Cruising the ocean can be an expensive excursion or a reasonably affordable vacation depending on when you book it, what you choose to do on the ship, and several other factors. In this article, we’ll tell you about some options to consider and how to save money on a cruise.
Cruising has a reputation for an expensive way to take a vacation. But, actually, if you do it right, a cruise can be a great place to save money. It rolls most of your travel expenses and accommodation expenses into one, and if you book a full package you can even get food rolled into the costs, too.
Plus with the variety of cruises that are available these days, you can find something for everyone. Whether you want to go to an exotic beach and drink mojitos, get some much-needed quality family time, or see interesting European cities, there’s a cruise for you. And here’s how you can save on that perfect cruise vacation.
1. Be Open Minded About Your Cruise Options
As with any other type of travel, you’ll likely save money if you’re open-minded about where you cruise. You’ll find there are hidden gems of destinations where you can get the full cruising experience at a much lower price. Check out cruise-related blogs and cruise line websites to get an idea of destinations that might be more affordable.
It’s fine to determine the type of cruise you want, whether it’s warm and beachy or interesting and sophisticated. Just don’t get stuck on a particular location or area, and you’re likely to find better deals.
2. Understand Exactly What’s Included in your Cruise
When booking a cruise package, it’s absolutely essential that you understand exactly what’s included in that package. Many new cruisers think they’re getting certain meals or drinks included only to find out that this isn’t the case.
On this note, too, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when pricing out different cruising options. A luxury line with included beverages and certain meals may be cheaper than a more affordable cruise line where you upgrade to get all the extras you want.
3. Consider the Beverage Package
If a major part of your ideal vacation involves drinking cocktails by the pool and wine at dinner, a beverage package can be worth the cost. However, if you’re not a big drinker, you’re likely better off skipping the package and buying drinks on special as you want them.
Remember, cruise line restaurants, just like typical restaurants, have specials and discounts. So you might be able to get a good discount on drinks while you’re eating out anyway. Or you could save your drinking for on-shore excursions to local dives.
Some ships also allow you to bring a certain number of non-alcoholic beverages on board. This will keep you from spending money on bottled water or soda. You can usually find the policy on what you can and cannot bring on board listed on the cruise line’s website.
4. Book Onboard Entertainment Ahead of Time
Booking onboard experiences and entertainment ahead of time will give you access to more options. Plus it can be cheaper to do it this way. One thing to consider is booking these things during hours when other guests are less likely to want to book these attractions. Booking when demand is lower can save you money.
5. Look at Restaurant Packages
Again, a package may or may not end up saving you money. But don’t discount it before looking into your options. On some cruise lines, booking a restaurant package ahead of time winds up being quite a bit cheaper than dining onboard on your own. If nothing else, it keeps you from inadvertently overspending by always choosing the priciest food at the most luxurious restaurant on board.
6. Use The Spa on Port Days
It stands to reason that most other cruisers are going to want to go ashore on port days. That makes these days the best time, typically, to book spa treatments in particular. This is also true of other on-boat attractions and entertainment. Look at the schedule to see which ports-of-call you’re less interested in visiting, and then book the treatments you’d like to get during those times.
7. Explore Ports On Your Own
Most cruise lines offer a variety of packages for exploring ports-of-call. But they’re typically more expensive than what you’ll pay if you explore the port on your own. You can save the most by simply experiencing the port like a local. Walk around and find some interesting restaurants. Ask the locals what they do for fun. Or see if there are any cultural attractions nearby that you can get to using public transportation.
Just be mindful of your time frame when planning port explorations, and make sure you get back to the ship in plenty of time.
8. Keep an Eye on Fares
Booking a cruise is similar to booking a flight. You want to keep an eye on the fares for a while to make sure you’re getting a good deal. If you’ve booked a few cruises, you might know about what the going rate is for the one you’re considering. But if this is your first cruise, you may have no idea what to expect.
If this is the case, spend a month or so looking at different cruises on different dates. Look at what the fares are, and get a feel for how they’re rising or falling for the cruise you’re interested in. Then when you book you can be reasonably confident you’re getting a good deal.
9. Book Early or at the Last Minute
Once you have a feel for the fares you should expect, it’s time to figure out when to book. You’ll typically get the best deals if you book really early or at the last minute. Booking a cruise several months out gives you access to generally low prices as well as more options for cabins and cruise activities.
But spontaneously booking a week or two in advance can also work to your advantage. If you can be flexible about your cabin, especially, you can take advantage of some steep discounts as the cruise company seeks to fill up still-open spaces.
10. Cruise in the Shoulder Season
Cruise seasons will generally sync up with typical tourist seasons for the destination areas. And cruising in the shoulder season–that time right before or right after the peak season for your destination–can save you a lot of money.
Just when the shoulder season falls will depend on the destination of your cruise. You might get good deals in Europe in the spring or fall, or snag an excellent fare for a Bermudan cruise in September or October. Just be sure if you’re buying when the weather might be really bad–like during hurricane season–that you consider trip insurance.
11. Limit Your Flight Time
It’s easy to get lost in finding the best deal on your cruise and to forget that you also need to look at the cost of getting to your port. If you live on the east coast and find a great cruise that leaves from California, that might not be such a savings after all. Luckily, more and more cruise lines are leaving from cities around United States coastlines, so you can probably leave from a destination fairly close to home. This can save you a ton on airfare.
WiFi still tends to be expensive on many cruises, and it can cost a lot to connect with your phone when you’re in the middle of the ocean. So take this time as an excuse to disconnect. You can always find an internet cafe when you’re in a port to hook up to your email or post a few pictures to Instagram.
13. Pack Light
Just like airlines, cruise ships have baggage fees. Even if you could pack your room full of clothing for every single day, that doesn’t mean you should. That extra weight and bulk will cost you. So it’s best to pack light. Pack versatile mix-and-match outfits, and plan to do essential laundry on board. To save even more, pack some laundry detergent and wash your clothes in the sink in the evenings.
14. Look For All the Discounts
A cruise is basically a mini economy once you’re on board. There are so many options of places to eat and things to do. And most of those options have demand cycles just like they would on land. So that means they often run discounts during slow times. Be sure to look around the cruise ship for these discounts whenever you’re looking for something to do or something to eat.
15. Don’t Forget Your Credit Card Rewards
You probably already know how to use credit card rewards to save on airfare and hotels. But what about using a credit card rewards system to save on a cruise?
Many cruise lines offer branded rewards cards, but they typically don’t give you a good value for your spending. Instead, look for a travel rewards credit card that fits with your everyday lifestyle, and then plan to use your rewards to pay for either your cruise or the airfare associated with getting to and from your cruise.
Or look for a card that specifically gives you bonus points for travel booked on the card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Just be sure that the credit card company counts a cruise as travel, as not all do.
Finally, you can decide to use a cash back credit card, instead, and then use the cash back towards your cruise. This may not get you as much bang for your buck. But it leaves you with flexible rewards on everyday spending that you can save up and use on a cruise.