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Cruising With Kids? 3 Money-Saving Tips You Need to Know

Cruising with kids can certainly be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. If you take advantage of deals that are offered, stick with the more budget-friendly cruise lines, and manage your spending wisely while in port, it can be more affordable than you may realize.

1. Look for “kids sail free” deals

Several major cruise lines offer deals letting kids travel at no cost, and this can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you book one of them. Now, the timing of the deals and age requirements vary by cruise line, and these are generally offered on non-peak sailing times (in other words, times you’ll likely have to pull the kids out of school to go). But they aren’t unheard of during the summer months.

Norwegian offers third and fourth guests in a stateroom for free (regardless of age) on select itineraries. Royal Caribbean offers many “kids sail free” deals, but they only apply to kids 12 and younger. Costa, Holland America, and MSC also offer some variety of these deals, so shop around and see what is available that works with your schedule.

2. Skip the Disney cruises

I get it — kids love Disney. And I don’t have much to say that’s negative about the Disney Cruise Line’s ships or itineraries. But they are expensive.

The difference in price depends on variables like the ship you choose and the time of year you’re sailing, but in my experience, a Disney cruise is at least twice the price of a comparable itinerary on Royal Caribbean or Carnival. Last summer we actually booked a seven-night Carnival cruise from Port Canaveral and a four-night trip to Walt Disney World for less than we would have spent on the six-night Disney cruise we were considering.

In addition, Disney ships have fewer activities for adults, and there are many reports of excessive crowds in the kids’ clubs (makes sense — nearly every cabin on a Disney ship has kids in it).

On the other hand, my kids love Camp Ocean and Adventure Ocean on Carnival and Royal Caribbean, respectively. In addition to the camps, both of these have tons of free activities for kids, such as waterparks, arts and crafts, and much more.

3. Don’t book excursions at every port

All ports are different, and there’s a lot of variety in the available options — especially when it comes to safety. So, do your homework. But you generally can have a great time for significantly less money than it would cost to book a shore excursion through the cruise lines.

For example, it isn’t recommended (by me or the U.S. State Department) to simply wander around in Jamaica, but ports like Grand Cayman are very safe to walk around. As a personal example, on our last cruise to Grand Cayman, the cruise line was selling a “beach club” excursion for about $80 per person. Instead, we spent $40 round trip on a cab ride to a beautiful area of Seven Mile Beach and about $70 on an excellent lunch.

Another option is to book a day pass to a local resort. There are several third-party companies that offer these (we use Resort for a Day), and this can be a more budget-friendly and safe way to spend the day at the beach in many cases.

The bottom line

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and there are many other ways you can make your cruise with kids cheaper. For example, you can usually bring snacks off the ship to eat while you’re in port. Bringing the right travel credit card can earn you rewards and help you avoid paying foreign transaction fees in port. But the bottom line is that a cruise vacation with your kids could be more affordable than you think, and without sacrificing fun.

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