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Family Cruise Budget Tips

Family cruises are a wonderful way to travel within a budget. While there are luxury cruise lines with eye-popping price tags, many affordable cruises are available to families looking for good vacation value. Plus, much of your costs are included and paid for upfront such as accommodations, childcare (depending on the cruise line and children’s ages), and on-board meals and entertainment. Read on for some tips to make the most of your cruise dollars from an expert, Molly Watts, owner/manager of a travel agency that focuses on family vacations and cruises.

Carnival Cruise Ships

Carnival Cruise Line ships (Photo from the Carnival website)

Stick to the Freebies
Molly advises taking advantage of free activities on the ship such as the pools, live music and shows, miniature golf, movie theatres, and organized games. Steer clear of notorious money suckers like the spa, shopping in the ship’s stores, or the worst place–the casino.

Stay Inside
Really think about whether or not you need a balcony stateroom. Molly said, “You can save a lot by booking an inside or ocean view cabin and on most ships, you won’t be spending a lot of time in your cabin anyway.”

Cruisers in the cheapest cabin on the ship get to take advantage of the same entertainment and fun as those staying in the most luxurious suite on board. However, if traveling with a baby or child who still takes daytime naps, the extra cost might be worth it so you can relax on the balcony and enjoy the ocean breeze rather than feeling cooped up during sleepy time.

Save on Drinks
If your you or your kids drink more than one soda per person each day, Molly suggests investing in the prepaid soda cards/cups offered by many cruise lines. Otherwise, choosing the complimentary lemonade, tea, and coffee is the more affordable way to go.

I was happy to discover that sodas are included on Disney Cruises but my husband and I did purchase a wine package on our 10-day Disney Mediterranean Cruise. If you are a wine lover, agreeing to purchase a specific number of bottles of wine while at sea can save money.

Skip the Shore Excursions
If you are a planner or a worrywart, you might feel more comfortable booking a ship-run shore excursion, especially if the activity involves unique offerings that would be difficult to plan on your own. Plus, if you are late getting back to the ship while exploring alone you could literally miss the boat, whereas the the ship would wait for a whole busload of cruisers delayed on a planned excursion. However, skipping the shore excursions can save big bucks and it can be fun and freeing to discover a port independently.

Molly said, “Don’t necessarily use the ship’s shore excursions–they are usually expensive and while convenient you can save money by using third party vendors, or even just getting off the ship and exploring on your own.”

Cruise with a Group
With most cruise lines, group discounts apply when sailing with a group of 16 or more. If booking with a travel agent, even groups smaller than 16 passengers will typically receive group amenities and often discounts. Depending on the travel agent, Molly said you should expect a better discount with each incremental cabin booked, starting with the second cabin.

Book with a Travel Agent
To get the very best cruise deals available, Molly recommends booking your cruise with a trusted travel agent. She said, “I encourage people all the time to book their own air and hotel vacations online…it’s easy and fast!  But when you are looking at packages, cruises, resort stays….find a good agent who you trust and they should be able to beat, or at the very worst, match the best online deals you see.”

Using a travel agent has other advantages as well. An agent can add value by answering questions, making suggestions based on expertise, and helping you make the best vacation choices for your family. For example, Molly said, “A good agent can help you with each port and will know which ports are okay to go on your own and which may be better to use the ship’s excursions.” Plus, if anything goes wrong with your cruise or booking, you have an expert who can help resolve the problem.

Carnival Cruise Ships

About Molly
Molly started her own travel business, The Family Travels, focused on family vacations and cruising in 2007. Having spent many years planning great trips for her own family of one husband and four boys, she says most clients have proven far less challenging. Since launching her travel agency, she has sailed on 10 more cruise ships and graduated from all cruise line training courses.

Do you have any additional budget tips for family cruises? Let us know if the comments!

A Note from The Travel Mama: The Family Travels is a paid advertiser on TravelMamas.com but I did not receive any money related to this post. In fact, I contacted Molly to ask one question about cruising, which developed into a full-blown interview and this story.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.


  1. Those are great tips! And can be applied to any trip, even if the kids aren’t along.

  2. Great tips. Thanks so much!

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