When it comes to cruises, the options may seem endless. More than 50 ocean and river cruise lines offer an array of destinations, themes and perks, making the decision of which type to choose a challenge of mega-ship proportions.
Fortunately, there are ways to narrow the field and stay within budget. First, define your interests, the type of cruise experience you really want and your travel style. Then, factor in such practicalities as budget, departure port and trip length.
Read on for excursions that appeal to various types of cruisers, along with suggestions on how to sail away with the best cruise deals—including teacher cruise discounts. And NEA members who are looking for ways to plan a vacation on a budget have access to great cruise ship deals for educators through NEA Travel: Cruises.
Experience an adventurous, exotic cruise
Are you intrigued by the idea of sailing up Alaska’s Inner Passage in search of remote glaciers? Or donning a wetsuit for a close encounter with sea lions in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes? If you want to explore some of the world’s most unusual locales, a cruise may be the best (and sometimes the only) way to get there. For example, National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions—whose fleet powers 93 sea excursions and five river cruises—can navigate narrow waterways and small harbors that larger vessels can’t.
As an NEA member, you can get a teacher discount on cruises of all types through NEA Travel. Cruises reach destinations all over the world, from Alaska to New Zealand.
- Budget-friendly tip: Consider off-peak excursions. If your schedule’s a bit flexible, cruising during so-called “shoulder seasons” can reward you with lower fares and smaller crowds. For example, peak season for the Caribbean and the Bahamas is from December through April, while the shoulder season runs from July to November.
Learn something new while cruising
As more travelers crave learning vacations, cruise lines have expanded enrichment opportunities, expert lectures and edutainment experiences. Want to discover more about maritime history? Hear a talk from your favorite author? Or learn web design? These days you can find cruise ships that are more like mini-community colleges.
On all its vessels, for example, Princess Cruises runs the “ScholarShip@Sea” program that offers at least six courses per sea day. And Cunard offers everything from dance to photography to art classes.
Alternatively, you could share your expertise as a cruise ship speaker and have the opportunity to cruise with a teacher discount.
- Budget-friendly tip: Check the enrichment program roster of cruises you’re considering. While some seminars, classes or workshops may charge small fees for materials, many demonstrations, lectures and presentations will be free. Rule of thumb: Luxury lines may offer more free options than mainstream or premium cruise lines.
Enjoy live onboard entertainment
Onboard entertainment has always been a popular feature on cruises, with everything from live shows, musicals and comedy acts on offer daily.
You can take in every musical style imaginable aboard a cruise ship—whether it’s country or rock, disco or salsa. And while every cruise provides live entertainment, there are likely some that match your favorite genre—and focus on it exclusively. With music-themed cruises, not only do you get to rub elbows with the musicians, but you’ll know that all your shipmates are super-fans, too.
- Budget-friendly tip: Check social media before you book, as many live-music theme cruises have official Facebook and Twitter pages that may post cruise deals, offers, discounts, upgrades or added freebies to the fan base leading up to the sailing.
Make your cruise trip a family affair
Looking for a way to gather the generations together? A family-centered cruise vacation may be an answer.
Disney Cruise Line’s character-experience cruises and Holland America Line’s Family Reunion package are just two of the journeys that cater to multigenerational family excursions. You can find accommodations with family-friendly options like connecting rooms, sofa beds and extra bathrooms, as well as amenities such as clubs for kids, tweens and teens.
- Budget-friendly tip: Bring an extended family group and save big. Generally, booking five to eight state rooms will qualify for a discounted rate of at least 10% to 25%, plus potential perks like a free berth and shipboard credit. Depending on the size of your group, you also may want to consider using a cruise travel agent who specializes in group travel. The reason? Travel agents have established relationships with cruise lines and access to valuable discounts that individuals don’t.
Focus on fitness at sea
From hydrotherapy pools to oxygen bars, many cruise lines have stepped up their wellness offerings to attract spa devotees.
For example, the “Holistic Holiday at Sea” is an annual vegan cruise aboard the MSC Divina in the Caribbean that offers everything from yoga and meditation to fitness classes to wellness lectures led by nutritionists and plant-based experts.
Or, if running’s your thing, there’s “The Great Alaskan Running Cruise” aboard Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, where you can attend coaching sessions and run a 5K or half-marathon in the shadows of the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska.
- Budget-friendly tip: Check out “micro” trips. More cruise lines are offering less-costly, bite-sized cruises over a three-to-four-day period with shorter itineraries for people who are looking for an affordable health-inspired getaway. Some cruises now make their spa and fitness services available on a day-pass basis.
Live a foodie’s dream with the ship’s chefs
Whether it’s going shopping with the chef or taking in some tricks of the trade in the kitchen, culinary theme cruises serve up plenty of variety.
At Windstar Cruises, for example, most every cruise offers free market tours at every port. Join the chefs on shore and visit local markets to choose the local ingredients, seasonal produce, herbs and spices that will be a part of your evening meal back onboard.
For select sailings on Princess Cruises, the Chef’s Table experience takes diners behind the scenes during the height of dinner prep, where they’ll chat with the executive chef while also enjoying Champagne and appetizers on their way to a multi-course tasting dinner.
If you’d rather focus on consuming instead of cooking, the new Virgin Voyages ships replaced their buffets with more than 20 top-quality restaurants and bars onboard, with menus by several award-winning chefs and mixologists.
- Budget-friendly tip: Depending on the cruise line, the cost of cook’s sessions and market tours may not be included in the price of the cruise. Ask to pre-reserve experiences rather than sign up once on board, as doing so may net you slightly discounted fees or other perks. Plus, with teacher discounts through NEA Travel, you always get preferred rates on your favorite cruises on top of a price-match guarantee.
Have a boat load of fun on an active cruise
If you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping activities, cruise lines are upping their game in big ways. The onboard water slides and rock-climbing walls are still there, but a host of over-the-top experiences now lead ship features.
Thrill-seekers on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas can be lifted 300 feet above water in a futuristic observation pod or try out the shipboard skydiving simulator.
On Carnival Cruise Line, passengers can combine theme-park highs with 360-degree ocean views riding the first at-sea roller coaster on its Mardi Gras ship—or take a SkyRide on a twin-track suspended bike course on the Vistas vessel.
For more down-to-earth fun, several ships with Norwegian Cruise Line sport a go-kart track with electric cars. The newest one, on the Prima vessel, features a 1,400-foot-long track across three upper decks. Or try maneuvering the largest multi-level ropes course at sea on Norwegian’s Breakaway, Escape and Getaway class ships.
Waterparks are also popular perks, with Carnival, MSC, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all having ships with impressive waterslides and more.
- Budget-friendly tip: These activities tend to be ultra-popular, so it’s best to claim a spot early with your cruise planner or first thing upon arriving onboard. But while reservations may be required, there’s no extra fee for some of these high-flying perks. Certain cruise lines include them in your package fare.
Independent cruisers are a growing passenger segment—and cruise lines are responding by adding studio cabins, solo lounges and singles-friendly activities to their ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line was one of the first major lines to jump on the solo travel trend, and several others have since followed suit. A big plus: These cruises have also eliminated the “single supplement,” which is the additional fee (typically a percentage of the usual double-occupancy rate) levied on passengers reserving a cabin alone. Read more about why a cruise is the best way to travel solo.
- Budget-friendly tip: Book early. Solo studio cabins tend to fill up fast, reports CruiseCritic.com. Also watch for sales that waive the single supplement, especially on inside cabins and longer itineraries. January through March is known as “Wave Season” in the cruise industry, which is prime passenger booking season for the year ahead.
Resources to plan your next bon voyage
The coronavirus pandemic forced ships to come to a standstill in 2020, which took a significant toll on the industry overall. Eager to rebound, cruise lines have been offering great cruise deals to entice consumers back onboard, and cruise enthusiasts have taken advantage. According to the 2022 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook report by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 75 percent of ocean cruising capacity was back in service by July 2022.
A full cruise industry recovery is expected for 2023, according to the report. Will you be part of it?
A good starting point for planning the right cruise for you is Fodor’s Cruises Travel Guide, a comprehensive online collection of cruise information, insights, reviews and cruise line directory. You can also track cruise sales and price reductions, updated daily, at CruiseCritic.com. Plus, you can quickly search tens of thousands of cruises by destination, port, and theme at CruiseGuy.com.
Save with cruise discounts for teachers
As you’re planning your next great adventure, be on the lookout for educator travel discounts, including teacher cruise deals specifically. Sometimes. cruise lines offer special limited-time discounts on certain sailings for active teachers with a valid school ID card or retired teachers. Princess Cruises, for example, offered a 25% discount on staterooms in 2022 if you registered by May 30.
And don’t forget to use your NEA member benefits! Check out what’s available through our NEA Travel booking benefit, where you can save on cruises, hotels, guided tours, resorts and more. Plus, when you book through NEA Travel, you’ll earn exclusive NEA Travel Dollars that you can use to reduce the price of future travel.