Last month, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 24 major North American cruise lines, and Cruise Critic invited readers to share how -- and why -- they cruise with their families, via a quick online survey.
Well, it turns out that those families among us cruise -- a lot! Almost half (46 percent) of respondents have taken two to four cruises with children under the age of 18; 15.2 percent have taken five to seven cruises, and 4.8 percent have taken more than 10. And the driving factor in decision making is destination: 36.6 percent of families said they gave the most consideration to itinerary in deciding which cruise to take with their family. The runner up, not surprisingly, was price, with almost 30 percent choosing that as the most important aspect to consider when choosing a cruise.
So what else did you have to say? Here are a few things we learned about the way families cruise:
Getting good value for money is key. Particularly in today's economy, families are seeking vacations that offer good value for their money -- and that doesn't necessarily mean cheap -- just that they're getting what they pay for. The vast majority of respondents -- 83.3 percent -- rated cruising as a "very good" or "extremely good" value; 15.3 percent said a family cruise offers "moderate value" (jus 1.2 percent and 0.2 percent said "not much value" and "no value at all," respectively). Only 26.6 percent reported that their cruise vacations were more expensive than similar resort getaways (that didn't necessarily mean those reponsders thought cruising wasn't still a great value).
Families stick together... When we asked "What do you enjoy most about a family cruise vacation?" the greatest response (31 percent) was "Quality shared family time." Eight-seven percent of respondents reported spending at least half, if not most, of their time together as a family -- just 11.7 percent spend a quarter of their time together and only 1.2 percent said "barely any." Indeed, a cruise offers excellent opportunities for families to, say, enjoy a day at the beach together -- and then split up after dinner for a nightcap (for the parents, of course) or a bedtime story or movie (just for the kids).
...but the children's programs are popular. Despite the fact that most families are enjoying a good portion of their cruises as a unit, 75.9 percent of survey respondents still said they -- and their kids -- take full advantage of the activities, facilities and entertainment options onboard just for youngsters. Thirty percent of respondents checked off "onboard kids programs and facilities" as one of the key advantages to choosing a family cruise over a resort, trailing only "the all-inclusive nature of a cruise" and "[getting] to visit multiple destinations."
Cabin selection is important. Having a family-friendly cabin, larger suite or connecting staterooms is a deciding factor for most survey participants. When asked how important family cabins were to them, the responses leaned heavily in favor of special accommodations: "Extremely important" (23.6 percent), "very important" (26.8 percent), "moderately important" (23.7 percent), "not very important" (18.1 percent) and "not important at all" (7.7 percent).
What's less important to families planning a cruise vacation? Brand loyalty (only 11.9 percent said cruise brand was a primary factor in their booking decisions) and, surprisingly, kids' input (over 70 percent said their children had zero to moderate input in the decision making process; 22.6 percent said "a very large amount" and just 6.7 percent said "an extreme amount").
Even if you missed our family survey, there's still time to weigh in. We want to know: What can cruise lines do better? Are there specific upgrades or changes you'd like to see made to kids' programs on ships? What extra services could be offered that would make cruises an even better value for your family vacation dollars -- and easier to plan? Share your opinions about family cruising -- whether you've gone on several or are planning your first one -- on our Family Cruises forum.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor