I would advise you to book your excursions on-line as soon as you decide which ones you want. The more popular excursions go quickly and you wouldn't want to get to the ship and find out they were sold out.
Welcome to cruise-chat and congratulations on your first cruise with your family.
Good evening goin'cruisin',
you bring a question to mind for me: on Princess your credit card is not tapped until you are off the ship; do other lines charge as you book? I actually like the way you mention better--if you don't keep a running tally you can get a pretty nasty surprise at the end of your trip.
Good evening....When booking through RCCL, I start with the deposit and if I so choose, I'll make periodic payments, a couple hundred one month, a couple hundred the next month, etc. Then, when the balance is due, it's not much. If I book excursions through RCCL, same thing; I'll plan one purchase a month until I'm done.
Obviously, your're still paying the same amount, but it's just not quite as painful. Plus, throughout the whole process, I'm racking up double Royal points towards my next free cruise (remembering to pay the balance in full each month means it truly will be a free cruise, or a nice upgrade).
On Princess you can do that with the deposit and cruise fare--make incremental payments; but the shore excursions and spa services go on the shipboard account and can't be paid off until the end of the trip.
You can actually earn a free cruise? I've got to put a bug in Princess' ear. They have a "referral rewards" program but it dosen't amount to much and is only good for shipboard credit.
Go to RCL website; it's explained fairly well. Of course, it takes an arm and a leg in charges to get the free cruise ($125,000 in charges rewards you with a free cruise, 7 night Mexican Riviera or Caribbean, outside state room for two). We upgraded to the JS and received a $2500 credit. We charge darn near everything on our RCL credit card, from insurance premiums to groceries, to philanthropic endeavors. In 2005, I charged 11 bookings for our 7 night Alaskan trip, which resulted in about 36,000 of the 125,000 credits (double credits when charging an RCL purchase) needed for the freebie. Again, it's not a free cruise (or upgrade) if you don't pay off the monthly balance in full. In the big picture, $2500 isn't that much money, but as my wise father often said, you'll never go broke taking a profit. He and I were also co-inventors of copper wire.....
we were fighting over a penny.
Regarding excursions, we purchase in advance; frankly, I haven't done the spa thing yet. I don't know if you can pay for a spa treatment in advance. My on board charges come when the cruise is over. No big thang.
I am going to tell you about some of my experiences - which may or may not be helpful.
Depending on the port and the type of tour you are taking you can generally get a much better deal if you go ashore and take a tour with a local operator who is not paying a commission to the shipline.
For example, last month in Aruba, the ship was selling a 3 hour island tour for $45. We took the exact same tour from a local operator for $10 plus a $5 tip. We saved nearly a $100 by walking off the ship and buying the tour locally. While the savings are not always that great - expect to pay half of what the ship charges.
That said, if you are taking an all day tour that goes a long distance from the ship it is usually best to book it through the ship as they will not leave until you return (if the tour is delayed for some reason) - which is not the case if you book it locally.
For specialty tours that you know you want to do, you can check out local operators on the internet and inquire about tours with them. For example, for diving, he rates are much better, but you will usually have to book an afternoon dive as the ships generally arrive too late in the morning to take the morning dive trip. But with a little advance work, you can save a lot of money.
I am not a big fan of booking ahead as I am not always sure about what I will want to do that far in advance. Popular tours do sell quickly, but I have found that the ship will often add additonal tours if the demand for that tour is there.
In November we put into Guatamala and at the last minute we decided to take an all day tour to Antigua. The tour was sold out when I inquired about it the night before, but by the next day the ship had booked two additional buses and everybody went - in a caravan of six busses.
I stress this is not always the case, but I have found that if one interesting tour is sold out, there is another one that is just as interesting.
However, if you like structure and order then booking ahead is the best option. Also, for a first time cruiser you might feel more secure booking through the ship.
I did that on our first cruise, then gritted my teeth in silence at dinner when people at the table were telling me what they paid for a local tour that I had booked through the ship.
It really just depends on how adventurous and flexible you are -and in my case - how much of a skinflint you are.
Whatever you elect to do - have a great first cruise!