A cruise vacation can be one of the best ways to blend relaxation and luxury with adventure and excitement, but it’s easy to overspend if you are not careful.

Even simple tricks like unplugging from the internet while you are on board the ship and bringing your own beach gear to enjoy an afternoon on the beach in port, rather than paying for a pricey shore excursion, can considerably slash your cruising costs. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about making the most of your cruise vacation without breaking the bank. If you want to learn how to cut costs while booking, slash onboard expenses, and even save a few dollars in port, we’ve got you covered!

Saving money on a cruise starts before you even pull out your credit card. Prices vary drastically from one cruise line to another and from season to season.

Prices can even vary for packages on the exact same ship depending on when you book, which type of room you book, and the upgrades you choose. To help you enjoy serious savings on these upfront costs, here’s a few basic tips. 

Booking a cruise is all about timing. Prices often fluctuate depending on when you are booking and when the cruise ship actually sets sail. While nothing is set in stone, prices are generally a bit lower when cruise packages first go on sale.

There’s also always the possibility of snagging a last-minute deal, but it’s risky if you have your heart set on specific dates and itineraries, so you have to be flexible.

Cruise Passengers in Nassau, Bahamas (Photo Credit: Luciavonu)

Another general rule for saving money is to book your cruise at the beginning of the year. The stretch between January and March is informally known as “wave season,” when cruise lines industry-wide tend to have their best sales and promotions.

Not only can you save money on tickets, but it’s also a good time to book onboard packages and take advantage of free upgrade offers. 

Even if you are flexible about dates and your timing is right, it’s still worth comparing packages between cruise lines and different ships. Putting in the effort to actually compare prices will help you jump on the best deal. 

While it may seem a little bit old-fashioned in an age when Expedia and other travel websites make it possible to book an entire vacation on your phone, a knowledgeable travel agent can be a real asset.

Not only are they well-informed about cruise costs, but they often have access to exclusive deals, so they can help you find a cruise ship and itinerary that aligns with your budget and personal preferences. 

It may seem like an obvious consideration, but plenty of people overlook where their cruise ship will actually depart from and return to in the excitement of choosing an itinerary and cruise ship.

Deciding how you will actually get to and from your ship almost becomes an oversight when you think you found a great deal on an attractive cruise that visits appealing destinations.

Cruise Ships Docked in Miami, Florida (Photo Credit: BLAZE Pro)

However, choosing a domestic cruise port that you can drive to instead of having to fly can actually save you a significant amount on the total costs of your vacation.

Most ports have large overnight parking lots that are much cheaper to use than the costs associated with flights, airport transfers, taxi fares, and pre-cruise hotels.

If you’re looking to cut costs, opt for a budget-friendly inside cabin or basic stateroom rather than suites and outward-facing rooms with balconies. Remember, your accommodations are just where you will sleep and shower.

Carnival Cruise Line Cabin (Photo Credit: Cruise Hive)

No matter which room you choose, you’ll still have access to all of the ship’s onboard amenities and activities. Make the focus of your vacation the ship and where it will take you rather than fixating on where you’ll sleep. It’s one of the easiest ways to save. 

Some cruise lines offer cabins specifically designed for single cruisers, which can be more affordable than paying the single supplement on a double cabin.

You can also look into sharing a cabin with a fellow solo traveler, as this can help you avoid the single supplement, reduce costs, and potentially meet a new friend with whom you can enjoy the cruise experience. 

Traveling solo doesn’t have to be expensive or boring; there are plenty of ways to cut costs and maximize your enjoyment. 

The glitz and glamor of traveling on the newest mega-ship with the latest attractions almost always comes at a cost. Older ships tend to be far more affordable and can offer an amazing and memorable cruising experience.

Carnival Elation Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz)

Seasoned cruise passengers know how eager cruise lines are to retain their passengers’ loyalty. In a competitive industry, most cruise lines offer useful loyalty programs in an effort to gain repeat travel from their passengers.

By researching and joining a cruise line’s loyalty program, you may unlock booking discounts, free onboard upgrades, and even credits you can apply to the cost of cruises you take in the future.

Photo Courtesy: Carnival

You can also maximize savings by applying credit card points and other card-based travel rewards to the cost of your cruise. From saving money on travel insurance to reducing the total you have to pay for your cruise package, certain credit cards can save you a bundle on your vacation if you know how to use them. 

Once you are on board a ship, make sure that you take full advantage of any onboard credit opportunities included in your booking.

Plenty of cruise lines include these offers to make booking with them more attractive, but they also know that a large number of passengers will forget about them once they are on board the ship, so it’s a low-risk advertising strategy. Make sure you actually use these offers to their full potential! 

Reducing your vacation costs doesn’t stop after you have found a deal on a cruise package. How you spend while on board the ship will significantly impact your total costs. Use these tips to stay within your budget.

Read Also: How to Make the Most of Your Cruise Without Overspending

Prices for essentials, like sunscreen and pool supplies, are almost always heavily inflated in the onboard shops. By packing these items ahead of time, you can cut down on unnecessary expenses. Follow a thorough packing list before you cruise, and avoid packing at the last minute.

From toiletries to swimwear, ensuring you don’t forget anything can save you a lot of money. Not only can avoiding these onboard purchases save you money, but being fully prepared will help you enjoy a stress-free vacation experience.

Photo By: Melissa Mayntz

If you enjoy drinking alcohol, another money-saving hack is the fact that guests of drinking age are almost always allowed to bring one 750ml bottle of wine or champagne.

Rather than having to pay a fee to have alcohol brought to your door, this can be a way to enjoy a low-cost drink in the privacy of your room. You can also look into paying the corkage fee to bring your own wine to a restaurant. 

Alcoholic beverages can quickly become one of your most costly onboard expenses if you’re not careful. When you consider that a single beer can cost $6 to $8, while just one cocktail can set you back as much as $15, it’s not a huge surprise that big drinkers find themselves shelling out serious money on drinks while they are cruising. 

Cruise Line Drink

If you are a big drinker or even just want the benefit of knowing your full costs upfront, consider purchasing a drinks package. Most cruise lines offer beverage packages that cover a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at a set price per day. For many cruise passengers, this can be a cost-effective way to indulge. 

We also recommend purchasing these packages ahead of time, as they are almost always cheaper when booked in advance than when you’re on the ship itself. Finally, if you don’t drink alcohol or only occasionally enjoy a drink, avoid these packages altogether and save even more. 

You can cut down on food costs if you avoid specialty restaurants and stick to the buffets and main dining rooms included with your fare or that do not come with excess fees.

In many cases, the food is just as good, but you avoid paying for the extras, like a fancier dining room, better table service, and a more exclusive experience.

Touching Food at the Cruise Buffet (Photo Credit: Melissa Herzog)

The main dining rooms also tend to have rotating menus and a wide range of options to suit different palates and dietary restrictions, so you can still enjoy plenty of variety without incurring extra costs. If you decide to treat yourself to a specialty dining option, try the lunch menu, which is usually less expensive than the dinner menu. 

Speaking of drink packages and avoiding extra food costs, it is always worth taking time to familiarize yourself with what’s included in your cruise fare to get the most value out of it. 

From meals to onboard amenities, understanding what’s covered can help you budget accordingly and avoid unexpected fees. Most cruise lines provide detailed information about what is and isn’t included in their fares directly on their website, making planning ahead of your vacation easy.

Costa Cruise Ship Embarkation (Photo Credit: KarSol)

If you’re ever unsure, ask. Cruise ship staff aren’t going to be offended if you ask if there is an extra fee to order something or participate in a particular activity.

Enjoy everything that comes with your cruise rather than getting lured into premium activities, like spa treatments and gambling in the casino.

Plenty of cruise lines offer huge discounts for children traveling with two adults. Sometimes, you can even choose a package where kids sail for free! This can significantly reduce your vacation costs, turning a cruise from an expensive form of travel to one more affordable than other types of vacations.

Kids on a Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Tomsickova Tatyana)

This is another area where a travel agent can help you and your family enjoy a memorable experience without breaking the bank.

Staying connected while you’re on a cruise can be expensive. Wi-Fi and internet packages tend to be relatively pricey, and many will only cover a single device. One of the simplest ways to slash onboard expenses is to use your cruise vacation as an opportunity to disconnect and unwind.

Cruise Wi-Fi

Leave social media, work emails, and scrolling through news articles behind for a few days. Taking a break from technology can seem a bit difficult at first, but it’s also a way to enhance your relaxation while at sea. 

If you do need internet access, many port terminals and the restaurants surrounding them offer free Wi-Fi. If you can hold out until you are in port, you can save on unnecessary internet charges. If you pay for an internet package, you can use some money-saving Wi-Fi hacks to avoid spending too much. 

While costs will vary depending on where your itinerary takes you, there are plenty of ways to save on in-port expenses.

Whether onboard or in port, taking your own photographs is the best way to capture memories without the extra costs. Make sure there is plenty of space on your smartphone or your camera’s memory card.

Cruise Passengers Enjoy the Views of Alaska (Photo Credit: Gene R Samit)

You can always ask fellow cruise passengers to take photos of you and your travel companions rather than paying a fee to have your photo taken in port or onboard. 

Do your research and only participate in excursions that are important to you. Don’t get upsold into an excursion you’re only mildly interested in.

Researching what a port offers can also help you realize that you don’t need to spend money to enjoy the location. Plenty of towns can be explored on foot or using low-cost public transportation.

If you pay for an excursion, booking ahead will help you save money and budget your final costs for the entire vacation. It will also help you get talked into an experience that isn’t overly appealing to you.

Photo: Copyright Cruise Hive

Remember, an afternoon of relaxing on a tropical beach, getting an inexpensive lunch from a street vendor, and taking a walk around a town can be just as fun and memorable as a pricey ATV or zip-lining adventure.

Worth Reading: What Are Port Fees on a Cruise?

In some cases, these overly organized and action-packed excursions actually rob you of the opportunity to slow things down and enjoy a new destination and culture in an authentic way.   

Just like it’s essential not to forget anything you need while you are on board your ship, packing everything you need to explore a port of call can save you from paying inflated tourist prices for basic goods.

Think sunscreen, beach supplies, snacks, water bottle, an umbrella, sunglasses, hiking shoes, or anything else you might need in port. The less you have to spend in port, the cheaper your vacation will be.

Photo Copyright: Emrys Thakkar

By bringing the appropriate cash with you on your cruise, you can also avoid paying hefty ATM fees and foreign currency exchange fees.

Many of the most popular ports of call rely on tourism, so they will accept low denominations of US dollars as well as their own currency. Having a small amount of locally accepted cash with you can save you from paying unnecessary fees, plus it makes things way easier! 

While no single month is the cheapest, the stretch between January and March is known as wave season, and most cruise lines offer huge discounts and promotions during this period.

Cruise lines want to ensure they fill their ships for the year, so use this time to score a great deal on a package or enjoy free upgrades and perks, like low-cost, all-inclusive packages or prepaid gratuities. 

The amount of money you need will depend on your spending habits and the type of drink and meal packages you have. That said, a general rule is to have roughly $50 to $100 available per person for miscellaneous onboard and in-port expenses. Naturally, anything you don’t spend is a bonus, but it’s a good idea to have funds available just in case. 

One of the best ways to get a good deal is to be flexible about when you travel and where you are willing to go. You should also track fares online to jump on a good deal when one arises.

You can also talk with a travel agent and give them an exact budget range that you are comfortable with so they can find you the best deal available at that price. 

You can also join a cruise line’s loyalty program to take advantage of discounts and preferred pricing. These programs also help you save money on upgrades, excursions, onboard drinks, and meal packages.

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