Who doesn’t love free upgrades and onboard credit when taking a cruise? I know I do!
So what is the best way to get these extra bonuses when you travel? Well, there are a few ways. Obviously, the most straightforward way is to wait for a sale. Cruise lines advertise these on and off all the time, and promotions always vary. Sometimes there’s a reduced deposit. Sometimes there’s a free upgrade. And sometimes they offer varying amounts of onboard credit based on the type of room you choose.
After that (and many times, in conjunction with a sale), a great way to secure extra spending money on your ship is to contact a travel agent. Obviously, I’m happiest if you contact Sunshine Travel, but generally travel agents are able to secure additional onboard credit or perks on most sailings (that’s just one perk of using a travel agent, but that’s a story for another time!). These extra bonuses are only available by booking with a travel agent. (And remember, Sunshine Travel never charges any additional fees, so you are always guaranteed the best price!)
But now, I’m about to fill you in on a third way to add extra perks to your cruise booking…
Have you ever been on a cruise before, and passed the “Future Cruise Sales” desk? I have. And to be honest, I always found it a little bit annoying. I mean, I’m already sailing on the ship, and I’m already spending additional money on shore excursions, drinks, and other fun things. And then they’re asking me for more money to take another cruise, before this one is even over?
But you know what? If you like to cruise, that Future Cruise Consultant should be your new best friend! By making a deposit for your next cruise while you are still onboard, you stand to score some great discounts, upgrades, and/or onboard credits that you could not find otherwise!
Your reservation will seamlessly transfer into the hands of the travel agent you booked your current cruise with (or another travel agent if you wish). And when your travel agent takes care of your reservation, you’ll be able to take advantage of all of the additional credits mentioned above, plus the personalized service of an agent!
Specifics vary by cruise line when it comes to Future Cruise Sales, but in general, you can expect a reduced deposit for the future cruise of $100 per person. And for that next cruise that you choose, you can be eligible for an onboard credit that varies between $25 and $200. Some cruise lines also offer a free upgrade. Some cruise lines offer a discount on your next cruise. And one cruise line even lets you book up to 2 additional staterooms with the same reduced deposit/onboard credit perks so you can bring friends and family along!
If you don’t have a specific future cruise in mind, or you’re not ready to make a decision, some cruise lines even offer an option that allows you to purchase cruise certificates for the same amount of the reduced deposit, so you can choose your specific cruise later, and still keep the bonus offers! (Of course, restrictions apply.)
Let me give a brief example, based on a real life cruiser. Mr. Smith is sailing on a Celebrity Cruise. Mr. Smith loves Celebrity and knows he will sail on them again in the future. He goes to the Future Cruise Consultant and arranges to make a deposit on another cruise for next year. He pays a total of $200 deposit for him and his wife. He chooses a category 2C veranda room, but gets a free upgrade to a category 1C, which would have ordinarily cost him an additional $300. Furthermore, he receives a $200 onboard credit on the next cruise. Mr. Smith’s reservation automatically gets placed in the hands of his trusted travel agent. The travel agent then informs Mr. Smith that she has an additional $50 onboard credit available for his sailing!
So for putting down $100 per person, Mr. Smith ended up with a savings over $300 for his cruise, and a total of $250 onboard credit! Not a bad deal! If he called the cruise line directly after he returned home, he would have received none of these benefits. And if he just called his travel agent, he would have only received the $50 onboard credit.
Obviously, taking advantage of this benefit involves you getting on a cruise in the first place, but if you like to cruise, this is a great way to save money on your next sailing!
Let me just start by saying we love water parks. When your kids range in age from 1 to 10, you have to make some adjustments in how you’re going to spend your day. While the older kids like the more thrilling rides, the little ones need a place to hang out while they wait. And there needs to be something enticing for the older ones to do while the little kids enjoy their play areas. It turns out Aquatica was pretty accommodating!
Our plan of attack is always the same:
· Get to the park when it opens.
· Do all the “big” rides first while the lines aren’t too bad.
· Spend the rest of the day at the lazy river, wave pool, and playground areas.
According to plan, we arrived just before the park opened. We were able to go through the turnstiles and start heading towards some chairs to make our base for the day. Unfortunately, we had a slight delay as our 3 year old managed to get separated from us in the crowd! That’s one way to get your adrenaline going for the day.
Anyone with a 3-year-old knows they can be stubborn, and when she refuses to hold hands, she usually does a good job keeping up and staying close, but I guess there were just too many people around. When we told an employee what happened, he answered, “Already!?!”
I read a few points online about how there really isn’t a good system in place if you got separated from your kids. We were lucky to find our little one right away, but it was an important reminder about how you need to stick to the buddy system, and what to do in case you get lost. Later in the day, we heard a vague announcement over the PA – something about if you were separated from your party, please proceed to an office that was behind one of the restaurants. We all just sat there thinking: if you were a kid that got separated, how would you know where this place is? So be sure to have a family plan in place BEFORE you go, whether it’s a central meeting point, memorizing cell phone numbers, or asking an employee for help (or all of the above!).
After that, our day was quite fun. The first slides we tried were Omaka Rocka and Whanau Way. While the big kids tried those, one adult stayed behind with the little ones at the wave pool right across the way. The little ones enjoyed playing in the lapping waves, and we picked out life-vests for them so they could bob around freely in the water. Omaka Rocka was first, and it was a big hit. You have to carry a tube up to the top (not so fun), and each person rides in their own single tube. The ride is fast and fun! Whanau Way allows one OR two people per tube. This was even better (despite having to carry the larger tube up all those steps!) – and all of us voted it the “best slide of the day".
Next, we moved over to Dolphin Plunge. This is kind of a signature slide for the park – pictured on most brochures advertising Aquatica. The ride promises that you slide through a clear tube, right through the area where Commersons Dolphins are swimming around. It turned out to be a bit of a disappointment though. You go through the tube so quickly and so briefly, that you don’t really have time to notice the dolphins. While waiting, the little kids were able to enjoy the Dolphin viewing area and the Loggerhead Lane Lazy River.
Also in this area was Tassie’s Twisters – one of those tube rides where you go around a vortex until you fall through the bottom. We always describe this type of slide as getting flushed down the toilet! The overall reaction to this one: the line was too long, and the ride was too short!
The next area of slides consisted of 3 tall slides, with a kids play area next to it. Taumata Racer is like Bilzzard Beach’s Toboggan Racers…a ride where you lay on your stomach on a mat, and 8 lanes of riders race each other to the bottom. Except on the Taumata Racers, you go through a turn in an enclosed tube, the downhill part is a bit more thrilling, and a water-filled bumpy ending which the adults didn’t exactly appreciate. The kids loved this ride, but the adults weren’t exactly enamored. I personally prefer the Toboggan Racers at Blizzard Beach! One note: the bigger you are, the faster and further you go! This was a little frustrating to my 7 year old son, who managed to come in last each time because he was the smallest racer!
Hoo Roo Run is a downhill tube ride – but it requires only 2-3 people per tube…no single riders, and no foursomes either, so be aware before you get on line! You sit in a triangle configuration in the tube, and then hold on tight! Unfortunately, I ended up being the part of the triangle that experienced the entire ride backwards without seeing what was coming up next! I think my kids enjoyed hearing me scream! But we all had a lot of fun. If the lines weren’t so long, we would have done it again.
Walhalla Wave is the 3rd ride in this section, dubbed a “family tube ride”, but we didn’t get to try it (again, long lines). I got the impression it was a kinder, gentler version of the Hoo Roo Run.
Walkabout Waters is the play area positioned at the base of those three slides. During our visit, we gave it a shot, but it was really not ideal for kids under 3. There is a lot of water spraying down, and it’s very loud (in addition to the screams and cries from all the kids playing there). So if you have little ones, it’s hard to call for them if they get separated from you. The play structure is full of water canons and other spray features, and if you’re not paying attention, you can really get slammed with water. This is not particularly appreciated when you look over to see that some kid just sprayed you in the face on purpose and is now laughing about it. There was a no-holds-barred attitude from the kids there, and some of the kids were pretty tough. And although there are some smaller slides to do on the play structure, there were height limits, and the little ones were too short. Fun as it looked, this area was probably one of our least favorite overall!
Our younger ones really enjoyed Kata’s Kookaburra Cove, and the older kids didn’t mind helping out and supervising the little ones there. There is a nice zero-entry pool, with some water spray features, and of course, some small-but-fun slides. Our 20 month old and 3 year old enjoyed all of this. There is one tube slide that an adult (or sibling over 48”) can do with a little one, and that was pretty entertaining to watch. The weight of the parents caused the tube to go pretty fast – you should have seen the looks on the faces of some of those little kids coming out of the slide! Wheeeee!
One of the last things we did was Roa’s Rapids. It’s a lazy river, but very different from any lazy river we’ve ever done. First of all, there are no tubes allowed. Second of all, it’s FAST! As soon as you walk into the river, you’re pretty much whisked off your feet! Even if you’re a good swimmer, I recommend getting a vest (they’re available for free everywhere). We all eventually put a vest on, and it made it even more fun getting whisked along. This was also another big family favorite for the day, and really something unique at Aquatica. We went around the river too many times to even count!
A few other notes: we didn’t spend too much time exploring food options at the park – we were there to swim and play, not eat! We just ordered some typical theme-park fast food at one of the little places, and ate at a covered picnic area. It was tasty enough, and typically priced. They do allow you to bring in coolers though.
Also available for rent are cabanas. For us, this would have been a total waste of money. We didn’t spend too much time sitting anywhere – we were constantly on the go, exploring the park and having fun. We didn’t have any problems leaving our things on a lounger under an umbrella.
An early-entry program like Disney has would have really been appreciated. Having to do the child-swap on the big rides can be pretty time-consuming – we would have liked to have that extra hour to do the bigger slides before the park filled up!
And last, but not least, try to bring a waterproof camera to capture all the fun! Unfortunately, we didn't order ours in time, and it arrived in our mailbox the day we returned!