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Are Carnival Cruises From Close-to-Home Ports Worth It?

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You’ve seen the cruise deals advertised from local ports, such as Baltimore and New York, heading to the Bahamas. It’s cold and gray outside and you think your family could use a little sunshine. But upon reviewing the itinerary, you discover you’ll be at see for 4 days and at port for less than 2. Would it be better to fly to Florida and embark on a 6-night cruise that features multiple ports, or are these getaways from the north worth it? We embarked on a six-night Bahamas sailing aboard Carnival Pride from Baltimore to find out.

A little girl meeting Minnie Mouse.What should I consider?
Total price versus budget: When considering a cruise departing from a port close to home, weighing the additional cost of flights for the entire family to jet away is really the top factor. When you can find six-night cruises for as low as $300 per person for the week, it’s tough to beat that deal when you consider food, accommodations and fun are basically all included. How important is it to your family to visit multiple ports, where you’ll add on fees for excursions and dining off the ship? Consider most flights will run you an additional $300 per person and it’s easy to see these close-to-home deals really are steals.

How much there is to do on board: Carnival is known as the Fun Ship, and over the years has been striving to keep it fun, while also being more fun for families. If you’re going to be at sea most of your vacation, (and at sea during cold winter months) you’ll need to be sure the ship you choose has a lot to offer to fill the days, from kids’ programming at Camp Carnival to spa time to evening entertainment. Be sure to examine each ship carefully and choose the ship with lots of space for activities and lots of fun scheduled that will appeal to all ages of those traveling. Luckily, Carnival offers programming for ages 2 through teens, divided into close age groups so kids will make friends fast and have something to keep them busy. You’ll also want to plan ahead and book any spa treatments for at-sea days prior to travelling, as they book fast.

Are ports really important to you: When it takes more than half the time to travel to your destination, even when you reach port you may not get much time to visit. If your goal is to truly visit a port destination, such as the Bahamas, will a few hours be enough for you? On our cruise, we had 12 hours in Nassau, which was ample time to visit Atlantis, which was on the kids’ Bucket List. The following day, however, we only had four hours in Freeport, which really limited what we could do. However, Atlantis was the important stop and the kids were having so much fun on board our cruise, they didn’t mind the short stop in Freeport.

The Royal Palace Dining Room aboard Disney Dream.What do I get for my money?
Accommodations: Carnival features a number of cabins at various price points, but with fares already marked down, consider the splurge of a cabin with a balcony. These rooms provide a king or twin beds, as well as a convertible couch/bed and an additional bunk, to comfortably sleep four. Having a private balcony to enjoy when spending so much time on a ship may make you feel claustrophobic is helpful, and the cabin’s mini bar can be emptied and used to house snacks from the restaurants.

Dining: Carnival’s ships traveling from northeast ports are typically smaller in size and will only provide a couple of dinner dining areas. However, they will provide a plethora of buffet-style and fast food dining options, and food, as ever on a cruise, is plentiful. Dining includes traditional cruise dining at a set time and a set table, as well as a flexible dining option where you may eat whenever and wherever. Included are standard meals with starters, salads, entrees and desserts, as well as water and juices. Soda and alcoholic beverages of any kind are additional, with a variety of packages to save on costs.

Entertainment: Although Carnival touts itself as being the Fun Ship, most of the entertainment provided ends before midnight, with some of the best programming for families taking place during the dinner hours and overlapping with other family-friendly entertainment, which was a little frustrating to my family. However, there was a number of different options during our six-night voyage, including dive-in movies, game nights, family trivia, 80s shows and “clean” comedy hours. Unlike some of the mega ships we have seen, the entertainment wasn’t all glitz and glamour and worthy of Broadway, but the kids couldn’t tell the difference and had a great time, regardless.

Andy's Room Kids' Area aboard Disney Dream.Kids programming: Carnival’s kids’ programming will make your at-sea days worth it. Dividing its Camp Carnival program into age 2 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 11, 12 to 14 and teens, means the kids will truly make friends on board and enjoy age-appropriate games and activities. Operating in the mornings with a break for family time in the afternoons, and then returning for evening activities well into the night, kids can play all day, if they wanted. (Giving mom and dad some alone time for date nights, spa time or to enjoy the adult-only area of the ships.) The smaller ships also make it easy for parents with older kids they can trust to play on their own. Kids can sign in and out of programming themselves, grab food whenever they are hungry, splash in the pools with friends, and generally feel they have some independence.

The atrium lobby aboard the Disney Fantasy decked out for Christmas.Bottom line: Is a short Disney cruise worth the price?
In a word, yes. It feels a lot like a weeklong sleep-away camp, where families make friends with other families and really become connected onboard during at-sea days. There is plenty to do and at low prices, brief stints in the tropical sunshine will be all you need to feel rejuvenated and refreshed. It’s definitely worth considering cruises departing from towns near you. Just drive, park, and let Carnival take care of the rest.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
Carnival Cruises for Families
9 First-Time Cruise Tips for Families

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