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Help my family break out of the traveling box.
February 22, 2006 1:58 PM   Subscribe

My dad is turning 50 in May, and my mom wants to surprise him by taking the family on a cruise. I've always been of the opinion that the entire idea of a cruise is lame, boring, and for old people who can't do anything else. I'm trying to come up with better places to go for a week on $4000 (for four people), but I've only ever traveled by myself.

I hate being babysat while traveling. The last big vacation we went on was an all inclusive resort Antigua and I thought it was really, really lame. In short, here are my problems with cruises -

a) They give you very little opportunity to get any sort of "cultural experience"
b) You basically have everything handed to you, leaving little motivation to explore local cuisine and such.
c) You're on a boat most of the time, and the things they offer aren't really any different from the things you might be able to get at home.
d) They cost a lot more money than doing similar things on your own.

My dad isn't well traveled outside of the US (he's been almost everywhere within it, though), but he's always talking about going on a round the world trip. While I'm sure he'd enjoy a cruise, I really want to show him what sorts of things are out there for people who take the extra step outside of their hotel rooms. I also want to plant the seed of independent travel in my 14 year old brother's malleable teenage head.

The problem is, the sort of third world guesthouse surfing I've done isn't suitable for a family vacation. My mom and 14 year old brother wouldn't really be up for motorcycle trips through the countryside and such, so wherever we went would have to be accomodating to their idea of fun (sitting on a beach).

I've never been to Central/South America, but I hear it's beautiful and cheap if you find the right places. I'm thinking Costa Rica specifically - it's not poor enough to totally disgust my mom and brother, but I'm sure there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path things my father and I could do.

So for around $4000, where could the four of us go for a week and ensure that everyone has fun?
posted by borkingchikapa to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
 
By the way, this would be around the middle of May.
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:00 PM on February 22, 2006


Not for everyone but this 'old' guy had a blast on a cruise 3 years ago. Just remember, for that $1000/person you need to spend $500-$600 on the cruise and the rest for incidentals and tipping.
posted by JamesMessick at 2:10 PM on February 22, 2006


My dad is turning 50 in May, and my mom wants to surprise him by taking the family on a cruise.

I'm sure he'd enjoy a cruise


I know this isn't really an answer to your question, and I don't mean to sound snarky, but is your mom even open to suggestions about this? It sounds like this is a gift your mother wants to give to your dad because it is something he would like. Since the trip is a birthday gift for your dad, wouldn't it be best to do something you know he would enjoy?
posted by amro at 2:15 PM on February 22, 2006


Did your dad think the all-inclusive resort was lame?
posted by smackfu at 2:16 PM on February 22, 2006


It sounds like this is a gift your mother wants to give to your dad

Well, maybe, but she came to me asking for suggestions about it so I intend to give her my opinion.
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:19 PM on February 22, 2006


Perhaps consider 2 different trips. the obligitory cruse with family, and seek something else Costa Rica or Belize for a little son with dad adventure.. perhaps even dragging your brother along as well.
posted by edgeways at 2:25 PM on February 22, 2006


You could suggest a Norwegian Coastal Voyage instead... I think cruises are lame too, but i've always dreamed about going on the one that takes you all the way up to the tip of Norway past the Arctic circle. It looks like they have lots of different packages, as well, so if you like fjords you should be able to find something in your budget. You could probably do plenty of climbing and hiking while the family "takes in the lovely view", as well.
posted by xanthippe at 2:25 PM on February 22, 2006


You're on a boat most of the time, and the things they offer aren't really any different from the things you might be able to get at home.

Depends on the cruise, but most of them have significant opportunities for shore trips. There are certainly cruises where most of the ship movement is done during the night, and you therefore have most of the day to go on shore and do whatever.

You're right that if you sign up for the tours offered by the cruise ship, you're likely to get packaged stuff. But there isn't anything to prevent you from hiring a local guide and heading out for the day away from where the cruise ship is docked.
posted by WestCoaster at 2:28 PM on February 22, 2006


At the root of your mom's cruise-love, I imagine, is a desire to stop being a mom for a few days and let someone else deal with the chores of the everyday. I'm assuming that your dad will be pretty stoked to get a vacation of any kind.

What about talking with your mom to puzzle out what she really wants from a cruise? If she's looking for a hassle-free way to get some sun, hang out together, and generally not fret in a mom-like way (however irrationally) about things like highway bandits or food poisoning or something, I think it'll be hard to convince her that a cruise is a bad idea.

But if she's looking for something more adventurous, like scaling pyramids on those day trips from the boat and cliff diving and learning some Spanish and then using that Spanish to order cocktails on a beach, then I think compromise can be reached.

I bet a week or two spent in the Yucatan or Costa Rica would be just the ticket. It's not that far, you'd be able to visit lots of the places a cruise could conceivably go, at your own pace, for less money and without 4000 other people. Additionally, you're probably not going to cover as much ground (sea?) as a cruise, so that means you can plan on keeping everyday travel to new places to a tolerable level (no six-hour drives to the next cool spot), which I imagine will be relaxing. I'd also pop over to a bookstore and check out a few guidebooks on the area to find a few all-star sites that would make anyone, even your mom, salivate. And while you probably can't convince them to stay in a $2-a-night hostel, I bet they'd love spending, say, $50 a night on a really nice hotel room in a quaint colonial town, instead of however much a cruise costs.

Just remember that it's still a vacation, so you'll want to make sure that everyone's going to have something that can satisfy their desire to relax and have a good time. Convince your mom to let everyone plan the trip together, and I don't think there's any way this will turn out bad.

On preview: Belize might be cool too (coral reefs! rainforest!), and I think they speak English if your family's Spanish isn't that great.
posted by mdonley at 2:31 PM on February 22, 2006


France is gorgeous and involves minimal culture shock & difficulty in doing routine things, even for a total nonspeaker, even in the middle of nowhere. Spain of course has quite a few equally charming places, though the density of tourists in Barcelona is a bit much for me. Mexico's a great possibility, and I'd enthusiastically second Costa Rica (though not Belize, which has a cultureless, grimy 2nd world feel once you get out of the coastal beach towns).
posted by soviet sleepover at 2:34 PM on February 22, 2006


You could rent a historic home in England for a week through the Landmark Trust. From cottages to castles, they have a pretty wide selection of places to stay and rates are not super crazy.

You can then use the house as a starting point to explore the countryside.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:42 PM on February 22, 2006


The Galapagos?
posted by Izzmeister at 3:21 PM on February 22, 2006


Isla Mujeres. And end it with a few days in Tulum.
posted by luriete at 3:37 PM on February 22, 2006


My two cents: I'm 23 years old, I loved the cruise I went on last summer, and I can't wait to do it again.

But more importantly, and more relevant to your question: The entire reason I went on the cruise was because I was completely unable to find a better value for my money.

Look at it this way: Any vacation has quite a few per-person costs to consider. Transportation, food, lodging, and entertainment are basically how it boils down. For one person, round-trip airfare will be around $300 or more if you're going any distance you can't drive. A good hotel room is at least $180/night and holds two people. You'll spend at least $40/day per person on food. And entertainment, depending on what you do, can be $50+ per day as well.

That puts you at about $1,100/person for a week already. Now consider that you'll probably spend more than $40/day on food, and for the kind of food you'll be eating on a cruise, you'd need to spend at least $120/day. With that airfare price, you probably aren't leaving the country. $50 will barely get you entry into an amusement park, let alone a chance to new and interesting places and cultures. And finally, there's a lot of other amenities on a cruise ship that you either won't get at all, or will pay a lot extra for, in your average hotel.

I could have spent less money on my vacation, yeah. But it wouldn't have been as good (and I'd be eating at Wendy's, which I can do at home), and I wouldn't have gotten these pictures.
posted by CrayDrygu at 3:53 PM on February 22, 2006


CrayDrygu, I've got some questions about your cost estimates. The airfare, for sure, is gonna be a significant hit. But $180 a night for a hotel room? $40/day per person for food?

Maybe on the beach in Cozumel during Spring Break or something, but as long as the OP doesn't go somewhere crazy-touristy for the whole time, I think the trip's doable for the $4000 they've got to spend, especially since it's for only a week or two. They've got time to do some research, too, so that means they won't have to necessarily stick to the easily-bookable-online Marriotts and Hiltons and can get some great recommendations for some smaller, local places.

And for sure, I imagine some cruises are a great time and are great value, but those ruins in your photos look absolutely MOBBED, and I think that's something the OP's trying to avoid.

OP, here's Lonely Planet's estimate of Mexico costs.
posted by mdonley at 4:17 PM on February 22, 2006


"But $180 a night for a hotel room? $40/day per person for food?"

Depends on where you want to go, and where you feel like staying, I suppose. And yes, I went to Mexico during a particularly popular time, that time being "summer."

It would cost at least $180/night for a hotel room that would be similar to a cruise ship room in terms of both comfort and the available amenities. I'm sure you can get a room for $40/night, if you don't mind a $40/night hotel.

Also, I don't think $40/day for food is unreasonable given there's an entire TV series devoted to accomplishing just that level of thriftiness in touristy areas. Figure $8 breakfast, $10 lunch, $15 dinner, and $7 for snacks/drinks.

Like I said, it's the best value. That doesn't mean it's the least expensive option. It means that offers the most comforts for the least amount of money.

So in conclusion, it is perfectly possible to have an enjoyable vacation for less. But you're not going to have 4-5 star dining (with a 2-star dress code) for three meals (or more) per day, live entertainment every night, free room service 24/7, social opportunities all day, a sunlit deck and 2-3 swimming pools, or a lifeboat drill before you can leave.
posted by CrayDrygu at 7:03 PM on February 22, 2006


I've heard that cruises in Alaska can actually be quite good, because you get to see things (e.g. glaciers calving) that you wouldn't get to see any other way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2006


Have you ever been to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico? It's a small colonial city in the Central Highlands, a few hours outside of Mexico City. It has a reputation as a retirement community/artist's colony for Americans, which is accurate but does not tell the full story of this magical place. I think that your family would find things there to suit every one of you.

Here's a sampling of what you can expect to find there: Great, world-class, gringo-friendly restaurants with a wide variety of interntional cuisines, small local taquerias that serve cheap and authentic Mexican food, hot mineral water pools and caves to swim through and sun near, art exhibitions and openings every evening, salsa dancing lessons at local bars, horseback riding through beautiful rural mountains, full-service hotels with swimming pools, tons of nightlife in touristy clubs and little cantinas where the locals watch futbol and drink tequila, amazing local artisan markets for shopping, a nearby ghost town called Pozos where you can explore abandoned gold mines and see gorgeous ruins, local theater groups performing in both English and Spanish, Aztec dancers in the town square on weekends, big sky and amazing sunsets, colonial architecture featuring churches and hand-carved doors that will blow your mind, art classes, writing workshops, full-service spas, poetry readings, live music of all varieties in the local bars and restaurants, a nature preserve to hike through with all manner of endangered cacti and migratory birds, movie theaters with American films, and much much more.

Plus, it's breathtakingly beautiful and utterly relaxing. You can actually do none of these activities and just wander the streets of the city or sit in the town square, and it's an absolute pleasure.

It seems well-suited to your needs because it's not necessary to speak Spanish and there is a large tourist and ex-pat community, yet there is so much native culture and history to explore. The weather in May should be hot in the daytime and warm-to-bring-a-sweater at night. It's also fairly inexpensive. For lodging, the Hotel Real de Minas, Villa Jacaranda and the Posada la Aldea come to mind. You should be able to find spacious, comfortable rooms for about ninety dollars per night, and each of these places has pools and gardens. Or you could look into one of the many bed and breakfasts or private home rentals, which are available in abundance in May, considered off-season for tourism.

I lived in San Miguel for several years, and it was great when my parents came to visit. My mom likes to sit by the pool, eat in good restaurants and shop, while my dad is more outdoorsy and adventurous. We always found tons of activities that they could each enjoy. And all of the locals -- Mexicans, Americans, Europeans -- are extraordinarily friendly and happy to direct you toward the best new places and events. If you decide to go, there's a great travel service called Viajes San Miguel that can arrange a lot of the details for a very fair price. Forgive the lack of links, my computer is running a bit slow!

Good luck, and have fun wherever you end up!
posted by wetpaint at 10:59 PM on February 22, 2006


I used to feel the same way about cruises that you do. I'm an extensive world traveler and love planning trips.

Then I had to go on a conference on a cruise.

And now I see the value of them.

The nice parts of the cruise:
- having 0 responsibility for figuring out what to do day to day
- having OPTIONS!! If my boyfriend wanted to lay in the sun all day, that was cool. If we wanted to learn how to knit, we could do that. If I wanted to do yoga, I could do that. There are so many classes and activities all day long. Every night a list of the next day's classes and activities showed up.
- food everywhere - and you don't pay for it (it is all included) and drinks were affordable
- every night they folded our towels into animals!

So, even though a fun trip with your parents might be in your interest, if the whole family is going along, at least on a cruise there are options for eveyone.
posted by k8t at 2:06 AM on February 23, 2006


It sounds like the cruise is something your parents would enjoy, probably more than whatever alternative you'd prefer. I'd suggest either sucking it up (who knows, you might even enjoy it if you forgot how awful you were sure it was going to be) or bailing out and doing something else (reminding your mom that everyone else will have a better time without you bitching and moaning throughout). Remember, this is about your dad, not you.
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on February 23, 2006


This is your dad's birthday. Your mum wants to do this for him. It's only for a week, suck it up, enjoy it as much as you can, then later on take him somewhere you want him to see.
posted by essexjan at 10:46 AM on February 23, 2006


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