A Family Cruise Can Be an Affordable Vacation
Design Your Own Family Cruise Vacation for Affordability
Cruises can be expensive. Or not. Plan your own affordable vacation WITH a family cruise that costs a lot less than taking everyone on a two week voyage through the Panama Canal.
By thinking out of the box just a little, I'll show you a way to design your own family cruise vacation for affordability. And, you may even find that the best family cruise may well be a short one, bookended with a couple of days of free or low-cost options .
By opting to make a short cruise the centerpiece of a longer, more affordable vacation, rather than using every single vacation day on a longer, more expensive cruise you could save a lot. Besides, when you're cruising with kids, sometimes a short cruise is enough.
Follow our our fictional family, the Higginbotham's, from Jesup, GA, as they take an eight day trip with a four night cruise as its centerpiece. They're sailing out of Port Canaveral, but if you live within a day's drive another port city in the U.S., you could take a similar vacation for your family.
Would You Like to Take a Family Cruise? - (a poll)
We just love family cruises! Being at sea together is a wonderful way to connect and spend time together without all the normal distractions. Being able to explore new places and do new things together is just icing on the cake.
Would You Like to Take a Cruise?
The Enchantment of the Seas
Four Nights round trip from Port Canaveral
The Higginbothams have chosen to make a four night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas the centerpiece of their family vacation. They'll board the ship on Monday, sail to Nassau, and Royal Caribbean's private island of CocoCay. They'll also enjoy a day st sea before returning to Port Canaveral early Friday morning.
They've chosen to book two inside cabins, with a connecting door. They might have saved a little more by choosing one cabin for four, but this option will give them two bathrooms, and a little breathing room. OR, they might have booked a three night cruise instead of four. They looked at a number of options!
Photo: Enchatment of the Seas (My own, all rights reserved)
Tip: Go Ahead and Get a Passport NOW - And Find a Passport Holder You Like
If you're a first time cruiser, and don't have a passport, be sure to send in your application for your passport AT LEAST two months in advance of your departure date. In fact, it isn't a bad idea to go ahead and apply now, so you'll be ready if you should a travel opportunity arise unexpectedly.
Then, go shopping for a passport holder!
Announcing the Trip
Last Friday, on Hannah's twelfth birthday, the family went out for pizza. While waiting for the order to arrive, Dad excused himself for a moment, and returned with a bag in his hand and a big grin on his face. "I have a little present for BOTH of you," he announced to the kids. Then, he pulled two hats out of the bag, and quickly plopped on on each kid's head.
He had bought them caps with their names under an 'anchors away' graphic. (He got them from Zazzle, the on demand printer)
nd, so it was that Harry and Hannah found out that their parents would be taking them on an honest-to-goodness cruise.
"But, it's not JUST a cruise," Mom told them. "You won't believe the week we have planned around our four night sea cruise!"
First up: A Picnic at an Old Fort
Castillo de San Marcos
"On the first day, we are going to have a picnic lunch on the grounds of a very old fort. Harry and Hannah - your contribution to the vacation is to be in charge of the picnic. You get to plan it, prepare it, and pack it."
"Fort - what fort? Where?" Fifteen year old Harry was clearly intrigued by this idea.
"The Castillo de San Marcos in Saint Augustine, Florida."
Now, Hanna's interest was growing, too. "Saint Augustine! We studied about that in school - it's the nations oldest city."
So, Mom told them they'd be touring the fort, too, and Harry and Hannah were ready to do their part. They began excitedly talking about what kind of a feast they would serve their family on the grounds of the oldest masonry fort in the United States.
An Old Fort
Arrive at Hotel
Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine, Florida
The fort, built between 1672 abd 1695, on the shore of Matanzaz Bay, is made of coquina. The fort is configured in such a manner that each bastion can defend the ones on either side of it, as can be seen in this aerial view.
I can remember touring this fort many times as a child, and in those days, it was surrounded by an alligator filled mote. The mote has since been filled in, and the gators relocated.
The Castillo is a national monument, and you can pick up a map and brochure to use on your self-guided tour. Don't miss the dungeon or the story of Seminole Indian Chief Osceola who was imprisoned there. You can also watch a short film, which is shown hourly, or listen to Park Rangers give a variety of interpretive talks throughout the day on the history and culture of the Park.
Adults - $6.00
Children under 16 - No Charge
PARKING: Metered, $ .50 / hr.
INTERESTING FACTS that I still remember from ranger talks I heard years ago -
a) Though the fort was attacked many times, it was never captured by an attacking force
b) Enemy cannon balls never penetrated into the fort, but rather were "absosrbed" by the thick coquina walls.
c) On more than one occasion, the population of the town was sheltered in the courtyard of the fort during lengthy sieges from opposing colonial forces.
Have you ever seen the old fort at St. Augustine?
The Vacation Plan
Planning an Affordable Vacation
Well, the stop at the old fort in St. Augustine will certainly get the Higginbotham family vacation off to a great start, don't you think? And it's a very affordable option, too, as you can see!
Now, here's a summary of the whole eight day plan:
MORNING: Vacation begins! We leave bright and early, and drive (3 hours or less) to St. Augustine, Florida.
MID DAY BREAK: In Saint Augustine, tour the Castillo de San Marcos and have a picnic lunch on the grounds.
AFTERNOON: Drive the rest of the way to Cocoa Beach, Florida (just under 2 hours) and check in to the hotel.
MORNING: Beach time.
AFTERNOON: See the world's largest surf shop.
EVENING: Chill out at the hotel
MORNING: Sleep in, and get ready to Cruise.
AFTERNOON: Board the Enchantment of the Seas for a 5 pm SAILAWAY.
TUESDAY - WEDNESDAY - THURSDAY
Ship calls at CocoCay, Nassau, and spends a Day at Sea
MORNING: Cruise ends. Return to Hotel
AFTERNOON: Airboat ride
Say goodbye to the Space Coast with a visit to the Astronaut Walk of Fame an Museum, then head for home.
Save with a Park and Cruise Package
Many Hotels Offer a Package Like This
The Higginbothams have booked a hotel that offers a park and cruise package. So, they will be leaving their car at their Cocoa Beach hotel at no charge during their cruise. The hotel will shuttle them to and from the pier.
Since parking at the Port Canaveral cruise pier garage is $15 a night, the hotel's park and cruise package saves them $60.
There's an extra bonus with the hotel they've chosen: They'll get a free upgrade to a premium room (based on availability) after their cruise, and they have chosen to do this.
These deals are out there ... all you have to do is look!
Beach Time at the Pier
World's Largest Surf Shop
A Morning at the Beach
And an Afternoon Visit to a Surf Shop
The whole family is looking forward to spending a nice, relaxing morning at the beach the day before their cruise. They are looking forward to the atmosphere near the Cocoa Beach Pier, where there's plenty for the kids to do, yet opportunity for the adults to kick back and relax.
After playing in the surf, watching the surfers, and a casual lunch at Marlin's on the pier, it's back to the hotel for a bit, where the kids can get in a little pool time, while the adults can sit out by and soak up a little more Florida sun.
Cocoa Beach Surf Museum - at Ron Jon Surf Shop
In the afternoon, Ron Jon's Surf Shop beckons. Seems that every teen who ever visits Cocoa Beach wants to see "The World's Biggest Surf Shop." Harry and Hannah are no exception, and should enjoy exploring the 52,000 sq ft space store. Mom and Dad will want to take pictures next to the huge sculptures out in front of the store, too.
Did you know that there were actually surfers back in 1776? You can find out about that and see historic surf boards and other surfing memorabilia at the Cocoa Beach Surf Museum, which is in the north annex of Ron Jon Surf Shop.
Mom Went Shopping for Beach Gear - On Line at Amazon
Helene, Harry and Hannah's mom, loves to shop on line, and found some things for the family's day at the beach on Amazon.
She actually decided AGAINST buying boogie boards for the kids after discovering that you can rent all kinds of beach equipment at Sea Dog's Beach Rentals at the Cocoa Beach Pier.
As far as beach towels... she found two awfully cute ones, but because the cruise line supplies towels for use on the cruise, she decided not to make the extra purchase for just a half a day at the beach.
But, she did decide to buy each of the kids a bag to carry with them to the beach. These will also come in handy for the cruise - on both the day in port at Nassau, and their day at CocoCay. She ordered the two bags shown below, both of which are eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping.
Days 3 through 6
Bon Voyage! - Matching Cruise Shirts are a nice touch
Mom got everyone matching shirts to wear on boarding day.
On cruise day, there's just time for a quick dip in the hotel pool, and a continental breakfast. Then, it's off to the pier in the hotel shuttle.
The family plans to get there in time for lunch in the Windjammer Buffet on Deck 11. Dad likes this, because all the family's meals on the ship are FREE!!
The cruise is most assuredly the high point of the family's vacation, but it's also the EASY part for Mom and Dad, since there are so many things for the kids to do on board, not the least of which is Adventure Ocean, Royal Caribbean's program especially for kids.
Cruising with Kids
When cruising with kids of any age, it's important to be mindful of their Safety at Sea
The Higginbothams have done some on-line research about cruises, and have have learned quite a lot from veteran cruisers who frequent sites like Cruise Line Fans - especially about cruising with kids.
A cruise ship is like a floating city filled with strangers. You wouldn't turn your children loose in a strange city on their own, and it's unwise to give them the 'run of the ship' from morning til night. There are activities the whole family can enjoy together, like miniature golf; or while the kids are in the pool, parents can relax poolside in sun or shade with a cool drink and enjoy the company of some of their shipmates.
Photo: My own, all rights reserved
Programs Especially for Kids
Many cruise lines have programs especially for kids.
If the kids want to 'hang' with others their age while mom and dad enjoy some 'down time,' all of the cruise lines have supervised programs for children and teen. The kids I have cruised with LOVE the programs, which provide appropriate activities, grouped by ages. For example, on Royal Caribbean ships the Adventure Ocean Kids' Program is set up for the following age groupings:
Aquanauts: for ages 3 - 5
Explorers: for ages 6 - 8
Voyagers: for ages 9 - 11
Teens: Teen Only venues include Fuel Night Club and the Living Room. And on most ships you'll find special teen only parties and mixers.
Worried About Safety?
You'll Be Attending a Muster Drill
Are you wondering about what the safety procedures are on one of today's cruise ships?
Bone up on what happens at the mandatory safety exercise called a MUSTER DRILL, that is held at the beginning of every cruise:
A Four Night Bahamas Cruise
Their four night cruise was on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas.
The beautiful part of a Royal Caribbean cruise is that there is no lack of things to do - even on their older, smaller ships, like the Enchantment of the Seas. And you can TRY to do it all, do nothing at all, or just do what you want - even if it's nothing more than reading a good cruise book. It's your cruise, and it's totally up to YOU.
The ONE thing you MUST do is attend the mandatory muster drill, which is usually held just before sailaway. After that, your cruise is for you to make of it what you will. The Higginbothams plan to do just what they want to do at any given moment.
Public Domain photo of girl reading
NEXT: See where they will be going, and some of the options available for them for things to do.
The Enchantment of the Seas - Cruises to The Bahamas from Port Canaveral
Things to Do on a Cruise Ship
Boredom is Not an Option!
You won't be bored when the ship is underway, believe me! Here is just a PARTIAL list of the things available to do and see on The Enchantment of the Seas
Scale a Rock Climbing Wall
Attend a Broadway-style show
See a professional comedian or magician perform
Play Bingo *
Swim in the Pool
Soak in the Hot Tub
Get your hair done *
Have a drink with a little unmbrella in it*
Get a massage*
Listen to a piano player
Grab a bite at Sorento's Pizza
Play a game of pick-up basketball
Work on your tan
Watch the crew execute a lifeboat drill
Attend a Seminar
Attend a Pilates Class*
Work out in the gym
Check out the Photo Gallery (YES, there IS a picture of YOU there!)
Dance in the Disco
Attend the Captain's Champaigne Reception (dress up time!)
Have a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Snack*
See a Sunset or Sunrise at Sea
Play cards of board games (check them out or bring them with you)
Buy a cruise souvenir in the shops on board*
Get a family portrait taken before dinner on Formal Night (buy the picture or not, up to you.)
* Starred items are not included in the price of your cruise... they do cost extra.
Alligators and Airboats
Exploring an Ecosystem via Airboat
The Middle St Johns River Basin
Just a half hour's ride from the Higginbotham's hotel is Midway Airboat Rides, where they'll take a thrilling airboat ride along an amazing portion of the St. Johns River. It's a fitting final hurrah for their last day in Central Florida.
The picture at right, of the flight of an Osprey, is one I took from such an airboat. Ospreys are just one of the things to see when exploring these swampy wetlands inhabited by amazing creatures and against a backdrop of surreal beauty.
Oh, yes, and alligators - LOTS of alligators, all around. But the airboat is FAST. (and loud) The driver will likely slow the boat to a crawl, or even stop it on several occasions to point out something or tell a fascinating story, or give an enlightening explanation.
You really need to see this country via airboat, since it's inhospitable (to say the least) to wheeled vehilcles, and boats that require more than a foot or so of water to navigate.
This will be the Higginbotham's biggest expenditure for a single day's entertainment, but they think it will be worth it. Visit the Midway site for current rates. Last I checked, they were $35 per adult and $25 per child.
Harry is looking forward to holding a baby alligator, and having his picture taken with it, but Hannah isn't so sure about that!
Did You Go on an Airboat? - (a poll)
Have you ever taken an airboat ride?
Farewell Space Coast
US Space Walk of Fame Museum
and Spaceview Park
As the Higginbothams get ready to leave Cocoa Beach, they have one last thing to look forward to: A visit to Titusville's Space View Park and the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum.
What a nice way to say goodbye to Florida's Space Coast, by learniong a little, and maybe paying tribute to the area's heroes at NASA.
Hold it! They'r not just area heroes - they are heroes of our whole country!
At the river side park, the family can take photos of themselves next to monuments to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apolo Space Programs, see bronze hand casts of the original seven astronauts, and look across the river to see an actual launch site: Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39.
At the museum, they'll see and learn even more about the incredible space program of the United States of America.
Once the family has enjoyed their visit to the astronauts and learned a little space history, it's time to hit the road for home, after a week full of all kinds of different experiences.
Books for Space Cadets - Read About Astronauts and Space
Great books about NASA, astronauts, and space, for adults and kids.
Are You Ready?
Did the Higginbothams give you some good ideas?
Are you ready to plan a similar affordable family cruise vacation?
Plan Your Own Family Cruise Vacation
STEP 1: Select Your Cruise
Ready to go on your own family vacation with a short cruise as the centerpiece? The first step is to find a city within driving distance where you can board a ship.
Depending on when you schedule your vacation, your options for cruise cities and ships may be different. But just to give you an an example of what your possible choices of starting points might be, here are some of the home port cities with ships sailing on short cruises (7 days or less) during July and August of 2013:
Baltimore - Carnival Pride; Grandeur of the Seas
Charleston, SC - Carnival Fantasy
Galveston - Carnival Freedom Triumph
Miami - Carnival Ecstacy, Victory, and Breeze; Majesty of the Seas; Norwegian Sky,
New Orleans - Carnival Elation
Port Canaveral - Enchantment of the Sas; Disney Dream; Carnival Sensation and Sunshine
Tampa - Carnival Paradise
This example shows just the homeports in the United States that have ships with short cruise itineraries this summer. There are others in other parts of the world, including Norway, England, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Hong King, and China.
Things to Do and See Near Your Cruise Port
Step 2: Find Your Hotel, and Create Your itinerary
Now that you have chosed your cruise, you know where you'll embark and disembark. And you can plan additional low cost or no cost activities at locations enroute to or nearby your cruise port.
For example: Say you have chosen to cruise out of New Orleans, and your route takes you through Mobile. You could plan a morning tour of the Battleship USS Alabama. It's fascinating and pretty affordable, too! Admission fees are: Age 12 & up: $12.00; Ages 6-11: $6.00; and those 6 and under get in for free.
Other nearby options include beautiful Bellingrath Gardens, pictured here, or the beach at Gulf Shores or Dauphin Island.
It's up to you!
A FEW MORE TIPS
1 -Book youir cruise as early as possible, and through a recommended travel agent, Then, you can just pay a deposit at first, and an little each month until final payment is due.
2 - For your 'side' trips, don't inclulde more than one a day that involves driving more than 30 minutes from your hotel. That's just borrowing trouble. Mapquest can be a big help in figuring this out.
3 - Choose a hotel with free cruise parking, a free or low cost shuttle to the port, and free continental breakfast.
4 - You can usually get cheaper cruise fares in August... That's when peak hurricane season starts. Read my Tips for Cruising in Hurricane Season before taking THAT leap!
Did you like the Higginbothams vacation plans?
Do you have any tips for them? What?
Did their plans give you any ideas or provide you with some useful tips? What?