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Planning a cruise is exciting, but also a little overwhelming! It gets even more confusing when you’re planning a family or group cruise. My husband and I were married on the Carnival Dream in 2012, and had family sailing with us.

That meant a little more effort had to be put in to make sure our sailing date would work for those who wanted to sail with us, in addition to other tasks to make planning as easy as possible. Read on for top tips for planning a group cruise!

Choosing When To Cruise

The most important part of planning a family cruise is selecting the dates you’ll be sailing. If you have school-age children in your group, take a look at their school calendar as soon as it’s available.

Some schools have restrictions for missed days, and vacations often aren’t an excused absence.

Discuss busy seasons with each group member. If you have an accountant in your group, avoid planning a trip during tax season.

If someone works in retail, getting time off during the holidays is difficult, if not virtually impossible. Planning a cruise during that time period likely won’t work for them.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that summer months are considered peak season. Some have no option but to cruise during that time, such as students and teachers, so prices tend to reflect that demand.

If you have a bit of flexibility in your schedule, consider booking in the “shoulder season”, which are the weeks before and after peak season.

Early May and September are great options as the prices tend to be considerably less than summer months, but the weather is often still warm and pleasant.

Picking a Cruise Port and Itinerary

The next step is to plan where to cruise from, and what ports you’d like to visit. To keep flight costs down, aim for somewhere centrally located to everyone. Cruises tend to be cheaper out of Florida, though, so keep that in mind!

For my family, we make sure to enjoy any port we visit, but we do have a few favorites. San Juan, Puerto Rico is pretty high on our list as we lived there for 3 years and would love to go back.

We also absolutely LOVE Roatán, Honduras. So lush and gorgeous, it’s sure to make any nature lover happy!

Determining Your Room Selection

Determine if you want everyone traveling with the group to be on the same floor. It’s a great option for groups needing a variety of inside cabins while others prefer balcony stateroom. With my family, we enjoy booking balcony rooms in a row.

The benefit is that many ships have balcony dividers that open. It was so nice on our recent Alaskan cruise to have the divider open and hang out on the balcony together!

Get Ready to Book Your Cruise

When you’re ready to book the cruise, have everyone book through the same travel agent or directly through the cruise line. The benefit of booking through a travel agent is that they might be able to offer discounts that the cruise line doesn’t.

The downside of a travel agent is that any communication must be done through them and not through the cruise line. Also, they may have extra penalties for changes or cancellations that the cruise line doesn’t.

To minimize any money stressors, one person should never handle all the financial aspects. That helps avoid any uncomfortable situations.

What if you pay the deposit for someone, and they end up not paying you back? It’s much simpler to let each cabin handle their own finances and send payments directly to the cruise line or travel agent.

Make A Plan To Get to The Cruise Ship

We lived within driving distance of Port Canaveral when we did our wedding cruise. We realized the cost of bringing so many vehicles to the port and paying for parking would quickly add up.

Plus, it was a special day, so we ended up renting a limo to and from the cruise ship. We all got to ride in one vehicle and didn’t have to deal with parking lots!

If you’re all flying in from different areas, plan to stay at the same hotel the night before to make getting to the ship much easier and less stressful. Research local van charters, or consider Uber or taxi service to get you to the cruise terminal.

Set Limits For Togetherness

No one really likes feeling attached at the hip for an entire week, so it’s helpful to set limits for your group. Maybe one day you can arrange to only see each other at dinner, or plan specific excursions to do together. Setting the limits in advance assures there won’t be any hard feelings.

Set Up Dining Preferences

When we cruise as a couple, we prefer anytime dining, where you simply walk up to the dining room when you choose and are seated when tables are available. That’s quite a bit more difficult with a larger group, though.

It may be best to do the assigned dining time and have your reservations linked so you have the same time and tables. You can do a quick poll to see which seating time most prefer.

If there are any issues with part of the group not getting the same dining time, head to the maître d’ on embarkation day to see if they can assist.

Handle Communication On Board

Touching base on a cruise ship can be a little difficult. With some planning, you can bring a dry erase board to place on the cabin door and leave notes where you’ll be.

Now, some passengers in a prankster mood can erase messages, so that’s one thing to keep in mind. Walkie talkies are another option.

Many cruise lines now offer free connection services using your cell phone. Princess has the Princess @ Sea page, where you can send text messages to others on board.

The downside is it doesn’t notify you when you have new messages, so you have to get in the habit of checking the page periodically.

Alternatively, you can set meeting spots and times to check in with each other. That can be a bit annoying, as time often falls away when lounging in a hot tub or making a donation at the casino!

Take Fun Pictures and a Group Photo

Most importantly, have fun on your cruise and take lots of photos for great memories!

This is one of my favorites from the cruise, with my cousin Brianna Jade asking if it looks like she’s holding up the ship. Yes, yes it does haha!! 

Group photos are always interesting, and cruises provide tons of photo opportunities. You can even consider having custom t-shirts made before the cruise and taking a photo wearing them!

Some may consider that cheesy, but it would make a fun souvenir of everyone on the trip. They’ll make great Christmas cards, too!

Have you booked a group cruise before? Share any tips you have in the comments below!

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