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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

So You Want to Cruise for College Spring Break?


Let's face it - ever since we have returned to school after Christmas break, the topic on everyone's minds has been spring break.  When you're looking at another semester of school beginning with a few months of cold and no football to help get you through, spring break is something to look forward to.  And for the under 21 crowd, a logical solution is to leave the country, and an easy (often airfare-free) way to do it is on a cruise.

Before you book your spring break cruise, keep in mind that different cruise lines have different rules and restrictions regarding the minimum age to cruise without a parent or legal guardian, alcohol consumption, as well as evening dress code.  Just because the price looks doable doesn't mean that you'll be able to sail or that there aren't additional "hidden" fees awaiting you once you board (keep in mind that in addition to that buyer-friendly price listed, you'll have to pay $100-200 in taxes and port fees).  I've scoured the FAQs and message boards to bring you all of the basics that you should consider when booking your college spring break cruise.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival is appealing to young adult cruisers because of the extremely low fares (the cruise line still seems to be suffering from the power losses on the Carnival Triumph and Carnival Dream last year).  However, the super low fares may be why the cruise line has the most strict age requirements.

Age Restrictions: Guests under the age of 21 MUST travel with a relative or guardian 25 years of age or older.  However, your guardian does not have to be a legal guardian.  So if you have a sibling or friend who is 25 years of age or older and willing to take responsibility for you in case you become injured or wind up in trouble, then you're all set to go.  Your room has to be cross-referenced with your guardian's stateroom and documented properly, but for passengers between the ages of 18-20, there is no requirement that the stateroom must be within a certain distance of the guardian's stateroom.  So you could be booked on deck 2 and your guardian could have a room on deck 8.

Guests must be 21 years of age or older to consume alcohol served onboard.  Proper ID with a birth date is required.  Guests must be 18 years of age or older to play the tables or slot machines.

Age Exceptions: Guests under the age of 21 may travel without a parent or guardian if they are legally married (including same-gender couples) and have proper documentation or if they they are qualified US Military Personnel or Canada National Defense personnel (and their guests of 18-20 years of age).  A copy of Military ID will suffice as proof of service.

Liquor and Beverage Policy: Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages onboard.  However, at the beginning of the cruise, guests 21 and older may bring one sealed 750-ml bottle of wine or champagne, per person, in their carry-on luggage.  There will be a $10 corkage fee if consumed in the main dining room or a $14 corkage fee if consumed in the steakhouse.

Beverage Package: Carnival's CHEERS! Beverage Program is now offered on all ships with the exception of the Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Sensation, and Carnival Spirit.  The program costs $49.95 per person, per day plus 15% gratuity at the time of purchase.  CHEERS! includes all spirits, including cocktails, and as well as beer and wine by the glass with a $10 or lower menu price.  You can also have unlimited soft drinks and non-alcoholic frozen drinks.  In addition, CHEERS! entitles you to a 25% discount off bottled water, 25% discount off the menu price of any spirit or wine drink above $10, and a 25% discount off the menu price for wine or champagne by the bottle.  The package excludes beverages served in a souvenir glass, bottles of liquor, and coffee beverages.  Carnival serves Coke products, and the unlimited soda packages are $6.00 per day for adults, plus 15% gratuity at time of purchase.

Dress Code: Most evenings have a cruise casual dress code during which men may wear sports slacks, khakis, jeans (no cut-offs), long dress shorts, and a collared sports shirt.  Ladies may wear casual dresses, casual skirts or pants and blouses, capri pants, dress shorts, or jeans (no cut-offs).  Depending on the length of your cruise, there may be one or two Elegant Nights where Carnival asks you to abide by a more formal dress code or eat at the buffet on the Lido deck if you prefer to remain casual.  Men should wear dress slacks and dress shirts, and they suggest a sport coat.  You can of course go more formal with a suit or tuxedo.  Ladies should wear cocktail dresses, pantsuits, or elegant skirts and blouses.  And more formal evening gowns are also welcome (an opportunity to re-wear a semi-formal or formal dress....).

Dining Style: Carnival still has a "traditional" cruise dining style for the evenings.  There are set dining times - usually a main dining time around 5-6 PM and a late dining time around 8-8:30 PM.  If you choose to eat in the dining room, you will have a set table and be attended to by the same dining staff every night.  If you want more flexibility, there is also a Your Time dining option which allows you to dine with no reservation in the dining room any time between 5:45 PM and 9:30 PM on a first come, first serve basis.  There is limited availability with Your Time dining, so if you're booking a rather last-minute cruise, you may find that it is unavailable.  You can always check with the Maitre D' as soon as you board to see if you can change your dining time.  If you prefer not to dress up in the evenings, the Lido buffet is open for dinner in the evenings.  In addition to the buffet and main dining rooms, many Carnival ships also have signature dining options for an additional fee.

Additional Costs: Gratuities are $11.50 per person, per day, and you'll automatically be charged.  You'll have to pay for soft drinks, alcohol, and signature dining (the Carnival Steakhouse is $35 per person), as well as any spa treatments and shore excursions.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney is for little kids, you say?  Well, it turns out that Disney is the only cruise line which allows guests 18-20 to sail without a guardian 21 or older.  I suppose with its reputation for being a kid-friendly cruise line, and not to mention ridiculously high prices, the rowdy college spring break crowd isn't something that Disney has to deal with often.  So if you don't mind shelling out twice as much (or more!) money as you would for a cruise on Carnival, you can cruise with your minor friends, no chaperone necessary!  Also, Disney is the only cruise line to bring as much alcohol as you can carry onboard, provided that you are of the legal drinking age.

Age Restrictions: Any passenger under the age of 18 must be traveling in the same stateroom with a passenger 21 years of age or older.

The minimum age to purchase and consume alcohol on board is 21.  Valid photo identification is required.
For roundtrip cruises departing from European countries where the legal drinking age is lower than 21, a parent or guardian may sign a beverage consent form allowing their 18-20 year old to purchase alcoholic beverages while in their presence on board.

Age Exceptions: N/A

Liquor and Beverage Policy: Adult guests ages 21 and older may bring alcohol on board.  Alcohol brought on board may not be consumed in any lounge or public area.  Guests who arrive in the dining room with a bottle or champagne or wine that has been brought on board will be charged a corking fee of $20 per bottle.  Beverages must be packed in your carry-on bag which must not exceed 22 inches wide, 14 inches high, and 9 inches deep in dimension.  Coolers filled with personal items may not be brought on board.

Beverage Package: N/A

Dress Code: Most nights are "cruise casual," and the only listed restriction is no swimwear or tank tops.  7-night or longer cruises have one formal and one semi-formal night.  While optional, Disney recommends dress pants with a jacket or a suit for men, and a dress or pantsuit for women.  There is also one optional dress-up night on 3 and 4-night cruises.

Dining Style: Disney has unique rotational dining.  There are three restaurants on each ship that you rotate between, and your dining team rotates with you.  This concept allows you to have a different atmosphere every night, but you still get to know your wait staff.  Disney also has an adults-only signature restaurant, Palo on all four ships which you can dine at for an additional $25 per person.  On the Disney Dream and Fantasy, the adults-only Remy offers a five-star dining experience for an additional $75 per person.  If you don't feel like eating at your specific dining time, the Cabanas/Topsider's buffet is usually open for dinner.

Additional Costs: Gratuities are $12 per person, per day, and you may choose to pre-pay.  Soft drinks are complimentary on the pool deck and in the dining room, but you'll need to pay for them when ordering from a bar or room service.  Alcohol, dining at Palo/Remy, shore excursions, and spa treatments are additional costs.

Norwegian Cruise Line

NCL is a great option for the college-age crowd because not only are the fares incredibly reasonable, but NCL is the only cruise line departing from the US which allows passengers ages 18-20 to consume wine or beer with a parent-signed waiver.  Of course, the waiver has to be signed on the ship, so your parent would need to cruise with you....

Age Restrictions: Any passenger under the age of 21 must be accompanied in the same stateroom or connecting stateroom by a passenger 21 years of age or older at the time of embarkation.  Now, just because you're booked in a room doesn't mean that you have to sleep in a room, so you could do some rearranging once onboard by requesting spare room keys from Guest Relations.

Passengers must be 21 years of age or older to purchase or consume alcohol.
With the exception of Alaska and Hawaii itineraries, Norwegian permits young adults to purchase and personally consume wine and beer only while onboard and with the consent of an accompanying parent. Authorization will be given only when the accompanying parent completes the Young Adult Alcoholic Beverage Waiver form. This form can be obtained and completed at the Guest Services Desk upon embarkation of the vessel. However, passengers 18 years of age or older are permitted to consume alcoholic beverages when sailing on round-trip European voyages without having to complete the Young Adult Alcoholic Beverage Waiver form.

Age Exceptions: Two people under the age of 21 may travel together in the same stateroom if they are a married couple and provide proof of marriage at the time of check-in.

Liquor and Beverage Policy: Guests may bring bottles of wine and champagne on board.  When bottles are brought on board and served or consumed in any restaurant, public area or in their stateroom, a corkage fee will be charged according to bottle sizes.
750 ml Bottle: $15.00
1,500 ml Magnum: $30.00
Wine or champagne sent directly to the ship by travel agents, friends, family, etc. or from another retail source, are subject to the same fees. Box wines are not allowed on board.

Beverage Package: Norwegian offers an Ultimate Beverage Package for $49 per person, per day, plus 15% gratuity at the time of purchase.  It must be booked by everyone in the stateroom 21 or older, and anyone under 21 must book the Ultimate Soda Package.  There are restrictions on what drinks you can get on the package.  For example, the beer may be of no value greater than $5.50.  You may only get one drink at a time.  For a complete list of what is included, go here.  NCL serves Pepsi products, and the Unlimited Fountain Soda package is $6.50 per person, per day plus 15% gratuity at the time of purchase.

Dress Code: The dress code is cruise casual anytime during the day, in the buffet, and in most specialty restaurants.  Men can wear khakis, jeans, shorts, and casual shorts.  Ladies can wear casual dresses, skirts, pants, shorts, and jeans.  NCL enforces smart casual attire for the more formal aft main dining room and in Le Bistro on cruises that are longer than five days.  For ladies, it includes slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts, and tops.  For men, that means jeans or slacks with a collared shirt and closed-toed shoes.  Traditional Bermuda shorts along with long socks, loafers, and a blazer are acceptable on a Bermuda cruise itinerary.  NCL also has a "Dress-Up or Not Night" where you have the opportunity to dress as elegantly as you'd like (you can do that any and every night of the cruise if you'd like) with photo opportunities with the ship's Captain.

Dining Style: Norwegian offers Freestyle Cruising which is the concept that it's your vacation and you can dine whenever and wherever you would like.  NCL offers open seating in a variety of restaurants.  There are also several specialty restaurants for an additional charge that you may make reservations for.

Additional Costs: Rather than gratuities, NCL has a service charge of $12 per person, per day which is automatically added to your cruise reservation.  Soft drinks, alcohol, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, shore excursions, and passes to an exclusive sun deck area are additional costs.

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean offers a variety of different sailings from 3 or 4-night getaways to 7-night vacations on the largest two ships sailing the Caribbean.  This cruise line offers something for everyone.

Age Restrictions: Royal Caribbean International's minimum age to sail unaccompanied on cruises departing from North America is 21, and the minimum age to sail unaccompanied on cruises departing from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand is 18.  No guest younger than 21 will be assigned to a stateroom unless accompanied in a stateroom by an adult 21 years or older.  The guest's age is established upon the first date of sailing.

The minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean International ships on sailings departing from North America is 21.  The minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean International ships on sailings from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand is 18.  The minimum age to consume alcohol at all private destinations remains 21 without regard to where the sailing originated.  The company retains the right, on rare occasions, to raise the minimum age of alcohol consumption on any sailing when local laws require or permit such a modification.

Age Exceptions: The age limit will be waived for children sailing with their parents or guardians in connecting staterooms, for underage married couples, and for active duty members of the United States or Canadian military.

Liquor and Beverage Policy: Guests may bring personal wine and champagne onboard only on boarding day, limited to two 750 ml bottles per stateroom.  When consumed in any public area, each bottle is subject to a $25 corkage fee.  Alcoholic beverages that are purchased in ports of call or from onboard shops will be stored by the ship and delivered to the guests on the last day of the sailing.  Security may inspect containers (water bottles, soda bottles, mouthwash, luggage, etc.) and will dispose of containers holding alcohol.  Guests who violate any alcohol policies (over consume, provide alcohol to people under age 21, demonstrate irresponsible behavior, or attempt to conceal alcoholic items at security or luggage check points or any other time) may be disembarked or not allowed to board at their own expense, in accordance with Royal Caribbean International's Guest Conduct Policy.

Beverage Package: Royal Caribbean offers an All-Inclusive Beverage Package which may be purchased on sailings 4 days or longer.  Royal Caribbean sells Coca-Cola Products, and the unlimited Fountain Soda Package is $6.00 per adult, per day, plus 15% gratuities at the time of purchase.

Dress Code: Royal Caribbean has three different dress codes designated throughout the cruise.  Casual indicates sport shirts and slacks for men and sundresses or pants for ladies.  Smart Casual is hardly at all casual, asking men to wear jackets and ties, and ladies to wear dresses or pantsuits.  And Formal indicates suits and ties or tuxedos for men and cocktail dresses for ladies.  There are always more casual nights than any other.  On a 7-day cruise, there are 4 casual nights, 1 smart casual night, and 2 formal nights.  Royal Caribbean offers a detailed list regarding what to pack on their website.

Dining Style: Royal Caribbean International offers a traditional cruise dining style.  On all ships, there is one multi-level main dining room which you'll eat in every night.  The main dining time occurs between 5-6 PM, and the late dining time typically takes place between 8-8:30 PM.  You'll be served at the same table by the same wait staff every night.  Royal Caribbean also offers My Time Dining, which allows you to dine in the main dining room without reservations at whatever time you'd like.  There is limited availability for My Time Dining.  If you would prefer My Time Dining and are unable to book it prior to your cruise, visit the Maitre D' on embarkation day to make your request.  If you prefer not to dress up in the evenings, the Windjammer buffet is open all evenings for dinner.  In addition to the buffet and main dining room, Royal Caribbean ships also have a few signature dining options for an additional fee which you may make a reservation for.

Additional Costs: Royal Caribbean recently implemented an Automatic Gratuity Program which charges guests $12.00 per person, per day (and $14.25 per person, per day for suite guests).  Other additional costs include soft drinks, alcohol, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, and shore excursions.

Princess Cruises

Princess has had in the past a bit of reputation for catering towards more mature passengers, but with new ships like the Royal and Regal sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, as well as the 4 and 5-night (or 9-night) Cozumel getaways on the Ruby, the cruise line is beginning to attract a younger audience.  Low fares and promotions also make Princess a good option for spring break cruising.

Age Restrictions: Passengers under the age of 21 must travel in a stateroom with a passenger 21 years or older who shall assume responsibility for their care during the cruise.  For family groups booking multiple staterooms, the minimum age for each stateroom is 16 years of age, provided they are traveling with a parent or legal guardian.

Passengers must be 21 or older to purchase and consume alcohol and gamble.  This includes the casino, cash prize bingo and horse racing.

Age Exceptions: N/A

Liquor and Beverage Policy: As provided in the Passage Contract, passengers agree not to bring alcoholic beverages of any kind onboard for consumption, except one bottle of wine or champagne per adult of drinking age (no larger than 750 ml) per voyage, which will not be subject to a corkage fee if consumed in the stateroom.  Additional wine or champagne bottles are welcome, but will incur a $15 corkage fee each, irrespective of where they are intended to be consumed.  Liquor, spirits, and beers are not permitted.

Beverage Package: Princess serves Pepsi products.  The Unlimited Soda Package is $5.18 per person, per day.  The Unlimited Soda & More Package includes all soda products, as well as mocktails, juices, shakes, floats, and hot chocolate and is $8.05 per person, per day.

Dress Code: Princess has two dining room dress code designations: Smart Casual and Formal.  Smart Casual suggests skirts or dresses and sweaters for the ladies and pants and open-neck shirts for men.  Formal suggests evening gowns or cocktail dresses for ladies and tuxedos, dinner jackets, or dark suits with a tie for men.  Guests wishing to dress more casually may dine in the Horizon Court buffet.

Dining Style: Princess still has traditional dining with two to three set seating times which you may request upon booking.  If you would like a different dining time that was unavailable when booking, you may make a request with the Maitre D' on embarkation day.  Princess also has an Anytime Dining option which allows you to dine in a main dining room with no reservations.  Lately, Princess has been making a big push towards Anytime Dining and dedicated two of the three dining rooms on the Royal Princess to Anytime Dining.  In just a year, Anytime Dining has gone from a new, faulty system to one that works very well.  In addition to the dining rooms, if you prefer to dress more casually for dinner, the Horizon Court buffet serves dinner.  There are also a few specialty restaurants for an additional charge that you may dine in.

Additional Costs: Gratuities are $11.50 per person, per day ($12 per person, per day for passengers in mini-suites and suites) and will be automatically added to your onboard account.  Other additional costs include soda, alcohol, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, and shore excursions.

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