Think you'll spend a fortune booking your next cruise? Think again. There are plenty of ways you can save money on a cruise vacation, you just have to know the right questions to ask, the best time to book and how to get free upgrades. Here are 16 quick tips to keep in mind when planning your next adventure at sea.
Gathering a big cruising crew could lead to big savings for you and your group. Most cruise lines offer group packages that let you sail for less. Norwegian Cruise Line offers two group packages where, for every 14 passengers and 7 cabins booked for your group, 1-2 guests can cruise for free.
Cruise line loyalty programs offer referral fees in the form of an onboard credit. If you’re a past guest of Princess Cruises, for example, you can receive a $25 onboard credit for each person you refer who books a cruise—and your referral gets a $25 credit as well. It’s a win-win.
Cruise lines offer all sorts of incentives for early bookers, such as reduced fare, cabin upgrades, access to beverage packages and other onboard perks.
While booking early is the safer option, sometimes it pays off to procrastinate. As the sailing date approaches, cruise prices start to drop. Cruise lines typically want to fill up those cabins, and while there won't be a wide variety to choose from, late bookers can snatch a hefty discount on the rooms that are still left.
If you know you want to try out the specialty dining restaurants, buy the dining package. This way you can dine at the specialty restaurants with a significant percentage off of the price than if you were to purchase each individually. Sometimes, even splurging on those specialty dining options can reap a sweet reward. On certain Carnival Cruise Line sailings longer than 3 nights, guests who dine at the Steakhouse on the first night of their cruise receive a free bottle of wine. To find out if this promotion is available on your sailing, inquire with the restaurant hostess or the ship's Fun Times newsletter.
Some ships offer discounts on spa visits during port days, as most passengers are off exploring on-shore. While cruise lines encourage guests to book spa reservations in advance, some offer discounts on spa treatments if booked on the first day of your cruise or if you book multi-treatment packages. Stop by the cruise ship’s spa on embarkation day to find out about any available discounts.
Tip: Many cruise line offer a spa raffle on embarkation day. Ask about it when you step on board; it hardly ever gets packed, so you have a higher chance of winning.
Hey, we're advocates of dishing out a few extra bucks for crew members who provide rockstar service; but nevertheless, pay attention to your bill. Most bars, restaurants and spas on cruises will automatically add gratuity to your bill. When in doubt, do your research on when and how much to tip during your cruise before setting sail.
Tip: If you want to tip your steward/stewardess a few extra bucks, keep some cash handy.
Ships always offer their own shore excursions. However, booking independently owned excursions can lead to saving money on your guided activities. It all comes down to doing some research. Start searching online for user reviews and read what others have to say about your excursion of choice. One important thing to keep in mind: independent shore excursions aren't for every cruiser. There are some significant differences between an independent excursion and a cruise sponsored tour. For instance, if you're going the independent route, you'll have to be conscious of what time you have to be back on board (the ship will not wait for you in the event that you're running late).
Tip: Want to skip excursions altogether? There are plenty of free activities to enjoy at port--like local festivals and self-guided walking tours.
You'll find complimentary Wi-Fi hotspots once you get on shore, so turn off your data and put your cell phone on airplane mode to avoid major charges from your service provider (and a possible meltdown at the sight of an inflated bill).
Tip: If you need to connect with the outside world while at sea, it’s cheaper to connect to the cruise’s Wi-Fi than to acquire charges from using your data while roaming. Onboard Wi-Fi rates typically cost $0.75 per minute, but check your cruise line's website prior to sailing or make a quick call to the concierge on board before hitting that "connect" button.
Bars on the ship feature daily specials like happy hour and the drink of the day. You can also score free drinks by attending parties and special events on board. Cruising with a group? A bucket of beer costs significantly less than ordering individual bottles. If you really want to keep your bar tab low, most cruise lines allow passengers to bring one or two bottles of wine or champagne on board (but charge a corkage fee). There are limits to what and how much of it you can bring, so always check your cruise line’s website for their alcohol policies and corkage fees.
Tip: As tempting and decorative as it may be, an easy way to rack up a hefty bar tab is to say "yes" to the souvenir cup.
Fancy a glass of wine with your meals but didn’t bring your own bottle? Skip the individual glasses and just order a bottle. This might sound a bit counterproductive, but ordering a bottle of wine is always less expensive than ordering by the glass. And if you don’t finish the bottle at dinner, ask your server to save it for you and finish it another night.
Tip: For a truly authentic wine-at-sea experience, consider a wine river cruise, where it’s included in your cruise fare.
It’s always a fun experience to round up your group for some professional photos on board, but these photos aren’t free. If you’re looking to document your vacation in a more cost-friendly way, snap some photos from your smartphone and print them once you’re back on land. There are tons of cool photo apps you can use while your cruise, such as VSCO and Layout, that allow you to use beautiful filters and make fun photo collages. And bonus: these apps don’t use up data on your phone while you’re cruising.
Tip: Don’t have anyone to take your group’s photo? Use the timer on your smart phone or buy a selfie stick.
Staying healthy and active while on your cruise doesn’t have to involve costly trainers or exercise classes. If you’re truly committed to staying fit while on vacation, choose a cruise line that offers plenty of complimentary fitness perks. Azamara Club Cruises, for instance, offers free yoga, pilates, spinning and core exercise classes. While on Crystal Cruises, you can enjoy yoga, pilates, circuit training, spinning Zumba AND weight training class free of charge.
Tip: If you’re looking for a more freestyle exercise experience, large cruise ships are equipped with gyms that are filledwith basic exercise machines. You can also walk or jog along the top deck of the ship—complete with a beautiful ocean view.
OK, so this may not sound like the most ideal conditions for a sea vacation. But if you’re willing to gamble on the weather, booking a cruise to destinations like the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera and Canada/New England during hurricane season can yield significantly lower prices (you can guess why they do).
Your stateroom card doubles as your method of payment while on the ship, since cruise ships don’t accept cash on board—so needless to say, it’s easy to get a little “swipe happy”. To prevent over-spending, deposit cash into your stateroom card instead of linking it to your credit or debit card. Setting that limitation will make you more conscious of what you’re spending on board—and you can always reload at a kiosk on the ship if you’re running low.
Tip: While some cruise lines allow you to get extra cash at the purser’s desk, not all cruise ships have ATM’s—and the ones that do cost a pretty penny to use. With that said, don’t deposit all of your cash at once. Rather, deposit half of it at the beginning of your cruise and reload as needed.
Often times you’ll find that cruise lines are eager to get you to vacation with them again by offering significant discounts and on board vouchers for future cruises. If you have some vacation money to spare, take advantage of these offers by planning your next getaway right then and there—after all, you deserve a vacation after your vacation.