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How to Plan a Family Caribbean Cruise Vacation

With sun-drenched beaches, balmy tropical weather, and a blend of vibrant cultures, the Caribbean is one of the world’s most popular family vacation spots. It’s a place where life slows down just enough to let you relax and where the entire family can find something to do. When you combine a tropical destination with a family cruise, you get a fun-filled vacation and plenty of quality time.

If you’ve never been on a cruise vacation, get ready to experience the ultimate in vacation ease. Once you get on the ship, you’re on your own schedule and can be in complete vacation mode. Instead of dealing with the usual travel logistics of arranging transportation or searching for a restaurant that pleases everyone’s palate, you get to relax and enjoy the ship’s amenities on your way to the ports of call. It all starts with a little planning.

2 kids laying on an inflatable pineapple and watermelon float during a cruise

Decide on a Destination

For most people, the simplest way to start planning a cruise to the Caribbean is to choose a destination. Carnival sails to the Eastern, Western, and Southern Caribbean, with stops in The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Belize, U.S. Virgin Islands, and more. You’ll find beaches, shopping, and exciting shore excursions at each port of call, so the deciding factor is likely what you want to see and do when you’re on shore. You can tour Mayan ruins near Cozumel, swim with dolphins in Amber Cove, or ride a zip line through the rainforest in St. Lucia, and that’s just the beginning.

parent and child getting ready to zip line over the countryside of st maarten as a worker observes

You can choose from an assortment of shore excursions that appeal to the entire family and enhance the vacation experience, including:

Imagine the delight in your children’s eyes as they snorkel with sea turtles or ride in a submarine to get a glimpse of marine life and coral reefs near a shipwreck. Grab the family and escape on a catamaran to a private spot for swimming and snorkeling in clear, turquoise water. Indulge your wild side with a tour through the Everglades or buggy ride through sand dunes.

mother holding up her daughter as they swim in the caribbean sea

Select a Sailing Date

One of the best features of a Caribbean cruise vacation is the fact that you can schedule the trip for dates that fit within your schedule. Carnival ships sail to the region year round with convenient itineraries that range from two to more than six days. Shorter cruises that last two to five days take you to up to three ports of call, but longer cruises give you a chance to visit even more destinations.

aerial view of carnival horizon sailing past caribbean islands

Do you need a quick escape from freezing temperatures and snow? A four day winter cruise from Miami to Grand Turk will warm you up enough to make it through the winter. Are the kids out of school for an extended holiday in April? Make the most of the time off with a five day cruise from Tampa to Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Is it time to schedule the next family reunion for next July? Get the whole crew on board for an eight day cruise on Carnival Horizon® featuring SkyRide®, Dr. Seuss Bookville, and The Chef’s Table.

Additional Travel Arrangements

As you consider dates, you also have to think about how you’re going to get to the departure port. Unless you live close enough to drive to the cruise terminal, you need to make flight arrangements. Ideally, you should arrive a day before your cruise leaves so that you have plenty of time to get there on time and start your vacation feeling relaxed.

couple holding each other as they get ready to board a carnival ship with their suitcases

If you’re arriving a day or so early, consider choosing an interesting departure port city you’d like to explore with your family as part of your overall vacation. You can spend a few days there before or after the cruise having some fun on dry land before you head out to sea or before you head home. In addition, you may be able to choose a departure port that’s close to where other family members live, allowing your children to visit relatives who don’t live near you.

Check Out the On Board Activities

On Carnival cruises, the fun begins when you step on board, so spend some time perusing the available onboard activities. Your cruise itinerary includes at least two days at sea when you can explore the ship and take part in a variety of entertainment options. Take the whole family to WaterWorks, the onboard waterpark where you can splash and slide and swim or enjoy a friendly game of basketball or mini golf at SportSquare.

Other on board activities include:

aerial view of a woman riding a blue skyride over the pool of a carnival ship

Choose a Stateroom

Keep all this in mind as you select your stateroom. You can choose between a suite, balcony, oceanview, and interior room. A private balcony is a serene spot to watch the water, but you may not use it much if you’re traveling with small children. Interior rooms are a budget-friendly option, especially when you consider how much time you’ll actually spend there. Note the location of the room as well. Rooms in the back of the ship are usually closer to the dining area, where as the rooms in the front are closer to the spa. If it’s important to be near the center of the action, be sure to book towards the middle of the ship where you can find all the fun activities.

a mother closing the balcony door of her stateroom as her son takes a picture and her daughter colors in a coloring book

Pay for the Cruise

When you know where and when you want to go, it’s time to take care of the final details. Carnival EasyPay makes it easy to pay for your cruise in installments if you opt for an eligible sailing. You just pay a deposit when you book your vacation and then make monthly payments until your sail date so you can focus your attention on getting ready for the big trip.

Plan More Fun with Carnival® Mastercard®

As part of getting ready for your trip, make your family cruise to the Caribbean even more fun with a Carnival Mastercard. For example, when you want to try shore excursions like whitewater rafting or a turtle encounter, you’ll receive a reFUNd or percentage back when you book with your card on, prior to your cruise.

This helps every member of your family see and do more within your budget – on your cruise of a lifetime.

Also, when you use your card for the first time, get set to earn bonus FunPoints®. You can redeem the points for a statement credit. Double FunPoints are yours when you make any purchase on Carnival Cruise Line and World’s Leading Cruise Lines brands, plus you’ll earn one FunPoint on all other purchases. You’ll also reap the benefits of no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

All in all, this means happy spending, and earning with FunPoints, on your family cruise vacation to the Caribbean!  Learn more.

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Start Packing

Start thinking about what you’re going to pack for the cruise a few weeks before your departure. You’ll need casual attire—think shorts, khakis, and summer dresses for the day—and a few dressier items for the evening if you plan to eat in the main dining room. Bring a swimsuit, cover-up, and water shoes or non-slip boat shoes with traction to wear at the pool and make sure everyone has a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen to ward off the sun’s rays. Bring your passports, medication, and necessities for the kids in a carry-on bag.

3 friends talking in their bathing suits next to the pool on a carnival ship

Before you know it, you’ll be ready for your voyage. We’ll take over from there to make sure you and your loved ones enjoy an unforgettable vacation experience in a tropical paradise.

Note: Onboard activities, shore excursions, and dining options may vary by ship and destination.