Even a small group can get benefits
Organizing a group cruise means price cuts and other perks, including a free cruise for the group leader.
Anyone can put a group cruise together if they know enough people ready to sail. The goal is to fill the number of cabins needed to qualify as a "group cruise" by the cruise line. The reward is lower cruise fares per person and other added perks the cruise lines only offer to group cruises such as cocktail parties, group pictures and other amenities.
How many cruisers do you need to qualify as a group? The basic rule of thumb is 15 individuals and the group earns the equivalent of one free ticket (berth is the official term) for the group leader. One berth equals one free cruise fare within a double occupancy cabin. In order to get the entire cabin you need to sell 30 berths, equal to 15 cabins at double occupancy. These free berths are called "Tour Conductor" berths, abbreviated as "TCs" or "TC cabins".
Once the qualifying number of cruisers for a group has been reached the cruise lines' group sales department will offer the added incentives, which vary depending on the cruise line, ship and even sail date. The amenities might include a group cocktail party, a bottle of champagne for each cabin, a tote bag, discount coupon books, shipboard credits per person or per cabin or a slight price reduction. There may be other choices as well.
In many cases you will choose from the above amenities by using the cruise line's system of assigning "amenity points" to each group. The number of points you earn depends on the size of the group. You use the points to choose from a menu of amenities each "costing" a certain number of points. The number of points assigned to a 16-cabin group cruise is generally enough to "purchase" one, or possibly two, of the amenities listed above. As the group grows in size more amenities become available.
Each cruise line has different rules for group cruises and they can change at any time. This is why a travel agent can be so valuable to you when it comes to forming and managing your group.
Steps to Forming a Group Cruise:
The first thing to do is to contact a travel agent, or the cruise line directly, and tell them what kind of group cruise you are planning. We recommend going to a travel agent because they will handle all of the ticketing and other details for you. They also know which questions to ask that you may not have thought about.
Plan Your Cruise
- Seek out a competent and reputable travel agent that specializes in group cruises.
- Research a variety of cruise lines, ships and itineraries to find the one most likely to suit the preferences of most of your group members.
- Find out what kinds of amenities the cruise line will offer your group. These include the things mentioned above like upgraded accommodations, a complimentary bottle of wine or champagne, special stateroom gifts, on-board credits, a complimentary cocktail party or a free shore excursion.
- Compare the individual pricing to the group cruise pricing from the cruise line. You might find a big difference in rates just by picking a ship that sails a day later or earlier than the one you are researching.
- All cruise lines will offer you free berths (i.e., beds) depending on how many are sailing in your party. It can be as little as one free for every eight, but the average tends to be one for 15. This means that to get a free cabin (two berths), you'd probably have to assemble a group of 30 people.
- Don't forget that other companies also will offer discounts to your group. For example, if many of your guests are flying in the day before the cruise you can ask the local hotels if they offer group rates. Transportation to the ship can also be arranged at special prices. Tours in your port destinations will offer group discounts as well. Just keep in mind that the more you try to coordinate the harder your job as a group leader becomes.
Ironing Out the Details
- Get everything in writing from the travel agent, including the allocation of free berths and their values. Obtain a copy of the group cruise contract that the cruise line provided to your travel agent, and demand a recap of all bookings from the travel agent on the cruise line's stationary. Don't accept a recap that comes directly from the travel agent.
- If shore excursions have been pre-arranged get all the details in writing: number of buses, times, duration of tour and whether gratuities for the drivers and guide are included.
- Find out what types of proof of citizenship are required.
- Make sure all passengers have their preferred dining time and table size and that all reservations are cross-referenced for dining preference if you wish to dine together.
- If it's a large group, ask if the cruise line can provide an onboard Hospitality Desk for your use. This could be as simple as setting up shop in the library/card room or in a corner of one of the smaller lounges. This makes it easier for members of your group to iron out any problems once they're on board.
- Have your travel agent include a "checklist" in each set of documents; this should include the list of documents enclosed, along with helpful hints on what to do or whom to contact onboard if a problem arises.
- Maintain a list of everyone's stateroom assignments.
- Make sure the duties of any group leaders or escort are defined in writing and agreed to by the leaders themselves and your travel agent.
Once On Board
- The group cruise leader should make contact with the ship's Guest Relations Staff immediately, building a rapport that makes it easier to iron out any problems that may arise.
- The group cruise leader/host should confirm all included services such as cocktail parties, amenities or pre-arranged group activities directly with the Guest Relations Staff immediately upon arrival.
- If no tours have been pre-arranged, try to arrange for any group excursions or activities as early in the cruise as possible.
- Contact the ship's photographer and arrange for a group photo shoot sometime during the cruise. This can be anything from a portrait on formal night to a group shot on deck. It makes a great memento!
Leading a group cruise can be fun and rewarding. The more experienced your cruisers are the easier it will be for you. If they are not experienced cruisers be prepared to answer a lot of basic questions about cruising. Be especially vigilant in relaying passport requirements long before the sail date arrives.
In the long run, once you have cabin and dining table assignments for the entire group, it isn't necessary to organize much more than possibly two or three times and places for everyone to meet onboard. If you want to do a special activity, like Karaoke, you must coordinate with the ship's group cruise coordinator either before you arrive or once you get onboard. People do not need constant supervision, they appreciate having free time to do as they please.
The main thing is to have patience and a good attitude. Don't try to be a perfectionist or let the little things get you down. It's a cruise; enjoy it!