The Grand Princess ... our floating paradise for 10 days this summer ... has now been repositioned to it's new home port of San Francisco for it's spring and summer itineraries. It would be so cool to drive there to meet our ship. However, let's be realistic. We live on the East Coast. Since a leisurely cross-country drive to the ship is quite out of the question, we'll have to fly.
We have two choices - book our preferred flights on our own, independently, or choose a cruise air package with the cruise line.
At one time, this was a no-brainer. Book our own flights, and we can choose our own seats and otherwise have complete control, most likely at a lower fare. The cruise lines, on the other hand, would traditionally buy seats in bulk very early on, according to their needs, and the airline would assign the tickets 30 days out. Being the one in the family who meticulously maps out each and every vacation detail well in advance, knowing the details of our flight details only mere weeks before we leave causes my heart to race wildly and my blood pressure to skyrocket. That's just way too much uncertainty for me.
Now, however, cruise lines are becoming more in tune with the needs and preferences of the picky passenger and have re-worked their air & sea programs. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, for example, offer the Choice Air program, while Princess Cruises makes their EZ Air available to their clients. Generally speaking, when you book your cruise and include one of these air add-ons, you have the ability to choose from one of their selected flight times. Likewise, for more money (in most cases), you can choose a cancel-any-time flight, if you think your plans might change.
In fact, cruise lines recently have been offering attractive package deals which include discounted or free air packages to lure customers. One disadvantage, nevertheless, to cruise air is the noticeable absence of non-stop flights among the choices, an important feature for some travelers. On the other hand, if you have booked your cruise on short notice and are having trouble finding a flight this late in the game, a cruise air package could be your ticket to the ship, perhaps at no greater cost than it would be if you could find a flight on your own. The other nice advantage to cruise air is that your transfers and luggage handling are included in the deal, making for a convenient, carefree trip to the ship.
Even with cruise air packages however, lengthy airline delays can result in literally missing the boat. A common misconception is that when your airline ticket is purchased through the cruise line that they are responsible for getting you to your ship. While the cruise line will work closely with airlines to re-route passengers to the original or next port of call in case of a disruption, it is ultimately the job of the airline to see you to your ship, most likely at the expense of the passenger. This is where travel insurance can be your friend.
Three steps to assure a smooth flight to your awaiting cruise ship:
So what have we decided? In the case of our flight to San Francisco, we booked well in advance and found reasonable non-stop flights from Boston. Since that time, Princess has tempted us with a discounted air promotion, but not tempting enough to beat our less expensive, non-stop flights.
One way or another, you'll reach your ship. All you need to do is a little homework.