Tips for Cruising on a Budget

A lot of cruise lines offer an “all inclusive” trips with accommodations, food, transportation and entertainment included in the fare. If you want to travel in glamour and style, it’s best to pay for everything you might need in advance so you don’t need to stash your cash or credit card for your every move. But as you step onboard, you can be bombarded with stuff that pays extra, like souvenir photos, alcoholic concoctions, shore excursions, massages, romantic exclusive dinners and more. You can spend over your budget, if you are not careful.

If you plan to lock up your wallet after spending a fortune on a cruise fare, here are some tips to remember:

1. Know what’s included with your fare

This is perhaps the most basic tip of all. Know exactly what is included in your fare and make sure you get the most out of these inclusions. If you don’t really want to spend anything more (except for tips, perhaps), being mindful of what are “free” would make it easier for you to choose where to go and what to do on the ship.

2. Consider a cheaper cabin

A small cruise ship cabin

If you want to save a lot, pay attention to the cabin you choose to stay in. Cabins with balconies can increase the price of your vacation quickly. Inside cabins are your cheapest option, and can save you up to several hundred dollars. You’d miss out on some luxuries that high-end suites offer, but remember that there are so many things to do in the cruise ship and in port excursions, so you most likely won’t be spending a lot of time in your room. You can also take in sights of the water in many public areas of the ship. If you select a cheaper cabin, you will have more money to spend elsewhere.

3. Book with a travel advisor

The largest single source of profit for cruise lines are their shore excursions. Cruise lines can arrange shore excursions for you, but the price is far greater compared to self-arranged trips. Booking with a skilled travel advisor is one of the most effective way to go when booking a cruise, as they can save you a significant amount of money while still offering an opportunity to explore your specific port of call. Trusty travel advisors know how to make your excursions more affordable.

Alternatively, you can just create a tour yourself. You can rent a car and sightsee on your own. This will work best if you did a lot of research and planned ahead about what to do on your specific port of call.

4. Avoid specialty restaurants

A table setting for two at the ship

You can save money by eating on free dining venues like the main dining area or buffet venue rather than going for the specialty restaurants that charge extra fees. These restaurants can quickly inflate your final bill. Thankfully, the buffets and main dining rooms of most cruise ships offer a huge variety of meals.

5. Book restaurant packages

Since the free dining venues can get pretty crowded, you’d perhaps crave for an intimate setting. You can book restaurant packages to save money. Some cruise lines offer bundle reservations, where group dinner reservations are offered at a discounted rate compared to booking them individually. It would be nice to dine premium at least one night, so budget your meals.

6. Book spas during slow days or port days

Woman getting a massage at the spa

Most spa treatments aboard cruise ships are generally pricey, but it doesn’t mean you have to avoid it if you don’t want to spend much. If you want to get pampered, look for discounted packages of multiple treatments. During slow times or days in port, spas often offer discounted services, so it would be wise to skip one port day so you can enjoy the spa and take and also explore the rest of the ship minus the crowds. Ask the spa or check your daily newsletter for special offers onboard. If there are no special offers listed, you can talk to the spa staff about the appointments you’d like to make and check if you can ask for a bulk rate.

7. Resist over-tipping

Tip money on a plate

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Tipping is a common thing to do on a cruise ship. If you receive a great service, you must tip accordingly. However, these days, most cruise lines add to your bill a service fee or auto-gratuity that covers your cabin steward and other staff. Some bars, spa or fitness centers often already have a gratuity included. There are also some all-inclusive cruise ships that encourage you not to tip (perhaps because everything’s already covered in your bill or fare).

In these cases, you don’t have to pay for additional gratuity. If the service is totally outstanding, then tip as you want, but you shouldn’t be pressured to do so if it’s not warranted. And don’t be pressured to tip for mediocre services.

8. Avoid expensive alcohol

Bar on a cruise ship

For many cruise ships, the cost of alcohol or even carbonated drinks is not included in the base price of the fare. There are all-inclusive cruises where this is not the case (and is commonly found in luxury liners), but these are rare exceptions. Prices vary per cruise lines, but most offer a version of a pre-paid card for buying beverages not included in the base price.

9. Look for beverage packages or bring your own

If you like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or even soda on a regular basis, ask your travel agent ahead of time about their beverage packages. These packages can offer you a discount rather than buying drinks individually. Some lines allow you to bring your own wine aboard, and have it served for your dinner, but you have to pay corkage fees. Some allows you to bring all the juice, bottled water, soft drinks and iced tea that you want, within reason. If your ship allows these, then you can hit up Wal-Mart or Costco on the way and buy a case of your favorite drink to lug aboard. This will save you money.

And if you order wine aboard, drink it up to the last drop. Ask your waiter to cork it after your meal and save it for another dinner. If you’re paying up for inflated prices, at least get your money’s worth by drinking the whole thing. Plus, buying per bottle is cheaper in the long run than buying per glass.

10. Save onboard shopping for the last day

It’s easy to spend a lot of money while you’re at the cruise ship, especially during sea days. But if you are trying to cruise on a budget, it’s best to wait until the last day to buy items from the ship’s gift or specialty store. Some items are typically marked down on the final day of a trip, and these prices weren’t available during shipping day. It’s also wiser to shop for items you want in the ports of call, where commodities aren’t overpriced.