Considering a cruise as an alternative to that tired Cancun all-inclusive for spring break this year? Cruising is a smart vacation option for college students for so many reasons: It's affordable, it's low-hassle and cruise ships provide plenty of free entertainment, activities and nightlife.
For students on a tight budget, cruising gives you big bang for your buck, offering inclusive meals, the opportunity to visit several destinations in one shot and, if you have a port within driving distance, a way to avoid airfare. If you're thinking about a spring break cruise, consider these questions and answers before you book.
Like any vacation, the cost of a cruise varies considerably depending on the accommodations you choose, as well as the ship and the length of your trip. Inside cabins are the most economical, costing just a few hundred dollars for a half-week cruise. Porthole or picture window cabins are a bit more expensive, followed by balcony cabins and suites. The largest and fanciest cruise ship suites will cost thousands of dollars, out of a spring breaker's budget, though a mini-suite might be affordable if split four ways.
You can find inside cabins that accommodate four, which can be an extremely affordable way to travel. Be sure to price out all of your options -- it's not uncommon to find a balcony cabin for the same price as a room with just a window, or a porthole for the price of an inside, due to availability or cruise deals running on that particular ship. Third and fourth passengers traveling in the same cabin are often (but not always) charged a significantly discounted price.
Bringing the whole gang? If you book a minimum number of cabins (different cruise lines have different minimums), you can qualify for a group rate. Sometime the organizer can even get a free cabin.
Most cruise lines include many but not all amenities in their fares. Your cruise fares includes transportation to all the ports on your itinerary, onboard entertainment and activities (pools, shows, movies, dance clubs) and the cost of all meals and snacks in the main dining rooms and buffet.
It generally doesn't include alcohol, soda (juice, water and iced tea are usually free), activities onshore or transportation in port, specialty restaurants, spa treatments or tips. Keep in mind that if you've found a real bargain cruise, it's possible that these extra expenses can approach what you paid for the trip. Tips alone average about $12 per person, per day; they will be automatically added to your onboard account, or you can choose to pay them in advance. At least one person per cabin will need to provide a credit or debit card -- or cash deposit -- for onboard expenses.
Generally, shorter cruises (three or five nights) have more of a party crowd than longer cruises (seven, nine or more nights), but during spring break you'll find college-age kids on most ships. If you're looking to be among your peers, choose a cruise line that caters to 20-somethings. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are great options, but certainly not the only choices.
Also, opt for a cruise to a popular spring break destination in the Caribbean or Mexico, which will have a higher ratio of college kids than other, more remote or expensive destinations. Want to spend the cruise with your favorite band or fitness guru? Consider a theme cruise, where you'll spend your vacation with travelers who share the same interests.
Keep in mind that no matter which ship you choose, there will be plenty of families with kids onboard during spring break. It's unavoidable. Many ships have "adults only" sun deck areas available to those 18 and older (21 and older on Carnival), which is a good option for those who meet the age requirement and would prefer to avoid children. Several other areas, such as the spa and bars, are often adults-only.
This is a critical question. It's imperative that you find out the age requirements on any ship you are considering. Most cruise lines require that passengers be at least 21 years old to travel on their own without an older adult present. Disney Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises allow those 18 and older to travel alone.
In addition, Carnival Cruise Line requires that unmarried passengers younger than 21 each have another passenger at least 25 years old as their chaperone. Their bookings must be cross-referenced and documented properly. Other lines, including Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Holland America, lower the age of that in-cabin "chaperone" to 21. Norwegian allows the older adult to stay in an adjacent cabin, and Holland America only requires one chaperone for every five passengers under 21.
If you have travelers under 21 and opt to bring a parent along, most lines will allow you to stay in an adjacent or adjoining cabin; Carnival will even let you stay anywhere on the same deck. The bottom line: Be clear on the rules; they are 100 percent nonnegotiable and you could forfeit your ticket and money spent if you try to board and don't meet the requirements.
Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Princess, Disney and Royal Caribbean, require passengers to be 21 to consume alcohol onboard when you are departing from a U.S. port; check out your cruise line's alcohol policy for the pertinent information for your trip. Norwegian Cruise Line allows passengers who are 18 to 20 to consume alcohol in international waters, provided they are traveling with a parent or guardian. The parent must sign a consent form at the front desk. While in port, the drinking age throughout most of the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe is 18.
Don't think you can fool the onboard bartenders. You'll be given a cruise card to make all onboard purchases (no need for cash on the ship), and it will be flagged if you are underage, based on the legal documents you presented to sail. The cruise line reserves the right to disembark anyone who buys alcohol for minors or anyone caught underage drinking.
Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Norwegian, Disney, Princess and Royal Caribbean, also allow passengers over the age of 21 to carry a bottle or two of wine or Champagne (but not hard alcohol) onboard; but keep in mind you will pay a corkage fee (between $10 and $20) if you bring it to a restaurant.
While most cruise lines offer alcoholic beverage packages, which allow you to pay a daily fee and get unlimited drinks, they sometimes carry restrictions for cruises during spring break. Norwegian, for example, allows passengers to purchase a drinks package between March 1 and April 15 on embarkation day only. Carnival and Royal Caribbean's programs do not carry these restrictions.
Rest assured, you'll find no shortage of nightlife onboard. Whether you prefer a sports bar, martini bar or karaoke bar, chances are your ship has it -- and some other fun and funky theme bars as well.
Some Royal Caribbean ships have a Wipe Out Bar, where you can have a cocktail on deck while watching passengers take a header on the ship's surf simulators. Carnival has the RedFrog pub, a popular Caribbean-themed bar with a great selection of appetizers available for a fee, as well as its own craft beer and signature cocktails. Look for specialty cocktails at Celebrity's Martini Bar & Crush, which are served on an ice-topped bar; Norwegian has an ongoing partnership with Bar Lab Cocktails out of Miami, which specializes in handcrafted and avant-garde cocktails, to enhance its drinks menus fleetwide.
In addition to bars and lounges, most ships have nightclubs that are hopping well after midnight, especially on spring break. Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival are great options for those looking to dance; their newer ships have elaborate clubs with insane light and sound systems, where celebrity scratch DJs host dance parties.
Carnival's Punchliner's Comedy Club hosts multiple shows each night, and is one of the best of its kind at sea. Most cruise lines offer evening entertainment as well, in the form of Broadway shows, musical revues and guest acts.
Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian and Princess, allow passengers 18 and older to gamble in their onboard casinos. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean have the same age policy (except on Alaska cruises, when passengers must be 21). There are no casinos onboard any of Disney's ships. If you are underage and win a jackpot, you won't be paid.
Rules regarding smoking onboard have become more restrictive in recent years, but smoking policies still vary by cruise line. All prohibit smoking in cabins, and most (including Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess) don't allow it on balconies. Most ships have designated smoking areas on deck, and allow smoking in the casino.
Cruise ships are notorious for having unreliable, slow and expensive internet service, a reputation which is not as well deserved as it used to be. While things are slowly improving -- with high-speed internet available on several of Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival's newest ships -- you won't necessarily find the same kind of consistent service you'd get at home or at a hotel.
Plus, Wi-Fi isn't cheap. Most cruise lines charge by the minute (prices can range anywhere from 30 cents to $1 a minute) but also offer packages for frequent users that give discounted per-minute rates. Some cruise lines, including Carnival, are experimenting with different packages that provide access tailored to your specific needs (social media, texting, etc.), which are available for either a full day or a full cruise, depending on the plan.
Others -- such as Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean -- have their own apps that allow passengers free texting while onboard (though you might have to pay to download the app or to access the texting option).
You have several options for booking a cruise, including booking directly through an online travel seller, through the cruise line's website or over the phone with the cruise line. While it's tempting to default to an online booking, you might want to consider a travel agent.
Booking a cruise is not as straightforward as booking a hotel or airfare, and a travel agent can help you decide which ship or destination is best for you and your budget, get access to deals and group rates you might not find online and take care of details you might not have thought to consider. Better yet, they get paid commission by the cruise lines, so many typically do not charge you directly for their services.
Regardless of which way you book, if you have any uncertainties or questions, it's always a good idea to pick up the phone. Both travel agents and cruise line reps are very helpful in answering specific questions about the ship: Which decks are the quietest? How obstructed is your obstructed view? What time do the bars close? For more information, Cruise Critic has everything you need to know on how to book a cruise.
Regardless of where your cruise takes you, conducting yourself responsibly will minimize the risk of danger. These simple tips can help you avoid trouble and stay safe:
Keep a low profile. While in port, don't draw attention to yourself as a tourist, flash money around or cause a scene. Do leave valuables in your cabin (or, better yet, at home), and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Don't drink excessively. While the temptation is there to have one too many, both onboard or ashore, getting drunk increases the chances of getting taken advantage of, robbed, lost or worse.
Don't buy drugs in port. It's not uncommon to be approached by locals selling contraband; young people on a spring break cruise are prime targets. Adhere to local laws and don't risk attempting to bring drugs back onboard. Ships have a zero-tolerance policy.
Go with a group. If you aren't very familiar with the port you are visiting -- or even if you are – avoid venturing off alone on shore excursions. There's safety in numbers.
Take your phone. While roaming charges will probably prohibit you from making frequent calls home, it's always a good idea to have a cellphone with you in case of an emergency, but keep tabs on it when in port.
Keep track of time. If you do venture out on your own, give yourself plenty of extra time to get back to the ship. Cruises will leave without late passengers -- it's not an empty threat. It's especially easy to lose track of time when hitting up the bars in port; put someone in charge of getting your group back on time, as you do not want to deal with the hassle of catching up to your ship or getting yourself back home if your ship leaves you behind.