After a long day on the job, do you sometimes wish you could just hop on a cruise ship to a dreamy destination and leave your woes behind? Who doesn’t? A cruise is not only a convenient way to escape, it's a good value for the vacation dollar.
To make those dollars go even further, here are 7 money-saving tips for cruise travelers that I've put together, based on more than 300 cruises over the years. After Gary's 15 tips and Walter's 8 tips, I couldn't resist adding a few more. Have your own suggestions? Please share!
Book well in advance
Keep an eye out for cruise sales that come with perks, sometimes they're legit — just don't be sucked into a lowest-price race to the bottom and the ensuing lousy cruise. Subscribe to a cruise line's website and ask to be on the mailing list. Princess Cruises has regular promotions. Regent Seven Seas and Crystal offer high-priced luxury sailings but they do offers nice deals if you book well in advance, as in a year or two. Same with Paul Gauguin and its phenomenal cruises to the South Seas. Remember that you generally have to put down only a quarter of the cruise fare up front, and you get it all back if you have to cancel three or four months before the sailing date. And finally, remember to take advantage of all-inclusive pricing.
Remember, unlike the hotel world, where HotelTonight can get you great last-minute deals, there is rarely unfilled inventory on a cruise ship, so it's better to book early instead of late in the game. And many of the most desirable itineraries such as Europe and Alaska require advance bookings in order to avoid paying higher air and cruise fares, with savings that can come to thousands of dollars.
Flexibility goes a long way
Be flexible with your dates. Cruise prices often vary by sailing date. If possible, check a few dates before and after your preferred sailing date to maximize your savings. Sometimes a cruise + air or air + land package from a travel company makes sense, but sometimes you can book your own air to get the best price and schedule unless the air portion is free or is subsidized by the cruise line. Try the Bliss Filters there at the right and see the different lead-in prices when you choose different dates — Cruiseable makes the data transparent to help empower users' decision-making.
For families: Cruises where kids sail free
Planning a cruise with your family? Some cruise lines offer specials where kids sail free. MSC Cruises currently has one of the best specials: From now through the winter, children 12 and under sail free on select sailings and get to frolic in the Aqua Park, swimming pools and waterslides. And when the state-of-the-art, technologically superior MSC Seaside — a giant playground of a ship — makes her debut in 2017, families not only can cruise with their kids for free but the fare covers all your meals, entertainment and some extra amenities. Contact a Cruiseable travel advocate for details.
Explore on your own
Women may want to get a manicure and pedicure and hair colored before sailing as salon prices on all ships are steep. Take only the shore excursions you can’t live without, it’s cheaper to walk around ports and hit the beach on some Caribbean islands than to pay for an organized tour. In Tahiti you can take an open-air bus called The Truck to the beach for about a couple of U.S. bucks. We took the bus in Aruba to the beach for $2 round trip. Not only does walking on your own save money, it burns calories, which most passengers will discover is a good thing after a few days of over-indulgence.
Wait for arrival in port before communicating back home
Do not use the ship-to-shore cabin phone to call home, it will cost you. Call on your cell phone when you arrive in port, if you've set up that option, or text or email. Okay speaking of email, watch out for WiFi, on ships where it’s not included (which are most of the mainstream lines) expect to pay a lot for each agonizingly slow minute. Nearly every port in the world has free wi-fi somewhere. (Don't forget to download some wi-fi finders, see 7 apps for finding wi-fi hotspots in port.) Sometimes the terminals are wired with free Internet, too, so get your Web time in port.
Work the perks: Take advantage of special benefits
If you're an airline employee or relative, a member of the armed forces or a military veteran, a firefighter, teacher, member of the National Guard or National Air Traffic Controllers Association, you're entitled to varying levels of discounts and special benefits when booking a vacation, as this Cruiseable article explains. Airline employees can get cruise discounts of 50% to 75% and vacations at Club Med and other hotels or resorts with rates up to half off. On Princess Cruises, if you are a military veteran, you can get an onboard credit up to $250 based on the number of days you travel. And if you're 65 and older or live in certain states, travel agents can often get you a price break as well.
Bring your own water on board
As Gary pointed out, another cost-cutter if you drink bottled water is to bring your own or buy some during port stops. Unless a cruise is all-inclusive such as on Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and other luxury lines, expect to shell out $4 or more for your water plus a tip. The same goes for wine and booze, if you imbibe. However, some companies have limits and/or taboos about BYO alcohol so check with them first. But if they let you carry it on you will save a bundle.
Bonus tip: Speaking of drinking, avoid those fancy cocktails that come with the glass. You won’t want to pack the glass to carry home. They're pricy. And the drinks are loaded with calories — splurge on the food and desserts on board instead.
That's it for me. What are your ideas?
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
- Walter's 8 money-saving tips for cruisers
- Interline: Travel & cruise discounts for airline employees