5 Ways to Save while Cruising

by Kay Lynn

Cruising is one of my favorite vacations because it is usually a great value compared to land vacations.  Mr. Boomer and I have sailed over a dozen times on five different lines.  Although we have our favorite, we’ve found at least five ways to save even more.

1. Free Drinks.  Many first time cruisers are disappointed that alcoholic beverages are not included in the cruise fare.  In addition to alcohol, soda (known as pop in some parts of the country) is also not free.  The “free” drinks are typically lemonade, tea (hot and cold), coffee, milk and juice.

However, there are opportunities for free alcoholic beverages during the cruise.  Each cruise will have an hour or two of free liquor tasting in the gift shop.  This is to encourage you to buy duty-free alcohol to take home.  I find it a great way to try new beverages but it’s a little hard for me to drink it without mixers.

The Captain’s party (aka welcome aboard party) is an hour or so reception that is a cocktail party with the captain and 1000 or more of his friends or other passengers.  This is a great opportunity to have mixed drinks for about an hour.  If you’re good at flagging down the waiter, you can easily get “happy” during the hour.

Another event similar to the captain’s party is the past guest event.  It is a cocktail hour for guests that have previously sailed on the cruise line and usually includes a drawing for prizes in addition to the free drinks.  As with the previous cocktail hour, you can get “happy” easily during this event.

Other opportunities that may exist include a honeymooner/anniversary cake and champagne event , art auction with free champagne and a brief casino time the first evening.

2. Shore Excursions.  Cruise lines offer tours or specific attractions at each port that are given by local companies.  They don’t do this out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.  This is a big profit center for them as they rake in 25-50% of each ticket price.  Instead of giving a cut to the cruise line for what is often a lesser experience, we prefer to arrange our own shore excursions.

In Key West last week the hop-on/off trolley tour my group took cost $26 per person.  The one hour, no-stop excursion through the cruise ship was $36 per person.  When we do take the excursion through the ship it is for one of three reasons: we do not feel secure going solo (such as in Cartagena), unique tour only offered through ship or time constraints.  Experienced cruisers will plan their own in most ports saving a lot of money.

3. Selective Booking.  If your travel dates are flexible, select your cruise by the deal versus the time of year.  Mr. Boomer and I have been on several repositioning cruises using this strategy.  Cruise lines need to move their ships from and to seasonal sailing areas (Alaska, Bermuda and Europe).  Since these are one-way cruises they are more difficult to fill so they are offered at lower rates.  This makes it easy to drop your daily rate to $50 or less per day per person (assuming you go with the cheapest cabin like I do).

4. Free Activities.Cruise lines offer lots of activities on-board which you can take advantage of or just relax.  They are also increasingly offering activities with a charge such as behind-the-scene tours, drink tastings and pilates/yoga classes.  There are so many things to do we just take advantage of the free activities including movies, games and lectures instead of spending money.

5. Don’t Gamble.  I know that some people really enjoy gambling, but I just don’t.  If you’re going to gamble, give yourself a daily allowance and stick to it.  Cruise ship slots are not loose, so you’re really there for the entertainment value.

If you haven’t taken a cruise, I encourage you research it as an option.  When I compare the cost of 3 meals a day and hotel the cruise ship typically wins out.  These tips will help you make the most of your vacation dollar.  Are you ready to cruise?

Photo by Bucksome Boomer

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Shelly June 3, 2010 at 7:55 am

We have been on one cruise and are looking to take an Alaskan cruise next summer. The cheapest cruises seem to be the ones that begin in one city (Vancouver or Anchorage and end in the other). What is the best way to get the cheapest airfare? Also, our last cruise we stayed in an inside cabin. I didn’t really like not having any windows. For Alaska is it worth getting a balcony or would a window cabin be sufficient?

Bucksome June 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Shelly, we’re fine with an inside. Having said that, Alaska is a destination where I think the extra expense of a balcony is worth the money. You’ll want to sit on your balcony viewing the beautiful scenery.

We’ve taken several repositioning cruises (those that start in one city and end in another) and haven’t found airfare to be anymore expensive than a regular round trip ticket. Just choose the “Multiple Cities” option when pricing the ticket online. Southwest is a good option if possible since they price tickets by each way anyway.

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