My family LOVES cruising (literally- we got married on a cruise ship). It is the ultimate getaway that is perfect for couples, families, groups, and girls/guys trips. I say this because you can find a variety of activities for all ages (literally- from Bingo to Thriller dance lessons to hairy chest contests). Cruising is for the most active and least active of the bunch, and everyone in between. It is an easy, affordable way to travel and to visit different countries with some incredible ocean views and serenity along the way. Experience on over 20 cruises has helped me to put together my ultimate guide to booking a Caribbean cruise.
What Cruise Line to Book with
If you’ve just decided to look into Caribbean cruising, it can be completely overwhelming to decide on a cruise line. Here are some things to consider- Who is going? What is your budget? Where do you want to go? What do you want out of your vacation? How important is entertainment, food, and onboard activities? How many people do you want on the ship with you (how big of ship do you want to sail on)? What demographic do you want surrounding you on the ship? While the latter may not seem important, it totally is. Cruising with a younger group or family amidst an entire ship of retirees (or vice versa) can completely change your vacation experience. You will see these people EVERYWHERE (think shows, pools, bars, waiting in line for ice cream…). Your shipmates contribute to the tone of your vacation (comedy shows- pool atmosphere- night clubs, etc.) You want to pick a cruise line that aligns with your preferences and demographic as best you can.
So where do you start? From experience, I recommend Carnival, Royal Caribbean, or Disney cruise lines (there are certainly other cruise lines). All have numerous ports in Florida and the Southeast US for Caribbean cruising and have wonderful Caribbean itineraries. Carnival tends to attract a younger demographic due to the more affordable prices. Carnival cruising is certainly known for being a “Fun ship!”. You will hear about their hilarious comedy shows, pool side activities, and Kids Camp that truly make cruising a blast. Royal Caribbean is also a ton of fun and has really stepped up there fine dining (best food options!) and onboard activities (some even have water acrobatic shows and ice skating rinks on board- say what?!). Disney cruising is always magical (anything Disney really is- am I right?), but tends to be pricier than Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Beware, if you have gamblers or casino lovers in your bunch you should opt for another cruise line.
What Port to Cruise Out of
This is a matter of what city you are coming from and how you are traveling. Miami has the most cruising options. We tend to travel out of Cape Canaveral for convenience. All Florida ports are really nice and accessible (with pay-for-parking options). If you are flying in to cruise, I would recommend looking at the distance from the airport to the port. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa are great for easy airport-cruise port transportation. If you plan on extending your vacation beyond the cruise to enjoy Florida, absolutely consider Cape Canaveral (hey, Orlando lover here). Not only are we known for some of the best amusement parks in the world (Disney? Universal? Seaworld? Legoland anyone?), central Florida has SO much to offer (Kennedy Space Center, Leu Gardens, Wekiva Springs, and OH so much more).
How long to cruise
For a first time cruiser, I recommend a 4 or 5-day cruise. Most first timers want to try a 2 or 3-day cruise first, but I have found this is way too short. Think about this- day 1 you board, day 2 you’re at sea, and day 3 you’re back home. It really only gives you 1 whole sea day (and most likely 1 port of call), and you deserve so much more. ❤️ Plus, opting for a 4 or 5 day you are more likely to add another country or two and see more on your vacation. Once you have done a 5-day cruise (really, to confirm to yourself how awesome cruising is), you’re reading for an 8 day-er (my favorite).
Where to Book the Cruise
Like flying, you can book your cruise anywhere. Also like flying, you should look around for the best deals. Most cruise lines offer discounts for residents (are you a Florida resident?) military veterans discounts, and other deals. Keep an eye out for specials during “off season” too. If your travel dates are flexible, booking during the off-season or catching one of those flash deals is the absolute best route.
When to Cruise
You can cruise during any month or season. Keep in mind the Caribbean weather is hot, hotter, and Hurricane. Even “winter” cruising you’ll be in that sunscreen and Bahama mama life. Remember that Hurricane season is June 1-November 30. If you plan to travel during this time frame, absolutely buy travel insurance (buy it even if you aren’t!). We’ve also noticed that the waters can be slightly more rocky during these months, though most people will not be bothered (see “seasickness” below).
You will find that (like at Disney World), more children and families will be “on board” during summer months and holidays (school is out). If you prefer to see less children (this may be appealing if you’re honeymooning or girls tripping), book when school is “in”. If you can’t book during this time, no worries. Nearly all ships (even Disney) have “adult only” areas where you can find serenity.
Ocean View Vs Interior Vs Balcony
When you’re booking your cruise, you will have several options for room type. Typically, these include an “interior cabin”, “ocean view cabin”, or “balcony cabin”. You will notice fairly quickly the prices increase dramatically with your cabin type. If you’re planning to be in your room for very little time (only to sleep), you may wish to go the financially sensible route and book the interior room. Note that these rooms (besides the suites) are all SMALL. The difference lies in the “window area”. If you have an interior room, you will either have no window, or think you have a window until you open the blinds and just find the wall. The ocean view cabins will have a window with a view of the water (Royal Caribbean Oasis-class <massive> ships have options for a view of the interior of the ship, which is awesome- check out that pic). The Balcony cabins will have a small private balcony connected to your room. Typically, balconies have enough space for 2 chairs and a small table. If you are the type to sit out and read and you want a private area, it is worth it to splurge on the balcony. Otherwise, you can find a quiet outdoor area around the ship and save some money.
As always, the most comfortable rooms are suites. Suites are 2-3 times larger (and more expensive) than a regular room, and can provide you with a “spa” bathroom (that sometimes includes a tub), a larger balcony, and other special amenities (like a separate wardrobe or changing room). You can sometimes find deals that offer free upgrades for your room. If you are using a travel agent, make sure to ask for free room upgrades. If you are a casino player and have cruised before, you will generally receive a free room upgrade. It never hurts to ask!
What does all Inclusive mean
When you book your cruise, you may see the all-inclusive price, including port fees and taxes. Once you pay, you should know that your entertainment (mostly), food, and (some) drinks (water, tea, coffee, juice) are covered. What is NOT covered is: alcohol, sodas, fine dining options (special steakhouse meals or other specialty restaurants you may want to visit on board), shore excursions (anything off the ship), and tips. You will automatically be charged tips at the end of your vacation (typically around $12/person/day). These tips go to your room stewards, dinner waiters, and maître d’. Most cruise lines have “all you can drink” packages for sodas and/or alcohol. These prices depend on the length of your cruise. You can purchase these packages on the ship on your first day of your cruise if you decide it will be worth it to you. Note that most cruise lines allow “some” liquids to be brought on at the beginning of the week. For instance, Carnival allows an unopened bottle of wine/champagne per guest (in carry on luggage) and a case (cans or cartons only) of drinks (waters or sodas). Make sure to see their website for updated policies before you travel. If you are planning to purchase alcohol during your cruise at the ports you visit (they are tax-free), you will not be able to drink it on the ship during your vacation. The ship will hold your alcohol purchases for you during the cruise, and will deliver it to your room on the morning of your departure.
Side note: This coming from a person who can’t ride in a backseat AND whose worst day of her life (literally) was an all-day deep sea fishing trip:
During the many cruises we have been on, there have only been a couple times when my husband or I have experienced sea sickness (and this happened only because of a tropical storm or severe weather). I would venture to say that you will most likely not have an issue with sea sickness; nevertheless, you will see several cruisers that wear the ear patch or sea sickness bracelet. I was worried about being sea sick when I was cruising pregnant so I took B6 and ginger tablets (and never had any issues). If you feel you are prone to sea sickness, I encourage you to speak to your doctor before you go about natural medicines and other options. Sea sickness is hardly EVER an issue and is really nothing to worry about during your vacation. You can always take Dramamine (just in case).
Cruising is one of our favorite family vacations. It is an excellent vacation for the youngest and oldest of the group, and everyone in between. For more information about what to do once you’ve booked your cruise, visit: I’ve booked my Cruise! Now what are excursions?