Planning a cruise on a budget often involves searching for the best cruise deals and cruise specials. While it's true that one of the best ways to save on cruises is to take advantage of major cruise lines' seasonal promotional offers, there are other ways to significantly pare down the cost of your trip without sacrificing your dates of travel. You might even be able to enjoy a cruise on as little as $100 a day.
We consulted with Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor of Cruise Critic, to get even more money-saving tips. Read on to discover how you can enjoy cruises for cheap this autumn and beyond.
Purchase an All-Inclusive Package
An easy way to rack up a high cruise bill is by taking advantage of every extra a cruise line has to offer without knowing which extras are included in the package you purchased. If you’re worried about spending too much on activities, beverages, food and accommodations, book an all-inclusive package, which could help you save money in the long run.
You can even take advantage of special rates when traveling with a friend or significant other. For example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers 2-for-1 all-inclusive fares that include round-trip flights, unlimited beverages, open bars, dining at specialty restaurants and 24-hour room service. You could easily save up to $100 a day or more on food and beverages alone on a luxury cruise ship.
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Seek Out Unadvertised Discounts
Though they don't always advertise them, many cruise lines offer special prices for certain groups. Royal Caribbean, for example, extends special pricing on all cruises to airline employees, employees of Federal Express and UPS and retired employees of airlines that are still currently in operation. Military personnel — including active personnel, retired military personnel, honorably discharged veterans and spouses of actively deployed military personnel — might also be eligible for special cruise prices.
Call the cruise line to find out if it offers discounts for any groups, employers or organizations you are affiliated with, and you could save up to $100 or more per day on your cruise booking.
Use a Tool to Track Cruise Prices
If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you might be able to get a great deal on a fall cruise by using a price tool like Cruise Critic. It lets you monitor prices of upcoming cruises and notifies you of any major changes on cruise prices as the days go by. If the price on your cruise drops after you’ve booked, you can contact the cruise line to negotiate the difference. The cruise line might refund you in the form of an onboard credit that you can use for cruise activities and other amenities during your trip.
Join Rewards or Loyalty Programs
When you join rewards programs or loyalty programs, you get access to the latest cruise deals and cruise specials. Sign up for these programs to get discounts on dinners, special events or cabins and get access to behind-the-scenes tours and other desirable add-ons.
"For avid cruisers, joining a reward or loyalty program can absolutely pay off, in the form of bigger money-saving perks like cabin upgrades, discounted rates and sometimes even free cruises," McDaniel said. "But even if you’re not an avid cruiser, being a member can still pay off with things like priority boarding, complimentary beverages and special events."
For example, Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor program extends onboard offers and provides freebies like priority check-in and a private departure lounge with a free continental breakfast. These perks and complimentary access to events and tours can save you up to $100 a day on your cruise experience.
Look for Local Deals
Many cruise-goers extend their vacations by booking stays and planning activities in port cities before and after the cruise. If this is your plan, save money on dining and adventures by looking for local deals ahead of time.
Use sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to live like a local for a few days. Sites including Yipit, Woot and FatWallet are some other options for securing local deals and cash-back offers. You can take advantage of deep discounts at local hot spots and eateries or find discounted admission tickets to local attractions.
Bring Your Own Beverages
If you are planning on enjoying daily adult beverages while on your cruise, check your cruise line's alcohol policies to learn if you can bring your own alcoholic beverages to enjoy on board to save on liquor, wine and beer costs at the bar. You’ll need to check the cruise line’s alcohol policy to find out how many bottles you can bring and to see if there is a charge for corkage fees on wine and champagne. Royal Caribbean, for example, allows passengers to bring two 750 ml bottles of personal wine or champagne — but only on boarding day.
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Compare Beverage Package Options
Every passenger's drink needs are different, which is why most cruise lines offer multiple drink packages. For example, Princess Cruises offers an Unlimited Soda & More package for $8.05 per person, per day and an All-Inclusive package for $57.45 per person, per day. If you plan to drink alcoholic beverages, you can, of course, book the standard package, and then purchase drinks individually. But if you plan on consuming alcoholic beverages throughout the duration of your trip, it might be more cost-effective to buy the upgraded drink package.
"For families, or those who love sodas and juices, a non-alcoholic package will probably be a money-saver, as those costs aren’t included in your fare," McDaniel said. "These packages are generally reasonably priced and account for things like bottled water or premium coffee."
Keep WiFi Costs Down
Having a strong internet connection aboard a cruise ship can be tricky, and you’ll be paying a premium for WiFi on most cruise lines. If you know you’ll need internet access throughout your cruise, consider buying an internet package as part of your booking to save money.
If you are an avid cruiser, you could skirt paying for internet access entirely. On Princess Cruises, Platinum or Elite Captain’s Circle members receive a complimentary internet credit of 150 to 500 minutes, depending on the length of cruise. You can also book with a cruise line that has complimentary WiFi, such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which offers unlimited internet in most suites.
Skip the Shore Excursions
Whether you’re booking the cruise yourself or working with a travel agent, you’ll be presented with the option of adding shore excursions to your cruise itinerary. However, those off-board adventures can end up costing you a pretty penny.
One way to save money on these trips without compromising your getaway is to seek out third-party shore excursion providers. Costco Travel offers discounted excursions for dozens of cruises through Shore Excursions Group, and the UK-based business Cruising Excursions offers value-priced excursions — including tours with English-speaking tour guides — for less than the typical cruise line.
Say No to Costly Fitness Classes
Most cruise lines offer complimentary or low-fee yoga, boot camp, Zumba and other fitness classes to help you stay in shape — or just try something new — while traveling. However, you’ll pay a fee for advanced classes, personal training or for an unlimited class pass. When you want to save money without compromising on fitness, seek out free classes or exercise on your own.
“One of the easiest ways to keep yourself moving without a huge investment is to use the stairs instead of the elevators when moving from floor to floor," McDaniel said. "You’ll quickly add to your daily step count — especially on today’s mega-ships, which can have 15 decks or more."
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Take Your Own Photos
You'll likely want to capture special moments on board, which is why many cruise lines have ship photographers who snap photos with professional equipment. Carnival even has portrait studios set up around the ship with backdrops for those special occasion photos. However, photos taken by cruise employees are going to cost you anywhere from $11.99 to $21.99 per photo. (Sessions in the Carnival Dream Studio with photographers vary by package.)
Save a few hundred dollars on photos and improve your photography skills by taking photos with your smartphone or camera.
Schedule Spa Treatments Strategically
Cruises are about logging in some much-needed rest and relaxation, but you could end up spending a few hundred dollars on daily pampering at the cruise ship’s spa. For example, an Elemis facial at the Mandara Spa onboard Norwegian Cruise Line will add $119 or $145 to your bill — not including the 18 percent service charge or tip.
If you plan ahead, you can book a less expensive spa treatment at an area day spa or resort. Seeking out local deals at various destinations along your cruise route could be all it takes to help you save a significant sum for those days of bliss.
Another money-saving strategy is to schedule spa treatments on port days. "While the ship itself is a huge draw, crowds really thin out once in port," McDaniel said. "To entice guests to stay onboard, spas will often offer special discounts to those who book treatments on port days. Keep an eye on the daily program to stay in the loop on special deals and offerings."