Florida cruising: Not all cruises are the same

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As the weather starts to get colder and snow becomes part of the weather forecast, it’s only to be expected that people start thinking about planning a winter getaway.  Many times their vacation is a cruise out of Florida and specifically out of Miami.  But just because you’ve always cruised out of Miami in the past doesn’t mean that Miami is the only cruise port in the entire of state of Florida.

In addition to Miami, cruise passengers enjoy cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Port Canaveral, and Jacksonville.  Why would you want to cruise out of an alternate port?  When you shop for a cruise, besides looking at price, you should also look at itinerary, cruise line, and cruise ship.

Then you’ll start to compare apples to apples to see which cruise is the best one for you.  By this I mean you should compare mass market cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line) with each other as well as ships within the same cruise line.  What you shouldn’t do is compare different styles of cruise lines with each other like comparing a luxury line with a mass market cruise line.  They’re not the same and what you get for your money will be different with each one.

Many times people will only focus on the cruise ships that leave out of a port that they have sailed from in the past, such as Miami.  But if you open up your port cities to others in Florida as well, you might be in for a little surprise.  Instinctively, some people will choose the lowest fare thinking that’s the best bargain.  However, they still need to get to their port city, unless, of course, they happen to live there already.  For most of us that means a flight to Florida, which, depending on the time of year, can range from average to ridiculous.

8EBF26F6-9D02-4F84-BB55-83A71E8606E4_zps43ijeghqIf you’re feeling confused by what I’m saying, don’t be.  Basically, think about the ports you want to see while you’re on vacation and have a general idea of a budget.  Then go to town on looking at several different cruises sailing to these ports, including ones out of port cities you might have overlooked previously.  The next step is to price airfare to each of these cities for the dates you’ll be on your cruise.  I always recommend leaving a day early in case there are any flight delays or cancellations, especially in the winter with bad weather.

You now have your cruise fare, which should be the total cruise fare with taxes and fees as well as airfare.  These two numbers together create the basis for a numerical comparison in which you can eliminate those cruises that don’t fit into your budget.  You’ll be surprised when you see that the price differences vary widely and there might be a cruise that is completely what you want and needed, but you didn’t even know it existed.

Let’s compare a few possible cruises right now on sailings out of Florida in February 2014:

  1. Norwegian Epic (W. Caribbean): February 9th out of Miami: Balcony cabin $599 per person – airfare BWI to Miami: $262 per person
  2. 2.     Norwegian Dawn (W. Caribbean): February 9th out of Tampa: Balcony cabin $1199 per person – airfare BWI to Tampa: $218 per person
  3. Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas (E. Caribbean): February 9th out of Port Canaveral: Balcony cabin $1199 per person – airfare BWI to Orlando: $240 per person
  4. Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas (W. Caribbean): February 8th out of Fort Lauderdale: Balcony cabin $1499 per person – airfare BWI to Fort Lauderdale: $181 per person

*Rates provided for cruise and airfare are the rates available at the time of this writing and are subject to change.

Granted, the ships are similar, but aren’t the same.  After all, the Oasis of the Seas is the second largest ship available and comes in only  two inches smaller than her sister ship, the Allure of the Seas.  Although in this example, one might say that it would be easy to make the right choice as they would go for the least expensive, remember least expensive doesn’t always mean the best.  Additionally, although I’ve chosen BWI (Baltimore/Washington International Airport), you might want to also check alternate airports such as DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport), or even IAD (Washington Dulles).  Play around with the rates for airfare and also watch out for specials from the cruise lines.

In addition to saving money, you’ll also get the opportunity to try something new while learning about a new area.  Maybe you’ve never been to Tampa or Jacksonville and know nothing at all about them.  Or maybe you’ve never been to Disney World and you can now combine a cruise with your much anticipated Disney trip.

Take the time to do your research and consider a cruise out of an alternate Florida cruise port and you’ll end up feeling informed and entertained on your next vacation.

Next week: Baltimore cruising