Cruises - what they don't tell you

<p>I am trying to plan a cruise for my GS troop. Based on advice here, I have looked at cruisecritic(dot)com and am completely overwhelmed, not to mention, not too happy with the people on that board. (I have found them very condescending and uppity about how wonderful cruises are and complete know-it-alls). </p>

<p>I am wondering if this is the right vacation for us and need advice. It seems that there are so many hidden charges in cruises, that I need to add 50% to the cost - yes or no? Have you ever taken a cruise and said never again? I am the type that prefers my space although I do like group activities - will I be OK or want to strangle the person next to me?</p>

<p>how many chaperones and how many girl scouts? what ages? which cruise area? and what do you and the girls want to get out of this trip?</p>

<p>Our family along with 3 other families are going on a Disney cruise to celebrate the girls' graduation. I wasn't too keen on Disney thinking it was too expensive/overpriced until I heard about our friends' recent cruise expereience. One of the families went on another cruise line to Mexico last winter and didn't like it at all. There were many "single" men hitting on her teenage daughter and smoking everywhere. The mom didn't feel comfortable leaving her daughter at the pool when they saw a fight between two drunk guys there.</p>

<p>Years ago I took my troop of 13 year olds on a three day cruise. The parents who went along were the biggest problem but that's another story. You will need to have each girl bring money for extras. The extras will depend on what you decode to allow. In our case the girls weren't old enough for the on board spa. We decided ahead of time that no girl could get off the ship in port unless she was with her own parent so we didn't have to worry about excursion money. We pre collected cash at the beginning to cover tips for the cabin stewards. The girls obviously weren't old enough to ring up a bar bill but did have some small expenses for sodas and ice cream etc. Depending on their ages be aware of the rules for passports and for going out of the country with a child who I not your own. This is the reason we decided not to get off in port. Allow extra time for checkin if the girls are minors. Most ships will require one adult in each room.</p>

<p>Lilmom I would bet that was carnival. I would avoid that line. Disney or holland America or royal carribeam will be a little less patty atmosphere. Regardless I would recommend a curfew. On our trip day one some of the girls were flirting with adult waiters. I delivered my "don't promise something you can't deliver" lecture and reined them in tight. LOL</p>

<p>2 adults/5 girls (17-18). I have known all of them since K or 1st grade and under fear of serious wrath my my co-leader there is no way they will consider alcohol. Based on the ports, we were considering Western Caribean (Belize & Honduras). Before we went through this past winter, we had tossed around Alaska, however I don't think any of us want to see any snow in July! </p>

<p>The 2 lines that have these ports are Carnival & RCI. The Carnival Dream has a sailing date & itineray that seems to fit our schedule, but that ship sounds like an overcrowded mess. I think we want a combination of a fun pool & good evening entertainment and decent food (doesn't need to be gourmet).</p>

<p>Carnival is a younger crowd w/ more partying...whereas our experience w/ RCI was alot of retirees...my husband joked that we signed up for the aarp cruise. Both were fun, but do your research and if you do, you should find where all the hidden costs would be. For example, from our experience (which the last was four years ago), so some things may have changed, some beverages were free, or a drink card could be purchased for sodas and such. All excurtions and tours with be extra and vary vastly, but some can even be purchased much cheaper if you research the port and don't go through the cruise line. Gratuity is not figured into your purchase price, but it is added on at the end of your cruise bill(this can be adjusted, if you don't feel the service was worthy). Some restraunts charge, but for your age group, the free dining shouldn't be a problem. Some activites aboard the ship also charge, but your research should reflect the cost before the cruise.</p>

<p>It is definately a vacation that requires time to research, but can be well worth it.</p>

<p>Good luck!</p>

<p>Sorry you had a bad experience on cruise critic. There are jerks on every kind of internet board, aren't there, no matter the subject. I only read the reviews, not participate in the boards. What I find so funny is that two reviews will be about the same trip, dates, ship, even similar cabins, and they'll be night and day. One will have a great time, fabulous food, wonderful crew. The other one will do nothing but crab, crab, crab. </p>

<p>Skip Carnival with your troop. My Dh and I like it but because it is a less expensive line you will find people who are just there to party and get drunk. Spring break has a lot of those people...we usually go during the late fall when it is much calmer. </p>

<p>Royal Caribbean is very nice. I'm going on the Navigator from Ft. Lauderdale to Cozumel next month. Their ships tend to be a good size (except their older ones like the Monarch which is <em>tiny</em>) and have lots of fun activities. Don't expect a large pool on any cruise line! </p>

<p>I loved Disney! Best cabins at sea, esp. for sharing with a group. They also have outstanding entertainment and a great private island. But it's pricey. </p>

<p>Do be aware that the cruises have different 'zones' for the under 18 and the over 18. The older ones may not be allowed to go to the young adult club. Some crew are more strict about it than others. </p>

<p>Belize is beautiful but doesn't have a lot of in-town activities. Last time I was there, I went to the zoo. Belize</a> Zoo - The Belize Zoo Charming but you have to take a bus. Of course, there is scuba and snorkeling. </p>

<p>Have the girls bring spending money, enough for a souviener, and remind them that tea and lemonade is free. If you want, you can pay all tips ahead of time when you book. Remind them that the same safety rules apply that you'd use if you were going to a big city. Control your personal belongings, don't go off with strangers, make sure someone in your group knows where you are going, and have regular check-in times throughout the day. We always insisted that our D (cruising since age 9) has dinner and lunch with us or we'd never see her. </p>

<p>I book with vacationstogo.com or online-vacation center.com Both very good and have last minute deals all the time...vtg has a little bit of an edge there.</p>

<p>We have taken our teens on an annual cruise since middle school. They prefer Carnival even after sailing on Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean. They like Carnival's teen camp O2 but that ends at birthday #18. </p>

<p>The tips are $70 per person for a 7 day cruise and it covers the cabin steward, waiter and assistant waiter. This is automatically charged to each passengers account daily. Even though I have not used this option, I believe the tips can be paid in advance. A parent or chaperone can check each teen's account daily ( on the cabin TV) to verify that no unapproved charges have been made. Futhermore, if desired, a teen's account can be set up where charging privileges are not permitted. If memory serves me right, the only place on the ship that cash is permitted is for bingo and the casino.</p>

<p>You have free lemonade on Carnival but you are also permitted to bring on a couple of 6-pack or 12-pack of soda per person. This is not permitted on Royal Caribbean.</p>

<p>For the adults if you so desire, you can bring on at embarkation only, 1 bottle of wine or champagne. This is an absolute no-no on Royal Caribbean.</p>

<p>There is no need to buy any food at all on the ship or in port. Food is always available including pizza that most teens prefer. No need to buy specialty ice cream when there is soft serve free ice cream available in the buffet restaurant. Room service on both lines is free except that after midnight RCI has a service charge. Avoid specialty restaurants with per person fees ranging from $25 to $75.</p>

<p>The teens should know not to use the cabin phone which is something like $10 per minute. Not to use the Internet cafe. Cellphones should not be used on the ship. This is where parents and chaperones can control unnecessary costs.</p>

<p>We have been to the 4 ports on you itinerary. Belize is a tender a port and if going a shore I recommend a ship tour instead of wondering around alone. At Honduras, Carnival just built its own beach called Mahogany Bay. It's a nice beach that can be enjoyed without spending money on any of the usual beach toys. You can walk from the ship to the beach or ride the flying chairs for $5 round trip.</p>

<p>As mass market lines, Carnival and RCI's market share comes from the same passenger demographic.</p>

<p>Shore excursions are the biggest add-on in cost. In some ports, you might be able to get to a nearby beach for a fairly low daily cost. You can also find suggestions on "that" website (look under the heading for the specific destination ports) for independent companies, which can be quite a bit cheaper, and might negotiate a group rate. </p>

<p>Tips are a must. If there's 4 girls (or 3 girls and an adult) in a cabin, that's a lot of work for the steward. The other charges on-board are very manageable: you choose how much soda, specialty ice cream,... to buy. I suspect that the girls will find the meal choices more than adequate on any of the lines. </p>

<p>Thanks for being a Girl Scout Leader --a courageous one too boot!</p>

<p>njmom, I'll do my best to answer your questions. I've just completed my 27th cruise this past January with 28, 29, and 30 all booked through 2011/early 2012. I've done everything from mass-market mega-ships to smaller intimate yacht-like luxury cruises. If you have any questions feel free to ask :)</p>

<p>First, the costs. The base price of your cruise includes all your meals, entertainment, accomodations, and most activities. </p>

<p>Extra costs-
1. Shore Tours- Using the ships preferred tours are the easiest way to do things in port but are also the most expensive. With a little research you should be able to put together something that will interest all of you and save you money. There are many independent tour operators as well.</p>

<ol>
<li><p>Gambling- 18+</p></li>
<li><p>Alcohol and Soft Drinks- Alcohol prices are your standard bar prices. Soft drinks are about $2 a can unless you sign up for an all-you-can-drink soft drink package which will run you about $40-$45 per person/per week. There are limited amount of free drinks (lemonade, tea, coffee, etc.) available which are normally found in/around the dining areas.</p></li>
<li><p>Specialty Dining- Steakhouses, Brazil-style Churrascaria's, Mexican, Italian, etc., many ships these days have specialty dining opportunities however all are completely optional. Most will run you between $20-$30 per person/per meal and the dining experience is usually more quieter and more upscale. You will still have the main dining room, buffets, cafes, poolside eateries, pizzerias, room service, and more to keep you well fed and bursting at the seams for free lol.</p></li>
<li><p>Souvenirs- Varies. Buying logo merchandise on the ship can be expensive. You will probably find a better deal in port buying from a vendor. You will also find the duty free alcohol to be a pretty decent bargain but keep in mind your allowances.</p></li>
<li><p>Tips- Varies by cruise line. Usually no more than $10 per person/per day and this will include your stateroom attendant and dining room staff. The rate will sometimes be slightly higher if you are staying in a suite. Also if you're on a ship the has a concierge lounge and you utilize his/her services, you might consider tipping this person as well. </p></li>
<li><p>Specialty Activities (Wine tastings, spin classes, etc.) Most activities- pool-side games, dance classes, trivia, shows, crafts, karaoke, live music, etc., are all free. There are usually a few activities such as Spin classes, Palates, Wine tastings, etc. that will come with an additional surcharge. When you check your daily schedule it will be listed with a "$" symbol.</p></li>
<li><p>Arcade- If you're bringing kids this can add up quick :)</p></li>
</ol>

<p>Second, you mentioned space. It's hard to tell exactly what works for everyone. I prefer the larger mega-ships with all the bells and whistles and activities galore which can attract 4000-6000 passengers. For some this would be like a vacation to hell, but if the ship is designed well it can disperse the crowds evenly and will be very enjoyable. IMO, I feel that as far as mass-market lines are concerned, that RCI's ships tend to be the least crowded. Last summer I was on the RCCL's Oasis of the Seas and had about 6200 people on board yet at times it felt like hardly anyone was on the ship.</p>

<p>Depending on the ship you will find that there are many areas on the ship where you can escape and have some "me" time. There are adult-only pool areas which during the spring break and summer season's can be a godsend haha. Once you narrow your choices down to a few ships, then get on cruise critic and search their review database which will help aid you in choosing the ship that's right for you.</p>

<p>I also want to highlight ebeeeee's post about minors, passports and travel documents. Please make sure you contact the cruise line to verify which documents you will need. If any of the girls will be under 18, then you will most likely need a notarized letter signed by both parents authorizing you to take them on the cruise (listing the exact name of the ship, sail date, cruise company, and port of departure), authorize you to sign any waivers of liability, and to authorize supervision and medical care.</p>

<p>I personally love to cruise but I don't make it my sole vacation destination, even after 27 of them. I would say take the plunge and go on one and see for yourself if number two will be in your future :) Planning is the key. Have fun!</p>

<p>thank you so much for this solid advice - these posts are far more useful than what I got on cruisecritic. Those posters were providing worthless comments such as "i would never take teenage girls on a trip", "you will need to get national girl scout permission and that will take a while" and "they will just get drunk", etc. </p>

<p>Given the girls are split between 17 & 18, is it possible the ship will let them stay together in the teen places as if they were all 17? That will be a huge problem (& likely deal killer) if they bar the older girls from staying with their friends.</p>

<p>PS - I love CC, the quality of posts is the best and the respect among posters is high. (& no wacky footers on posts that take up half a page!)</p>

<p>We've been on two cruises ... and after the first my H said never again (Norwegian to Bermuda, inside cabin). Luckily, I convinced him to try Regent Mariner to Alaska -- all suite, all balcony, everything included (that means shore excursions, drinks, alcohol, everything everything). He'd do <em>that</em> one again.</p>

<p>We were in Alaska for July 4 ... and while it was unseasonably warm for Alaska in July ... all we saw snow-wise were the glaciers and snow capped peaks. My H wants to take the kids and have a big family trip someday.</p>

<p>Nj2011mom - the girls are really too old for the teen room - we have been on many cruises, it is our favorite type of vacation. The girls will be fine on their own wandering around the ship. A couple of things to keep in mind:</p>

<ol>
<li>You will need special paperwork for the 17 yo girls because you will be leaving the country. Call the cruise line to understand specifically what is needed, I believe it all has to be notorized. You will also need authorization for medical decisions.</li>
<li>We always buy soda cards for our kids...it saves in the long run.</li>
<li>Meet witht he parents and see how much they are willing to spend in extras - especially shore excursions. We usually do one or maybe 2 per cruise just to break it up.</li>
<li>Transportion costs can add up - even to the beaches. This is where CC is helpful. If you ask a speific question about How much does a taxi cost to get to xyz beach then you will probably get an acurate answer. It does cost for a chair/umbrella at most beaches but it is usually worth it if you are spending the day.</li>
<li>We have a hard and fast rule - no fraternizing with the staff. We have found the staff on most cruises to be absolutely wonderful but it doesn't change the fact that they are away from home for a year at a time and young, beautiful teen girls are vulnerable. Our girls are only allowed to stay in public guest areas and they have a curfew of midnight unless they are participating in an organized activity (yes, there are some activities that start at 11 for teens)</li>
<li>Buy the insurance - we have had several instances where we have had to use it - lost luggage, doctors visits for a sprained ankle, extra night in a hotel due to late arrival etc.</li>
<li>If you are flying, fly in the day before. Very few planes are on time and you don't want to miss your cruise!!</li>
</ol>

<p>nj- I also lead an older girl troop. We have not done a cruise but I know one troop who has. Have you seen other troop experiences on gs yahoo groups, like AGS or the ones targeted to travel or to older girls? Only thing I can think of is I've heard cruises require one adult per room, but with your numbers you shouldn't have a problem with what you can reserve. I would also assume the age limits for the limited access areas would be hard and fast. Good luck!</p>

<p>
[quote]
I am the type that prefers my space although I do like group activities - will I be OK or want to strangle the person next to me?

[/quote]
</p>

<p>If this is the case, I suggest a short (3-4 day) cruise. I just returned from a 4-day Carnival cruise (my first). I don't like crowds, and it was hard to get away. Lots of people in the dining room, lots of people at the buffet, lots of people sunning in chairs on deck. I was very happy to get off that ship at the end of the trip. Seven days would have been way to much for me!</p>

<p>The only reason we chose to cruise is that it was an extended-family vacation, and many family members enjoy cruising. If the reason for you to go on a cruise would be to take the troop, then you might be "taking one for the team" like I did.</p>

<p>Instead of a cruise, how about a "destination" trip with the troop? A beach, Disney, Universal Studios? At least that way you wouldn't have to worry about the 18 year olds not being allowed with the 17 yr olds.</p>

<p>^^^Put stars, flashing lights and sirens around No. 7! The worst way to start a cruise is by missing the sailing! </p>

<p>Being from NJ, did you know that there are cruises from Bayonne? It's Celebrity, which might (<em>might</em>) be a little stuffy for your girls. Although cruises are no longer only for 'the newly wed and nearly dead', some cruise lines are focused on a slightly older demographic. But Celebrity does have the best food! </p>

<p>As for the 'teen' areas, there is usually a separate dance area for the under-17's so that they aren't thrown into the main discos with drinking going on (besides, it's more fun to dance with your friends and cute boys!) Check with the individual cruise lines for their strictness...if you are a family or a group, they may let the older kids in as long as they aren't over 21.</p>

<p>Msref -- There are cruise lines and cruise lines. For one of your temperament (and I'm only a temporary extrovert...then I need solitude to recharge), Carnival is not a good choice, esp. if you are with people who are going to insist you join them for the limbo and hairy chest contests! You might enjoy Azamara or Cunard. They are listed as 'luxury' lines but don't come in at that much higher a price per trip as many of the extras they charge for on other lines are included on the lux lines. It's also vital to pick your times -- just as you wouldn't go to Disney in the middle of the summer, don't take a cruise at Spring Break. September or October is a whole different story. </p>

<p>We cruise quite a bit largely because my dh has food issues...traveling by ship where they know and cater to his problems makes it possible for us to go places we could not manage overland. This way, we know he will get at least 2 meals a day to eat without worrying about what allergens are in it!</p>

<p>
[quote]
these posts are far more useful than what I got on cruisecritic. Those posters were providing worthless comments such as "i would never take teenage girls on a trip", "you will need to get national girl scout permission and that will take a while" and "they will just get drunk", etc.

[/quote]
</p>

<p>I'm a big fan of cruisecritic, solely because it is the largest cruise forum out there and I've gotten a lot of useful information from the forum over the years. But they can be sort of persnickety. I've seen arguments rage for days over whether it is acceptable for cruise ships to do away with their trays in the dining rooms! You have to remember that the average age of a cruise ship passenger is around 50 - that's average, so many are much older. My husband, son and I cruised the Baltic Sea two summers ago on Holland America and son (17) was darn near the only teen on the ship and hubby and I (late 40s) were among the youngest. It's been like that on nearly every cruise we have taken except Carnival or Caribbean cruises. My point is the people on cruise critic are much older and aren't always big fans of taking children and teens on cruises, so take their comments with a grain of salt. They are, however, very knowledgeable about cruising so you can get good information there.</p>

<p>And I concur with everything momofboston said and Novelsito is 100% right. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to fly into your departure port on the day of the cruise. Have seen many people miss the ship because of flight delays. If you have no choice, buy the insurance so you have some coverage if you need to fly to the first port of call in order to catch the ship.</p>

<p>OP:</p>

<p>Have you considered something other than a cruise? Maybe an all-inclusive resort? What's that big one called in the Bahamas?</p>

<p>I've been on several cruise lines EXCEPT for Carnival. One of them was RCI, leaving out of Bayonne, NJ and it was great. No problems at all, great for teenagers.</p>

<p>Any thoughts of going maybe to Disneyland (out in CA)?</p>

<p>It's more about the destinations than the line that bring on the partiers. People cruising in Alaska are more about the sights than the people going to the islands or Mexico.</p>