On a cruise, there are lots of situations where you can get things for free but the cruise line wants you to pay for them.
On average a cruiser will spend 50% of their cruise fare again onboard in onboard spends – but you can easily make savings.
I LOVE cruising cheaply, and I prefer to cruise on a budget so that I can sail more often.
How to Find Free Cruise Excursions
The cruise lines would have you believe that you need to spend a lot of money on excursions in order to really explore the port.
Personally, I don’t agree at all. I would much prefer to explore a city by myself or with a local tour guide on a free walking tour than see a city from through the steamed-up windows of a coach with 50 other passengers.
The key to exploring a port on a budget is to do your research before you get there.
If not you’ll just be wandering around and you’ll be much more likely to decide to take an organised tour.
Start by searching something like ‘Free things to do in ____’ or ask the members of our friendly Facebook group!
You can often Google walks in that port, and organise yourself a walk to take in all the points of interest. Print out the map and info if you don’t have free mobile data in the place you are visiting.
I’d taken some brilliant free walking tours in Europe. If you choose one with a guide It is of course generally expected that you’ll give a tip at the end – but even still this is much cheaper than paying for a cruise line organised tour – and you’ll learn a lot more about real life in the city.
Booking Your Own Version of Ship Excursions
Cruise line excursions can be a great way to get an idea of what is in a port though but then booking these things yourself can often be much cheaper.
If you are taking a cruise to Genoa for example, and want to visit the Aquarium the cruise line excursion will cost you $30 but the ticket if bought online is $17.
The cruise line excursion does come with transport but the Aquarium is only a 20-minute walk from the cruise port and for this saving, I’d definitely prefer to walk.
If you’re a family of four doing this could save you upwards of $40 which is well worth doing!
When I took a cruise around the British Isles and Ireland, I only paid for one cruise ship excursion. This was to Loch Ness, which is in the middle of nowhere, so there were no options for public transport!
Find out how I got on here:
Hop on Hop Off Buses
The same thing goes for “Hop On – Hop Off” buses. I took a cruise to Stockholm and decided to explore the city by Hop On – Hop Off bus.
If I was to buy the ticket from the cruise line it was £30/$35 but if I walked off the ship myself and bought the ticket from the bus outside the port the ticket was £25/$30.
A £5 saving for just making the transaction on land instead of at the cruise ship!
Barcelona is another great place to enjoy by Hop on Hop Off bus. It’s such a large city and so many interesting things you won’t want to miss.
How to do Laundry For Free on a Cruise
Doing laundry on a cruise can be incredibly expensive.
Some ships do have self-service laundries which aren’t too expensive but the majority do not. If you were to wash a single pair of underwear on an MSC cruise that’ll cost you €2.50 which is almost $3.
If you’re a family of four cruising for a couple of weeks you could spend a LOT of money, just washing your underwear – let alone the rest of your clothes.
Get a guide of the prices involved below. Prices vary from one cruise line to another and will vary:
For certain items that just need a quick refresh, there is a much better option. I take a small bottle of travel wash before I cruise, and then I can wash items in the bathroom sink in 5 minutes.
Most cruise ship bathrooms come with a little clothesline in the shower where you can dry your clothes and it works really well. Find the travel wash I use below:
I wouldn’t recommend doing this for big items such as dresses or jeans because they may take some time to dry but for smaller things like t-shirts and workout clothes, it’s a great option. I’ve saved loads of money washing clothes like this on longer trips.
You may not need to do any laundry on your cruise, which is ideal – but if you do, keep in mind that using the ship’s laundry isn’t the only way to get things washed.
You Can’t Bring an Iron on a Cruise
It’s important to remember that you cannot bring an Iron on any cruise for safety reasons.
Usually, if you leave clothes to dry in the bathroom the creases will drop right out. If you have an item of clothing which is more prone to creases, you could bring some ‘wrinkle removing spray’.
How to Find Free Drinks on a Cruise
There are a few events on cruise ships where you can almost guarantee that you’ll find free drinks.
If you’re planning on having a drink or two before dinner have a quick look at the daily schedule and see if there are any events taking place which may have free drinks.
If there are a few of you and you each get a drink or two, you’ll be saving yourself quite a bit!
Common places to find free drinks are:
- Welcome drinks on Embarkation Day
- “Meet the Captain” events
- Cruise Critic/Cruise Group meet-ups.
- Loyalty status meet-ups.
- Art Auctions
Bringing on Your Own Alcohol or Soft Drinks Onboard
Another thing that you can do is on some cruise lines is bring your own alcohol or soft drinks onboard. This varies a lot by cruise line but it’s definitely worth checking your Cruise Lines rules.
On a Royal Caribbean cruise, you can bring two bottles of wine or champagne onboard on embarkation day in your hand luggage.
These will be subject to what is called a “Corkage” fee if consumed in a bar or restaurant onboard.
The fee isn’t actually anything to do with “corking” so you can’t get around this charge by opening it yourself. The best thing to do is consume your drinks in your cabin or on the balcony.
Some cruise lines – like Norwegian – will charge you a “Corkage Fee” automatically when you take your bottle of alcohol onboard. This fee can’t be avoided.
If you bring more alcohol than the cruise line allows this will be taken away from you and returned to you on the last day. Some cruise lines also let you bring beer and spirits onboard.
I’ve put together a full list of cruise lines, what you can bring onboard and when.
You’ll find that here: Can You Bring Alcohol on a Cruise? (Cruise Line Guide)
Free Alternatives to a Wi Fi Packages on a Cruise
When it comes to onboard WiFi it is getting cheaper and it is getting faster.
That said it’s still incredibly expensive compared to internet access on land and it can be frustrating to use – it is never 100% reliable.
When cruising I usually recommend to people not to buy a WiFi package unless they have somebody at home that they really need to keep in contact with at ALL times such – as a child or elderly parent.
On most cruises you’ll be able to find free internet when you are in port, and on a lot of itineraries you won’t spend very long at sea anyway.
Some cruise lines will charge you by the Mega Bite or by the Minute which I find particularly annoying.
Luckily most cruiselines charge you per day, and there are a variety of different packages available which will enable you to do different things.
It’s important to remember that if anybody did need to get hold of you desperately during the time that you’re at sea they would be able to contact the ship who would be able to find you onboard.
Find out more about ships Wi-Fi here:
Finding Free WiFi
When in port you’ll usually be able to find free WiFi at a McDonalds, Starbucks or another big chain.
If you are in doubt about where to find WiFi it’s usually a good idea to ask the crew as they are normally doing the same thing and heading to find WiFi in port.
If you are from the UK or other parts of Europe it’s worth remembering that with some mobile phone contracts, you can use your mobile data in Europe at no extra cost.
If you are from the US or Australia it may be worth buying a cheap SIM card when you arrive in Europe and topping this up with credit.
You could easily find a SIM with 15GB of internet which can be used in most European countries for as little as $20. Most cruise lines charge more than $20 per day for a decent internet package.
Free Alternatives to Onboard Photography
On some cruise lines, you’ll probably find that photographers want to take your photo at every available opportunity.
Photos are taken on embarkation day, disembarkation day, at dinner, on excursions, on formal night – you name it, the photographer will be there.
On other cruise lines, they seem to have done away with this since the Covid pandemic. This suits me far better…
If you have a decent smartphone or a camera of your own you can probably do just as good a job, if not better.
You’ll find that other guests and crew members will be more than happy to take your photo at dinner or on Formal Night if you ask.
I have bought photos before on occasion but my favourite cruise photos by far are the ones taken on my phone.
I did actually buy some professional photographs on the Norwegian Spirit. I left them in the cabin though – so that was a massive waste of time and money.
One way to stop yourself from wanting to buy the photos that are taken of yourself is to pull the ugliest face you can.
My dad and I often try to pull an ugly face or stick out our tongue at the last minute when they insist on taking our photo on embarkation. It really does remove the temptation – and makes us smile when we later go and look at them!
(It is worth mentioning that ropes courses are free to use on MSC. Other cruise lines like P&O make a charge.)
Find out about more free things to do on an MSC cruise ship here:
How to Find Free Tea and Coffee on a Cruise
Most cruise lines will have some form of speciality tea and coffee that you can buy at an extra charge.
They’re usually sold in the bars onboard and some cruise lines even have mainstream coffee chains onboard such as Starbucks on Royal Caribbean cruises.
If you are somebody who has a Starbucks favourite or a particular drink that you love then a speciality drink can be a great option.
Many people don’t realise that you can get these drinks for free in the buffet. If you’re somebody like me who just drinks regular breakfast tea/green tea or a hot chocolate then you can get these drinks for free when the buffet is open.
Many people, myself included, have paid for a drink which they could have got for free had they just walked to the buffet.
My favourite is Peppermint Tea. It costs around $3.50+ if I buy in a bar onboard. It’s free in the buffet – and I have to say there is actually very little variety within Peppermint Tea. It’s just hot water and a tea bag…
Many people do bring their favourite coffee creamer or teabags believe it or not.
If you’re somebody like me who can easily drink 8 cups of tea a day on a 7-night cruise, not purchasing speciality tea would save me over $150!!
Buffet drinks aren’t necessarily of a worse quality either. On many cruise lines have they big-name brands – like Twinings Tea. You can then take your tea to the other bars onboard if you’d like to.
Many British and European cruise lines have kettles in the cabins which you can use to make yourself a tea or coffee while sitting on your balcony.
If the cruise line that you’re cruising with has an Afternoon Tea onboard this can be a great time to fill up on tea, coffee and of course lots and lots of cake!
Cunard offers formal afternoon teas, where everything is served by waiters in white gloves. Its quite an event.
Other cruise lines either have afternoon tea items like tea and cake in the buffet or make a charge for afternoon tea elsewhere.
Before You Go
Find my beginners guide to using your phone onboard ship and avoiding costly mistakes here:
Find out how to send emails quickly and cheaply here: