6 Perks Cruise Lines Offer Large Groups and Families
Taking a cruise with friends or a large family is a great way to catch up with loved ones. It’s also an excellent opportunity to reap special perks and group discounts, from free cabins to complimentary drinks.
If you’re cruising with a group, always ask the cruise line what extras or discounts you’re entitled to before booking, and double-check if the goodies are for each group member, for each cabin, or just for the group leader.
1. Free Cabins
The best group benefit possible? A free cabin for two people or free passage for one person when a certain number of cabins are booked. Crystal Cruises’ Family Memories Program, for instance, gives a free berth to the 11th member of a paid full-fare group. With Carnival Cruises and Costa Cruises, groups get a free berth for every 15 paid passengers. Some lines, including Holland America Line, don’t dole out free cabins but instead offer a free upgrade for one or more of the group’s cabins.
2. Group Rates
Even if you can’t score a free cabin, group rates for cabin pricing are generally lower. When signing a group contract, you block out a number of cabins at a specified rate, which is usually the lowest available and in some cases, discounted from the price you would pay if you were booking the cabins separately. If publicly available rates start to rise, it's an even better deal as you can still book the number of contracted cabins at the lower rate.
3. Free or Discounted Fares for Kids
Some lines offer discounted fares for the third or fourth passenger in a cabin with two full-paying guests, whether they’re adults or children. A handful of cruise lines go even further, offering up to two children a free cruise when sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults, including MSC Cruises’ offer for kids 11 and under. Crystal offers free passage to one child 17 years and under if sharing a cabin with two adults. Other lines — including Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line — occasionally offer special promotions for children.
4. Onboard Credits
Shipboard credits — which can be used in the spa, shops, bars, and other venues onboard — are a typical extra offered to groups. For families with six full-fare-paying members, Crystal hands out $200 shipboard credits per person and also gives $500 credits toward a Crystal Private Adventure (high-end excursion valued at $2,500 or more). For bookings of five or more cabins, Costa will give each stateroom a $25 voucher, and Star Clippers doles out all-inclusive drinks packages.>
5. Drinks and Meals
Specialty dining and bottles of wine are free bonuses often given to groups. Holland America’s Family Reunion program kicks in when you book eight or more cabins: Each cruiser gets a free lunch in the Pinnacle Grill restaurant, and each cabin gets a $50 fountain soda card. If you book eight or more cabins with Norwegian, you get Groups Amenity dollars to redeem on things like bottles of wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, group photographs, and spa credits. On Costa, each cabin can pop a bottle of sparkling wine with groups of 15 or more.
Cruise lines often treat large groups to cocktail parties. For bookings of 15 or more people, for instance, Costa throws a one-hour party with free-flowing martinis, manhattans, and fruit punch. Now that’s cause for celebration.
In order to make sure you’re getting the best group cruise rates, we highly recommend consulting with a travel agent. There’s going to be a lot of difficult leg work involved: following up with group members for payment, signing contracts, coordinating amenities with the cruise line, etc. Letting a professional handle it ensures you’re getting the lowest rates possible, and they can even hold spaces for you while your group considers the options. And in some cases, the agents will throw in extra amenities or a special bonus for the group leader.
All this help shouldn't cost you anything extra as travel agents love group bookings. If you insist on doing it yourself, ask for the group department when you call the cruise line if you need to book 8 cabins or more. But really, just spare yourself the extra hassle and let a travel agent deal with it.
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What’s the best group perk you ever got?