Have you ever almost booked a cruise, and then changed your mind after thinking of all the other costs besides the cruise fare? I know I have.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve daydreamed about booking a particular cruise only to reconsider once I thought of the other costs involved. If the cruise fare were all-inclusive, I’d be a frequent sailor by now!
Unfortunately, it’s not, and the other little costs along the way can add up to an enormous vacation bill by the end of the trip.
Although not every additional cost can be cut out, there are some things you can do to help keep your overall costs down to make a cruise more affordable for you.
In this post, I’m going to let you in on nineteen epic tips that will help you save money on your next cruise.
1. Leave at an Unconventional Time
For every travel destination, there is a peak season and a shoulder season. The same is true for any cruise ship destination as well.
You can land great discounts if you travel to a destination not many other people are trying to go. Keep in mind, the shoulder season for one cruise might be peak season for another depending on the ports you’ll be visiting. I have created a chart for quick reference of the seasons based on your destination.
“Unconventional time” not only refers to the specific month in which you travel, but it can also mean leaving on a particular day of the week.
For example, many week-long cruises leave port on either a Saturday or Sunday. If you can find one that sets sail in the middle of the week, it’s likely to cost less since it will appeal to a smaller audience.
Consider the school calendar as well. Going on a cruise in the middle of summer, depending on your destination, could be more crowded due to the number of families taking vacations during the summer break.
2. Take Advantage of Pack and Go Rates
Many cruise lines offer deals for guests able to book last minute. At this point, they are trying to fill up the remaining rooms to have as few vacancies as possible.
Different cruise companies refer to these deals by different names. Carnival calls them “Pack & Go,” Princess has “Drop & Go” rates, and Royal Caribbean refers to them as “Last Minute Cruises.” Norwegian and Holland America have cruise deals on their site but not specifically last-minute deals.
Now you may be thinking, “I can’t just leave on the spur of the moment. I have to give my job some notice.” Don’t rule this out yet! Not all deals require you to pack up and leave within a few days.
Although some of these last-minute cruise deals leave within the next week or two, not all of them are quite this last minute. You can find many deals for cruises one or two months out.
This still may not be feasible for everyone. I know several people who have to give their work six months’ notice before taking any vacation.
Here are a few things to consider about last-minute cruising:
- Usually, the cruise line bases the price on double occupancy. They don’t apply to singles or additional stateroom occupants after the first two.
- Full payment is sometimes required at time of booking and is non-refundable and non-transferable.
- You often can’t combine them with other discounts or promotions.
3. Pay for Excursions Within 48 Hours of Booking
To my knowledge, this only applies to Carnival cruises, and the offer doesn’t show up for everyone.
After you book your cruise, a pop up will appear on your screen telling you that if you book your excursions now, you will receive either a 5, 10, 15 or 20% discount.
I wouldn’t count on this every time, but I’d be ready with a general idea of which excursions you’d like to go on. That way, if it does pop up, you can take advantage of this discount and book your excursions right then.
4. Don't Forget to Budget for Gratuities and Port Fees
The first vacation I ever planned was my honeymoon cruise. I was very inexperienced with vacation planning and all the expenses that go into cruising at the time. When I booked, I thought the cruise fare was all I would have to pay for ahead of time.
This may be something you already have on your radar, or you may be a veteran cruiser. However, if you aren’t expecting the additional costs of paying for port fees and gratuities ahead of time, it can be a real shocker.
So make sure to plan and prepare for them in your cruise budget.
5. Bring the Alcohol Your Cruise Line Allows
Most cruise lines allow you to bring some alcohol on the ship with you. Just like at a restaurant, alcohol on cruise ships will be pricier, so bring what you can to help cut this cost.
Many cruise companies allow you to pack one bottle of wine or champagne per person that is over the age of twenty-one.
Princess lets you bring more than one bottle of wine or champagne per person over twenty-one. However, all additional bottles will be subject to a $15 corkage fee.
Norwegian allows you to bring wine and champagne with no specified amount per person. You are charged a $15 corkage fee no matter where you consume your alcohol, even if it’s in your stateroom.
Holland America permits each adult over the age of twenty-one to bring one bottle of wine or champagne. Each bottle after the first per person is subject to an $18 corkage fee.
As you can see, each cruise company has a different policy regarding taking alcohol on board with you. Before cruising, check with your specific cruise line and bring what you can. Alcohol will always be cheaper bought from the store ahead of time.
6. Stock Up During Happy Hour
Some cruises have daily happy hour at certain bars on the ship where you can get two-for-one drinks.
One of the cruises I’ve been on had this drink deal, and it was amazing! My husband and I both went to the bar and asked for two drinks, but asked them only to open one of them. We then put our second beers in our stateroom fridge to drink later.
This is something we did several times, even several times within the same happy hour, and no one objected!
Even if you get a bartender who won’t leave your second beer closed, it’s still a significant benefit to get a two-for-one drink on a cruise. If nothing else, the person you’re cruising with could drink the second drink, and one of you still drinks for free.
7. Don't Buy the Drink Packages
Unless you can really hold your liquor, drink packages on cruises are just not worth the price. I am a lightweight, so these will literally never be a good deal for me when cruising.
Alcohol drink packages usually run you around $60/person per day. The price of alcohol is similar to what you’d find in restaurants. You’d have to drink about six or seven cocktails a day to break even on what you’re paying for the drink package.
Not to mention, if one person in a stateroom buys the package, everyone else in the stateroom is required to have it as well. So everyone in your room would need to drink that amount to break even.
Maybe you aren’t a lightweight like me, and your favorite thing to do is sit in a beach chair and relax with a drink in your hand all day. Maybe for you the numbers make sense, and you save money with the drink package. If that’s you, then, by all means, get the package and save some cash!
But for lightweights like me, skip the package and buy a $6 beer a few times throughout the day.
8. Bring Your Own Corkscrew
As mentioned before, many cruise lines charge a corkage fee if you drink the alcohol you brought with you in the main dining hall or other public areas.
I recommend bringing a corkscrew and bottle opener with you in your luggage. This way, you can uncork it yourself in your stateroom with no additional charge.
You’ll also be glad to have this if you can score an unopened bottle of beer during your ship’s happy hour that you store in your stateroom fridge.
9. Eat the Food You Already Paid For
I know the extra dining options on a cruise can be enticing. A nice, juicy steak sounds tempting when you’re on vacation and in a mindset of spending money. But many specialty dining restaurants on cruises can run you $30/person for this extra meal.
Trying the specialty restaurants may be something that adds significant value to your cruise experience, and if so, plan for it! If not, try to stay away from cruise ship restaurants that cost extra.
After all, you already paid for your food when you paid the cruise fare. The main dining room and buffet on the Lido deck aren’t the only food included for you. There are usually a few other restaurants on-board that won’t cost you extra.
So on day one, sit down and look at all the restaurants your ship has to offer.
10. Stay Away From the Spa
I have been sucked in by the allure of the cruise ship spa before.
On our honeymoon, we planned a couples massage. At the end of the session, they told us that if we got a second massage with them, we’d get a such-and-such discount. If we got the third massage, we’d get an even higher percentage taken off the cost on that third massage. In the end, we spent around $400 to save $200.
Maybe your resolve is stronger than mine, and you can get one massage, and that’s it. But even if you get one massage, the cost is higher than it would be for the same massage at a spa back home. There is usually only one spa on the ship so they can set whatever prices they want.
11. Wait for Cruise Deals Before You Book
Many cruise lines or other cruising discount websites have email lists to which you can subscribe.
Regularly, sites like cruise.com or the cruise line themselves will send out discounts and promotion emails letting you know about discounted cruise fares, free on-board spending, complimentary room upgrades, and more.
If you are the type of person who can resist promotions when you don’t have the money, then I highly recommend signing up for these email lists. That way, you can take advantage of deals if you’re already thinking about a cruise for your next vacation anyway.
I know this tactic won’t work for everyone. I know plenty of people who are tempted by deals that show up in their inbox.
These promotional emails end up tempting them to spend money they don’t have on a vacation they can’t afford under the guise of saving $200 or something like that. If this is you, then, don’t sign up.
You have to know your limits and what works for you.
12. Book Your Next Cruise on Your Current Cruise
Many cruise lines offer discounts and promotions if you book your next cruise with them while you are on your current cruise.
I know this doesn’t help you for the cruise you’re already on, but if you enjoy cruising and plan to go again shortly, it’s worth checking out.
These discounts can be double the onboard spending credit, reduced deposits, room upgrades, and more!
13. Be on the Lookout for Early Booking Bonuses and Holiday Discounts
A lot of cruise companies and cruise discount sites also have deals and promotions for booking early.
If you are a planner and like or need to schedule your vacations far in advance, check out these deals and see if there’s one from which you could benefit.
When Labor Day, Black Friday, or other major holidays come around, there are plenty of cruise deals to be found. Onboard spending, discounts on additional guests, or cruise fare reductions are not uncommon.
If you are already signed up for cruise line promotional emails, these deals will usually be delivered right to your inbox. But even if you aren’t, you can go to a specific cruise line or cruise discount website to search for their deals around the holidays.
14. Budget on the Boat
It is so easy to get in the mindset of spending on vacation, any vacation, that you lose track of what you are spending, and you go over your vacation budget!
If you are conscious and aware of where your money is going on your cruise, you are naturally going to buy less. Make sure to track the cost of everything, so you aren’t unpleasantly surprised when you get back home.
15. See the Free Entertainment
Instead of paying to go to the ship casino, arcade, or shops, see the free entertainment you already paid for with your cruise fare!
So many activities, movies, and performances are available on your ship. There could be a musician playing in the piano lounge, a comedy act in the Deck 7 theater, or a movie playing outside on the projector by the pool.
Check the activities on the cruise itinerary that’s delivered to your stateroom daily, so you don’t miss any of your free entertainment options.
16. Limit Your Excursions
Nothing says you have to pay for excursions at every port or go on any at all!
You can always look up things to do in your port city ahead of time and plan activities not offered for your cruise line’s excursions.
Sometimes exploring a new destination means walking through the city and stopping when you find something interesting.
Another thing to consider when booking an excursion is reading reviews for that excursion to see if it might be worth your money.
I typically like to go on an excursion in half the ports and explore in the other half. I pick my favorites and book those. However, I read the reviews to make sure it’s going to be something I’ll enjoy if I’m going to pay for it.
17. Skip the WiFi
The cost of WiFi on the cruise ship can add up quickly! One time we paid for pay-as-you-go WiFi so my husband could check the grades he got on his finals.
Unless you can’t get away from work or you have an emergency for which you need access to the internet, enjoy your vacation. Unplug and unwind!
You probably check your phone or the internet all the time at home. The majority of the time, I find that checking my phone or emails on vacation causes added stress.
18. Don't Purchase Airport to Pier Transportation
Airport to pier transportation on the cruise line shuttle can cost you over $20/person.
I can’t say I’ve never purchased an airport to pier transportation for convenience’s sake. However, I did regret it afterward. I didn’t find the shuttle worth the price. We had to wait on all the other passengers to load up for about 25 minutes.
I recommend just taking an Uber or Lyft. It’s bound to be much quicker, and even if the drive to the airport is a little further away, it’s probably cheaper as well.
19. Be Aware of the Dangerous Cashless Cruise Card
Cruise ships have your room card double as an on-board spending card. This can be extremely dangerous!
Anytime you are swiping a card without thinking or recording that expense, is a chance for your vacation spending to get away from you. This is especially true for a cruise where many people are relaxing and feeling good after drinking all day.
Be aware of that cruise card, and don’t let it trick you into spending more than you want to on your next cruise.
I hope this post has given you some great ideas on how to cut down your costs for the next time you set sail!
In fact, you may be able to finally book that cruise you’ve had your eye on for a while now and turn that daydream into a reality.
If this has got you seriously thinking about your next vacation, go over to cruise.com and check out the fantastic deals they have!
This is not an affiliate link. I just really like cruise.com and have booked through them before for my cruise fare. They send out emails about weekly deals, so you’re always informed, and the discounts are significant!
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