prices go up significantly. This is peak season and the cruise lines know it. For those who don’t want to take their kids out of school, this is their only shot at a family vacation. (There’s a reason that this is also the most popular/pricy time at Walt Disney World!) Fortunately, if you wind up on a kid-packed sailing for reasons beyond your control, almost every modern ship has an adults-only zone. Having spent more than a little time in the Carnival Sunshine’s Serenity over the years, I can tell you that those areas can make your cruise… and save your sanity!

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $764 per person.

August

Slowly but surely, the education system begins sucking children and college students back in (although some won’t go back until early September, much to the chagrin of some parents!). Prices for mid-to-late August are going to be significantly lower than you’ll get at the beginning of the month. That said, it’s worth noting that we’re right in the heart of hurricane season and, if 2017 taught us anything, it’s that itineraries can change and whole voyages can be cancelled during particularly rough seasons. Translation: Always, always, always buy cruise insurance.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $549 per person.

September

Want a bargain? You’ll find one in September. But you’re a savvy enough shopper to know that where there’s a sale, there’s a sign reading “caveat emptor.” (If there’s one thing I learned watching the Brady Bunch rerun in which Greg buys a used car, it was “buyer beware!”) And in this case, it’s the same as we mentioned above: Hurricane season is in full effect. If you’re willing to roll the dice and take your chance with shifting itineraries and possibly less-than-idea weather, you’ll easily find a bargain. In fact, you’ll find some almost hard to believe ones!

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The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $299 per person.

cruise the caribbean

October

Prices on 7-day cruises out of Miami are going to be right around average this time of year. But if you want to get a real bargain — and have the time to devote to a 14-night-or-longer trip — check out some of the transatlantic voyages that typically take place this time of year. A lot of cruise lines who sent ships to Europe over the summer start bringing them home and generally speaking, when a ship is making a long, one-way voyage, the prices are awesome.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $449 per person.

November

November is an odd month. While it remains right about at the average sweet spot for the most part, Thanksgiving can go one of two ways: You’ll either pay a premium price to let someone else do the cooking for your family (not to mention clean up the mess afterwards), or you’ll find a great bargain. There seems to be no real rhyme nor reason to the disparity in prices. I suspect that a lot of families bypass a Thanksgiving cruise in favor of Christmas, which affords more days off from both work and school.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $439 per person.

December

Perhaps not surprisingly, December offers some of the highest and lowest price points. The lows will be found during the first two week’s of the month, while the highs will (shocker!) hit during the holidays. Everybody is off work and school, and people get awfully sentimental about the holidays and decide spending a week with their loved ones is a great idea. (How good an idea it really is may depend on how well your extended family gets along!) If you want to do a holiday cruise but not pay a premium price, see if you can convince everyone to take off the first or second week of December. The ships will be gorgeously decorated, but not nearly as crowded (or expensive) as they’ll be during the actual Christmas/New Year’s sailings.

The best price I found: Carnival had a 7-night sailing for $419 per person.

Final Thoughts

As you look at the prices above, you’re probably thinking, “There doesn’t seem to be a huge disparity between the highest and lowest prices listed.” But keep a few things in mind: First, I’m looking at the per person price. So if there’s a $150 difference between sailing in, say, early December and late December, that’s actually a $300 difference for a couple. Also, you can count on not only the price of the cruise being higher during premium periods, but the price of everything from shore excursions to plane fare. So what seems like a relatively minor difference to some can add up really quickly!

So… ready to start pricing your own trip? Start here and remember: Sometimes, you have to look beyond the price to other factors before making your final decision!

What’s the best price you ever got on a cruise? When and where did you go on that trip? 

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BEFORE YOU GO

13 Things to Do at Galveston Cruise Port

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Galveston Island is the perfect getaway for a pre or post-cruise stay. The island offers a ton of food, culture, attractions, shopping, and more, making it more than just a place to drive through on the way to your cruise vacation. Next time you sail from Galveston, consider spending time there to take advantage of these 13 things to do.

1. Shop on The Strand

Located right across from the cruise terminal, “The Strand” is a historical district full of shops and restaurants. In addition to the various clothing and gift shops that line Strand Street, there is also a giant chess set for playing in the adjacent Saengerfest Park as well as a running trolley for transportation.

Photo via Galveston CVB

2. Drink beer at Galveston Island Brewing Co.

If you’re into craft beer, or if you like beer at all, a visit to Galveston Island Brewing Co. is a must. It’s a quaint brewery with a quiet spot on the island, and their facilities include an indoor bar and seating, souvenirs, tables with board games, as well as outdoor seating and decking, a small stage for live music, picnic tables, and cornhole. It’s kid-friendly and dog-friendly, and they serve up some of the best beer you’ll ever taste.

3. Enjoy a drink at Murdoch’s

Murdoch’s is a Galveston treasure. Now a gift shop with a bar, it has been rebuilt several times over the years after being devastated by hurricanes – the most recent being Hurricane Ike in 2008. You’d never know it though, because its unwavering spirit survives every time. The bar serves frozen daiquiris and piña coladas as well beer, including local craft brews from the island. Because the shop extends out over the water as a pier, you can enjoy your drink on its back porch while sitting over the water.

4. Walk the Seawall

On the south side of the island, you’ll find the seawall. The 10 miles of beach along the seawall are all public, so feel free to park along the wall and enjoy a day under the sun, walking along the wall or enjoying the beachfront. Parking costs only $1 per hour or $8 for the day and can be paid via the Pay By Phone app on a smartphone.

5. Ride the rides at Pleasure Pier

Galveston’s Historic Pleasure Pier is hard to miss, extending out from the island and over the water like a beacon. The pier boasts a roller coaster and rides in addition to food, shops, and carnival games. All-day ride passes vary for kids based on whether they’re shorter or taller than 48 inches, but four all-day passes for a family, all taller than 48 inches, costs $100. There are discounted tickets available for seniors, active military and veterans, and through local hotels for guests.

Photo via Galveston CVB.

6. Adventure Through Moody Gardens

Made up of three large pyramids, Moody Gardens is easy to spot from the bridge while driving onto the island. Moody Gardens is a museum and adventure park in which each pyramid hosts a different attraction: an aquarium, a rainforest, and an MG 3D theater. It also functions as a resort, complete with on-site dining, spa amenities, a golf course, as well as a splash pad, river, wave pool, and man-made beach.

7. Visit Schlitterbahn

Schlitterbahn is a year-round water park located on the island that features everything from water slides to a lazy river to a swim-up bar. Tickets in the summertime run $51 per person for a day pass or $39 for children and seniors; however, prices are nearly half that in the spring (March to mid-April).

Photo via Galveston CVB.

8. Grab Some Grub

If you’re looking for a good place to grab grub in Galveston, the choices are endless. Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant on the seawall has been an island hallmark since it opened in 1911 and serves up some of the freshest seafood around. The Spot, also on the seawall, serves locally famous burgers as well as fresh seafood and has four individual, unique bars inside: a tiki bar, tequila bar, rum bar, and general backyard bar. Of course, if you’re looking to stay closer to the cruise terminal, Fisherman’s Wharf and Willie G’s are both popular spots for fresh seafood and other bites.

9. Sunbathe on Pocket Beaches

If you’re willing to travel a bit further south, Galveston Island has several pocket beaches that are open to public access but are not nearly as busy as the public beach at the seawall. If you’re looking at sites like Airbnb for a pre or post-cruise stay and want more quiet beach time, look for properties closer towards the Jamaica Beach area to avoid the crowds.

10. Visit Historic Homes

Another fun thing to do in Galveston is to tour the historic homes on the island. One of these is Bishop’s Palace, which was built in the late 1800s and is an example of Victorian architecture. Inside, the “palace” features unique details like marble columns, stained glass windows, and a mahogany staircase. Another home to visit is Moody Mansion. Also built in the late 1800s, the mansion has 31 rooms, including a ballroom, and was built in the Romanesque style.

Photo via Galveston CVB.

11. Visit Museums

Galveston Island is bursting with museums. Two of the most popular among tourists include the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum and Galveston Railroad Museum. The Ocean Star Museum is a retired jack-up rig that you can board to learn about the process of extracting oil offshore. The Galveston Railroad Museum operates rail rides, and many of the rail cars can even be boarded and viewed on the lot.

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12. Tour the Tall Ship Elissa

Docked at Pier 21 next to the cruise terminal, the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa floats proudly as a Galveston attraction and is still a functioning vessel. To learn more about the history of the ship’s commerce and history, you can visit the adjacent Texas Seaport Museum and even board the ship to wander its decks.

13. Watch the Ships Leave

Photo via Heather Baxter.

If you arrive the day before your cruise (or stay the day after) and there’s a ship in port that day, it’s always fun to watch the ships leave from Pier 21. There’s plenty of open deck area to simply hang around and watch the ships. But if you feel like snacking while you wait, the restaurant Fisherman’s Wharf offers outdoor seating with prime views of the ships sailing off. Just ask the hostess for a seat outside; they are always happy to accommodate.

Photos via Galveston CVB


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BEFORE YOU GO

5 Ways to Protect Your Passport

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Protecting your passport is one of the most important things to do on your vacation. Your passport is truly your passport to the world and back again. Without it though, you may run into some unplanned problems.

5 Ways to Protect Your Passport

passport

1. Copy It

Don’t leave home without a copy of your passport. Before you leave the country, make a copy of the main page of your passport. Take one copy with you and leave one with a trusted friend or family member. You can also scan a copy and email it to yourself so you’ll have a digital copy accessible. Keep your copy away from your passport while you’re traveling. In the event your passport is lost or misplaced, you’ll be asked to provide: Issue Date, Issuing Agency, Passport Number and Expiration Date. With a copy of this info, it’s much easier to replace your lost/stolen passport.

2. Know It

Know who to call or contact in the event of a missing passport. In the United States, call the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) at 1-877-487-2778. If you’re overseas, contact the nearest embassy or consulate. Check out the location list at www.usembassy.gov and keep it with you when traveling overseas.

3. Hold It

Don’t just hand your passport over to anyone who asks for it. Be very sure you’re giving it to a trustworthy person. Thieves and con artists have gotten clever and dress up as officials to try and get your info and identity. If you’re unsure at all of who’s asking for your passport, use a different form of ID first. Remember, you don’t need your driver’s license to get back into the US; you do need your passport.

4. Insure It

You know we’re firm believers in travel insurance, but here’s another great reason why you should always have it. If your passport is lost or stolen and has to be replaced, travel insurance can help cover the cost of replacement. They’ll help direct you to the nearest embassy or location to get a new photo taken. Travel insurance can also help with the cost of any itinerary changes due to the lost passport.

5. Wrap It

Starting in 2006, the United States has started issuing passports with an RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) chip. These chips consist of data and a small antenna. The problem is that your personal data can get read from your passport from thieves without ever opening, touching, or even coming close to your passport. It just takes you walking by someone with a scanner.

Consider buying a wallet with an RFID shield or a good home remedy is to wrap it in aluminum foil. Amazon sells an affordable Smooth Trip Passport Holders with an RFID blocker for under $10.

Hopefully these tips help you avoid a travel horror story! Have you ever lost your passport overseas? What are some ways that you protect your passport? We’d love to hear from you with any tips on keeping your passport safe and sound!

Photo via Flickr

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BEFORE YOU GO

How to Break Down Your Cruise Fare

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This post was inspired by someone very close to me, my sister. She was trying to tell me that she found a cruise for $229 and not a penny more.

The Email

My Bahamas cruise initially said $229 per person but when I went to book it, it was $646.54!!! Why did the advertised price say one thing and when I booked it was another? What gives??

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 2.59.55 PM

Attractive Pricing

Buying a cruise can be compared to buying a car: The pricing looks very attractive until you start adding on the tax, tag and title.

Based on Double Occupancy

A cruise ship is a big floating resort with the exception that the cruise fare you see is based on double occupancy. If you see a price for $229, double that for two people, triple for three and so on. Some cruise lines give pricing breaks for more than two people per stateroom.

Words to Know:

Carnival_Sunshine_NewOrl-1

To the untrained eye, it’s almost rocket science breaking down a cruise fare. But before we do that, let’s get familiar with some cruise ticket terminology.

  • Base Fare: the cost of the stateroom before any other fees are added. This is the price you will typically see advertised. This rate is associated with the accommodations you choose.
  • Gratuities: if you choose to prepay, this will be added in the total price of your cruise. Gratuities generally run between $11-$14 per person per day.
  • Vacation Protection: better known as travel insurance offered by the cruise line. You can also buy travel insurance from a third party provider. Cruise line policies are typically blanket policies while third party policies are done on an individual basis.
  • Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses: the cruise line has no control over these charges. Port Fees and Government taxes are charged and controlled by the country the cruise ship is visiting and are passed straight to the guest.
  • Service Fees: if you are booking on an online booking engine like Priceline you will find a $24.99 convenience fee added to your cruise booking.
  • Total: the sum of all the above fees added together. This could either be just the base fare and port taxes or all listed, depending on how you book your cruise.

The Structure 

The three-night Bahamas cruise had a price point of $229 but had a final price tag of $646.54. So why the prices difference?

Let’s look at the screenshot.

Cruise Fare BreakdownScreen Shot 2015-04-16 at 3.03.32 PM

Cruise Fare – $458.00 (remember double occupancy)

Port Taxes and Fees – $188.54

Total – $646.54

Consider the Extras

  • Pier Parking
  • Transfers
  • Vacation Protection
  • Pre-cruise Hotel Packages
  • Shore Excursions
  • Specialty Dining
  • Drink Packages
  • Spa Treatments
  • Internet Package

Final Thoughts

Compared to a land vacation, the value of a cruise vacation is amazing. Where else can you unpack once and experience a sampling of destinations? You really can’t.

An inexperienced cruiser will take the sticker price as the final price. Gather all information before booking your cruise.

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