A cruise can be a great way to see several different destinations in a single vacation. But many people don’t realize how many different costs are associated with taking a cruise, and how much wiggle room there can be to save money throughout the planning and cruising processes.
With that in mind, here are five great ways to save money before, during, and after your next cruise vacation that can make a big difference in the overall hit to your personal finances.
1. Book your cruise early (or at the last minute)
There are three ideal times to book a cruise, generally speaking. The first is very early. Cruise lines typically list their sailings about two years in advance, and if you can plan far ahead, you can usually get a better rate than if you wait until a few months away from the sail date.
The second is booking at the last minute. In many cases, cruise lines make just as much (or more) money from onboard spending as from selling cabins, so they want to sail as full as possible. If you have flexible travel plans, it may be worth looking into a last-minute special, which can be extremely cheap.
Finally, a great place to book a cruise is while you’re already on one. Most cruise ships have some sort of “book your next cruise” desk on board. You can typically get a discount, as well as other perks such as onboard credit, for booking your next cruise while you’re still on one.
2. Get to the port cheaply
Obviously, choosing a cruise port that you can reasonably drive to can save you money compared with one you have to fly to. This isn’t always practical — for example, if you want to take a cruise to Alaska and you live on the East Coast, there aren’t any ships you can drive to that will take you there.
However, even if you drive to the port, there are some ways you might be able to save money, especially when it comes to parking. If you’re driving and staying at a hotel overnight, you might not realize many have park-and-cruise deals where you can leave your vehicle at the hotel instead of paying to park at the port. Alternatively, many ports have off-site parking options that are much cheaper.
3. Maximize credit card perks
There are some excellent travel rewards credit cards that can help you get the most value out of your cruise spending. Some of them even offer valuable travel protections, such as lost or delayed baggage and trip interruption coverage, that are nice to have if you need them.
While the major cruise lines have co-branded credit cards, it’s worth noting that the best travel credit card to pay for a cruise might not be one of them.
One common mistake, especially among first-time cruisers, is to wait until boarding the ship to buy drink packages, internet packages, shore excursions, and other amenities.
Many of these items are almost always cheaper to buy in advance. For example, Carnival’s CHEERS! beverage package costs $59.95 per day if you book it in advance or $64.95 per day if you book it on board. For a week-long cruise for two people, this can make a big difference.
When it comes to shore excursions, not only can they be cheaper ahead of time, but by booking early, you’ll avoid the ones you want selling out.
5. Look for port day bargains
If you’re looking to do something on board — especially spa treatments or eating lunch at a specialty restaurant — there are often special deals for days while the ship is in port. Think of it this way: If there are thousands of people off the ship and exploring, it can be tough to find people who want to stay and pay for a massage.
If you don’t have major plans on a certain port day, consider booking your spa treatments and other onboard activities then. As a bonus, you’ll get to experience the ship’s perks without having to deal with crowds.
Not an exhaustive list
The main takeaway is that there are plenty of opportunities to trim your expenses on a cruise, and I can’t cover them all in one list. You might be able to shop sales for souvenirs on the ship or find free activities to do with the kids instead of spending money in the arcade, just to name a couple of examples.
There are many ways to cruise — some of which are very expensive, and some of which are quite economical. And you might be surprised how much of a difference a little smart planning can make.
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