Forget Spring Break Conventions – Go on a Cruise
Getting your group all on the same page for a spring break vacation can be a daunting task. Here are ten reasons a cruise might just suit everyone’s needs and provide for a more than memorable spring break.
It should come as no surprise to the astute travel planner that vacations are often very expensive. After factoring in airfare, hotel and recreation money, a student could easily be looking at spending a thousand dollars or more for a four or five night vacation. While cruises can hardly be described as “cheap”, the extra expenditures that accompany a vacation are often built in to your original cruise fee. Food, for example, may take up a relatively large percentage of your budget while on vacation. On a cruise, the meals are included in the price of your boarding pass. Speaking of meals…
9. The Food
If you’ve never experienced a dinner on a luxury cruise, you owe it to yourself to try it at least once. It should be noted that depending on the size of your party, you may be forced to sit with others during dinner. While this has its obvious drawbacks, (think six drunk college guys joining a family of four) it is a great way to meet some of your fellow cruisers and allows the party to lay out plans for later in the evening.
Breakfast and lunch options are generally quality buffet items or made to order sandwiches, pizzas and burgers. Dinner is typically a gourmet style prix fixe menu with two or three separate options for each course. Diners should expect quality steaks, seafood (usually lobster) and an array of quality deserts. While the dinners are “free”, always remember that any alcohol ordered during dinner, or anywhere on the ship for that matter, is going to cost you extra so don’t be shocked when all those tequila shots you ordered during your meal show up on your bill at checkout.
8. The Schedule
You’ll see this included on the “negative list” more times than not when considering a cruise for your vacation, however if you’re traveling with a group, the schedule will ultimately end up being your best friend.
It can be nearly impossible to get everyone in a group to agree on a given activity. Save yourself the headache and allow the cruise to schedule your day for you. The convenience of this is most evident during the meals. Breakfast and lunch can become an independent activity and the dinner schedule completely eliminates the dreaded indecisiveness that can so often ruin group outings. There is still some flexibility to be had prior to departure however, such as deciding which dinner service you’d most like to attend, (usually 5:00 or 8:00) or scheduling a group meal at one of the ship’s other restaurants. Travelers should note that meals booked outside of the main dining room are typically not included in the cruise price and will incur an additional fee.
7. The Service
Cruise ship employees live on tips so it is in their best interest to keep you happy at all times. Cocktail service is generally speedy and restaurant servers tend to take their jobs very seriously (unless of course you throw a glass of red wine on one of them during the dinner conga line or a member of your party inadvertently insults the server’s Eastern European heritage). Look around for quality service in Panama City Beach during spring break and you’ll likely find a bunch of stink-eyed locals who can’t wait for you to get out of their town. Average service on a cruise ship is going to be far better than most large spring break destinations.
6. The Amenities
Continuing with the theme of “what cruise ships have that your average spring break destination does not”, the amenities onboard a cruise ship are often second to none and certainly better than the typical hotel amenities found in Panama City Beach or Daytona Beach. Go searching for a quiet place to get a massage in PCB and you’re likely to have a funnel of Busch Light dumped on your head. A morning massage goes a long way to rid the body of any “impurities” ingested the night before. Other top amenities include room service, hair and nail salon (in case you need an emergency pedicure) and a wedding chapel.
Note: If you find yourself using the wedding chapel during a spring break cruise I strongly suggest counseling as well as actively searching for a Mexican attorney during your inevitable stop in Cozumel. The dollar goes a long way in Mexico and you might as well get the annulment at a good rate.
5. The Casino
Don’t feel like paying the $400 airfare to Las Vegas for spring break but still want to get some action at the tables? Get ready for Las Vegas style gambling while aboard your cruise.
An evening in the ship’s casino can be a perfect way to keep the excitement going late into the night. Clubs and lounges on cruise ships can often become overcrowded as the evening progresses. If the club is packed or if dancing isn’t really your thing, the casino is probably your best option for nighttime entertainment.
The typical cruise ship casino offers slots, video poker, craps, blackjack, roulette and even three-card poker on rare occasions. Unfortunately, a captive audience is a bad thing when it comes to cruise ship gaming rules. The games on a cruise ship will often have worse odds or a worse payout structure than your average Las Vegas casino. What exactly does this mean for a novice gambler? Not much, except you’ll be separated from your money a little bit quicker than if you were playing in Vegas. Visit the casino to experience the camaraderie and the thrill of gambling with your crew – just know going in that you’ll probably lose some cash. On the positive side, this is the only place on the ship you’ll be able to get free drinks so be sure to tip your cocktail waitress and drink quickly, before you’ve blown through your gambling budget.
4. The Weather
Anyone who has ever planned a beach vacation that has been interrupted by severe weather or overcast skies understands the frustration of not being able to do anything about the weather. Cruise ships do not have these same restrictions and can in effect, guarantee sunny weather for your trip. While it’s not possible for your cruise ship to avoid all weather, rain and thunderstorms can be avoided in many cases, giving you hours of uninterrupted sunshine.
3. The Departure Ports
The Southeast is littered with cruise ports. Depending on your location, you’re usually only a few hundred miles at most from the closest port. Different ports head to different destinations so be sure to search around to find out which departure port will work best for you. More often than not it’s a simple decision due to scheduling but it is possible to have two different cruise ships departing on the same day so be sure to weigh the positives and negatives of each one before making your decision.
As a general rule, ports located on or around the Gulf of Mexico (New Orleans, Tampa) are going to visit the Mexican Riviera (Yucatan). Ports located on the Atlantic (Cape Canaveral, Miami) are going to visit the Bahamas, more specifically Nassau. There are numerous exceptions to these rules however and the destinations vary by the length of the cruise so be sure to do your research.
2. The Excursions
For the sake of this list I’m going separate “excursions” from the ports of call. While the excursions are often expensive, they provide the traveler with a little extra spending cash an opportunity to get off the boat and do something a little more adventurous. Be sure to review the excursions offered on your cruise before departing as the quality trips tend to fill up quickly. Also, be sure to thoroughly examine each excursion before committing as some of them are terribly overpriced for something as generic as “a few hours on a private beach”. Most importantly, be sure to use common sense when booking excursions. If your idea of a good time is sitting by the pool drinking frozen margaritas, don’t waste an entire day exploring the rainforests of Belize by jeep.
1. The Ports of Call
Above all else, what is the one thing that separates a cruise from other typical spring break destinations? If you answered, “the destinations”, (“ports of call” in pirate speak) then you are absolutely correct.
With destinations ranging from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen to Jamaica, cruise ports of call can offer the traveler a more rounded experience. While typically not cultural epicenters, the areas surrounding the various ports do provide some cultural insight. More importantly, however, are the numerous activities available to the traveler at each destination. Cozumel, one of the biggest cruise port cities in the world, has a multitude of bars and clubs literally within a few hundred yards of exiting the ship. Playa del Carmen, Mexico offers tourists pristine beaches and world class snorkeling. With multiple ports of call each trip, there’s destined to be something for everyone in your party.
By Mitch Tobias