Family Cruise Tips Part One
Before my first cruise, I looked everywhere for information on how to find the best cruise deals, the most family friendly cruises, how to pack smart, what to expect onboard, and where to find the best beaches on port days. My family has traveled on multiple cruises with Carnival out of the Galveston port. We always travel with our four kids, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I truly believe that cruises are the most relaxing family vacation available, and there is something for everyone! And best of all - no one has to cook or clean for five days because cruises are all-inclusive vacations.
This post will help you:
- know when to book bargain cruises
- make the most out of your Galveston trip; finding cheap hotels and family fun.
- figure out what the difference is between the Carnival ships and stateroom options
- pack efficiently for your family's needs
- find budget-conscious excursions that are safe for your children on port days
- and more!
Planning to Book Your Cruise
Before you book your cruise, there are some things to keep in mind. Prices vary widely throughout the year, and cruising with children can get costly! If you're looking for a cruise bargain, you will want to book in the off-season of November - early February. The prices are half of what you'd pay per person in peak times such as spring break or summer. Prices are also much higher over a holiday.
At the beginning of the year, Carnival usually runs sales that offer 50% off of your deposit and $50 onboard credit per room. Deposits are usually $100 per person, so when you are booking several people, this can really help! You can pay your cruise off until 60 days prior to sailing with no interest. What is onboard credit, you ask? Well, that is like having free money to spend on the ship. Since food, lemonade, tea and water are available included in your cruise price, there really isn't a need to spend anything else on the ship. But some ideas are: portraits, candy at Cherry On Top, play some slots, or buy some alcoholic beverages or specialty coffee drinks.
You will be limited to whichever ships are sailing out of your port of choice; which in my case is Galveston. Ships are rotated out to different ports, so every couple of years, you will see different ones available. They also reserve certain ships for longer itineraries. Usually, your first cruise will be a 5 day. 5 day itineraries don't always have the flashiest ships of the fleet, but they are dependable. Do you want to leave on the weekend? Or would you rather your cruise sail on Monday? This will help you narrow down the cruise you book.
Choosing Your Cruise Ship Stateroom
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are looking to book your cruise cabin.
Cruises can sell out pretty quickly, with connecting rooms going first. So if you know that you absolutely need a connecting room, you will need to book as far in advance as you can.
There are different categories of rooms to choose from least to most expensive:
- Interior - these rooms run along the center of the ship and they don't have any windows or portholes. They are the least expensive of cabin options.
- Interior porthole - there are a very limited number of these on a ship, but they have a small porthole window.
- Oceanview - these rooms are a bit longer than interior rooms and feature a large window. They are available on deck 1 and 2 usually.
- Balcony - you have your own door to the outside with a patio.
- Suite - these rooms cost 2.5 to 3 times more per person than an interior room. They have more windows, a double balcony, and whirlpool tub. They also get priority perks.
On my first cruise, we sailed on deck 6 in connecting interior rooms. We had a blast and fell in love with cruising. On our second cruise, we tried an oceanview, and now I can't go back to an interior. What I usually do now is book an oceanview with an interior room across the hall to save money. The main difference is that I can be awakened by sunlight in the morning. An interior room gets no outside light, so you often have no idea whether it's the middle of the night or later in the morning. I also like to sit up in the window and watch the waves go by. I can see when we've arrived in port, and check on weather conditions. But the kids don't really mind the interior room, and they can even sleep four with the two pullman bunks down.
If you are concerned about seasickness, choose mid-ship and lower decks. You feel less movement and engine vibration. I have sailed mid-ship in all my cruises, but it's the first part to sell out. When you're mid-ship, you're halfway to Lido and you're also halfway to the children's area, in opposite directions.
Don't worry about being on a lower deck. They're usually quieter. You're also closer to the gangway when disembarking at your ports.
Packing List for Cruise
- I'm a minimalist packer. Which means we usually do a small suitcase for me, and then backpacks for each family member. Or two medium carry on suitcases for my family of 6. I don't like checking luggage, because I like the freedom to always have my items with me. It helps to disembark quickly, and you will have your things as soon as you're on the ship.What to Pack:
Beyond the usual necessities for life with a baby, here are some other ideas:
- shampoo and conditioner in addition to your usual toiletries, like skin care, toothbrushes/paste/mouthwash, deodorant
- pain relief, cold medicine, antacid, Tummy Rub essential oil from Rocky Mountain Oils
- power strip
- chargers for phone or devices
- sunglasses, sun hat
- 6 Outfits or things you can mix/match - I bring 5 tank tops, 4 skirts, pair of shorts, and since I cruise during the winter, I wear a warm outfit for Galveston days (sweatpants, leggings, hoodie)
- decide if you want to do formal night. It adds quite a bit to packing.
- 2 items swimwear and coverup: wear one, wash one
- camera and batteries or battery charger
- downloaded books or Netflix shows on device
- 12pk of canned soda or other canned beverage of choice, per person
- portable DVD player with favorite movies
- extra bag or room in suitcase for any souvenirs or other purchases
- extra cash for ports; for our family of 6 we usually spend about $200 in Cozumel for lunch and car rental
- comfortable walking shoes and flip flops
- lanyards for sail and sign cards
- baby food mill - ask servers for soft foods like steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, or rice
- baby spoons
- portable crib
- purchase water before boarding through the fun shops store
- over the door shoe organizer
- small toys to play with at dinner; Duplos
- a cheap shower curtain to make a sand pool on beach
Cruise Activities Onboard
My advice is to arrive later in Galveston. You will end up spending more of your vacation funds, and get more tired before you even start your vacation.
If you arrive at the cruise terminal around 1pm, you won't have to wait long for your room to be ready - they open at 1:30pm for people who don't have Faster to the Fun or other priority levels. Also the morning rush will have passed through. Don't feel bad if you are worn out by the time you get on board. You will have two full sea days and two port days to make the most of your cruise.
My kids don't always attend Camp Ocean, Circle C, and Club 02, but I do register them and I take my youngest to check things out up there on embarkation day. He is now old enough to check himself in and out (they can do that with your signature at age 9.) All of the schedules for the kids clubs are available, and your older kids can look at them in advance and decide what they want to do. The clubs are not open all day long; they have blocks of programming.
At around 5 pm, the ship will leave the terminal. When the ship first leaves the bay out of Galveston, the speed is slow. As the evening progresses, the pace picks up and your child may begin to feel a little woozy as they adjust to life on the ship.
Be sure to eat in the main dining room the first night. If you have any allergies or dietary needs, you can let your head waiter know and they will let you plan your meal for the next night. I have to eat gluten free, and they make sure I have bread to eat and that my meals are safe.
Entertainment is not at its finest on embarkation evening, but try out the main theater production anyway. While everyone on the ship works very hard to make your cruise vacation fun and memorable, the talent of the performers can vary. We aren't on a cruise ship to see a Broadway caliber production, so adjust your expectations. I can tell you that the shows get better, and with every cruise I go on, they improve. They are always entertaining at least!