Travelers constantly ask me how they can save money on a cruise. Let's begin with this simple truth: The cruise line will be working hard to get you to spend money.
So it's a good idea to come up with a clear budget in advance and to make sure you monitor and track what you're spending.
Here are 15 tips on how to save money and stay within your budget on a cruise. Do you have other tips? Please share below.
Choose an independent tour on land
Research the ports you'll be visiting before departing and plan some self-touring or more inexpensive independent provider tours instead of the more pricey shore excursions offered by the cruise lines. See my article How to choose the right shore excursions and decide which option is best for you. Bonus tip: Return to the ship for meals if self-touring rather than buying food on land.
Do it yourself
Compare the fares when you arrange your own flights, pre- and post-trip accommodation and transfers to and from the ship with the price you're quoted from the cruise lines. You can often beat their prices. This takes a little extra effort on your part, and it often helps to use a travel agent or consultant. One option is Cruiseable's Travel Lovers Rewards program, where you can save hundreds of dollars on your next hotel stay.
Use public transportation during the trip
Use the shuttle bus and public transport instead of taxis. You will always find other passengers who are also finding their own way around or have been to the port before to assist. The local tourism office will also help. If needed, in most destinations there will be English-language assistance or signage.
Skip the drink & Internet packages (or not)
Weeks before your voyage, review the packages offered by the cruise lines and determine if you can save or budget better by purchasing these. In addition to shore excursions, the cruise lines often offer all-you-can-drink packages and Internet/wi-fi packages. Often you can go without these. But you can also save by purchasing these, depending on how much use you'll make use of them. Bonus tip: Skip the Internet on board and head to an Internet cafe for free wi-fi in port; ask the crew where they go, as they will know where the closest free ones are.
Take advantage of complimentary beverages
Use the complimentary juices, teas, coffees and water at meals and in the buffet dining room rather than ordering them when at the pool, bars or lounges. Yes, first-timers: On all cruises except luxury cruises with all-inclusive pricing, you're charged for each bottle of water, soda and coffee you order.
Buy water in port & bring it back
Water fountains are available around the ship and although it is not encouraged you can refill water bottles at them. But here's a better option: Most lines will allow you to bring a reasonable quantity of bottled water and sodas onto the ship at each port. Check in advance if this is permitted.
Bring your own alcoholic drinks on board (if permitted)
Check to see if your cruise line allows you to bring any alcohol or wine for use in your cabin. Most do not but some may permit limited quantities and will charge corkage fees in the restaurants. It should prove cheaper than buying wine on board.
Attend cocktail parties during your trip
Attend any cocktail parties you're invited to (especially if you're part of a larger group) as they serve free drinks and canapés during the event. Look in the daily newsletter for social events on board. Bonus tip: Do not buy the special cocktails and champagnes being offered at sail-away parties as these are usually cost a premium.
Attend a Meet & Mingle event
Check to see if there will be a Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle event via the cruisecritic site and sign up to attend. In addition to receiving free refreshments, you'll also get to meet other repeat guests who may have money-saving tips and will be arranging to share private tours and transfers.
Think twice about onboard stores & auctions
10I hate to burst your bauble, but if you're intent on saving money, you'll want to avoid the stores and promotional activities on board most modern cruise ships. Unless you're in the market for new jewelry, fragrances, artwork or a souvenir, you may want to steer clear of merchandise sales tables, shopping talks, art shows and auctions as well as the on-board stores.
Seek out the best markets & stores in port
11 Do not shop close to the port as these are likely to have higher prices — in some ports, the shops closest to where you disembark are owned by the cruise lines. Ask the crew where they go to shop as they are likely to know the best markets, stores and malls.
Use a pre-paid currency card
12 Take a pre-paid currency card instead of taking currency or withdrawing cash from machines in port. Find ATMs that don't charge extra. See Cruiseable's tip about dynamic currency conversion when using ATMs overseas.
Look for free enrichment classes
13Some cruise lines include free enrichment classes (generally brief, one-off sessions) as part of your fare, but most do not. So be choosy when signing up for premium events like art classes, wine tastings, cocktail making and flower arranging that cost extra.
Do you really need another photo?
14 Some cruise lines take photographs of you and your companion when you're boarding and on formal nights. These never appeal to me, and I make sure to capture some better, more natural shots when I'm on board and on shore, sometimes by asking a fellow cruiser to take a shot with my smartphone.
Avoid using your mobile phone
15 Try not to use your mobile phone on board and disable data roaming to avoid receiving a significant bill — and sticker shock — when you return home. See our articles:
- How to keep in touch during a cruise
- Staying connected at sea — at a reasonable cost
- 10 great travel gadgets for your summer vacation (see tip No. 3)
A final word of advice: Don't let frugality be your only guide. You don't want to be so tightfisted that you'll only consider cruises with rock-bottom prices. There's a reason those fares are cheaper. How often do you cruise? Live a little!
How about you? What tips can you share with fellow cruisers on how to save money?
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
- Patti's 7 money-saving tips for cruise travelers
- Walter's 8 money-saving tips for cruisers
- Interline: Travel & cruise discounts for airline employees