10 Tips for Saving Money on a Cruise

There are some simple ways to save money on your next cruise.
Flickr photo by jimg944

There are many deals to be had on cruise vacations, which are often viewed as an economical way to travel. But that great cruise fare you got before you sailed could turn into sticker shock when the fees for spas, shore excursions and even sodas add up during your cruise vacation.

Here are some of the best ways to save money on a cruise:

Book your cruise early: “Last-minute” used to be the mantra for bargain cruise shoppers, but these days many of the last-minute fares have sailed away. Your best bet for getting a great deal on a cruise is to book as early as possible. As the bookings rise on a cruise ship, so do the fares. In addition, the lowest-priced cabins often fill up first, which could force you to book a higher-priced category than you were planning.

Use the right travel agent:
Just about any travel agent can book your cruise, but many agents specialize in a particular cruise line or a particular cruise route. Find an agent who has sailed with your chosen cruise line and booked many cruises with them. An experienced travel agent with established relationships can often get you upgrades or bigger on-board credits. A good agent will also steer you toward particular sailings that may save you money and monitor your cruise after you have booked, to ask for a reduction in fare if a new discount is offered.

Consider booking your own airfare: Most cruise lines offer “air and sea” packages that add your air travel to the port in with the price of your cruise. While the bundled approach can save you money in many areas of life, these airfare plus cruise packages usually cost more than if you book your airfare yourself. A few quick Web searches for fares should help you decide whether to go with the cruise line package or buy your own airline tickets.

Book a smaller or inside cabin: Is a cruise about relaxing in your cabin and gazing out at sea? Or are you going to take advantage of all the amenities your ship and the ports have to offer? If you intend to use your cabin only for sleeping, as many cruisers do, then a smaller, inside room will probably be just fine. You can save hundreds of dollars by opting for a lower-cost category. Also consider the time of year you will be cruising if you plan to book a cabin with a veranda. Your morning coffee or evening glass of wine on your private deck will be a chilly proposition on an April cruise in Norway, so you might want to book an inside cabin and save your money.

Save on shore excursions:
Your cruise line will offer a myriad of shore excursion choices for your days in port. But it will be cheaper to book a tour or other excursion independently and not pay the cruise line’s mark-up. To find providers, search the name of your port and “shore excursions.” Be sure to check into the reputation of the company you are booking with. Also consider the number of excursions you are booking. It can be as much or even more fun to explore a port city on your own rather than join an organized tour every day of your trip.

Bring your own booze: One of the biggest surprises at the end of a cruise could be your bar bill. Alcohol is not included in the price of most cruises, and you should expect to pay about what you would pay at a resort for an alcoholic drink. To save money, check with your cruise line to see if you are allowed to bring alcohol with you on the ship. Many cruise lines allow you to bring a set number of bottles of wine on board and pay a corkage fee of about $15 for each bottle. Often, the price of the wine plus the corkage fee is still less than a bottle of wine costs on the ship.

Mind your drinks: In addition to charges for alcohol, many cruise lines also charge for soda, bottled water and specialty coffees. These charges can add up over the course of the cruise, so stick to what’s offered for free, like regular coffee and tea. You might also consider the soda card that is offered on many cruise lines. This deal costs $5-$7 per day and allows unlimited soda on board. And desserts also abound on a cruise, so you can skip the ice cream bar on deck that charges extra for sweet stuff.

Save on surfing and talking: Internet usage is usually charged by either the minute or the kilobyte while you are on a cruise ship. To avoid these charges, seek out an Internet cafe while the ship is in port. These local Internet cafes usually offer high-speed Internet for a much more reasonable price than you will find on board. If you must use your cell phone on your vacation, check with your cell phone provider before you leave and upgrade your plan to include international roaming. The extra charges will still be less than using the expensive phones on the ship.

Watch your wallet: Cruise ships use a cashless system, where your room is charged for each thing you buy. This is a great modern convenience, but it’s also an easy way to ignore how much you are spending. At the end of every day, do a mental tally of what you have charged, so that you won’t be in for a big surprise at the end of your vacation. Or carry a small notepad to write down the charges during the day to track them exactly.

Plan ahead: While you are on your cruise, consider booking your next one. If you book while on board, you will be offered some of the best rates available, as well as other incentives such as on-board credits and free shore excursions. Many cruise insiders say these “boomerang” deals are the way to get the most cruise for your money.

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  1. We’re are going on our first cruise in August so I was really excited to see this list! I’ll certainly take your advice. Hopefully we’ll have a really great time and get offered a phenomenal deal on a ‘boomerang’ cruise!:) Thanks for the tips!

  2. These are some good tips. One that I would add would be to plan ahead for the casino as well. There are classes offered at the beginning of every cruise for those who are new to any of the games or need a refresher course. This can give you a taste of the casino without having to spend alot of money. During the cruise there are games for all levels of players and bets. If you start with a budget for the casino, you won’t be wondering what happened on the last night of the cruise as you look over your final bill.

    Kimala McConnell
    Publisher, CruiseDork.com

  3. Great post full of valuable tips, especially for us “cruise newbies.” I even Stumbled it so I’d have it to reference when I finally take my first cruise.

  4. I think Except on a few luxury cruise ships, which have no tipping required policies, you are expected to tip your cabin steward, dining room waiter and assistant waiter. Don’t fight it. These crew members work very hard for low wages, and your tips are necessary to their livelihood. Many lines recommend that each passenger tip about $10 per day, as follows: cabin steward, $3.50; dining room waiter and assistant waiter, $5.50 (shared); bistro service waiter and cooks, $1. Bar bills are automatically charged a 15 percent gratuity for the bartender. Special service personnel such as the maitre ‘d, deck stewards and bellmen should be tipped as service is rendered; for other crew tips, payment at the end of the cruise is customary.

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