I’m not frugal or thrifty…I just don’t waste money on little things that don’t matter, but spend on big things that do. – Brian O’Reilly
I have to admit that when it comes to cruising, my husband and I are cheapskates. Uh….make that thrifty. So, how do we cruise and save money too?
Saving money on your booking
Well, first of all, we are really careful in which cruises we book. Carnival is the most wallet friendly of the cruise lines. You might call it the bargain basement of cruises. But Carnival is still a good cruise line, and you can still have fun on it. And actually, Carnival is one of the more fun cruise lines, with loads of entertainment and things to do.
The next cruise line up in pricing is Royal Caribbean. It does cost more, but I think that it’s worth the extra money. Their bigger ships like Freedom of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas are what a cruise ship should be like in my opinion. Much more glitz and glamour. And not all that much more expensive than Carnival. But either cruise line is a good one for the bargain shopper. Lately we’ve really tended to prefer Royal Caribbean.
And be sure to check the prices of your cruise often after you book it. I’ve managed to get better prices or better cabins a number of times by doing that.
Motel and Parking
Okay, you’ve booked your cruise. How can you save money before you’ve left home for your cruise? One way is to save money on your pre-cruise motel and parking if you are driving to your cruise port. It’s always more expensive to park at the port, but you can find less expensive options. There are park and cruise parking lots in probably every single port area which cost much less than port parking. Just google Port Parking with whatever port you’re leaving out of for options. I suggest checking out the reviews before you book. And it’s usually cheaper to book ahead of time online.
These parking lots will include a shuttle to and from the Cruise Port, and we’ve never had a problem with them. As for a hotel, we usually book a hotel on Hotwire.com (affiliate link) because we’ve had good luck with it, and it’s cheaper than any other booking site. Just book something with a high star rating.
Or, you can search online for a snooze, cruise, and park package. We’ve done that before, but they’ve gotten more expensive. You drive to the motel and spend the night, then they will let you leave your car at the motel and shuttle you to/and or from the port. It’s still cheaper usually than getting a motel and then parking at the port.
We never fly to our cruise, but if we ever do I will be looking for the least expensive flight that I can find. Well, I do want to keep it safe so I won’t go with anyone with a bad reputation. Check out Expedia, Travelocity, etc. to book your flight and compare prices. You can surf the web on a private browser (so the sites don’t know by your “cookies” that you’re searching and raise the rates).
How about excursions? We sometimes take a ship’s excursion but we try to book them before we leave on our cruise, especially if the ship is offering a discount. Another way to save is by using a local excursion group. But always read the reviews before you book because they are not all the same. Two that I like are Moby Dick Tours in Grand Cayman and Bernard’s Tours in St. Martin. There are others, and they cost much less than the ship excursions.
Be aware though that the ship only guarantees that they will wait for you at port in the event that something happens to delay you if it is a ship’s excursion. A lot of the time we’ll just either stay in the area of the port, or take a taxi into town if it’s not too far, such as in Cozumel or St. Thomas. We love to explore the towns, and there’s usually a straw market nearby. And remember, you are expected to haggle in the straw markets. Just walk away if you don’t like the price, and I bet you it will come down.
On the ship
Once on the ship there are more ways to save….or at least spend less money. First off…dining. Once you are on the ship it doesn’t have to cost you a penny more to eat if you don’t want it to. Every ship has at least a main dining room and a buffet that are included in your cruise fare. Depending on the ship, there may be other dining venues that are included also. There is always a wide variety of very good food to dine on, including desserts and fruit.
There are also usually frozen custard machines if you just want a little snack. You can find something to eat just about any time of the day. Of course there are restaurants and eateries that cost extra that up the dining experience a bit, but I’ve never found the need to pay extra when everything else is so good and plentiful. And now it seems that room service is costing extra, plus a tip. If we want to eat in our room we go to the buffet and get food and bring it back ourselves.
Then you have the soda and alcoholic drink packages which cost a ton extra. A lot of ships will allow you to bring a 12 pack of Coke or whatever you want on board with you. Check your ship for rules on bringing it on board, but the rules aren’t always followed even if it says no outside drinks allowed. We also bring a small squeeze bottle of electrolyte drink mix on board and mix it with water. That is very handy when it’s hot and there’s danger of heat exhaustion.
Hot tea, coffee, and unsweetened iced tea are included in your fare, along with juices for breakfast. Royal Caribbean even has a delicious mango water drink that I love that is included in the fare. We’ve always found this to be adequate. As for alcoholic drinks, we usually buy maybe one drink a cruise. That’s all I need and it saves a ton of money. Others may save by buying the drink package, it depends on which will save you more money. That’s more of a personal choice.
You won’t have to pay extra for any entertainment that I know of. It’s all included. If the ship has a zipline, rock climbing wall, miniature golf, etc., that’s included also. You will have to pay extra for Bingo and gambling in the Casino. Spa services are also extra. I can get my nails or hair done before I leave home far cheaper than it will cost in the ship’s spa.
Be wary of the ship’s Shopping Shows because they are trying to make you believe that you need to buy from their approved shops if you want high quality merchandise. Truth is, the Cruise Line is getting a kickback from these shops. Basically, you can buy the same or similar merchandise from local shops. Just be careful and aware of fakes. I always like to do my research on what shops are in the port ahead of time and read the reviews. You will hopefully be able to find out the honesty of a shop that way.
Cruise line credit card
We also save money by opening up a Visa / Mastercard of our preferred cruise line. Since we always pay off our credit card bill before we get charged interest rates, we can get cruise points that will give us a free on board credit. We get double points if we use the cruise line’s credit card on the cruise, so we pay the cruise off with it. Then we pay the credit card off before the due date. Voila! Free money to use a credit card. I love them paying me to use their card.
As for me, I don’t try to save money by not buying travel insurance. I just really like the security that I get from it and it usually only costs me about $90 for a seven day trip. That way I don’t have to worry about lost luggage or medical bills.
And please don’t try to save money by not tipping. The crew on the ship gets paid very little, and they need their tips to supplement their income. A lot of them have families at home in poor countries, and this is the way that they support their families. One young man that we met, Vehrr, was going to be two years away from his family, and was working so that he could start his own business and be with his family again. They don’t have an easy life, and work 7 days a week for months on end without much of a break at all.
So, there you have it….my way to save money so that I can go on more cruises! Hope it helps you.