Are you looking for a family vacation getaway that fits your tight budget and time-crunched schedule? A short cruise on a family-friendly ship may be just the answer. Our family of four took a short cruise recently on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas and came away hooked on the short cruising experience.
Many time-starved families are taking shorter, more frequent family vacations each year and short cruises fit their schedules and budgetary needs. These 3- to 5-day cruises depart from a wide variety of U.S. ports, making these family vacation options particularly convenient. In addition, short cruises are an excellent family travel value and provide first-time cruisers with an excellent opportunity to test the waters before taking a longer voyage.
Royal Caribbean International, an industry leader in short cruises and youth programming, has done an excellent job of designing ships and itineraries that cater to the family cruising market. The company’s newly stretched and refurbished Enchantment of the Seas is one of the best short cruise ships for families. The ship provides indoor and outdoor pools and the kinds of up-to-date attractions and amenities that families crave. Itineraries are innovative and shore excursions include a wide variety of opportunities for land and sea adventures. If your family is craving a short inexpensive getaway – like ours was – a short cruise escape might be just right for you.
Meeting Your Family’s Vacation Needs
Although some frequent cruisers note that short cruises provide a more compact cruise experience, these trips are an excellent choice for many families with specific vacation constraints. Short cruises are perfect for:
Families with tight family vacation schedules. Short cruises of 3-, 4- or 5-days are the perfect choice for a long weekend getaway or family vacations with compressed timeframes. Many short cruises leave late on Friday returning early on Monday, or leave late on Monday returning early on Friday or Saturday. A wide variety of departure cities are available, adding to the convenience and flexibility of the short cruise experience. Short cruises now leave from such cities as Baltimore, Maryland; Bayonne, New Jersey; Galveston, Texas; Mobile, Alabama; Los Angeles and Long Beach, California; and New York City – in addition to the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, and Tampa.
Budget-oriented families. Short cruise vacations are very affordable and provide families with a wide variety of entertainment, food, and vacation experiences at a reasonable price. These cruises are often a good value, particularly during off-peak cruising times such as the fall and during pre- and post-holiday periods. The rate for a 3-5-day short cruise can be as low as $279 to $389 per adult and kids sharing a cabin sail at a lower cost. In addition, short cruises from nearby drive-to port cities can eliminate the additional airfare costs.
Families who are new to cruising. Short cruises are a great way to try out the cruise experience to see whether it’s something that you and your family will enjoy. Although these cruises have a more compact time frame, you’ll still get a feel for this vacation lifestyle and decide whether you’d enjoy a longer cruise.
Type-A families who crave activity, variety and entertainment. Short cruises are filled with a wide range of activities and amenities for the entire family. In addition to calling on a variety of interesting ports, ships like the Enchantment of the Seas feature indoor and outdoor pools, children’s waterplay fountains, large areas dedicated to children’s activities and programs, rock walls and bungee trampolines, discos, shopping complexes, family and adult programming, spas, fitness centers, specialty restaurants, and other amenities.
Families who want to enjoy some independent time along with their together time. Cruises are a good vacation bet for families with teens and older children who want to have some space and independence on their family vacation. In addition, cruise lines have excellent children’s and teen programs, allowing parents to enjoy some time on their own as well.
Family reunions, special occasions and multigenerational trips. Short cruises offer activities and amenities for every age range, making them good choices for family reunions and celebrations. Children’s programs, teen activities and adult programming allow families to spend time on their own as well as with the gang, and it’s easy to get everyone together at meals and for other events. In addition, the reasonable price tag makes a short cruise affordable for even the most budget conscious family member.
Families who love cruising. Some families who have taken many seven-night cruises have never tried a shorter cruise. Short cruises do have a slightly more rushed feel than their longer counterparts, but remember -- a cruise is a cruise, even if it’s just for a few days. You’ll still enjoy the change of scenery, a beautiful ship, and the chance to relax and enjoy time together, not to mention the great activities, food and entertainment. So, when you find yourself longing for the attentive service provided by your cabin steward and friendly wait staff, not to mention the thrill of the open seas, take a short cruise with your family and say “bon voyage!”
Choosing the Ship
In planning a short family cruise getaway, it’s important to pick the right ship and itinerary for your family’s needs and interests. Here are some factors to consider in choosing the right one for you:
Itinerary. If your family has cruised often, you may wish to opt for an itinerary that includes some new and interesting ports. Cruise lines have shown innovation in creating new short cruise itineraries. For example, the 5-day Enchantment of the Seas itinerary delivers a diverse group of ports including Key West, Cozumel and Belize City. Cruises also offer a varying number of in-port and sea days, so choose the itinerary that best fits your family’s preferences. In addition, budgetary considerations and convenience may determine your choice of departure ports. Some families may be able to drive to a departure port near their home, while others may want to choose a departure city with low-cost airline service, providing access to cheap airfares and reasonable last-minute deals.
Shipboard amenities. Family-friendly amenities are an important factor in choosing a ship for a short family cruise. Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment truly delivers here, in part due to its recent makeover. The ship was cut in half and enlarged with a 73-foot long new section, giving the ship many of the new amenities that frequent cruisers have grown to love on Royal Caribbean’s newer ships. The pool area was increased by 50 percent during the recent lengthening of the ship, and the new additions are spectacular. The ship features a beautiful new pool area and sun deck with two pools, four whirlpools, a colorful splash deck with 64 jets of spraying water to delight the kids, and beautiful 75-foot long suspension bridges and arches giving the pool deck a graceful appearance. In addition, the ship’s new Jump Zone gives guests the opportunity to try out a bungee jump/trampoline on their cruise. This new feature complements the already existing rock-climbing wall and offers more action and excitement for adventure-seeking guests. Adults and teens 18 and over congregate in the Solarium on rainy and windy days. This spot, with its retractable glass roof and windows, is home to two large whirlpools and is an ideal place to relax in all types of weather. Teens enjoy the ship’s new Fuel disco and lounge area while adults savor the 360-degree views in the Viking Crown Lounge atop the ship. The ship’s Enchantment Day Spa offers 13 treatment rooms, expanded fitness stations and workout offerings, and a new outdoor fitness course complete with four stations located along the jogging track. Other special amenities include the ship’s alternative restaurant, Chop’s Grille, and its beautiful new buffet food court dining area with numerous dining stations including a Mediterranean Market, the Grill, an Asian station, and other tempting fare. When choosing a ship to fit your family, consider your family’s needs and how you like to vacation. If your kids are unlikely to easily sit through a two-hour dinner, look for cruise ships that offer a variety of informal or 24-hour dining venues for dinner.
Kids and teens programs. Cruises offer families the opportunity to have fun enjoying time together as well as apart. It’s important to consider the programs offered by each of the cruise lines in light of your family’s needs and children’s ages. Each cruise line has a differing array of kids’, teens and family programs, and some ships offer more dedicated kids and family spaces than others. Dedicated kids and teens spaces often make a difference in both enjoyment and participation, so make sure to check into the available amenities before choosing your ship. Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas is well known for its excellent kids and family programs and the ship offers spacious dedicated areas for both kids and teens. The cruise line’s Adventure Ocean program is full of activities and entertainment, and is divided into the following age categories: 3-5 year olds (must be potty trained); 6-8 year olds, 9-11 years olds, 12-14, and 15-17 year olds. Some of the special programs offered include Adventure Science, Adventure Art by Crayola, and Sail Into Storytime. In addition, Royal Caribbean’s Fisher-Price Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots programs are available daily on the ship. Aqua Babies consists of daily 45-minute interactive session for infants and toddlers from 6-18 months and their parents or caregivers, while Aqua Tots is a similar program for kids ages 19-36 months and their parents or caregivers. Private in-room babysitting is also available for families with children over 6 months of age, and Adventure Ocean’s Late Night Party Zone group babysitting is available from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. Many of the teen programs take place in the Enchantment’s Fuel teen disco and lounge areas and activities vary daily. Additional family oriented programs are also available onboard.
Carefully consider the ages of your children and how you would like to spend time together when choosing a cruise line and ship for your short cruise. For example, if your family includes infants and/or toddlers, some short cruise ships offer on-board nurseries for babies (Disney), group childcare options for 2 year olds who are not potty-trained (Carnival, Disney and Norwegian), in-room babysitting services (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian), and special family programs for little ones (Disney and Royal Caribbean). In addition to active children’s programs, some cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Disney also offer activities that can be enjoyed as a family. Look at the programs and amenities that are offered by ship and by cruise line and match them to your families needs.
Cabins. Newer cruise ships tend to have more balcony cabins and staterooms specially designed for families. Look for a short cruise on a ship that will allow you to enjoy some of these options. When the Enchantment of the Seas was stretched, 36 balcony cabins were added. These are some of the nicest on the ship. In addition, existing staterooms were given a makeover with new bedspreads and draperies giving them a more modern appearance. A series of family cabins were also added, including a Family Royal Suite that offers a Jacuzzi tub, DVD players, an enormous balcony, and room for eight. The ship also has 20 cabins that are wheelchair accessible.
The Short and Sweet Cruise Experience
Short cruises offer a more compact cruise vacation, but they’re great for families with tight time or budget constraints who want to just get away and relax. If you do choose to just sail away, here are a few tips to ensure that you’ll be enchanted with your short cruise experience:
Decide on a budget. Additional costs, such as shore excursions, sodas and drinks, spa treatments, and arcade and Internet charges can add up – even on a short cruise. Determine what your budget will allow and let the family know. Take advantage of money saving programs, such as soda cards for kids and teens.
Make your shore excursion reservations early. Try to get the family together in advance of your cruise and decide what you want to do at each port. This will save time while onboard the ship and help avoid disappointment when shore excursions sell out. Shore excursions often can be purchased a few months before departure, so visit the cruise line’s website to see if advance reservations can be made online or by phone. Weigh the options offered by the ship along with independent shore excursion opportunities. Suggestions for these can often be found on the boards at www.cruisecritic.com and www.cruisemates.com.
Work out your dining arrangements. If you were not assigned your dining time or table size of choice, visit the dining room as soon as you arrive onboard and meet with the maitre d’ to find out if changes can be accommodated. Generally, times are usually set aside on the day of sailing to visit with the maitre d’ and his staff. In addition, if you’d like to try out the alternative restaurants onboard, make those reservations as soon as you arrive onboard the ship.
Explore the ship and find out what’s available. Once you find your cabin and get settled, take some time to look around the ship and see what’s offered. Many families like to bring walkie talkies onboard to allow parents to stay in touch while kids are being independent – this is often a great time to use them. In addition, make sure to check the ship’s newsletter to find out the entertainment and activities planned for the day.
Sign up for youth programs as soon as possible. If your kids are going to participate in any of the kids and teens programs, it’s important to get them comfortable and involved as soon as possible. Make sure to visit the appropriate age group areas, sign them up for the program, have a look around, and strongly encourage them to participate in the first scheduled event. Friendships are often forged in the first evening and participation on that night can make all the difference – especially in the case of a short cruise. In addition, if your cruise line offer in-room babysitting and you’d like to take advantage of this option, book your dates and times as soon as you get onboard.
Relax and get ready to set sail. Take a deep breath and get into the short cruise frame of mind. Enjoy the sail away party as a family and unpack later. Relax – you’ll have a great trip!