I won’t lie to you, I still flinch each time I try to price travel to Europe for our family of four now… particularly because I can still look back on our foray into France as newlyweds when Tim and I managed to spend 9 days in Paris for $1644 USD, total. Yep, that was airfare for both of us, 2-star hotels (one of course on the Rue de Rivoli), all meals, Metro and RER tickets, museums, and even a couple of tacky souvenirs. Of course, we went in February (not a fountain was running and the gardens weren’t much to see), but who can beat a Valentine’s Day walk along the Seine and rain-drizzled kisses on the steps of Sacre Coeur?
Now we might count ourselves lucky to both fly roundtrip to Europe for that price–and then there are the kids’ tickets. At least the kisses are gratis.
To those of you hoping to plan a family vacation to Europe in the next year, you might just consider working a cruise into your visit, especially when you consider this: MSC Cruises, an Italian, family-owned cruise line that is not widely known in the US, is letting children 17 years and younger cruise free when they sail with two paying adults.
When you can book the adults at 50% or more off the brochure price, and have two children (even teenagers!) cruising and dining with you FREE, you may actually manage to shelter and feed your family for a week onboard for less than you could on land with current exchange rates (and you won’t have to live on a diet of jambon crudité). Not to mention, that includes transportation between multiple destinations, with no re-packing required. But where can you go on a cruise in Europe?
Here are just a couple of the eye-catching “kids-FREE” itineraries I’ve noted:
7 days RT from Venice, with stops in Bari, Italy; Rhodes, Greece; Athens; Argostoli, Greece; and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
8 days RT from Barcelona, with stops in: Genoa, Italy; Malaga, Spain; Cadiz, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Gibraltar, UK Ter.; and Alicante, Spain.
Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this offer widely advertised–or even mentioned on many cruise websites, even when I go through the motions of of pricing qualifying MSC cruises (read MSC’s explanation of the offer here). Rest assured you can get this deal, however, and on all MSC Mediterranean cruises departing now through 2009–even during peak seasons and school vacations (though the discount you can get on your adult price will vary).
The best site I’ve found for navigating to and through these kids-FREE cruises online–and comparing available discounts and dates–is www.vacationstogo.com. You will have to sign up for their Fast Deals email, but if you’re considering cruising at all, I recommend this site as a resource–and no I don’t get a kick-back for your click-through, darn it.) To see for yourself, follow these steps:
– Click the orange “Find a Deal” button
– Choose the region: Mediterranean
– Choose the month (plus one if you like)
– Choose the cruise line: MSC Cruises
– Click “Show me the deals”
You’ll see a list of all the departure dates during the month(s) along with some other basic details–including “Kids Free” for each of these cruises. Click the FastDeals number to see the specific itinerary and category discounted prices for each departure.
Since MSC is an Italian, family-owned cruise line, you can bet you’ll still be surrounded by other cultures and languages, even as you cruise–which is of course at least half the reason for venturing overseas. Paid babysitting and free supervised activities are also available for potty-trained children 3 years and older on most of these cruises.
For more help picking and planning a cruise with babies and small children, be sure to check out Part 7 of Travels with Baby.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
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