Looking for a great way to escape winterís chilly temperatures? A tropical cruise to the Caribbean, Mexico or the Bahamas may be just the answer. These cruises depart from a wide variety of U.S. ports, making these last-minute vacation options very convenient and often eliminating the need for expensive flights. Base cruise fares sometimes dip to less than $300 per person for three- to five-night Bahamas and Caribbean cruises, particularly during the month of January. At these prices, itís hard to beat the value of these last minute tropical cruise vacations as well.
Todayís cruise ships vary in size and amenities including a wide variety of restaurants and lounges, Broadway-style shows and entertainment, elaborate water parks, ropes courses and outdoor adventures, childrenís and teens programs and much more. Itineraries vary, but generally include multiple tropical island ports of call and often a day or two at sea.
Starting in mid-January, cruise fares can tend to drop significantly through the end of February. In fact, last-minute prices on several cruises to the Bahamas, Caribbean and Mexico are currently more than 80% off regular fares during this time period. Sites such as VacationsToGo.com, Cruises.com, CruiseCompete.com and others make it easy to find winter cruise deals or you can contact your favorite travel agent for more details.
Cruises in January and February can often be a great value when compared with other land-based tropical vacation options. Airfare is generally one of the most expensive parts of a winter tropical beach vacation. Cruises from close-to-home U.S. ports will take to the same sunny beaches, often for less than the price of a round-trip international air ticket. Cruise lines have positioned their ships in a variety of locations that are within easy driving distance of major cities, making last-minute winter cruise vacations easier and less expensive.
If youíd like to escape winterís chill on a tropical cruise, here are seven great tips:
1. Consider driving to your cruise. Last-minute airfares for flights can often be quite high. Check on airfares to possible embarkation ports before starting your search process. Sites such as Skyscanner.com, Hipmunk.com, Hopper.com, and Google Flights can be good places to start. If fares are expensive, make plans to drive to your cruise and focus your search on ships departing from convenient embarkation ports. Cruise lines offer sailings from a wide variety of U.S. ports including New York, NY; Bayonne, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Charleston, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Port Canaveral, FL; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Miami, FL; Tampa, FL; Mobile, AL; New Orleans, LA; Galveston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA and other areas. Parking can be found near all of the cruise terminals.
2. If you must fly, take a direct flight or leave plenty of time for connections. Direct flights can be more expensive, but thatís not always the case. Use a good travel agent or book your flights immediately after you purchase your cruise for the best results. If connecting flights are mandatory for your cruise, make sure to allow plenty of time for connections. This is particularly important in January and February when winter storms can occur. If you have a choice of connection cities, stay away from those prone to bad winter weather and heavy traffic delays. These include such airports as Denver, Chicago, Newark, and New Yorkís LaGuardia and JFK airports.
3. Consult with a good cruise travel agent. Using a travel agent is often a smart bet for booking a last-minute winter cruise escape. An experienced cruise travel agent can save you time, money and countless vacation hassles. A good cruise travel agent understands the differences between cruise lines, specific ships and their amenities, as well as the various itineraries available. He or she will help select the ship, itinerary, flights and stateroom that's best suited for your needs. In addition, travel agents can also provide valuable assistance if something goes wrong on your trip.
4. Purchase trip insurance. Make sure to purchase trip insurance to protect your cruise vacation investment in case of an unforeseen transportation problem, family illness, or other issue. When buying your insurance, however, itís important to make sure that your flights are wrapped into the coverage. Some vacationers buy insurance directly from their cruise line when purchasing their cruise and then obtain their own flights separately. When a problem arises with their flights, they can find that their trip insurance only covers the cruise. Make sure you understand what is covered by the trip insurance policy youíre purchasing and read the fine print carefully. For best results, call the travel insurance company directly and ask questions over the phone to understand intricate coverage issues.
5. Choose your stateroom carefully. Choosing the right stateroom can make a huge difference in cruise enjoyment. Some cruise cabins are almost guaranteed to be noisy. Study your shipís deck plans before reserving any type of cabin. Look for a quiet room away from boisterous areas like elevators, lounges, atriums and childrenís program facilities. Thoroughly review the deck layouts above and below the cabin youíre considering to see whatís located over and under your room. Stay away from booking staterooms above or below nightclubs, theaters, bars with live music, crew work areas, self service laundries, sports venues, kitchens, and the main dining rooms and buffet areas. Some frequent cruise guests also shun staterooms right below the shipís pool to avoid the early morning sound of lounge chairs being arranged on deck.
6. Ask about special discounts. On MSC Cruises, kids 11 and under generally cruise free if they are sharing a stateroom with two adults. Other cruise discounts are often available such as military discounts, senior discounts, past guest discounts, firefighter and EMT discounts, state or regional residency offers, and Interline fares. A good travel agent can help you find the applicable discounts. Some travel agencies, online sites and travel vendors like Costco may offer special deals as well.
7. Arrive at your embarkation port early. Winter storms and flight delays can cause havoc during the months of January and February. Plan to arrive at your departure port a day in advance to give yourself some cushion, just in case of bad weather or heavy traffic. It's also wise to get on the ship early to get settled and explore.