For many people, spring break is the first chance of the year for a cruise vacation, but March and April travelers often have competing interests. College students want to let loose midsemester, enjoying cruise ship entertainment from bars and discos to R-rated comedy clubs. Families want sailings with supervised kids' clubs and a family-friendly atmosphere, with possibilities for a relaxing break or an upscale date night. Couples who happen to be traveling in the spring are often looking to avoid little rugrats and 20-something partiers in order to enjoy their vacation, often to a bucket-list destination.
No matter which group you fall into, with a little forethought and research, there's a perfect cruise for you
Cruising is popular with families due to onboard attractions, such as bumper cars and water slides to over-the-top kids' clubs. With so many options out there, you'll want to do some smart planning to get the most from your family vacation.
Choose a kid-focused ship: When choosing a line for a spring break family cruise, you'll want to look at which line is best at catering to families. Certain cruise lines and ships are simply better at handling the abundance of children and occasionally rowdy teens and young adults during this travel period. In general, the newer the ship, the better the offerings will be as cruise lines get more creative with amenities.
Disney, of course, was the pioneer, revolutionizing family-oriented cruising in this contemporary era, but other lines, including Carnival, Princess, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, also do an excellent job with kids. Holland America, long known for catering to the well-heeled senior crowd, actually designed its Vista- and Signature-class ships to attract multigenerational family groups.
For more ideas on what to look for, check out Best Cruises for Kids.
Balance time spent together and apart: Your kids or teens may be happy to spend all their waking hours in the adults-free zones, but family togetherness is an important part of the best spring break cruises. Plan in advance before your children disappear into the kids' clubs. Agree to meet up for certain meals, and schedule time to enjoy some of the ship's activities together. Also, consider a curfew for tweens and teens you allow to roam the ship without you.
Prepare for crowds: It's not just the buffet that gets crowded on peak-season cruises. With so many kids on vacation at the same time, the kids' clubs can get overcrowded and activities moved out of the fun facilities into other public spaces onboard. You'll want to prepare your kids for this possibility to avoid disappointment. Also, book any limited-space kid experiences early to make sure you get in.
Book early: Often, the earlier you book, the better deal you can get, and many cruise lines offer promotional rates with discounted or free third and fourth passengers. You'll also have more options for family-accommodating room choices, such as connecting cabins, rooms with multiple berths (pull-out sofas or bunk beds), large suites and family-focused staterooms. A suite might make sense if your children are younger and you want them in the same cabin as you, while a connecting cabin is ideal when traveling with teens. All of these cabin types are limited and disappear early, so don't dawdle when booking spring break travel.
Cruising can be a fantastic way to spend your college spring break, with a slew of all-inclusive perks, such as meals, entertainment and sometimes even alcohol, if you're old enough. But before you book a cruise, make sure it's the right one for you.
Check cruise line age policies: First and foremost, find out if your group conforms to the cruise line's age policy. Most lines require passengers be at least 21 years old to travel on their own without an older adult present, though there are exceptions. Figuring out if you can even travel on a certain cruise line will help narrow down your choices. This is a good thing, as there are lots of options.
Don't plan to BYOB: If alcohol is going to play a part in your vacation plans, then this is another area you'll need to research. Make sure you understand the ship's alcohol policies. Most cruise lines require passengers to be 21 to drink alcohol onboard when you are departing from a U.S. port. Plus, you typically cannot bring your own alcohol onboard, and cruise lines are adept at catching smugglers. It can't be overstated that alcohol policies are quite strict on ships, and cruise lines reserve the right to disembark anyone caught underage drinking or buying alcohol for minors.
Bring your poker face: Gambling is another area to know the rules before you go if you plan on playing. Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, allow gaming at the age of 18; Princess requires passengers to be 21.
Pick the right ship and trip: If you want to travel with other 20-something spring breakers, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Mexico are often among the most popular destinations. Usually, shorter cruises of three to five nights will have more of a party crowd, with a focus on packing in the fun. Some of the best cruises for college students include Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, which are rightly known for fun bars and a variety of entertainment.
For more advice, check out How to Plan a College Spring Break.
If your idea of a holiday does not include kids, of any age, then you'll want to make sure you're aware of the calendar and plan accordingly. Spring break is big business, and if you’re planning a cruise during one of these popular weeks, which vary by school and region but generally occur in March and April, you'll need to choose your cruise with that in mind. There are certainly ways to limit the chances that you'll be sailing with spring breakers.
Go for expensive and exotic: Families and college students on break often seek out good deals, so they'll gravitate to less-expensive destinations and cruise lines. They're far more likely to go to the Caribbean than say, Egypt, so the more exotic and high-end the cruise, the less likely you'll be traveling with passengers only looking for a fun-in-the-sun break from school.
It's also less likely a river cruise will appeal to those looking to party, families looking for lots of child-friendly activities and travelers on a tight budget. River cruises, with a focus on cultural activities in historic cities and towns, rather than onboard entertainment or nightlife, serves as a natural deterrent to college kids and those with small children.
Take a longer cruise: Spring breakers typically go on shorter cruises, since they usually only have a week to vacation. Choose an itinerary that's longer than a week, and you probably won't have to share a ship with many kids.
Choose adult ships: If you absolutely want a guarantee there'll be no kids in sight, choose a ship that is adults-only. Viking Ocean Cruises is 18+ on all sailings; the new Virgin Voyages ships will be all adults when they debut. British line P&O Cruises also divides its fleet into family-friendly and adults-only.
For more suggestions on adults-only cruise lines, read our story on Kid-Free Cruises.