You’ve booked your first cruise, taken a deep breath and paid off the credit card bill. Now, you’re thinking that, with a bit of spending money in your pocket to blow in the various ports, you’re all set.
Our Best Cruise Saving Tips
All aboard doesn’t necessarily mean all-inclusive
Some ships offer all-inclusive packages that cover everything from alcohol to shore excursions and even wifi, but many others charge separately for poolside and bar drinks, premium alcohol, bottled water, internet packages, shore excursions, spa services, speciality restaurants and cafes.
On every ship, all-inclusive or not, you’re asked to set up an account on board that’s linked to your stateroom card or wristband so all your charges can be tallied for you. Even on an all-inclusive ship, there’s always a gift shop.
It’s a convenient system but because you never have to reach into your pocket for cash, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re spending. If you’re travelling with your family, you might choose to give the older kids room cards or wristbands of their own, which means they too can charge to your account. Now, there’s a scary thought.
On ships that make a point of catering to families, like Disney, Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, servers are forever wafting by with trays of bright purple mocktails, complete with flashing-light swizzle sticks. Speciality shops brim with toys and costumes to enhance your enjoyment of the Princess Breakfast or the Pirate Night celebrations, everything is nearly impossible to resist, of course, and pricey. Be smart and plan ahead. Check the itinerary, bring your own pirate or princess costume from home and set some budget limits. Make Day One on board a bit of research project. Are those swizzly drinks included in your package? No? How much are they? Maybe each kid can have one during the cruise and they get to choose when that happens. How about the speciality restaurants? What’s the extra fee? Maybe you’ll have a special celebration at one of the fancier spots, but dine most nights in the perfectly lovely – and no-extra-fee – main or buffet dining rooms. You won’t suffer, believe me.
Raising your glass, not your costs
On many ships, beer, wine, and soft drinks at meals are included in the price of your cruise but ‘premium alcohol’, and drinks of any kind, even bottled water, served outside the dining rooms might not be. To keep that bar tab from mounting, try these saving strategies:
Rather than paying for bottled water poolside, pack a lightweight, refillable water bottle.
Forget your fondness for Grey Goose and learn to live with good old standard alcohol brands for the duration, it’s better than having to pour yourself a really stiff drink when you see the end-of-cruise bar bill.
On-board internet service is improving on most ships but it’s still pricey. While every ship is different, many bill for wifi by the minute. If the server is slow, and they usually are, you could blow three or four minutes simply signing on and off. Packages of 120 minutes, which seem vast when you purchase them, disappear very quickly, particularly if you’re uploading photos to Facebook etc. or worse, forgetting to log off.
One frugal cruiser tip for beating high onboard costs is to save your emailing and Facebook posting for days ashore when you can find a coffee shop that offers free wifi. Ask the ship’s crew and staff members, they’ll know all the best spots. If you do purchase an internet package on board, write all your email messages offline, using a word processing program, then quickly paste them in when you go online. If the server is slow, don’t try to upload photos, save them and keep yourself busy while you’re in the airport, waiting for your flight home.
Most importantly, monitor the kids’ internet use. Kids are used to wifi flowing like water and they’ll find it hard to understand why they can’t always be online with their friends. Buy a package for them and explain that when it’s finished, that will be it for the trip. I’ll never forget the face of a father ahead of me in line on the last night of a cruise, settling his shipboard account and discovering that his children had used their room cards to ring up more than $700 each in internet charges!
The biggest added cost of any cruise is for shore excursions. Depending on where you go, the company you cruise with, and what you choose to do, prices can range from $50/per guest for a simple snorkelling trip to a Caribbean beach to as much as $1,000/per guest or more for flight-seeing and salmon fishing in Alaska. Because what you do ashore is key to your enjoyment of the cruise, you’ll want to plan ahead, far ahead, preferably while you’re booking your cruise.
Take a look at the shore excursions, make a wish list of everything you’d love if cost wasn’t an obstacle and do the math. If the final number doesn’t scare you, great. If it’s a bit mind-bending, do some expectation adjustment, and choose excursions you can afford. Either way, book and pay for all your shore excursions as soon as possible, before the lists fill up. That way, the lion’s share of your extra cruise expenses will be out of the way long before you set sail.
Is it possible to organise your own tours ashore and find cheaper prices? Yes. At every port, you’ll see tour companies lined up, waiting for disembarking passengers. Are their prices lower? Often, but, and this is a huge BUT, you have no guarantee beyond their word that they will have you back in time to board the ship before sail-away. If you miss the final all-aboard call, the ship will leave without you but with all your belongings. Then what? You’ll be responsible for making your way to the next port of call to meet the ship, at your own expense.
If the cruise terminal is close to a town, you might choose to spend your time wandering, shopping and enjoying a coffee in a local café, no shore excursion necessary. You might hail a cab and head for a nearby beach, a cost-effective alternative to the ship-organized version of that adventure. You might hire a boat and a driver and create your own snorkelling tour, you could even pack your own mask and snorkel. As long as you ensure that you’re back well before the all-ashore call, you’ll be fine, and you’ll save a few dollars.
Cruises, like all romantic adventures, come with surprises that add to the fun, but also to the cost. The trick is anticipating those extras so you’ll finish your cruise with great memories….not a nasty shipboard account statement.
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Cover photo credit: Carnival Cruises