This is the second part of a guest post by KOAB reader Chavi Eisenberg. In Chavi’s first post she shared her suggestions for eating kosher and keeping Shabbat on a cruise vacation. Today, she is back to share her Top 10 Tips for making your cruise more enjoyable and affordable.
#1. Try to find a cruise that doesn’t go in the “peak” season. The last week in December is always much more expensive than other winter weeks. There are often deals on Caribbean cruises for early December, some weeks in January, and February (not President’s week). If you’re willing to travel “off-season” in November or March, you may be able to find even more deals to the Caribbean or other destinations.
#2. Sometimes there are last-minute deals if there are unfilled cabins onboard a ship and the cruise-line wants to fill it. While kosher reservations officially require 30 days advanced booking to guarantee kosher food onboard the ship, we have met other kosher passengers who have made last-minute reservations and have never had a problem getting kosher meals onboard.
#3. Taking a cruise that leaves from near your home city (if that’s possible if you live near a coast) also reduces costs and saves on airfare – you can drive right to the ship. We live in NY and have taken cruises that left from the ports in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Bayonne, NJ. (Except for Alaska, which departs from the West Coast and we had to fly.) For the NY-area departures, we were driven there by friends or relatives, or have taken a taxi. Since we didn’t have to fly, we weren’t worried about luggage costs, and were able to pack in as many bags as we needed (or could fit in the car). We were also able to to take more smaller bags instead of one or two large suitcases.
#4. Avoid onboard charges by packing things that can be useful on the ship, such as bottles of water and sports drinks (for excursions or workouts onboard), and snack foods, plus challah rolls, grape juice, and kosher sliced cheese. Again, this tip is really only practical if you are able to drive to your port vs. having to fly.
#5. Save money by booking an interior cabin. They really aren’t bad! We have taken cruises with four passengers in an interior cabin. While it’s not roomy, you spend so little time in your room, except for sleeping, that the cost of a window or balcony is not always worthwhile. (We did splurge for a balcony on our trip to Alaska, we had to young children with us and I would find myself in the cabin with sleeping kids in the evening; since it was light out until past 9pm, I enjoyed that balcony very much). Some cruises are priced so well that it is affordable to take the better room with a view or a balcony. That being said, we have found that when you’re comparing two cruises, that it’s generally better to take a smaller room on a better ship than a larger room on a lower-quality ship.
#6. Some cruise lines have set dinner times for your time in the dining room, while others have “freestyle” dining. Each of these has their advantages and disadvantages. We have done both and neither are a problem for the kosher passenger.
#7. The major cruise lines all have children’s programs every day (some close on port-days, others stay open), which means that cruising is not just for couples, but for families with kids of all ages. These programs are included in the cost of the cruise and not extra. They have activities from morning until night, so it’s hard to be bored. Most cruise lines close their kids’ program during meal-times, which means that feeding the kids kosher is not an issue. Because of allergy concerns, they often have strict policies about only serving water and fruit to kids during the programs (there are some exception, but the staff is generally very accommodating to any needs and will only feed your kids food that you have given them permission to eat.)
#8. While there are often very inexpensive cruise prices quoted (per-person), it’s important to note that cruises also expect you to pay tips ($12-$15 per passenger, per day), which are added to your on-board bill at the end of the trip. These costs need to be included in your budget for a cruise so they are not an unpleasant surprise at the end.
#9. The cruise lines make their money by pricing the cruises low, and then count on the passengers spending a lot on board in extra charges. Here are some of those money pit-falls:
- Acohol – fortunately, this is not a strong temptation for our family. We may indulge in 2-3 drinks during the entire cruise.
- “Specialty” restaurants – these are not worthwhile for kosher consumers
- Arcade — we gave our son $10 to spend for the whole cruise
- Spa — if you want a massage, try getting one on a beach in the Caribbean from a local; it’s much more affordable!
- Photography studio — they charge $20-25 per photo, if you decide to purchase them. (We usually budget to buy a few photos, as we’ve been able to take some spectacular portraits and they are terrific souvenirs of our vacations.
#10. Excursions booked through the ship can be very pricey, so it’s worthwhile checking to see if you need to book these through the ship. For exclusive experiences, sometimes this is the only way, but often times it’s possible to save as much as 50% off the cruise-line price by booking it yourself through an independent vendor. We would spend a bit of time researching our choices for activities in each port-of-call in advance of the cruise. We would take out books from the library about the destinations and about cruising, spend time on message-boards (trip advisor & cruise critic are both excellent websites), and price out our options.
Some destinations are perfect for a relaxing trip to the beach, which is often a simple cab-ride or even a local bus-ride away, while other destinations we wanted a more rugged experience. If you have a group of 6-8 or more people (or you meet some nice people onboard that you don’t mind spending more time with), it can be worthwhile to hire a driver with a van for a few hours or for the day to take you to several sights. Activities such as scuba diving are usually much less expensive when booked on your own than through the ship. Exclusive experiences like rainforest canopy zipline trips are often only available through the ship, so it’s worthwhile investigating in advance.
As you can tell, cruising does require a bit of advanced research and planning, but like any vacation, the more information you have before you go, the better prepared you are for the experience and you can maximize your cruise experience.
My best advice is to spend that time researching the ship and destinations, and contacting the cruise line to ask your questions about specific products served on board the ship to ascertain their kosher status.
Chavi Eisenberg lives frugally in the Bronx, NY with her husband, Daniel, and 3 boys. Chavi has over a decade of experience as a fundraiser and non-profit administrator, and has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. Currently, she is working on a new startup project for Jewish crowdfunding, www.
DailyTzedakah.org. She is also the co-founder of the the Jewish Attachment Parenting (JATP) Forum.