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How to Plan the Perfect Graduation Cruise

Gina Kramer
Marissa Wright

Last updated
Jan 8, 2020

Read time
5 min read

students in graduation gowns holding diplomas on university campus
How to Plan the Perfect Graduation Cruise (Photo: Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock)

Graduation day is on the horizon. Whether your soon-to-be grad is approaching the end of their high school career or about to dive into the "real world" post-college, the milestone calls for celebration -- and a graduation cruise is a great way to go all out for it.

A cruise is a fun, carefree way (and a great excuse) for the family to celebrate before it's time to start moving onto campus or hunting for apartments.

Considering you get a buffet, entertainment and the chance to explore more than one destination in a single trip, it's also an excellent value. Besides, what could be more rewarding after a week of finals and commencement festivities than seven days on a floating resort?

Lavish your deserving grad with the gift of a graduation cruise, and follow these steps for smooth sailing.

Explore Cruise Lines: Mega Ships vs. Cozier Cruise Options

Wonder of the Seas in Labadee on March 6, 2022 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Wonder of the Seas in Labadee on March 6, 2022 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Would you prefer a mega-ship with non-stop fun or something smaller with a more laid-back atmosphere? Do your research before making any decisions because cruise ship size could make or break your next cruise.

Each cruise line has unique features, spaces, events and adventures that you can discover while onboard. Exploring the different cruise options available will help you pick a cruise line that suits your personality and travel style.

Families, for example, should look at lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian. The "big three” are some of the most affordable and have lively top decks with many recreational features that might include a rock climbing wall, ropes course or water slide.

Meanwhile, if you and your family prefer quieter pool areas and enrichment activities, such as cooking classes or wine blending (if your graduate is at least 21), you all would likely fare better with a line like Celebrity, Princess or Holland America.

Cruise Itinerary: Find One that Fits Your Travel Style

Jet Ski on the Beach
Choose an itinerary that fits your travel style (Photo: Napat Photography/Shutterstock)

Always choose an itinerary that fits your family's travel style. The cruise itinerary determines what type of adventures or relaxed excursions you can have.

Adventure seekers might find a Western Caribbean itinerary where they can visit Mayan ruins and go cave tubing in Belize more intriguing than the Eastern Caribbean, where you get to lounge on some of the region's best beaches. Rest assured: Any itinerary where beaches prevail includes plenty of opportunities for popular activities like jet skiing and snorkeling.

Choosing shore excursions for your family is an important part of cruising and activities will be determined by your cruise itinerary.

If you are leaning towards Alaska or somewhere in Europe, just ensure your family isn't expecting a beach-bumming, booze-cruising week in the tropics. If you’re going the sightseeing route, consider planning the cruise for mid-summer rather than right after commencement, so your grad can rest a bit and gear up for on-the-go travel.

Examine Your Cabin Options to Find the Perfect Room

Photograph of the Concierge Family Suite with Balcony on Norwegian Joy - Photography provided by Norwegian Cruise Line
Concierge Family Suite with Balcony on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Booking the right cabin ensures everyone is comfortable and saves you from awkward situations. Your best option: connecting cabins.

On most cruise lines, you can snag two rooms with an interior door for easy access from one to the other. If they're balcony cabins, you can sometimes open the divider to expand the outdoor space.

Allowing the kids to have their own room will give them just enough space while still keeping the family together. If the kids are under 18 when you book, just make sure to include an adult in each room.

If you’re new to cruising and want to explore the best cabins, you can always look at the deck plan to see where cruise rooms are located on your ship. If you're trying to stick to your budget or simply want to explore your options, follow these tips on booking a cruise room for the whole family.

Onshore Excursions for Your Family: What Excursions Are Best for You and Your Crew?

Recording artist John Forte enjoys family time on Celebrity Apex. (Photo: Annie Leibovitz/AIPP)
Recording artist John Forte enjoys family time on Celebrity Apex. (Photo: Annie Leibovitz/AIPP)

While sea days are known for being semi-relaxing, where you can participate in activities at your leisure, port days are often hectic hours filled with activity.

At each cruise port, your family can choose from a wide range of shore excursions, from wild water adventures like snorkeling, diving, or tubing to leisure historical walks.

When planning your time in port, consider booking with an independent tour operator rather than tours with the cruise line.

When you're traveling in a group, you can often save quite a bit of money by booking one tour guide for your entire family versus each of you paying your own way through the cruise line. A private guide also means more personalized service and a day customized to your interests.

The best part: You already know you like everyone in your tour group.

Speciality Dining Onboard: Book a Special Dinner on Your Cruise to Celebrate

Toscana aboard Oceania's Vista (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Toscana aboard Oceania's Vista (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Eating every night in the ship's main dining room is free, but we suggest setting aside some money to splurge on dinner at a specialty restaurant.

These optional dining venues validate their cover charges with higher-quality food, intimate ambiances and more attentive service -- and are ideal for special occasions.

Most cruise lines have multiple restaurants focused on different cuisines -- such as Asian, Italian or American. Once you decide on one, let the cruise line know you're celebrating a graduation. Chances are that they'll even have a little surprise in store for your grad.

Taking your graduate for a celebratory dinner can be a nice way to show them how proud you are, but don’t hesitate to stick to your cruise line’s normal dining room options if you’re more interested in saving money.

Group Cruise for Graduation: Let Your Graduate Invite a Friend or Two Because the More the Merrier

As much as families want to bond on a graduation cruise, you also want to ensure the grads can enjoy their newfound independence and have some fun.

Allow them to bring a friend (or plan a group trip with a couple of families), so they have a like-minded companion for various activities such as a pickup basketball game on the top-deck sports court or dancing at the cruise ship nightclub, where they can meet and mingle with other young adults their age.

Bear in mind: Most cruise ships are limited in terms of what's offered to teens aged 18- to 20-year-olds. These young adults are too old for the teen club and, although they're allowed inside cruise ship bars and nightclubs, aren't old enough to drink alcoholic beverages (unless the cruise line allows it with a parent's consent).

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