Going on a cruise vacation is a popular way to relax and spend time with your loved ones while out on an adventure. A cruise fare is anything but cheap, though.
Luckily there are a ton of ways to save money on a cruise to make it more affordable. You might even score a free cabin. Even if you think you can’t afford to take a cruise vacation, the money-saving tips we’ve gathered here could make that next cruise possible.
Read on to learn how to save money on a cruise and be ready to book your trip!
Book Early to Save Money on a Cruise
As with saving money on a lot of vacation aspects, such as flights or hotels, getting the most affordable cruise possible is largely tied to timing. So if you want to save money, make sure to book your cruise ship at least a few months before you want to take the trip.
This is particularly important if you’re planning your next cruise during the peak season. Booking early will also help ensure that you get the cabin, date, etc. of your choice. Many cruise lines also offer “early savings promotions” that have extra stuff that is thrown in for free.
Catch the “Wave Season”
The time between January and March is considered “wave season” in the cruise ship industry. This is when you’ll see the most aggressive offers. This is also the time when you can get extras like onboard credit and “kids sail free” deals.
Choose the Off-Peak
Cruise ship offers are also less expensive when you pick a cruise package when kids are in school. Traveling after Labor Day or New Year’s, or the time between Thanksgiving and mid-December will help save significant money.
Take Advantage of Last Minute Deals
You could also save money on a cruise by booking it last minute. When a cruise line has many cabins to fill, they will push last-minute deals to get them booked. Booking an airfare last minute is usually not cheap, however. So this strategy works best if you live near the cruise port.
Pick the Right Cruise for you
Before you start trying to figure out how to save money on a cruise too deeply, make sure a cruise is right for you. Before booking your next cruise, make sure it’s going to be worth it for you and your family. Consider all the costs that might be involved like traveling to the port, hotel, food, etc. Before you start looking at cruise fares, also make sure you’ve found a good deal.
For example, if going on a regular vacation is less expensive than what you’re seeing on cruise line websites, consider whether you’re getting the deal you think.
Avoid New Ships
It’s more expensive to book a new ship. Booking a cruise on a new ship is an easy way to burn through money. These ships haven’t been in service for long either.
Use the Gift Card Trick
Cruise lines only require that you pay a deposit to book your trip. Then you pay the rest a few months before you leave. At this time, you can find gift cards at a discounted price to pay for your specific cruise line.
There are various websites (CardPool.com, GiftCardMall.com) that you can save money by buying gift cards that are below their face value. You’ll need to be patient and check often, but this could save you hundreds.
Choose the Inside Cabin
If you’re planning to spend as much time as possible outside your cabin, you should plan to book the cheapest room. This is going to be the inside cabin area.
Save money by going with the inside cabin unless you’re there are incentives that are worth upgrading for.
Save with Drink Packages
Cruise ships make a lot of money from people who rack up their onboard tab with alcoholic drinks, bottled water, etc. The cruise industry tends to add a gratuity on top of charging restaurant prices for these drinks.
Instead, look up the beverage packages that are offered by the cruise. Cruise lines offer many different beverage packages. You could find a drink package for wine lovers, one for the soda enthusiastic, or a combination of the two.
Review each drink package and read the fine print carefully. They may require that the whole cabin purchase a drink package which may end up being more expensive if not everyone in your party will drink much.
Check out the Drink Specials
Getting drinks packages may not make sense for everyone. Drink packages aren’t the only way to save money on drinks though.
One of the best cruise tips is to compare prices for the occasional special deals. Ocean cruises may offer a “happy hour” special, bucket-of-beer deal, or another type of deal.
You might even be able to catch a few free drinks by attending special events on a few cruises. Drinking free drinks like Champagne always tastes better.
Don’t throw out the Wine
When you are dining onboard and order a bottle of wine make sure you ask for a cork if you can’t finish it off. You’re already paying a lot of extra money for your Chardonnay as it is. At least get your money’s worth by saving it for another day.
You can access the bottle through the restaurant whenever you are ready to finish it off. Additionally, the cost of a bottle is often less expensive than paying by the glass.
Bring Your Own Beverage Package
The cruise line’s generally don’t allow you to bring your own wine, beer, etc onto the ship. If they do, they will charge a corkage fee. Some will allow you to bring ice tea, bottled water, and other drinks.
Check out the rules that are specific to the cruise line you select. For example, Carnival cruise line will allow you to bring canned drinks only onboard.
Don’t pay for Internet Access
Using your phone (on roaming rates) or the cabin’s phone to talk to friends or family is expensive. Internet access is particularly pricey while at sea. You can always try a mobile hotspot, but that too can become pricey or difficult.
Instead, tell your loved ones that you’ll be disconnected for the most part. You can save catching up on Facebook and emails when you’re at the ports of call. Wi-Fi hotspots and internet cafes are typically available.
You may want to contact your cell phone provider and see if they have any plans that allow you to have internet access or texting for a reasonable cost.
Skip the Shore Excursions
You can book shore excursions with cruise lines on every port of call that they visit. The benefit of booking through the cruise is that the ship will generally wait if the tour is running late.
Shore excursions will cost more though and if you have a big group, there isn’t much that can be customized. Instead, go on your own shore excursions to save money.
Stop yourself from Over-Tipping
Most cruise lines these days will add a service fee or auto-gratuity to your bill to cover the dining staff and cabin steward. You might even have pre paid gratuities as part of your cost included with the cruise. There is usually a gratuity included at the bar as well as the spa.
Don’t feel pressured to tip above this auto-gratuity, especially if you didn’t receive exemplary service. Make sure you check your bill when you receive it too. It’s common for travelers to add another percentage and end up tipping double when the gratuity has already been added.
Use Discount Sites
Before booking directly with Norwegian cruise line or Royal Caribbean, check out the third party sites to compare. Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, and Travelzoo are among the websites that have wholesale rates and prices that are slashed off the brochure price.
There are also websites like CouponCabin that have promotional codes you can use to get cashback when you book your trip. Use a price-alert app like Ship Mate to monitor cruise prices and receive alerts when there’s been a change. You could contact your travel agent or cruise line to try to get a better price too.
Include the Restaurant Packages
Spending extra on the specialty restaurants also means you are subject to extra fees. If you want to save money, book the dining packages so you can eat for free while on the cruise line. These are typically the areas like the main dining room, outdoor grill, and buffet venue.
If you prefer getting a more unique menu or want more intimacy, look for dining packages that will save you money. For example, some cruise lines will give you a discounted rate if you bundle multiple dinner reservations together.
Read the Fine Print
Many people assume that the fare they pay will include everything they need for their trip. Even if you’ve signed up for all-inclusive voyages, not everything is always included.
That’s why it’s important to read the fine print and exclusions. Then figure out what things aren’t included that you would want or need.
Also, make sure to check out your cruise line’s tipping policy. Some cruise lines add a required gratuity for each day. Note that if your bill includes gratuities then it’s not typically necessary to leave tips.
Work with a Travel Agent to find Cruise Ships
You can save money by using a travel agent on your next cruise. Travel agents have the experience and know-how of cruise ships to help you get the best deal.
Travel agents can help you get upgrades and better amenities too. Since they advocate for their customers, they will serve your best interests and budget.
Book Spa Treatments on Port Days
It’s always going to be more expensive to book spa treatments on the cruise ship. During slow times or on days in the port, these treatments are usually available at a lower cost. To find out what prices are available check the special offers found in the daily cruise news or ask the spa.
Opt for a Guaranteed Cabin
If you don’t want to go for an inside cabin to save money, then try a “guaranteed cabin”. Going this route will at least save you money while getting you a room in the same category you want.
What a “guaranteed cabin” allows you to do is lock in a room that’s within the category. You won’t know your exact location until the sailing date is closer. There’s also a good chance that you can upgrade with this option if you want to.
Save your Shopping Trips in Port
You’ll pay the onboard shops a premium to buy your goods and souvenirs. It’s best to skip shopping while on the ship completely.
Instead, when you are on port, go and buy locally. Many of these ports of call have craft markets so you can buy authentic goods.
Don’t Get the Add-Ons
The extras on your cruise experience are just that – expensive temptations. Those mixology classes, thermal suites, etc. will cost you. Things like Bingo and photo packages will also run your cruise tab.
Your experience one the cruise isn’t going to depend on whether you have these things or not. You’ll still get plenty of enjoyment to spare.
Ask for Onboard Credit
If you’re using a travel agent, take full advantage of the service they offer. Many of them can package onboard credit into the cruise deal. It’s just a matter of asking and finding out what’s available to determine what’s the best deal for you.
Take Advantage of Free Drinks
Free refreshments are typically offered by most cruises. You could get coffee, tea, lemonade, and other drinks for no charge. Utilize these on your trip to save big. You can always grab an adult beverage or soda while you’re in the port.
Take Your own Pictures
Those photos that someone else takes are always overpriced. Most of us these days have a decent camera on our smartphones. Take these pictures yourself. Or you could as a passenger to take a picture to keep as a memento of your trip.
Check before Booking a Package
Just because a package booking will get you the flight you need to get to your port destination doesn’t mean it’s the best option. A package booking isn’t always going to be cheaper.
Check out other websites to find out if you can find a less expensive option. This could save you hundreds of dollars.
Search for Specialty Restuarant Specials
When you do a little meal planning, you could save big. Instead of going out for dinner, opt for lunch when it is less expensive. That way you can enjoy specialty dining for less.
If you’re looking for the best deals for dinner, some cruise lines will offer certain deals during certain times. For example, you could get free wine packages by eating at their steakhouse the first night.
Figure out your Own Shore Excursions
If you want to enjoy your time during the stops, you don’t need to pay for the shore excursions that the cruise lines offer. Do some planning ahead to research each of the stops.
If you used a travel agent, they may have suggestions on some possibilities too. Make sure to avoid the shops that are near the port. Walking just a few more blocks can save you money on those souvenirs which tend to be more expensive the closer they are to the port.
If you’re dead-set on doing a guide-led tour, look for a local company to book this. Your travel agent may also be able to help arrange one for you.
Find a Parking Spot
Parking your car before the cruise departs can get expensive with many ports charging $15 each day. Parking at the port lots is always the most expensive option.
Instead, look for independent lots that are nearby. You could save as much as 50 percent by doing this. Also, check out if your pre-cruise hotel offers any special deals. They may even let you park there for free during your cruise if you are staying there the night before.
If you live in the port city, look at what it would be to use Uber or Lyft to take you there instead.
Stick with the Cruise Line You Love
If you’ve become a fan of Royal Caribbean International, why not stick with them? Around the time that your cruise is almost over is when you could score a great cruise deal.
Booking in advance with a Royal Caribbean or others can give you access to great deals. It may even include onboard credit or beverage package specials that savings.
Plus most cruise lines like Royal Caribbean have a customer loyalty program. When you sign up, you can earn rewards that turn into free money.
Consider Smaller Ships
Those big ships have a lot to offer like specialty dining rooms, onboard shops, and much more. As your comparing cruises, don’t just include the Royal Caribbean and other megaships on that list.
You can get a special experience by going on a small ship instead. For example, you could get a cabin with an ocean view without the need to upgrade.
The ticket price on a small ship is at a comparable or better value too. Some of those extra perks that you’ll pay inflated prices for on those big cruise ships are included with the ticket price.
For example, they may include shore exclusions. The ships may even dock overnight, which allows you to spend all day out exploring in the city of port.
River boats are also a good option. They have an intimate and cultural feel that’s available for a reasonable cost. Repositioning cruises are another way to save. For example, sailing from Alaska to the Caribbean could have a lower daily rate than a cruise you find in either of those areas.
Consider Travel Insurance
No matter where your destination is, make sure that you have medical insurance that covers you while you’re traveling. Check out travel insurance plans if you don’t have coverage to weigh your options.
Also, make sure that you have packed all your required medications and they are properly labeled. Be sure to take any non-prescription medications you might need too just in case.
Use your Credit Card Rewards
Credit card companies have many different credit cards that offer perks and rewards. The credit card that’s branded with the cruise line usually won’t give as good value on your spending.
Instead, find a travel rewards credit card that allows you to earn rewards on your everyday spending that can be used for paying for the flight to get to your cruise or the cruise itself.
Some credit card companies give you special bonus points for booking on their travel platform too. Who knows? You could rack up enough points to score even free cruises!
Ok, a free cruise might be a little difficult to attain. But you might be able to get some free onboard credit or other perks by using your points.
Plan ahead with Onboard Entertainment
You’ll have more options while enjoying a cheaper price if you book your onboard experiences and entertainment early. That’s because the demand for these services is typically lower.
It is more likely that they’ll be others who want to book these attractions during dining hours. So you’ll get the best price when you book it earlier.
That Royal Caribbean cruise trip will charge you baggage fees just like the airlines do. If you pack extra clothing and gear, you’re going to get charged for that extra weight.
Instead, you should try to pack light with outfits that can be mixed and matched easily. It’s even better if you can bring some laundry detergent along. That way you can wash your clothes in the evening using the sink.
Consider your Flight Time
It might not be the best deal if you find a great cruise on the opposite coast that you live on. The cost of airfare or other travel and potentially hotel could outweigh any savings you find on a great price.
Be sure to check around for cruises. It’s now more and more common to find cruises leaving from cities that are around U.S. coastlines. That means you should be able to leave from a destination that’s closer to you.
Leverage your Loyalty Status
If you are part of a cruise line’s loyalty program, be sure to take advantage of it. Most will offer discounts and special rates to their loyal customers.
For example, you could get a discount on top of any current promotions for a balcony room. The perks don’t end there either. While you are onboard the ship, you could get discounts on drinks, laundry services, and other perks
Book a Shorter Trip
If money is an issue, consider booking a shorter trip to save money. There are several cruises that have three and four-day options in places like the Bahamas.
You’ll still get to get away and enjoy some sun. Many cruises offer these options in private islands where you get access to complimentary services like a beach pool or mini-golf.