20 Tips for Cruising Cheap

There is a stigma surrounding the cruise industry that only the rich can afford to cruise often. That’s just not true. If you do it right, a cruise is often more affordable than renting a beach house or going to Walt Disney World for a week. I’d always assumed I’d have to save for years before going on a cruise, but then I met my mother-in-law. She goes on at least one cruise a year with her girlfriends using these tips. My husband and I went on our first cruise two years ago, and saved hundreds of dollars.

Booking Tips:

1. Wait until the last minute to book. Cruise lines often drastically slash prices 90 days before the departure date in an effort to fill the ship. Why? They know if you aren’t on the ship, you aren’t going to spend money, so they’ll let you on for a steal in hopes that you’ll buy booze, gamble, etc. Vacations To Go offers a great 90 day cruise ticker, that shows all the deals by destination, or you can search by cruise line, departure port, and ports of call.

2. Sail from a port you can drive to. Now, I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, but if you live near a coast, chances are there is a port within a few hours drive of you. Cruise Only offers a neat map. Click your region and they’ll show you all the ports near you.

3. If you have to fly to the port, chose a cruise that is a round trip (starts and ends at same port). Airline tickets are significantly cheaper when you fly into and leave from the same airport.

4. Book the inside room. Chances are, you aren’t going to be spending much time there other than when you are sleeping or changing clothes. Rooms with a port hole offering an ocean view just aren’t worth the price increase, especially since these views are often obstructed. Balconies are nice and romantic, but ask yourself how often you are likely to use the balcony? Remember, there are plenty of open air decks where you can relax with a drink on a beach chair.

Food and Alcohol Tips:

5. Know what is offered complimentary and what is not. Usually water (tap water, not bottled), iced tea, hot tea, coffee, and lemonade are your free beverages. Soda and alcohol will usually cost you, as will upgraded coffee and specialty coffee drinks. It varies by cruise line, so don’t be embarrassed to ask.

6. Go easy on the alcohol. This is where the cruise lines really make their money. Prices are never listed, gratuity and tax are automatically added on, and everything is charged to your shipboard account, so you don’t realize how much you’ve spent until you check your balance the next morning. Talk about sticker shock! Some cruise lines will try to get you to buy a drink every night at dinner by offering collectible glasses, etc. Fight the temptation. Do you really have room in your luggage to take them home? And will you honestly use those glasses ever again, or will they just end up in your yard sale five years down the road?

See also  Why You Should Look at the Moon Before Your Next Fishing Vacation

7. Bring your own wine and soda aboard. Check your cruise line’s policies, but most ships will allow you to bring one or two bottles of wine aboard when you first embark. You can drink it in your cabin, or you can bring it to the dining hall. However, many cruise lines charge a hefty “re-corking fee,” (around $15) so be sure to drink it all in one sitting. Soda can be purchased and brought on board at any port of call, usually for significantly cheaper than what the cruise line sells it for. Alcohol purchased in the ports of call will be stored by the cruise line and brought to your room the last night of the cruise.

8. Don’t partake of the mini fridge! It will be temptingly stocked with alcohol, soda, and bottled water. Trust me, those cans of soda aren’t going to be fifty cents. Two dollars and fifty cents is more like it, conveniently only disclosed when you see it on your shipboard account. You can imagine what those little liquor bottles will cost you.

9. Take advantage of freebies on the ship. Perhaps they are offering free champagne at the art auction or at the Captain’s sailing party. Sign up for the wine or beer tasting for the small fee (still usually less than a glass of wine or bottle of beer at dinner).

10. Bring your own instant coffee. The complimentary coffee, called swill, that is offered on many cruise lines can be terrible. Likely, this is to encourage you to buy a specialty or upgraded coffee drink from them. I advice finding some instant coffee you can live with and bringing it aboard with you. Hot water is free, and so is cream and sugar.

11. When cruising with your kids, especially teenagers, arrange for a “cap” to be put on their room cards. Otherwise, you might be in for a nasty surprise come the next morning, when you find out they’ve bought $150 worth of soda the day before. This is also useful if you are paying the tab for your over twenty-one children.

See also  The Best Part-time Jobs in Bryson City, North Carolina

12. Many cruise lines offer prepaid soda or coffee cards that give you so many drinks for one price, usually saving you a few dollars. Just make sure you actually use the whole card, otherwise they are getting your money and you aren’t getting your beverage.

13. Eat in the dining rooms or at the buffets most of the time. This food is included in your booking price, unlike the small, specialty restaurants on board that charge your on board account. Don’t be afraid to order more than one appetizer, entree, or dessert in the dining room. You’ve paid for it and the waiters will be more than happy to oblige your request. If you don’t like something, order something else. One of the best things about cruising is the chance to try foods outside your comfort zone risk free.

14. Check with your cruise line to see if tips for the waitstaff are automatically charged to your account or if you are responsible for the tipping. Other fees might also be automatically charged to your account. You can usually see a list of such fees and tipping procedures on the cruise line’s website. Knowing these hidden costs before hand will help you budget for your cruise.

Port Tips:

15. Don’t assume you have to sign up for an activity at every port. Many ports, especially in the Caribbean, offer great, tax free shopping areas you can spend hours wandering through. Also, look for beach deals once your in port. You can often rent a couple of beach chairs and an umbrella for a few dollars, and sometimes they even throw in some alcohol. Beware the locals offering reduced rate excursions. If you want to go on an excursion, do it through a ship sanctioned agency. Otherwise you could be setting yourself up to be ripped off, or worse.

16. Let the cruise line take your picture as you disembark at every port, but wait until the last day of the cruise to buy. They might offer a free frame, discounts, or buy so many, get some free deal to entice last minute purchases. There is never any obligation to buy.

17. If you plan on doing a lot of shopping, see if your cruise offers a coupon book. They usually cost around twenty dollars, but are full of coupons for freebies and discounts at hundreds of stores in the ports of call. (One example, you got a free charm bracelet at the first port, then coupons for free charms from a certain store at every other port, leaving you with a nice little memento of your cruise.) My husband and I bought a coupon book, went around getting all the free jewelry and goodies, and took them home as souvenirs for our friends and family. Saved us from spending a ton on gifts.

See also  Tips for Learning to Speak French

18. Don’t be afraid to dicker over prices while in port. Many shops expect you to offer a lower price than marked. You’ll get better deals if you are visiting a port during their off-season. If your ship is the only one scheduled to be in port that day, they’ll be ready to give you a deal.

Other Tips:

19. Avoid the casino. Unless you are a world class black jack or poker player, chances are the house will win more money than you. The ship casinos are stuffed full of slot machines (easy to play, with the lowest chances of winning) to draw you in. All the flashing lights and buzzers scream your name, but fight the temptation. If you do decide to do a bit of gambling, get tokens, and stop when the tokens run out. Some machines let you insert your room card to play. DON’T DO THIS! I guarantee you aren’t going to remember how much you’ve won or lost and end up spending more than you planned.

20. Most ships offer their entertainment shows more than one night. Go the second night. It’s usually less crowded. And while a majority of the ship is at the show opening night, you’ll often find the pools, hot tubs, and decks less crowded

I believe everyone should go on at least one cruise during their life. It’s relaxing, fun, exciting, and a great way to see the world. If you follow these tips, it’ll be the memories you’ll treasure forever, not the credit card bill. Maybe you’ll even be like my mother-in-law and save enough to continue cruising over and over again.