Traveling in a group can be the death knell of vacation fun. It sounds like a great idea at first – reunite with far-flung family and friends on neutral ground where no one has to host – but the reality doesn’t always live up to expectations. Differing budgets, activity levels and interests, as well as travel style clashes, can lead to more headaches than memories.
Cruises offer the best of all worlds for groups: They appeal to travelers of all ages, offer various levels and types of activity, and allow people with different budgets to still vacation together. Your group is contained in one place, everyone can set their own onboard agenda, and there’s no need for National Security Council-level strategic planning just to choose the restaurant for dinner.
1. Appoint a group leader
Every group needs a leader — the person who will do the majority of the preplanning research, send the invitations to the group, communicate pricing and determine how to book your cruise. In general, the leader takes the lead in organizing the trip and looks out for the good of the group, both before and during the cruise. In this way, the travelers making up the rest of the group don’t have to repeat work, such as looking for cruise fares or remembering when payments are due, and there’s no chaos surrounding several different people trying to organize group shore tours at the same time.
2. Diplomatically choose your cruise
It’s tricky finding the perfect cruise for a group of 10 or 20 people of different ages, abilities and interests. The first task of the group leader is to figure out how to choose the best cruise for the people involved, without making everyone unhappy. There are several approaches to consider. You can choose a cruise you want to do and then invite friends and family to join you if they’re interested.
3. Book ahead
Nabbing a cabin on the ship of your choice to a popular destination during high-season dates can be tough for a mere couple seeking out one bed, let alone for a large group needing multiple staterooms. Early bookings are a must for those who:
Plan to travel during the summer or school holidays.
Have a need for triples or quads or connecting or neighboring cabins, which are all limited in number.
Want the choicest cabins on the newest ships.
Have a very specific itinerary in mind.
Booking ahead also gives you plenty of time to organize travel arrangements, shore excursions, even group T-shirts, without needing to quit your day job.
4. Put a travel agent to work for you
You certainly can book your group (typically eight cabins or more) directly through a cruise line, but many group organizers recommend using a cruise agent who specializes in groups. Agents often have established relationships with cruise lines and access to discounts and perks that individuals don’t. Plus, they can make recommendations on appropriate cruises for your group, as well as travel destinations and shore excursions, leaving you with less work to do. Three more great reasons for working with an agent include:
You can work with one dedicated person and establish a relationship with him or her. If you book online, you can always call the cruise seller, but you might talk to different representatives each time.
Agents have access to cruise line-approved discounts that come as a result of high-volume bookings and also know what amenities are available to groups. These could include free berths, onboard credits, upgraded cabins, discounts for group leaders or other perks. Depending on the number of people in your party, you also could get free photos, cocktail parties or private meeting spaces.
The agent can send individual invoices to the folks in the group and remind them of key deadlines so the group leader doesn’t have to.
5. Communicate via e-mail
If you merely rely on phone calls and informal chats, it’s inevitable that some piece of info about the cruise arrangements will get misinterpreted, a deadline will be forgotten, or some other frustrating communication lapse will leave a member of your group pouting. Because of that, it’s best to send out trip details and discuss plans via e-mail.
The same goes for corresponding with your travel agent. Smith said he prefers communicating via e-mail because it’s more convenient than placing frequent phone calls and also gives him a written record of their communications.