Dear Deal Detective:
I'd like to plan a family reunion on a cruise ship. There are five families. Three of the families have two adults and two children each; one family has one adult and one child; and the fifth family consists of two senior citizens, no children. All children are between the ages of four and nine. I know that some cruise lines offer "children sail free" fares but I'm having a really hard time finding anything. We want something nicer than a two- or three- star ship, but we are on a tight budget. We can wait as long as December 2008 to travel. Do we stand a chance of finding anything?
Great question. And since I also love logic puzzles, this one was a lot of fun to figure out. Because you'll be traveling with many children under the age of 10, I'd recommend a family-friendly line such as Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, or perhaps Princess. To make sure you get the quality of ship you're looking for, book a cruise on one of those lines' newer ships. There's a pretty big disparity between the older and newer ships on lines such as Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean. One easy-to-remember trick: The nicer ships typically sail on six-night or longer itineraries; the older ships get relegated to the three- and four-night voyages.
You didn't say where you'd like to cruise, but date and destination will greatly affect the price of your vacation. The Caribbean is much cheaper than Europe, and November and early December will be cheaper than February. You're unlikely to find a "kids sail free" offer on a reasonably priced line, but you can sometimes find deals for third and fourth guests in a stateroom.
Let's say you want to cruise to the Caribbean in the fall. Royal Caribbean has a seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise on the Mariner of the Seas. For an inside cabin in November, the total price is $2,076 for two adults and two kids in one cabin. It costs more if you want a window or balcony. A six-night western Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Freedom would cost $1,516 for four in an inside cabin. These prices don't include taxes or airfare. If you're determined to spend less than that for a cabin for four, you'll probably need to comb through the various lines' websites looking for deals, book at the last minute, or compromise with an older ship and shorter itinerary. If your budget is flexible, I recommend splurging for a room with a window.
When planning a complicated trip such as a family reunion, I also encourage you to talk to a travel agent. A good cruise agent won't charge you a commission on the cruise booking and can guide you to a line and price that's right for you. I also suggest you submit a request at CruiseCompete.com. There you can write up all of your requirements and the request goes to all of CruiseCompete's affiliated travel agents, who then come back to you with their best offers.
Become a Deal Detective
Last week's column about Disneyland and Disney World produced a flurry of new requests for help finding deals to all of the Mouse's various theme parks. But since it's really too soon for me to revisit the same topic, I thought I'd try something new this time. I'm turning to you, my faithful readers, for help! Below are a few of the new Disney questions I received. Can you answer any of them? Send me your best suggestions for the reader questions below and I'll publish the most helpful ones in an upcoming column. You'll get full credit and bragging rights for being a deputy Deal Detective, too. I'll even see if I can find special badges or something. (Editor's note: He's kidding about the badges.)
- Who has the best deals for Disney World tickets and flights?—Susan B.
- What if I already have a place to stay and only need the airfare and theme park tickets? Where is the best place to start looking for decent Disney World deals like that? Thank you.—Nancy F.
- I am a single mom of two girls, ages 10 and 12. I am in college full-time so to say I have a limited budget is quite the understatement of the year. I have never been to Disney and neither have my children. It has always been a dream of mine to take them but funds are limited and then I found you. So, are you ready to really put those detective skills to work and see if you can find a way to send my family on my very low income to Disney for the Christmas timeframe? Let's see how good you really are!—Brenda P., struggling college student (Author's note: Talk about pulling at your heartstrings! Somebody please help Brenda out.)
- What are the best deals from DFW (or DAL) to Disney World or Orlando?—Joan T.
- Do you know of any deals on entrance tickets to Tokyo Disney? I'm going to Tokyo this spring and would like to visit the park.—Patrick S.
- I am trying to plan a family holiday to Disneyland and Las Vegas from Brisbane, Australia. I have two children aged nine and 12. How can I find the cheapest flight, accommodations and park tickets? Should I purchase tickets and hotel prior to leaving Australia? What is the best time to visit with the smallest crowds? How do I research Disneyland prior to our visit to receive the most value for our trip?—Jo P.
- Where can I get discounted Disneyland tickets? We are going in mid-July.—Jayne C.
Have a non-Disney deal question? Please email me your request. Be aware that due to the volume of requests I receive, I cannot personally respond to every email. The more compelling your question, the better the chance you'll be selected for an upcoming case.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.