My wife and I are avid cruisers and have been on more than 25 cruises. In the years that we've been cruising, we have found come across some techniques for saving some money on our cruises.
I'm no cruise expert, just a guy who likes to cruise and likes to save money. So here are 8 Money-saving Tips for Cruisers that I hope you'll find useful.
Use a travel agent
We always use a travel agent who specializes in cruise vacations. Even though we have been on many cruises, it's still nice to talk to someone knowledgeable and be able to ask questions and recommendations. So whether it's a travel advocate at Cruiseable or a travel advisor/consultant/expert at another firm, take advantage of their expertise and rely on them as a great resource to make sure you plan out your perfect cruise vacation. "Cutting out the middleman" will usually cost you money, not save you money.
Join a loyalty program
We join each cruise line's loyalty program at the end of a sailing. We have also signed up each of our children. Although it won't save you much of anything in the beginning, if you get bit by the cruising bug as we have, you could see some big benefits such as free drinks, room upgrades, Wi-Fi package discounts and reduced deposit requirements. The benefits increase if you frequent a particular cruise line. Here's Cruiseable's loyalty program roundup.
Consider a cruise line credit card
A cruise line credit card may be beneficial if you find that you cruise on one particular cruise line much of the time. Many of these cruise line branded credit cards give double points if you use them to pay for a cruise or for any purchases made aboard your cruise. Points can be redeemed for onboard credit, which is great, and if you rack up a lot of points you could score a free cruise or substantial discount.
Research shore excursions in advance
Set aside some time to research shore excursions from the cruise lines to make sure the price is worth what you get. On a recent cruise we wanted to go to Megan’s Bay in St. Thomas. We had been to St. Thomas many times and knew what we wanted. The excursions listed that made stops at Megan’s Bay all had short stops at the beach and included shopping in town. Since we didn't want to go to the main part of town for shopping, it made sense for us to take a cab from the ship directly to Megan’s Bay. Bonus for us was we were able to stay much longer at the beach than the available tours. Also, do check out some of the third-party tour operators, but be careful to make sure you do not cut it too close to the time you need to be back on the ship.
Hold off on that T-shirt purchase
I enjoy wearing T-shirts that I purchased on the cruises we go on. On most cruise lines, they have a special sale — two for $20 in most cases, sometimes as low as $7 — on the last day of the cruise. The sale is usually only for a few hours and there are many people lining up, but that's part of the fun. T-shirts not your thing? Check the daily newsletter for special sales on almost anything on board: jewelry, watches, fashion accessories and more.
Hit the spa on port days
If you plan on using the spa on the cruise ship, you may want to do so on days when the ship is in port. It's much less crowded and sometimes you can have the whole spa (or a good part of it) all to yourself.
Book specialty dining on the first night
A tip we just recently came across is that many cruise ships offer a discount if you book specialty dining for the first night of the cruise. It's a great way to try out a specialty restaurant at a reduced rate. The cruise ship usually has a table set up when you board the ship to sign up. Of course, this tip won't work at all ship specialty restaurants, so your mileage may vary!
Think about a drinks package
We are not big drinkers so the drink packages on the cruise ships do not make sense for us. Do the research on drink packages and the average drink prices to see if it makes sense for you. At dinner we mainly drink ice water. It has become a habit with us to the point that even at home we have a pitcher of ice water available with meals.
It's not all about saving money
There are a few things we do not skimp on.
We always purchase travel insurance. We have never had to use it but you never know what comes up. Research the available options from the cruise line and independent insurance companies to make sure you get the coverage you want for a price you can afford. Here's a good reason to use a travel professional who specializes in cruise vacations.
We're lucky that, as residents in Florida, we are within reasonable driving distance to all of the cruise ports in the state. Yes, I know that the parking at the terminal is expensive, but I still like the convenience of disembarking from my cruise and getting right into my car for the drive home. On the last cruise we were on, friends of ours who were on the same cruise parked at a hotel a distance from the cruise terminal and paid for the transfer to the pier via bus. Yes they saved some money (although not as much as you would think) but they also added about a 2½ hours to their return home. Not worth it.
Do you have any other money-saving tips that you've learned over the years? Please let me know!
In our series Smart Money on a Cruise
- Super Guide to Booking a Cruise
- Guide to all-inclusive pricing on cruise ships
- Complete guide to tipping on a cruise
- Cheat sheet for deposits, payments & refunds
- 3 best travel rewards credit cards
- 15 tips on how to save money on a cruise
- Patti's 7 money-saving tips for cruise travelers
- Interline: Travel & cruise discounts for airline employees