We live in Florida now, where sailing means a drive to the port rather than flying in as we did when living in Kansas. Back then, coming in to the embarkation city made sense, as there were logical reasons to do so. We would commonly choose a hotel that offered a special package for cruise travelers; a discounted rate and transfer to the cruise port, maybe breakfast so we would not starve waiting to board. All good stuff. But a recent reader question prompted me to think a bit deeper on the topic and take another look at pre- and post-cruise hotel stays.
“Why always with the cheap hotels before sailing Chris ?,” writes Sadie L from Boca Raton, Florida. “You have a lovely cruise ship booked for a nice vacation and you start it off in some fleabag hotel? Why not make it something special? Can it really cost all that much more?”
Good points all Sadie, thanks for writing! Let’s take a quick look at what we know about pre- and post-cruise hotel properties, reasons to come early or linger later before or after sailing and how to go about finding a hotel that will work for you.
1- Cheap Insurance, Assurance
Coming to the embarkation city a day early helps insure that you’ll be at the port, ready to board on embarkation day. Assuming it takes a flight to get to the area of the embarkation port, adding a day on can account for a whole lot of flight delays and give airlines time to find lost luggage before boarding the ship.
Bonus Tip: Always plan backup flights in case yours is delayed or canceled. Carry with you a list of the next three flights after the one you have booked, just in case you might have to switch. Better yet, get one of a number of smartphone apps that will manage that information for you, updating your travel plans as they unfold. TripIt it is a good one as is FlightTracker Pro.
2- Great Excuse To Start Vacation Early
While #1 above was based on logical reasons to spend travel funds on a pre-cruise hotel stay, this one is just a greedy way to get more time on vacation. If it is important to justify the optional expense, say you’re doing it as a safety buffer in case flights are delayed. Sing that song louder in the winter, when bad weather far away can cascade throughout the nation, delaying flights in areas not even close to snow, sleet or ice.
Not that you need an excuse; starting and/or ending a short cruise with hotel stays as bookends is a great way to decompress from real life before and serves as a nice buffer after, before returning to your regular routine.
3- A Hotel That Is A Good Fit
Budget, Luxury and every desire in-between are available options for most all cruise ports. That may mean staying closer to the airport than the cruise port in Orlando but so close to the port that you can see your ship come in on the morning of embarkation is a viable option in Fort Lauderdale or Miami. A little research is required but that’s another great part of the planning process.
Cruise travelers who do pre- or post-cruise hotels on a regular basis often add them later, if schedule and budget permit. That’s what we did when we lived in the Midwest. Try to book flights with plenty of time in the schedule. If connecting flights are needed, allow plenty of time between flights, at least an hour domestically or 2 hours for international flights.
A good pre- or post- cruise hotel is not always the one that advertises specific ‘cruise’ packages either. Any hotel will do, as we found out helping to plan a sailing from Port Canaveral in Florida.
4- The Plan In Action
We recently tested the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando as an option for cruise travelers sailing from Port Canaveral, on Florida’s East coast. The idea here would be to rent a car at the Orlando airport, drive to the hotel and anything else of interest in the area, spend the night or a few nights then drive to Cocoa Beach where the rental car company has an office to drop off the car. In most scenarios, the price of renting a small car was less than what cruise lines charge for transfer in a big bus.
Many cruise travelers find that the price of an inexpensive hotel is made up by the less expensive flights available a day or two before or after sailing. Booking a 7-day cruise though, that works for those with plenty of time to spare but not everyone. Those with 7 days total to travel might try a shorter cruise, say a 5-day with a pre and post hotel stay added on. Regardless of what you choose: choose one. Coming in early or staying late after sailing will put your head in the right place and bring a better overall cruise travel experience. Try it; you’ll see!