Although you’re reading this a few days later, as I write this we’re flying on American Airlines from ORD to SJU (San Juan, Puerto Rico). Shortly after touch down we’ll be boarding the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas for a cruise in the Southern Caribbean.
While we’re extremely excited to be going on this trip, it feels like just yesterday that we were booking it. Well that’s because we in fact just did.
Browsing the Interweb
One week to the day before our cruise set sail, after hearing from a friend who was about to leave on a cruise, I decided to take a look at Royal Caribbean’s site just for the heck of it. Although we have several trips in the coming month and a half (Austin for SXSW, San Antonio, Orlando), we’ve got cabin fever and have been itching for somewhere warm.
Perusing the deals, sorted by price low to high, I saw several short cruises out of Miami, but nothing to be too excited about as they were all just a few nights with quite limited stops.
However I quickly noticed an anomaly on the list, a 7 night cruise in the midst of all the 3 nighters. After a bit more digging, I realized it was quite an amazing deal. The offer was a Large Oceanview room for $20 less than an inside cabin.
We had cruised once before and resolved to only get inside rooms since there was no need to spend extra money for a larger place to sleep, but a bigger room, with a view, for less money? You’d better believe we’re in for that.
So what we had here was a 7 night cruise in a Large Oceanview room for quite a steal. And not that we needed more convincing, but the real kicker of this whole deal was that it was a Southern Caribbean cruise, which means one thing. We could finally visit one of our best friends in her temporary home. We could finally have the opportunity to visit Chrissy in Grenada! :)
I know that doesn’t mean much if you don’t already know, but we’ve been trying to swing a trip to Grenada to visit Chrissy ever since she began Vet school at the beginning of 2010.
The big hurdle for getting there though has been the expensive airfare. Apparently there are only a few airlines that actually fly to the island so they tend to be quite pricey. While it’s worth the expense to get to see her, it’s simply tough to justify spending substantially more to get to Grenada than we spent to get all the way to Europe.
We nearly booked flights there a few times in the last 13 months, but never quite pulled the trigger. This cruise would present a brand new opportunity to see her.
Knowing full well that I shouldn’t get Marla’s hopes up too soon (she tends to be constantly travel planning and we’ve thought about this cruise before), I kept to myself about the discovery until I could do a little research. I started where I always do, at Kayak.com to check on airfare rates to San Juan, the departure port.
I was very disappointed to discover that finding a flight to a Caribbean destination just a week out, in the dead of winter would incur quite a cost. At the published roundtrip rates there was no way that we would be able to swing the cruise. That is, if we had to pay for airfare.
As you may know, we’re big proponents of travel hacking and earning free flights through the use of frequent flyer miles. Although I recently drained my United account for our roundtrip tickets to LA, We had another trick up my sleeve. Thanks to Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel, Marla’s earned 110,000 miles on American Airlines in the last month alone. This meant that there was an additional option, redeeming miles for an American Awards flight. (Marla does have a full United account still but we have plans for those miles) :)
Logging into the website I quickly saw that the flights were near capacity, but sure enough, we could use our miles to get to San Juan. The only catch, since availability was limited, the available awards were much more costly than the base mileage requirement. It was going to cost us 36,000 miles, each way, per person for a total of 140,000 miles round trip.
Although I was to have 50,000 miles post to my account shortly, the fact was that we didn’t have quite enough miles for both roundtrip tickets and we had no interest in paying $400 to transfer my miles, even if they were already posted.
This is the point where I mentioned the deal to Marla. I wasn’t ruling it out, but I knew that the chances of us going were slim and I gave her all the details and options.
Even if chances were slim, she was of course excited so we kept digging, trying to see what else we could swing to make it happen. She made some phone calls to see if phone support could swing anything with partner airlines and I started looking for budget carriers. The thought being, if we could find a one way flight either to San Juan or home that wasn’t astronomically priced, then the cruise would become possible.
Although Marla wasn’t successful with the phone support specialist trying to swing a roundtrip flight using her 110,000 miles, I was able to find a flight home on Spirit Air that was substantially cheaper than all of the rest. This meant that we were able to use Marla’s miles to book our awards flight to San Juan and then fly Spirit home for a very reasonable price. Score!
So here we are, a week later on a flight to San Juan and a few days away from seeing Chrissy along with 4 other island stops along the way.
How Much Does a Cruise Cost?
It wasn’t until I was talking to Mike, Chrissy’s husband, that I realized that there’s something that I take for granted having cruised before. That’s their bang for your buck.
It’s just a social norm not to talk about money. You’ll find that I only reference specific dollar amounts when the numbers directly pertain to the message I’m sharing, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m exactly the same way in person.
So when I was telling Mike about the great deal that we got (Large Oceanview for less than in Interior), I never mentioned what a “deal” was for a cruise.
Being really close with Mike, I have no qualms over discussing money with him, but I just never bring it up. So he asked what a good deal actually equated to, and I’m glad he did.
In case you’re not too familiar with how a cruise operates, it’s like this. You pay one flat, per person rate for your room, food and all entertainment on the boat. It’s basically the equivalent to a floating, all inclusive
The only additional that you have to worry about are the tips at the end of the trip, although if you follow the suggested tipping, it’s quite reasonable, relative to the level of service that you receive.
So What Is a Good Deal For a Cruise?
Granted cruise prices can range from quite affordable to high rollin’ and extremely expensive. We’ve only gone with Royal Caribbean so let me share the experiences we’ve had with them.
The first time we cruised was in 2009 and we visited Cozumel Mexico, Georgetown Grand Cayman and Montego Bay Jamaica. We left from the port in Galveston, Texas and it was a 6 night cruise.
Like I mentioned, we went with the inner cabin (cheapest) as we didn’t see a benefit of spending more on a room with a view when we wouldn’t be spending all that much time there anyway.
Writing this from the plane, I don’t have exact numbers on what that cruise cost, Marla would have to check later, but suffice it to say that it was quite similar to the current Royal Caribbean rates.
When I was perusing the site last weekend, our 7 night Southern Caribbean cruise started at $399 per person. That’s 7 nights for a room with an attendant, a private waiter for dinner and all you can eat, whenever you want to eat, all for $57 per person, per night.
You’d be hard pressed to find a hotel for that price, let alone one that provides all the food, the service and the built in transportation (while you’re sleeping that ship’sa movin’).
Yes I could, and probably would, argue that Airbnb is quite a similar deal depending on the host, but comparing them is kind of like comparing apples to the space shuttle. One is great for you and inevitably makes you feel good, while the other has all of your amenities covered while taking you where you need to go. They’re very different, albeit both excellent travel options.
A cruise is without question an amazing deal for anyone who lives near a Port of Call. Taking the cost of airfare out of the situation really makes it a total steal (hence our attempt at finding rewards flights), but we’re not all that lucky.
How Much Better Was Our Deal?
So I mentioned that our cruise started at $399. Well that’s what it said on the site, until I checked on the details. I’m assuming it’s a result of the rapidly approaching departure and the lack of booked staterooms, but our Large Oceanview Stateroom was only $379, $20 cheaper than the tinier rooms without a view.
In short, cruises are definitely a great deal if you don’t get screwed on the airfare. Just keep in mind that these numbers I mention refer to an established route with an established ship. If you want the latest and greatest ship, expect to pay through the nose.
For example, the Oasis of the Seas, just launched last year, has run over $1000 per person for the inner staterooms. Maybe ziplining across the ship and being a part of the latest and greatest makes it worth it to you, but if you’re open to trying excellent ships that have been on the water for a little longer, you’ll be in for some major savings.
Have you ever taken a cruise before? What cruise line, ship and route did you take? What was your opinion on the overall value of your cruise experience? Let us know in the comments.