The internet is full of posts telling you how to make the most of your cruise, most of these seem to include spending an incredible amount of money. Cruises are traditionally an expensive way to travel but if you are savvy you can minimise the cost in a number of ways.
Cruises can seem expensive when you first look at the prices, however, you need to remember that your cruise fare includes: lodging, food and entertainment. It may be cheaper to stay in a hotel but when you’ve added on the cost of meals and going out the difference really isn’t that much. Plus, you don’t get a new view each day in a hotel.
Book your cruise and flight separately.
I usually use Skyscanner to compare flight costs and book these independently from the cruise. The more flexible you can be the more you could save. This could mean flying in a day or two before if the cruise departs if these are the cheapest dates. Booking it separately also means that you can take advantage of different airlines flights, for example flying out with EasyJet and back with Norwegian. There are occasions where it is cheaper to buy through the cruise line, but its always worth checking!
Don’t book the cruise directly with the cruise line, this is often the most expensive way to book.
My favourite cruise websites to keep an eye on are www.igucruise.com and www.travelzoo.com. They often offer extra benefits as an incentive to book through them. I recently booked a cruise through cruise1st which gave me a cheaper price than booking directly through Norwegian. However, because I was still booking a Norwegian cruise I was able to take advantage of their booking offers as well. In my case, it was free unlimited beverages. Shopping around is the key to finding the cheapest deal.
Book the cheapest cabin.
I know that there are a lot of people who wouldn’t dream of cruising in an inside cabin but I’m really not sure what world these people are living in (a nice one probably). For me the opportunity to save a couple of hundred pounds is always a good thing. The price of an inside cabin can sometimes be a lot cheaper, I see that as money that you can invest into your next holiday. Check out my post about inside cabins here: Are inside cabins claustrophobic
Book your own excursions.
Excursions can be hundreds of pounds per person and only last a couple of hours. In general, I think that excursions organised by cruise lines are a rip-off. There are some places where it may be difficult to organise your own trip but on the most part if you plan ahead of time you can organise what you are going to do at a fraction of the cost. Going alone also means that you don’t have to stay with a coach load of people wherever you go and can really explore. Websites like www.cruisecritic.com are brilliant for getting advice on what to do in port.
Don’t go crazy with onboard spending.
The fact that you pay with your room keycard and get a bill at the end can be conducive to overspending. It simply doesn’t feel like spending real money, but remember that it is. You could get a nasty shock at the end of the cruise if you spend too much money on drinks/in the casino/spa. You can save money by bringing onboard drinks on some cruise lines, it is best to check before you try though as each cruise line has different rules.
Remove the onboard gratuities if you can’t afford them.
This is always going to be an unpopular one, but if it is the difference between being able to afford a cruise and not being able to I would say do it (maybe). Most cruise lines allow you to remove the gratuities, some before cruising and on some you have to go to the reception desk to remove them. Personally, I have never removed them but do think it is cheeky how it is added automatically and not included in the cruise far. Many people prefer to tip in person the people who have helped them during the cruise. This one really is a last resort though, the staff work extremely hard.
Travel off season to strange places.
Cruises to the Mediterranean are generally cheapest in the autumn whereas cruises to the Caribbean may be in the summer. However be aware that this is peak hurricane season and if you cruise at this time you should definitely take out travel insurance which covers you if your flights are delayed etc. Last minute cruises can also be a bargain, you’ve just got to keep your eyes open for them.
Don’t eat in the speciality restaurants.
It always makes me laugh how on NCL they say that the speciality restaurants are at a ‘nominal’ charge. Nominal meaning very small. I’m not sure if I would say that $30 per person per meal nominal! If you are a particularly foody person you may want to try a speciality restaurant, for example, the steakhouse. But for me, I am quite happy to go the main restaurant and order a steak, after all, I have already paid for that.
Take advantage of onboard offers.
If you know that you are planning to take another cruise it can be worth your while to buy a deposit on board. On NCL I recently purchased a cruisenext deposit for $150 which was worth $250 dollars towards my next cruise (or something like that, I can’t remember the exact amount). It does lock you into a certain cruise line but if you already know that you’re planning a cruise you can save quite a lot of money this way. The vouchers also can be used through another travel agency so you don’t have to book through the cruise line directly.
Buy soda/alcohol packages if you know that you’re going to be drinking.
The packages can appear quite expensive but if you are sure that you will use them then they can save you money. I normally have the soda package as the cost is equivalent to having around 2 drinks a day. I always do this so it makes sense to buy the package, it also allows you to budget prior to your cruise but be aware that gratuities are added onto the cost of the packages. On my recent cruise I had the ultimate beverage package as part of a promotion. Read more about this here: NCL Ultimate Beverage Package.
Do you have any tips for cruising on a budget? Let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for new ways to save money.