Our family is spread all over the US – we’re in Pennsylvania, my sister is in California, and my mom is in Texas – so getting everyone together for the holidays means that many of us have to get on a plane and spend a small fortune. Instead of heading to one of our houses, we try to travel together when we can. This year, for the third time, we’ll be on a ship. So far, we’ve gotten up close with planes in St. Maarten, explored the US Virgin Islands and explored San Juan. This year: Central America.
Why a cruise when there are so many places we haven’t explored? The answers are simple: it’s affordable, and everyone can do what they want when they want.
Airfare and hotel rates seem to skyrocket at Christmas. Once you add food and entertainment expenses, it pushes the cost of traveling to most places in the US and Europe well above the cost of Christmas cruises. Of course there are extras like alcohol on board and shore excursions, but there are ways to make those slightly more affordable too. The cruise lines we’ve traveled on so far allow you to bring on bottles of wine for a $15 corkage fee. If you figure the cheapest bottle of wine on the ship is $30+ dollars, bringing some of your own can save a few dollars per bottle. [Also be sure to check out our 18 Cruise Tips for a Better Voyage]
When it comes to shore excursions booked through the ship, we’re selective. There are times when booking a shore excursion has made sense based on logistics or price, and times when it’s been more beneficial to go on our own. Since we’re comfortable doing research and making our own arrangements, we’ve found that going places on our own can be more budget-friendly than booking through the ship. Plus, we get more time to do the activity because we’re not waiting in a group with 30 other people being herded like cattle to the same place.
An example: three years ago, our cruise stopped in St. Thomas, and we decided to go to neighboring St. John to snorkel. Our arrangements cost about 60% of what the ship charged, and we had 2 hours of additional time at the beach compared to the group on the shore excursion. Not to mention that we got there sooner, so we had time to enjoy the beach and snorkeling and to claim our chairs before things got crazy. On our cruise this year, we’ve booked a trip cave tubing in Belize direct with the company for half the price of the shore excursion. Fingers crossed that our good luck continues.
In addition to being generally affordable, Christmas cruises let us do what we feel like. At any given time, we’re swimming, reading on the deck, participating in a trivia game (because we’re nerds), spending time in the library, napping, etc. All four of us could be in separate places doing what we want to be doing, which is what vacation should be. After a couple of hours apart, we find each other (generally by the pool), grab a cocktail of the day, and describe all the laziness we’ve been doing. Then we have dinner with food prepared by other people before we decide on our next lazy activity.
One other thing to note about a cruise… on all our ships, the crew has been extremely hard-working and eager to help. Often, passengers act like the employees are part of the ship rather than people too. We have a slightly offbeat sense of humor, so on our last cruise, we decided to liven up a fairly formal evening and portrait session by combining awkward family photos and ugly Christmas sweater night. We made friends with the photographer (who was new and hadn’t been off the ship for a few weeks), and she indulged us endlessly, suggesting more ridiculous poses and giving us a lot of her time. It was a lot of fun for us and for her.
No one will ever claim that Christmas cruises are good ways to really get to experience a port of call. At most, you might have 8-10 hours dropping anchor in a new place. But it is enough to have a bit of fun and make a list of the places you’d like to return to and explore further. It requires little thinking and allows us to enjoy the time just being together. And none of us has to do the dishes.
Have you taken a cruise? What did you like about it?