In this economy, travel is expensive enough for two—let alone for families of three, four, five or more. But, before you write off your clan's 2009's cruise—and resign yourself to long summers of "I'm bored!" and "I don't want to go camping!"—you might want to take another look. Not only do cruise ships depart from a variety of drive-to destinations around the country, but a recent crop of cruise deals are allowing kids to sail at reduced rates—or even for free.
Lines like Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival have made names for themselves with huge onboard youth areas, featuring age-appropriate activities, hangout spots and video arcades. Many ships now offer family cabins—either suites with master bedrooms and additional rooms with bunk beds or large staterooms with pull-out couches or pullout beds—as well as family-friendly dining. (NCL offers a miniature buffet area, complete with youth-sized tables, while Royal Caribbean lures young cruisers with Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Johnny Rockets' burgers, fries and shakes.)
Better yet, cruising is affordable. You can squeeze two adults and two kids into almost any standard cabin; while getting ready at night might be a bit tricky in the close quarters, you'll pay less to add third and fourth passengers to your cabin than to book a second stateroom. All meals and entertainment are included in the cruise fare, so if you don't splurge on sodas and souvenirs and choose free things ashore (like the beach) instead of pricey excursions, you won't pay much beyond your initial cruise fare. And if you can drive, rather than fly, to your cruise port ... even better.
Ultimately, here's the best news: Cruise lines are offering fabulous deals to lure families onboard.
- The Italy-influenced MSC Cruises now allows kids to sail free on any ship if they're the third or fourth passengers in a cabin.
- In a practically unprecedented move, Disney—the leader in youth programming and a beloved favorite of princess and pirate fans everywhere—is allowing kids to sail free on short Bahamas cruises.
- If you can't afford an adults-only luxury getaway plus a family trip, combine the two by applying family-oriented discounts on upscale lines Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Windstar.
- With regular deals in abundance, you might not need a special family promotion to get a Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska or Europe holiday at a very affordable price.
Some of the best family deals I've seen include:
Costa Cruises: Kids sail free on Costa Fortuna's seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale, departing through and March 15.
Disney Cruise Line: Kids can sail free on most three-night Bahamas cruises onboard Disney Wonder, departing between January 22 and May 28, when they share a cabin with two full-fare paying adults.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Kids, ages 17 and younger, sail free this summer on select Alaska, Mediterranean and Northern Europe cruises when sharing a cabin with two paying adults.
Windstar Cruises: Families can save on summer cruises to Europe with Windstar's offer on Wind Surf's seven-night sailings. Families (consisting of two adults and two children, ages 2 through 18) that book one stateroom at full price can book a second cabin for half off.
To learn more about these sailings and others, check out our entire list of cruise deals.