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Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably seen images of the devastation in the Eastern Caribbean, caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Wow, what a crazy year it has been so far. Some of you may have a cruise coming up in a near future, and are now wondering if you should go ahead and cancel it. While I certainly can’t tell you what to do, I’ll try to provide a few suggestions.
This is a personal topic for my family because my in-laws were actually scheduled to go on an Eastern Caribbean cruise in December, leaving from Puerto Rico. I say “were” because my sister-in-law decided to cancel it. She kept going back and forth, and the deadline for canceling without penalty was fast approaching.
She booked this cruise as a 50th wedding anniversary gift for my in-laws, and wanted everything to be perfect. Of course, there is no such thing when it comes to travel, but the devastation caused by the hurricanes on some of those islands is tough to ignore. So she pulled the trigger and booked a short cruise to Cuba instead. Ironically, it now looks like there is a visa situation developing, so that one may get cancelled as well. But the cruise line would be responsible, so my family should suffer no financial loss if that happens.
Fortunately, when we booked the original cruise, I convinced her to use Rapid Rewards points rather than buy discounted Southwest gift cards to cover the flights. Why does it matter? When you use the former, your points get redeposited into your account without penalty. With gift cards it’s a bit different.
I actually used a gift card to pay their taxes, and after we canceled the flights, they were reinstated in a form of travel credit. Ironically, the credit will expire the day before their upcoming flight to Los Angeles in 2018. We are talking only $30, so it’s not a huge loss, but still. So, the moral of the story is: if you think your plans may change, try to use credit card or Rapid Rewards points, rather than Southwest gift cards.
Should you cancel your Eastern Caribbean cruise?
That’s a million dollar question and I can’t give a definitive answer. Personally, I recommend you adopt “wait and see” approach if your deadline for penalty-free cancellation is still months away. Usually, as long as you cancel 3 months before your cruise, you can get all of your money back.
It depends, of course, because some companies, Carnival in particular, offer better rates as long as you book a non-refundable fare. So check with your travel agent or look through your contract to make sure. If you bought a travel insurance policy with “cancel for any reason” clause, you may want to look into it as well. Be aware, you will usually get about 80% of your prepaid expenses back, so there will be some loss involved.
I recommend you read this post which may provide answers to some of your questions Caribbean cruises: What you need to know in the wake of Irma, Maria According to the article, the officials in several damaged ports are doing everything they can to reopen them by the end of October. So, if your cruise is a few months away, you will most likely be fine. Worst case scenario: the cruise line will select an alternate island for you to visit, which is always a possibility with any sailing, really.
Right now many people wonder how they can help residents of the islands affected by Irma and Maria. Taking a cruise is one way to do it. Most islands in the Caribbean are heavily dependent on tourism industry. So it would be a win-win situation. You would get your much needed vacation, and tour companies would benefit from your dollars. Spending cash in a local market by buying souvenirs is another way to help local economy.
Certain islands don’t have a dedicated port and require tender boats in order to reach the shore. Those should be ready for guests relatively soon.
Visiting beautiful Turks and Caicos in 2009
Obviously, I’m not here to guilt readers into anything. This is a personal decision, and I absolutely don’t fault my sister-in-law for canceling her Eastern Caribbean cruise. I’m simply trying to encourage you not to rush into anything, especially if your voyage is few months away. The same principle applies to a land-based vacation as well.
Why a Caribbean cruise is a great choice for a family vacation
There are many reasons why you should consider it instead of flying to one of the islands. Most cruises leave out of Miami, and you can usually get there at a reasonable cost. In fact, you can even drive there if you want to. That’s what we do since we live in Central Florida. So right there, we save on airfare X 4.
If you are using Southwest points, you can fly to Fort Lauderdale, then book a transfer to the port. Considering the fact that you won’t be paying exorbitant taxes on your tickets (like $135/per person on a roundtrip airfare from Orlando to Jamaica), you’ll come out way ahead.
I find that cruises out of Miami usually have the best price point due to so much competition, but occasionally Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is a better option. It’s certainly less crazy of an area, I will say that. So always check both. When it comes to cruise lines, I find them all to be very similar.
I haven’t been on DCL (because I’m cheap), and it does look unique, as you would expect from a Disney-owned company. Read a guest post from one of my readers Cruise with a Toddler on Disney Magic: the Good, the Bad and the Magical I recommend you go on non-DCL cruise first, though, because you may end up liking it. Why pay for Hyatt if you are perfectly happy at a Holiday Inn? Just take a Disney character outfit with you and arrange your own meet-and-greet! Boom, you got yourself a poor man’s Disney cruise.
Not surprisingly, short cruises usually cost less than longer ones. Here is a small sample for March, the peak of spring break season:
You do have to add taxes and port charges to that amount, so keep that in mind. Many people are put off by atmosphere on Carnival, but I find it mostly suitable for family. Honestly, if you are not offended by tattoos and bathing suit displays at a public beach, you won’t be shocked by Carnival clientele either. Though I have to admit, Royal Caribbean may be a better option. You can read my series of posts from 2013 when we went on our Carnival cruise to Western Caribbean:
If you’ve never been on a cruise, it probably makes sense to do a 3-day or 4-day itinerary, to test the waters. I find that it’s hard to predict who will love or hate cruising. We have a friend who I thought for sure would enjoy this type of travel, and yet he hated it. He said he got bored by the second day, and couldn’t wait to get back to Miami. It will really depend on your taste and preferences. For that reason, you may not want to invest in a super expensive cruise the first time around.
I personally can’t imagine being bored on a cruise ship, but to each his own. The biggest benefit for families with small children is the fact that Kids Club is included in the fare. If you fall in that category, you know how absolutely wonderful this perk is. While many all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean offer complementary Kids Club as well, I doubt that dollar for dollar you will beat the price of a cruise, especially during peak season.
Credit card bonuses that can help you pay for your cruise
There are a few offers that could be a good fit: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Capital One Venture Rewards. Those bonuses give you flat rebate against travel purchases.
You can also sign up for cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred that offers flexible points. Even though many would argue that it’s not the best usage of Ultimate Rewards, the bonus is redeemable towards cruises, and you get 1.25 cents per point. You will have to book through UR portal, but the price is usually comparable to what you would find via regular travel websites. Read more on all these offers in my Hot Deals page.
If you applied for 50k points bonus on Citi Thank You Premier card (direct link still available, but may die any day), you can use it towards your cruise and get 1.25 cents per point. If you happen to have Chase Sapphire Reserve (non-affiliate link), you can redeem your UR points at 1.5 cents apiece, which, in my opinion, represents excellent value.
You could even use one card to make a down payment, and another for the second (final) part. You can also use bonus for your tips because they should be coded as travel purchase. In short, if you are a middle-class family, going on a cruise is within your grasp financially. And I highly recommend you try it at least once.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.