If you’re taking a cruise, you’ve likely thought all about the ship and the itinerary when it comes to planning your trip. But have you thought about the hotel?
Often an afterthought in cruise planning, cruise hotels are an important part of your vacation. They can help you start your trip, setting the tone for the rest of your vacation and helping make your embarkation day much less stressful.
But why get a hotel at all? Why not just arrive the morning of your cruise and go straight to board the ship?
If you’re flying into the port, we always recommend arriving the day before your cruise. When you are at the mercy of an airline schedule, there are simply too many things that can go wrong to delay your flight. From simple bad weather to mechanical issues… to even computer shutdowns… there are too many stories of planes being late to arrive. If your flight arrive late on the day of the cruise and you miss your flight? Well, let’s just hope you have travel insurance.
If you’re driving in, it’s not as important to arrive the day before your cruise. Still, arriving early can take the stress out of rushing to the ship to board before it departs. Instead, you can wake up near the ship and leisurely make your way to the cruise. No need to rush or stress with traffic.
Bottom line: It’s a great idea to find a cruise hotel to stay the night before your ship departs. That said, there are some definite things you want to consider before you pick the right place to stay for you. Here’s what we suggest…
If you’re driving in for your cruise and plan on staying in a hotel, then you should definitely look for a hotel that offers a cruise parking package. When you drive in you need to find a place to park your car. Depending on your port, this can be $20 (or more) per day. A weeklong cruise runs up a bill of roughly $150.
Park and cruise packages include parking at the hotel during your cruise. You pay a little more for the room and then you can leave your car while you cruise. It’s a great way to save a bundle of cash. It’s usually not worth staying at a hotel just to book the parking package, but if you plan on staying anyway then definitely book a hotel with a parking package. To help you out, we have a list of hotels with parking packages for all the major ports.
Hotels love to cater to cruise passengers and one way to do that is offer a shuttle to the cruise port. That way, passengers don’t have to worry about how to get to the ship on embarkation day.
These shuttles typically run a few times a day. Some are free, but you should expect to pay $5-10 per person for the ride. Some hotels also have these shuttles included in packages for cruise passengers at no extra cost.
We have a list of hotels with cruise shuttles for major ports here. Keep in mind that for hotels near the cruise port it may actually be cheaper to take an Uber or Lyft, especially if traveling with more than two people.
Of course, location is something you should consider in a cruise hotel. If you are flying in for the cruise, do you want to stay near the airport (meaning an easy ride after a long flight) or do you want to stay near the cruise port (with usually nicer views than being near the airport). Of course, those hotels near the airport or farther away from the port are often cheaper than those right by the ships.
Or you can simply stay in another area of the port city altogether. For example if you are cruising from Miami, then you might want to stay in famous South Beach. Keep in mind that the farther you get away from the cruise port the less likely the hotel is to cater to cruise passengers with things like parking and shuttles. For some people that’s a big issue.
Some port cities like Miami are expensive places to visit. Others, like Galveston, are a bit cheaper to stay. That means you will need to consider your budget when selecting the cruise hotel. That will also impact the area of the city that you stay.
One good thing is that prices can vary widely in popular port cities depending on when you stay so you can find deals. For instance, cruises that require a weekday stay in a hotel are naturally going to see lower prices than if you need to stay a Friday or Saturday night. Also, popular beach spots like Fort Lauderdale will see higher prices during the summer and Spring Break when there is more demand. But hotel rooms in the fall or winter can be drastically cheaper.
One of the best things about hotel shopping today is that you no longer have to do it blindly. Maybe that cheap hotel is a great deal and people love to stay there. Or maybe it’s cheap because it’s rundown and can’t fill its rooms. With online reviews you can see what real travelers who have stayed at a hotel actually think — and see the photos they have taken to get a real idea of what it’s like to stay there. It can help you filter the real deals from those scary places you don’t want to stay.
We suggest using a site like TripAdvisor to read reviews of a cruise hotel before you book.
What Else Is Happening Those Dates
It’s rare that a port city is just a place to get onto a ship. Most of the time they are destinations by themselves. And as tourist destinations, they can have times when major events are happening — such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans — that cause the prices on hotels to skyrocket.
If you’ve already booked your cruise, then there isn’t much you can do about the dates that you need a hotel for your trip. Still, it’s a good idea to keep in mind what’s going on during the time you set sail so that you aren’t hit with exorbitant hotel prices.
Perhaps the biggest scrounge to hit travelers in decades is the dreaded “resort fee.” These fees can be upwards of $40 and seem to be a money-grab for tourists. They are supposed to cover things like wi-fi, newspapers, and bottled water, but really just seem to be an excuse to charge more for a room beyond the headline price.
You’ll find these most often in highly touristy spots such as South Beach, Miami. Most of the time hotels outside of the tourists zones don’t have these fees. Just be aware that some spots might charge them and you want to know before you book and get saddled with these charges.
For more on finding the right cruise hotel, see our list of hotels with shuttles and hotels with cruise parking.