Ask the Expert: Picking an Affordable Family Cruise - Family Traveller (USA)

Q: With so many great ships appealing to families with the biggest and best "everything," how does a family pick the right cruise ship for them, that is also affordable?

A: Before you book your cruise, the first and most important question to be resolved is this one: What’s your family’s travel style? Sure, there are a lot of great ships out there that are designed to appeal to kids and their parents but everyone has a different style.

It’s not always about the ship. Interested in spending as much time adventuring in ports of call as possible? Before you choose your ship, you’ll want to make sure to pick an itinerary that spends most of its time on land.

It’s also important to remember that no kids’ club is truly alike; you’ll want to match your children’s interests to clubs that are suited to them. Some are all-purpose and aim mostly to socialize with pizza parties and scavenger hunts. Others offer deeper dives into the itineraries, focusing on history, culture, and science.

But it’s not always about the kids. Once you’ve narrowed down options that are family-friendly and offer the amenities that your family needs, look at what it offers the rest of the family as well. Are you a family of foodies? Look to ships that have a wide range of culinary options and dining venues. Are you looking to be well entertained in the evening? Check out the line-up of shows and venues to enjoy at night.

When it comes to affordability, cruises are such a good value for families – with inclusions like meals, cabin clean-up service, kids’ clubs, and theatrical performances – that it is entirely possible, if not probable, to have a great family trip without busting your budget. One of the most exciting developments in cruise is mega-ships that come with almost any amenity you can think of, from zip lining to on-shore adventures, and from restaurants that would rival a Las Vegas resort (both in quantity and quality) to tempting onboard boutiques. The challenge? You may well be paying out of pocket for many of them.

Before you head up the gangway, make sure you know which extras are in the budget -- and which aren’t. Budget for extras in advance, and then set a spending limit on your onboard account to help keep you accountable. That’s especially helpful when kids and teens are granted access to onboard spending.

Also, consider drive-to cruise ports to help save on the overall cost of your cruise vacation. If you live within driving distance of port cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore, Galveston and Los Angeles, you can save on the cost of four round-trip plane tickets and a night in a hotel.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-at-large, CruiseCritic.com, the world’s largest cruise reviews and information site.

Find more cruising tips in our Family Cruise Vacations section.