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.
Experience the adventurous and exotic
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 71 sea excursions and 10 river cruises—can navigate narrow waterways and small harbors that larger vessels can’t.
As an NEA member, you can get a 10% discount on cruises through Trafalgar Worldwide Guided Vacations. Once you’re signed in, visit Trafalgar and search for “cruise.” Trafalgar’s cruises reach destinations all over the world, from Alaska to New Zealand. Take a romantic trip down the Rhine River in Europe, a 3-day cruise to the Greek Isles or hug a llama in Peru!
- 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 late March through July, but the shoulder season runs from December to early April (which may allow you to snag a deal during winter holidays or spring break).
Learn something new
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. Alternatively, you could share your expertise as a cruise ship speaker and cruise for less.
- 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 entertainment
Onboard entertainment continues to rank as the most popular feature on cruises, with 70% of cruisers attending live shows, musicals, and comedy acts. 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 it 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, Crystal Cruises’ Family Memories voyage, and Holland America Line’s Family Reunion package are just a few 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 like kids, tween and teen clubs.
- 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? Agents have established relationships with cruise lines and access to valuable discounts that individuals don’t.
From hydrotherapy pools to oxygen bars, many cruise lines have stepped up their wellness offerings to attract spa devotees. For example, Celebrity Cruises’ “WOD on the Waves,” is a full ship charter cruise that sails round trip from Miami to the Bahamas. It touts a fitness vacation that combines world-class workouts, wellness seminars and nutritional education. 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 those looking for a health-inspired getaway. Some cruises now make their spa and fitness services available on a day-pass basis.
Become a foodie
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. And 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.
- 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 NEA Vacations, you always get preferred rates on your favorite cruises on top of a price-match guarantee.
Have a boat load of fun!
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. And on Carnival Cruise Line, passengers can combine theme-park highs with 360-degree ocean views riding the first at-sea roller coaster on its newest ship, the Mardi Gras—or take a SkyRide on a twin-track suspended bike course on the Vistas vessel. For more down-to-earth fun, three ships of Norwegian Cruise Line sport a 1,000-foot go-kart track on two decks with electric cars. Or try maneuvering the largest multi-level ropes course at sea on Norwegian’s Breakaway, Escape and Getaway class ships.
- 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—as 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 today several others have 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.
Planning your bon voyage
By one measure, 32 million passengers are expected to set sail in 2020, according to Cruise Lines International Association’s latest forecast. Will you be one of them?
A good starting point 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. What’s more, you can quickly search tens of thousands of cruises by destination, port, and theme at CruiseGuy.com.
Save with educator travel discounts
As you’re planning your next great adventure, be on the lookout for educator discounts, including teacher cruise deals. Some cruise lines offer special discounts on certain sailings for active or retired teachers. MSC Cruises, for example, offers between 5% and 10% rate discounts on staterooms.
And don’t forget to use your NEA member benefits! Take advantage of NEA Vacations, which can save you up to 50% on cruises, hotels, guided tours, resorts and more. Plus, when you book through NEA Vacations, you’ll earn exclusive NEA Travel Dollars that you can use to reduce the price of future travel. You’ll automatically receive $500 in NEA Travel Dollars on your first visit to NEA Vacations--just click the “Book Your Next Vacation” button.
You’ll also find travel savings through Trafalgar Worldwide Guided Vacations. NEA members get a 10% discount on itineraries, including cruises!