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5 Tips for Planning a Spring Break Cruise

03/17/2015 03:25 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015

Spring break cruises bring with them a unique set of conditions cruisers setting sail during this period should be prepared for. From ships crowded with school-aged kids overflowing from the kids' clubs to large groups of college students letting loose after mid-term exams, knowing what to expect on a spring break cruise goes a long way to making sure you get the cruise experience you've been looking forward to.

Here are five tips to guide you to smooth sailing on your spring break cruise.

Book the right cruise line. Spring break with the family and spring break with your friends are two entirely different vacations and, in many cases, warrant different cruise lines. It may not seem like picking the right cruise line or ship is important when all you want to do is get away for a quick trip, but doing a little research before you book may save partygoers from an influx of children, and parents from unwanted partygoers. Narrow down the choices by reading spring break cruise reviews from previous cruisers.

Set a spending limit. Spending money is easy when you're swiping a card, even easier on vacation, and easiest after a few Mai Tais. If you're concerned about splurging on more than you can afford, set a spending limit at the beginning of the cruise. You'll still have to swipe for everything onboard -- drinks, shops, casino, spa -- but if you fund your onboard account with cash, it will run out eventually and no more charges will be permitted. Set your limit before you cruise; don't wait until you've arrived in sunny Miami and your sensible budget seems too sensible after an hour near the beach.

Know the fine print. During spring break sailings, cruise lines may put restrictions on offerings that normally are open to everyone. Beverage packages are a prime example. You have to be 25 or over to purchase the Unlimited Drinking Package on Norwegian Cruise Line; it doesn't matter if you are 21 and can legally drink. There are also age restrictions on booking cabins so your group of 21-year-old friends may not even be able to book a cruise without an older friend tagging along. It may seem like tedious reading, but scanning the cruise lines' policies could save some potential heartache when you're getting ready to book or worse yet, already at sea.

Pre-book what you can. Spring break sailings are notoriously crowded, plus many are shorter than an average sailing; this means that booking what you want to do onboard the ship may be just as important as booking the cruise itself. Are you dead set on eating at the French specialty restaurant? Planning on spending your time on the adults-only sun deck? Book as much as possible prior to boarding and all you'll need to do is show up -- this goes for evening shows as well, even if they're free. When in doubt, make a reservation for anything that allows them.

Plan port excursions around crowds. If it's your goal to party on the beach with as many other people as possible -- you won't have to go far once you step ashore. Most ports of call on spring break sailings are tropical stops with private beaches or bustling cruise centers with bars and cabanas catering to passengers. That said, if you're looking for an adventure, or a little peace and quiet, you'll probably have to book an excursion or at least some transportation away from where the ship is docked. Read up ahead of time to see where you'll be docked and what your cruise line has to offer in the way of shore excursions, or book your own independently. If you're considering an excursion, book in advance, as multiple cruise ships are likely to be docked during busy seasons like spring break (translation: tours fill quickly).

For more information on planning your spring break cruise, visit Cruise Critic's guide to Planning a Spring Break Cruise.

-- By Brittany Chrusciel

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