Family Reunion Vacation–A Cruise with Carnival

After a couple of weeks of research, I just settled on our family reunion vacation for next March–a Carnival Cruise. It’s pretty hard to get family members from all over the country, with different vacation schedules and different budgets to go along with a single plan!

We had to go with my sister’s schedule because she’s a teacher and it’s hard to get off any other time but official holidays and vacations.

Choosing the Best Family Reunion Vacation

It’s really hard to pick a place for all ages, and all budgets that will keep everyone happy on a family reunion vacation. Some of the older folks don’t like to walk too much and aren’t into sports, some mostly want a relaxing vacation by the pool while others like a lot of sightseeing. Also, we didn’t want anyone to fight over where to eat and the dinner checks. My initial though was an all-inclusive resort but I only found a handful in the U.S. (in my opinion, this is a business opportunity) and most of our group did not want to fly internationally. We decided a cruise was the best choice.

Then we had to choose a port to start. We have family in Chicago, Houston, Tennessee and California. We decided to choose somewhere within driving distance of Nashville because some of the Chicago and Houston gang are affiliated with the airlines and can fly standby for free, and we are in California and have airline miles to fly free. So the driving distance from Nashville restricted us to northern Florida, Mobile and New Orleans.

Thank goodness for search engines because when you plug in our limited dates and ports, the only choices were a couple of Carnival Cruises out of either New Orleans or Jacksonville. I called Carnival directly to find out which of the two would be a better choice during spring break with less partying college students. Carnival advised the cruise out of New Orleans would have fewer students, so that made our choice–Carnival Elation out of New Orleans.

Family Reunion Vacation on the Carnival Elation
Family Reunion Vacation on the Carnival Elation

Finding the Best Price and Bonus Miles/Points

My next step was to see where I could get the lowest price for the cruise and/or the most points for using a particular credit card or booking system. I discovered every single website, including Carnival’s online reservation system, offered exactly the same price and no additional benefits on the cruise itself. I also checked with a travel agent and her price was exactly the same as all the rest. Since everyone wanted a different type of stateroom, we decided to let everyone book separately. The minimum number of cabins for a discount is 10, which we fell short of reaching.

American Airlines was offering 2 miles per dollar spent but by the time I was ready to put down a deposit, the deal changed to 1 mile per dollar spent. Travelocity and CruiseDirect were offering 2 points per dollar spent via Chase’s Membership Rewards if I use my new Ink Bold credit card. I found the CruiseDirect site easier to use than Travelocity so that’s what I went with for our cabin. My parents went through American for AA miles. We all chose the same dining time so we can arrange a big table together.

Pre- & Post-Cruise Accommodations

Several of us are flying into New Orleans late afternoon the day before the cruise. We are using 4000 SPG Starwood points to stay for free at the Four Points airport location instead of the lowest rate of $149. After the cruise we are staying at the Four Points in the French Quarter for a weekend rate of $139 for a Saturday night and $99 for a Sunday night. I called Four Points directly for this pricing and it took the reservationist quite a while to find these awesome rates. I had been quoted over $200 per night when looking online. (See my post about researching the best hotel accommodations.)

Still A Few More Details Left to Arrange

We still have to decide and book a few more details like arranging group dining, booking excursions and planning some fun activities but it seems like the hardest part is done. I’m really looking forward to a great time!

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