Have you ever wanted to go on a cruise? Last November we finally got our sea legs!
We have dreamed about taking a cruise since we were planning our honeymoon back in 2006, but we always thought it would be beyond our budget. We were afraid to even ask for a quote back then. Twelve years and two kids later, a cruise seemed like the most affordable way to get our family of four down to the Caribbean.
Our good friend, Ilana Schattauer, just so happens to not only have been cruising for over ten years, but she is also a cruise consultant and she blogs about her cruise life at Life Well Cruised. Ilana knew exactly what we needed (especially when it came to our budget) to get some much needed time-off together as a family. She found us an amazing deal on the Norwegian Breakaway.
A few things had worried us, being first time cruisers and all. I can bet that we asked Ilana more than our fair share of the common questions that non-cruisers tend to have. Here are some of the things I was pleasantly surprised about when we got home.
As I mentioned above, I have always worried about the price of a cruise, especially for our family of four. The luxurious pictures and videos I always saw just made everything seem really, really expensive. The ornate rooms and restaurants, the beaches on private islands, the FOOD.
When Ilana approached me with Norwegian's "Friends and Family Sail Free" promotion, I knew we could manage this and not break our budget. We booked an interior cabin - the cheapest cabins on the ship. With the interior, we got one "perk" of our choice as a promotion; the third and fourth passengers sail for free! That meant that all we had to pay for our two kids was the taxes. Also on promotion when we booked was their "Canada At Par" deal. This meant that what we were quoted in USD, we paid that amount in CND, which was a huge saving because the American Dollar was quite high at the time. The best part was that we we were able to drive the 6 or so hours from Montreal to the port in New York City and the itinerary was round trip (With stops in Port Canaveral, Florida, at Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas), and in Nassau, Bahamas.) Which meant... we didn't have to spend money on airfare!
In the end, we justified the budget by acknowledging that we were investing in some quality time as a family and memories we will have forever.
Speaking of the cabin - one myth that I have learned that every non-cruiser worries about is the size, "Aren't they like... the size of closets?" I was asked a few times when we returned home. Um... maybe... If I had a gigantic walk-in closet with it's own bathroom!
Interiors have no windows and are a bit smaller than once with a porthole (window), or balcony. However, when all four of us were in the cabin, it was more cozy than confined. It was perfect for nap time with the kids, sleeping, and relaxing.
The Dress Code
I'm probably not the only one who pictured the movie "Titanic" when I thought of a cruise. I mean... the ball gowns, the tuxedos, the feathery hats? I've seen professional photographs of acquaintances’ cruise trips where the family dressed in gowns and suits to go to dinner. I just couldn't picture this for our family. As an early childhood educator, with a husband who works in the transport industry, and a 6 year old and a toddler, we're a pretty laid back, casual family, whose main vacation experiences were tent camping. I pretty much have to bribe my family into wearing something other than sweats and leggings.
One of the reasons Ilana strongly suggested Norwegian Cruise Line for our family was because of their "Freestyle Cruising" mentality. The dress-code is resort casual: by all means wear that gown if you want to, but we were comfortable the entire trip wearing sundresses and polo shirts to dinner, and our pyjama pants or bathing suits to the buffet.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't worried about the safety on a cruise ship in particular. As a mom, and because of who I am as a person, safety is something I obsessively think about, no matter how or where we travel. So I had a question for Ilana that I was almost embarrassed to ask, and in hindsight seems really silly. "Are the railings safe, will the kids like... slip under it? Is there any way they will fall into the water?"
Ilana assured me that she got that question a lot and that it was impossible to slip under the railings and that accidentally falling in is very, very rare. She taught us that the railings are higher than ones on land - that they would be taller than our 6 year old, and that most of them would be shatter proof glass and if they weren't, the spaces would be too small for someone - even a toddler - to get through. In all honesty, I felt the safest on this trip, both on and off the ship.
One thing my husband and I have always done when on vacation, or at an event or park... we take our chairs, leave the crowd and find a more quiet spot. When we were on our honeymoon, we would drag our lounge chairs to the farthest point of the beach and it was like being on a private island. At home, our two children range from needing to climb, run or yell to definitely needing their down time too. Embarking on a ship with a capacity of 3,963 guests made me wonder if we would be able to have some rest and quiet.
But, just like on our honeymoon, there were plenty of chances to get a perfect balance of excitement and relaxation on the Breakaway! We went from splashing in the kids water park to finding a small, fun trivia game in one of the bars, to a dance show in the main dining room for dinner, to a calm walk outside to a family dance party at the forward of the ship. We even played a private game of bowling just the four of us. If ever we felt overwhelmed by a crowd, we were able to find a place to fit our moods.
For more tips on how to plan a family vacation on a budget, check out Ilana's article: "Yes! You Can Plan an Amazing Family Cruise on a Budget!
I could talk about this vacation all day... be sure to stay tuned for more posts about our last family vacation to the Bahamas with Norwegian Cruise Line, and our dreams of going on another cruise by subscribing to our blog above, and following us on social media:
Melissa is a mom, wife, and early childhood educator who blogs about her journey looking for new experiences for family time.