It’s great to be retired or have a flexible work schedule. Your time, or at least some of it, is your own. If you see a great deal on a cruise, you can jump on it. Are there great vacation deals to be had on short notice? Yes. Can you get a cruise at about $35 a day per person? Surprisingly, the answer to that question is also yes.
Here’s are a few ways to find a good deal on a cruise and some tips for those who are new to cruising.
What It’s Like and What It’s Not
It’s not like this: Here’s a great joke. A guy sees a sign outside a travel agency: “Ocean cruise — $35/day.” He goes in and tells the agent, “I want to take that cruise!” The travel agent smacks him on the head with a wooden mallet. He wakes up, chained to an oar on a Roman galley. There are 15 oars on each side and three guys on each oak. On a platform at the back, there are three guys. One has a whip, another has a drum and the third, with a megaphone, is yelling, “Stoke, stroke, stroke!” Three weeks later, they have crossed the ocean and reached a port. As they are all unchained, the guy turns to the fellow on his left and says, “This is my first cruise. How much do I tip the drummer?”
It is like this: The cruise industry has lots of segments. There are river cruises, luxury ships, expedition cruises and ultra-luxury ships. Forget about all that. There is a large category, predictably called “Mass market cruising.” Familiar names like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and MSC operate in this space. They have big, shiny ships carrying thousands of passengers. When the ship leaves the dock, empty cabins bring in zero in revenue. Their solution is “sailing soon savings.”
Now Let’s Look at Extreme Examples
Check out vacationstogo.com. This is one example of a site aggregating cruises from various lines, often at deeply discounted rates. I recently saw that MSC Cruises has a nine-night cruise from NYC to the Bahamas with prices starting at $319. That is per person for the entire voyage, not per night. It sails on January 26. Carnival Cruise Line has a ten-night cruise from New York to the Bahamas and back on the Carnival Venezia with fares for an inside cabin starting at $405. The cruise departs on April 5, giving you time to plan. The website also has a scanner where you can enter in your criteria like departure city, cruise line and month, and then look over the deals.
Check out cruisesompete.com. Suppose you have a favorite cruise line. You know the ship, month and specific cruise you want to take. You want to get the best price. Cruisecompete.com has assembled a network of travel agencies. You enter your criteria onscreen and members of their network bid for your business. Prices on cruises are pretty standardized, but the benefit they deliver is often through cash to spend during your vacation, known in the industry as OBC or onboard credit. This money does not leave the ship, but it is good for paying for drinks, etc. Note: I write for their sister company, allthingscruise.com.
How About Family Vacations?
A cruise can be a wonderful way for a family to spend time together. Ships have some cabins designed as interconnecting rooms. Talk with your travel agent about that. Although not all cabins offer that feature, all cabins should easily convert from a king bed into two doubles. Some ships might still have upper bunks that cone down from the ceiling.
Here is some good news regarding connecting rooms: Although only some cabins have connecting doors, balcony cabins generally have a feature where a door panel can be unlocked, allowing balconies for adjacent cabins to share one continuous outdoor space. Your children will need to knock on your balcony door, but there can be easy access.
Some ships consider families their target market. Disney, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC are several good examples. Others might not permit passengers under age 18. Virgin Voyages is one example of an “adults only” cruise line.
Although retiree, may have a favorite cruise line, think “family” before booking that big vacation. If your favorite ship wants everyone dressing up for dinner and has fixed dinner seatings, that might not be the best match for families with young children who want to eat early. Your travel agent can provide practical advice for choosing the right cruise line.
A Little Knowledge Is … Helpful
Here are nine things that those new to cruising need to understand.
- Cruise lines have personalities. As mentioned above, there are cruise lines for families. There are others for “adults whose children have grown.” Other ships are great for singles. A travel agent can help you look at the ones where you will be most comfortable.
- Cruises are largely all inclusive. Expect your cabin and meals will be included.
- Cruise lines are figuring out ways to make more money. Many ships have specialty restaurants in addition to the main dining room. Specialty costs extra. Drinks will cost you. Tipping may or may not be included in the fare. Shore excursions will be extra.
- Don’t get sick. Put another way, buy health insurance for your cruise. Once you leave the U.S. shore, you are not covered by Medicare.
- Every cabin is pretty good. Years ago, ships had cabins of all shapes and sizes. There were good cabins and less desirable cabins. Today, ships are built like Lego blocks. Cabins are pretty uniform, until you get into the suite category. Inside cabins have no window, outside cabins have a window, and balcony cabins have a sliding glass door and a little bit of deck space.
- Don’t forget parking. You need to get to the ship. You might drive. It is unlikely parking at the pier will be cheap. If you live in town, a taxi or Uber might be the better choice. Remember, you need to get back home as well as getting to the ship. If the ship sails from a distant city, you need to get there. The cruise line often offers good airfares, but that is an expense too.
- Tipping is important. The crew work long hours. They make up your bed and serve your meals. Although tipping might be added to your bill, that money gets divided among a large number of people. If someone takes good care of you and provides personalized service, hand over some cash.
- There are cameras everywhere onboard. Do not think of doing or buying anything illegal. Ships sailing into and out of U.S. waters get lots of scrutiny.
- You will need a passport. If you are sailing away from the U.S., you will need proper documentation. This takes time to get. When you book your trip, they will want passport information immediately.
Yes, you can get good deals on cruises, especially on short notice. This is one of the really cool benefits of being retired or semi-retired, with time on your hands.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.