Help Me Plan A Family Reunion At Sea!
Growing up, I was the resident contrarian at my house, and nothing brought out this tendency more than family vacations. My parents took us to Washington, D.C., to meet one of our senators and get a tour of the Capitol and I insisted on a side trip to, of all places, the Pentagon. (Sorry, I was a little boy. And I lost that argument, by the way.) Two weeks on Martha’s Vineyard? I was perfectly content to skip drop–dead–gorgeous South Beach and read Bleak House in a comfy chair at our rental home.
So, when my siblings recently suggested that we attempt a “family reunion at sea,” booking a cruise that would include my parents along with all of their adult children, significant others, and grandkids, I was the one who raised the annoying questions: Seriously, all of us? On a boat? Where? When? How?
It occurred to me that my favorite travel experts, Budget Travel readers, could slap some sense into me on this topic. Have you ever organized—or even just attempted to organize—an extended–family cruise? I’d love to hear your success stories: How did you get the ball rolling? How did you accommodate special needs like handicap access and dietary restrictions? How did you manage to keep the seventy–somethings, the preschoolers, and everyone in between literally and figuratively onboard?
And, of course, my inner contrarian is just as interested in hearing about the quirky, unexpected, and, as we say in BT’s True Stories section, just plain bizarre.
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Traveling with children under the age of two isn't always easy from a logistics standpoint, but it is economical. Airlines let them fly for free on your lap and they usually snooze in hotel rooms and laze by the pool at most all–inclusives for no extra charge. The one exception to this rule is cruising, where everyone on board pays, no matter what. Fares for children under 18 aren't typically the same as for adults, as long as they are sharing a cabin with two adults (they are considered third passengers and pay a percentage of the full cruise fare). Norwegian Cruise Lines used to be one of the cheaper options, since the line charged a smaller percentage if the child was under two (it's not like they are gorging themselves at the midnight buffet). According to a report by Travel Weekly, the cruise line has discontinued the policy and all children, regardless of age, pay the same rate. This policy is also in effect on Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises. Keep in mind that infants under six months of age are not permitted on Norwegian cruises (which is standard for most cruise lines, except for long–haul trips like TransAtlantic cruises, where the minimum age is higher). Disney Cruise Line is (not surprisingly) one of the only lines that discounts more for children two and under. A four–night Bahamas cruise in December costs $632 per adult, and $282 for an infant under the age of 2. If your child is 3, the fare would be $564. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 10 Common Cruise Myths—Debunked 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered
An End to the Fight Over Deck Chairs?
Getting a prime deck chair on a cruise can be a contact sport, with travelers resorting to extreme tactics like rising with the sun to stake a claim. And there's nothing more frustrating than when shipmates lay out towels and books, just to then saunter off to breakfast, the casino, or the spa. Cruise directors at Carnival heard that same complaint over and over, and decided enough was enough. So they launched a program on the new Carnival Breeze to keep cruisers from hogging the chairs. Staff members are being assigned to monitor seating areas by placing stickers on the unoccupied chairs marked with the current time. If you aren't back in 40 minutes, your belongings are removed and a note from the staff is left behind. As reported in USA Today, cruise director John Heald said "We went with 40 minutes as we felt that this was a fair amount of time if guests get up to eat, drink, pee, swim or slide." If the program is a success on the Breeze, the 40–minute policy will be rolled out on the line's other ships. What do you think of the new policy? Should deck chairs always be first–come–first–serve? Or does this put an end to one of your biggest cruise complaints? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 10 Common Cruise Myths—Debunked 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered
How to Choose the Perfect Cruise
When it comes to cruising, Aunt Mavis has been bragging about how many Caribbean cruises she's taken and what great deals she gets. Charlie down the street just got back from cruising in Alaska and says it was his best family vacation ever. The ads on TV sure make cruising sound like a blissfully carefree travel experience. Whatever your reason for thinking about a cruise vacation, picking the right ship and the right destination are both key to your having a good experience. There are a lot of ships to choose from – the smallest with under 100 passengers, the largest with more than 6,000 passengers. And these ships cruise to destinations literally around the world. But before you even start your planning, there are questions to be asked: Are you looking for a ship where adults and kids – including grumpy teens – will be entertained? Are you seeking a low-key, romantic cruise experience? Do you need a ship that can accommodate wheelchairs or limited mobility? Are you looking for a shipboard singles scene? Are there ships better suited for multi-generational family reunions than others? Are you looking to relax in the sun or are you looking to see the world? The good news is there really is a cruise ship and itinerary to suit nearly every taste – the possible exception being one for people who shun anything to do with group travel. If you've never cruised before – and even if you have – you will no doubt have tons of questions in the areas of finding bargains and making a booking, cabin choice, ports of call, shipboard activities and food, among others. In an upcoming issue, we will look at all things cruise. But first we want to hear your cruising questions, tips and experiences. You comments may appear in an upcoming Trip Coach column. (In addition to being Budget Travel's Trip Coach, Fran Golden is author of the upcoming eBook, Frommer's How to Plan the Perfect Cruise.) More from Budget Travel: Most Popular Cruise Ports on Earth 10 Common Cruise Myths Debunked 6 Best River Cruise Lines
How'd You Like to Board a Cruise with a Homicidal Maniac?
As far as ideas go, there have probably been better ones than a cruise with a slasher-movie theme. Especially in light of real-life cruise horrors like the Costa Concordia fiasco that occurred in January off the coast of Italy, it might seem odd for a cruise operator to actively try to freak out its passengers. But that's the premise behind "SAW at Sea," a special cruise itinerary traveling round trip from New York to Canada on the Carnival Glory. The "SAW" refers to the franchise of twisted horror flicks featuring the "Jigsaw Killer," a maniac who physically and psychologically tortures victims before killing them. If this sort of thing sounds fun, then "SAW at Sea" may be for you. The sailing takes place this summer from August 11 to 16, with prices from $779 per person (taxes and fees additional). The package includes lodging and meals like any cruise, as well as special dances and pool parties with a handful of actors and actresses who have starred in one or more of the films. There is also a "SAW" trivia contest, as well as a competition to see who has the best "SAW"-themed tattoo. Another horror movie star, Dan Yeager, who plays "Leatherface" in the forthcoming 3D remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" will also be on board and available for autographs and pictures at various events. Perhaps he'll grab his chainsaw and man a carving station at one of the ship's restaurants. At least this isn't a "Titanic" themed cruise, right? Speaking of which, just such a cruise is in the works. Actually, it's an entire ship rather than a single trip: It's recently been reported that Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is having a replica of the original "Titanic" built at a Chinese shipyard. The first sailing is expected to repeat the original (and only) voyage from England to New York in 2016. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Have the Titanic Celebrations Gone Too Far? Chernobyl Officially Opens for Tours 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers