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While I find value in all types of travel — including adventure and sightseeing trips all over the world — I try to plan family vacations that are both relaxing and fun. With two teen girls to keep happy and entertained, my partner and I don’t want to over-plan or try to do too much on vacation. Instead, we like to sit back and relax, enjoy a week (or longer) without cooking or cleaning and spend time together chatting, playing games and basking in the sun.
All-inclusive resorts sometimes make their way into our travel plans, but my true preference for family vacations is always going to be cruising. That’s why, ultimately, I have taken my family of four on three different cruises over the last 12 months. We’re also doing a Greek Islands cruise out of Athens, Greece on the MSC Musica over fall break this upcoming October, and we have a New Year’s cruise booked on the MSC Seashore out of Cape Canaveral, Florida this upcoming winter break (after doing the same cruise last year).
Why do I like cruising so much? It’s fun, and cruises let you book the bulk of your vacation plans with a few easy clicks. Here are some of the other important reasons I love cruising — and why I don’t plan to give it up any time soon.
1. Cruises offer great value for family trips
One of the biggest reasons I love cruising is the value you can get if you shop around and look for deals. It goes without saying that a cruise is both your hotel and your transportation to whatever destinations are included on an itinerary, but cruises also include a range of activities, entertainment, pools, waterparks and more.
The pricing can be phenomenal for what you get in return. For example, on the new MSC Seascape sailing out of Miami, Florida this November, a family of four (with children ages 12 and 14) can book a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise starting at $422 per person for an inside cabin or $484 per person for a balcony room.
The total cost for the seven-night trip for four people works out to $1,935 for the trip in a balcony cabin and $2,534.20 in total when you add in port taxes and fees for everyone in the traveling party, which means the cruise is around $362 per night. And remember, the fare includes your hotel room, three meals a day (plus snacks and basic drinks) and a luxury, scenic ride to wherever your ship happens to be sailing.
For this particular cruise, the MSC Seascape stops in Nassau in the Bahamas, San Juan in Puerto Rico, Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and Ocean Cay Marine Reserve, which is MSC Cruises’ private island in the Bahamas.
2. Meals are included, along with dishes and clean-up
Did I mention that meals are included on cruises? While dining options vary, most cruise lines and vessels feature a main buffet (or several buffets), main dining room options, eateries serving up fast and easy meals and a handful of specialty restaurants.
We aren’t fancy eaters but we are vegetarian, and we usually find that the food served on cruises is perfectly fine and even great at times. It’s also nice to know that all meals (other than specialty dining) are included in the cruise fare. We’ve also scored plenty of cruise deals that include free drink packages, which is another major benefit I look for any time I book.
3. Fewer financial surprises at the end of a trip
Another benefit of cruising is one that also applies to all-inclusive resorts. Once you pay for your cruise fare and transportation to the cruise port, there are fewer financial surprises to watch out for over the course of a trip.
Of course, cruises do charge gratuities on top of the cruise fare that must be planned for, and there are excursions to book if you don’t want to explore on your own. And yes, we occasionally buy something in an on-board store or pay for a meal in a cruise specialty restaurant.
The thing is, these are all items you can research and book ahead of time, and we have never arrived home from a cruise to a big vacation bill that was higher than anticipated.
4. Drive to the cruise port for additional savings
Another reason I like cruises typically does not apply to all-inclusive resorts. Whereas most resorts that include food, drinks and entertainment are located outside the United States and necessitate a flight, there are cruise ports you can drive to dotted throughout the United States.
We do sometimes fly for a cruise depending on rates and timing, mostly because we are landlocked at home in our state. We also do a lot of international cruises. However, we drove to the cruise port in Port Canaveral, Florida last winter break to board the MSC Seashore for New Year’s, and I was thrilled we did that after flight cancellations galore wreaked havoc on last year’s holiday travel season. Not only that, but driving 15 hours and spending a few hundred dollars on gas easily saved us more than $1,600 on round-trip flights for the four of us.
5. Explore new cultures and destinations
I’m not gonna lie — my family of four rarely gets off the ship when we cruise the Caribbean anymore. We have been to all the cruise ports already, and we all like to enjoy the features of our ship on those days when everyone else gets off for the day. With that in mind, our Caribbean cruises are more about leisure and not meant to provide a cultural experience by any means.
That said, we often book cruises around the world and learn about new cultures that way. For example, we booked a seven-night cruise for fall break this year that departs from Athens, Greece and stops in Kusadasi, Turkey; Cyprus; and Jerusalem, Israel, as well as the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos.
In Israel, we’re doing a historical tour of ancient Jerusalem, and we’ll visit the ruins of Ephesus during our day in Turkey. We’ll also spend time relaxing on beaches in Greece and learning more about local culture and customs. Crazy enough, we paid less than $3,800 in total for this seven-night cruise, including one balcony cabin and an interior cabin across the hall for our kids.
My husband and I also just wrapped up a 12-night Norway cruise on the MSC Preziosa while our two kids were at summer camp. Not only did we stop in the Arctic Circle and see the highest point in continental Europe, but we explored the Norwegian coastline with stops in Tromso, Trondheim, Alesund, Bergun and more. During the trip, we tried local Norwegian delicacies, climbed up thousands of ancient sherpa stairs built into the side of mountains, spent time in small villages, hiked through the wilderness and more.
6. Paying with credit card rewards helps defray costs
Finally, it’s important to remember that I rarely pay full price for cruises thanks to my stash of credit card rewards. When we do fly to the cruise port, we almost always redeem airline miles to cover our airfare. We have also used flexible travel rewards to cover cruise fares directly, and we have booked a nearly endless number of cruise excursions and day trips using Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
I don’t have any co-branded cruise credit cards because, by and large, it’s much easier to earn more rewards and have more flexibility when you opt for a flexible travel credit card instead. With that in mind, my favorite credit cards for cruises include the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
I like the Chase Sapphire Reserve for cruises because you can get 50 percent more points value for cruise fare when you book travel through the Chase travel portal, and because you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points for pre-departure hotels, airport pickups and cruise ship excursions. In the meantime, the Capital One Venture X Rewards credit card is great for cruises because you can redeem miles as a statement credit to cover travel purchases made to the card (within the past 90 days) at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
The bottom line
My family loves cruising, and we have no plans to stop any time soon. We have cruised with MSC Cruises, Carnival and Princess in the past, and we have enjoyed all our experiences in different ways.
Aside from the fact that your lodging, transportation, food and fun are all included in your cruise fare, taking a cruise feels like more of an “event” than other types of trips have in the past. As long as cruise lines keep offering great value and I can use credit card rewards to cover different parts of our family vacations, I’ll keep cruising until the end of time.