Cruises are the ultimate luxury vacation, but they can be surprisingly kind to your budget. Whether you’re looking for a swinging singles cruise, a family cruise vacation or a sinfully luxurious couple’s cruise, these money-saving budget cruise vacation tips can score you big savings on luxury vacations.
Do you really need that faux-gold-by-the-inch jewelry or another souvenir cocktail glass? If you’re not careful, you can easily spend more for onboard extras than you did on the cruise fare. The key to avoiding a bank-breaking bill is knowing what to expect. These are some of the expenses you can expect and places where you can save money on budget cruise vacations.
Expect your tips to total about $10 a day in addition to your cruise fare. That’s the regular amount recommended by most cruise lines. The exceptions are a few of the luxury cruise ships which have clearly stated no tipping policies. Otherwise, you’ll be expected to tip your cabin steward, dining room water and assistant water. Your bar bill will include a 15% gratuity for the bartender. In general, you’ll pay crew tips at the end of the cruise, with the exception of bellmen, maître d’ and deck stewards, who should be tipped when service is rendered. These tips aren’t a place to shave costs – despite the seeming luxury of the job, most cruise personnel work hard for very little money. Consider these tips to be part of the fare. There are other places you can cut costs.
If you buy your round-trip airport transfer through the cruise line, you’ll pay at least $40 per person. It’s often far cheaper – and faster – to take a local taxi to and from the ship. In most cases, you’ll pay about $20, and the cab will fit up to four people who can split the fare.
Everywhere you go on board ship, you’ll run into cruise photographers offering to take your picture. You’ll pay anywhere from $15 to $30 per picture for these photos, which can add quite a bit to the cost of your cruise. You don’t have to have pictures taken – and you don’t have to pay for any photos taken by ship’s photographers. Bring your own camera along and ask fellow passengers to snap a few pictures if you really want a particular shot.
Drinks at the bar are seldom included in your cruise fare, so think ahead about what you’re buying and what you’re paying for. You’ll end up paying $2 to $5 for a bottle of water or a soda. A lot of cruise ships offer a soda package when you book your cruise. You’ll pay $20 to $35 for unlimited sodas and soft drinks for the duration of the cruise – an amount you can easily spend each day if you’re traveling with kids. You can also usually bring along your own wine to be served to you at dinner, though you’ll end up paying a corkage fee of about $10 a bottle, which is considerably cheaper than what you’ll pay if you order wine from the menu at dinner. And don’t forget to bring along a water bottle that you can fill at the self-serve buffet and take along with you for sunning on deck and other activities.
Your meals in the ship’s dining room are included in your fare, but many ships also have onboard restaurants that you can choose instead. You’ll pay from $10 to $45 (or more) per person to choose an alternative dining option. Save money by restricting your eating to the scheduled meals and skip the pricey alternatives – or choose a cruise line that offers bargain alternatives, like Norwegian Cruise’s “Freestyle Cruising” plan, that includes some spectacular but reasonably priced alternatives.
We’ve come to expect Internet access as a general rule, and most ships do provide it – at a price. If you absolutely must have Internet access on board ship, check to find out if there’s a fixed fee package – usually around $100 for 250 minutes of metered access. Otherwise, consider saving up your online use for shore excursions. Ask a crew member about local Internet cafes or check out the public library or coffee shops with Internet access for free.
Shipboard casinos are among the biggest money sinks on the open sea. That said, a lot of people cruise for the gambling, and most people want to at least toss the dice or spin the wheel a couple of times. If you’re going to gamble, set a limit for yourself on how much you’re willing to lose. If you reach your limit, leave. If, on the other hand, you win enough to get ahead, pocket your winnings and walk away – perhaps to one of those great alternative restaurants you didn’t think you could afford on this cruise.
You’ll often pay a pretty penny for the pampering you get in the ship’s spa – up to $180 an hour, plus an 18% tip. Keep your eyes peeled for discounted spa specials when the ship is in port – there are fewer people on board, so the spas are looking for extra business then. And if you like the products used during your treatment, don’t feel like you have to buy from your masseuse. Make a note of the brand and look for deals on it online.
Laundry and Dry Cleaning
Don’t pay the outrageous laundry fees to have your dailies laundered by the ship’s laundry staff. Instead, check to see if the ship has a self-service launderette, where you’ll pay $3 to $5 per load instead of $2 to have a single pair of underwear washed out. Many cruise lines also have one day on each voyage when they’ll do a bag of laundry for a set price, usually less than $15 a bag. On shorter trips, you should be fine rinsing out your own dainties and smaller items in your bathroom and hanging them to dry over the shower rod.
It may be convenient to book your shore excursions through the cruise line, but you’ll pay for the convenience. It’s a lot more affordable to book your own shore trips through companies that specialize in booking tours and excursions in the various port cities. Check the port’s official tourism site to find tour operators and the most up-to-date pricing. Keep in mind, though, that if your independently booked excursion runs late, the ship can – and probably will – leave without you. That’s the one guarantee you have when you book your excursion through the cruise line: if your tour is late returning to the port, the ship will wait. Since you don’t have that guarantee when you book your own excursions, make sure you leave plenty of time to get back to the port on time to get on board before your ship sails.
Film, Batteries and STUFF
Expect to pay double for just about everything you buy on board ship. Or, better yet, forego the added expense by making sure that you pack plenty of the things you’re most likely to need: film for your camera and batteries for your devices. Try to pack devices with rechargeable batteries to avoid having to carry too much, and stock up on the personal use items you can’t live without: pain relievers, sunscreen and your favorite toiletries.
Obviously, you can’t – and wouldn’t want to – spend absolutely nothing on board ship during your cruise, but knowing the ropes can help you avoid egregious charges and save your extra stash of cash for the things you really must have.