Cruise! Just that one little word conjures up images of a luxurious vacation complete with fine dining, exciting nightlife, interesting ports of call, a room of your own – and a single, all-inclusive price. At face value, cruises are tough to beat. But many people, once they step onto the deck, forget how hard they searched for a bargain fare before booking the trip. Suddenly feeling like they have endless credit and bottomless wallets, they flag down every passing waiter to purchase the drink of the day in a souvenir cup, and they buy their suntan lotion on board instead of at a discount store.
Unfortunately, the party ends with a six-page bill tucked under their door at the end of the trip. The all-inclusive bargain has suddenly become very expensive. If you're looking to save money on your next cruise, here are some tips that will help.
Research and Plan in Advance
On the day you decide that a cruise is in your future, start putting money in the bank to save for the trip. While just about everyone searches the internet to find a bargain vacation, far too many people pay for their trip with a credit card. If you tack 20% interest onto the price of the trip, your trip is no longer a bargain.
One you've booked your cruise, do some research on the ports of call before setting sail. Not all of the activities at these places are covered in the cost of a cruise. By doing some preliminary research, you can have a good idea of how to enjoy the local attractions without breaking the bank. Many of the major cruise lines have websites that include prices for the excursions offered at the various ports.
After you have identified the excursions that you think you want to take, do some web research and read the reviews from past visitors. If previous visitors enjoyed the ports of call and the sightseeing options, you probably will too. But be careful that the excursions you pay for aren't simply activities you can do on your own for cheaper. For example, the cruise line may offer a trip to the beach for $45 per person when you could take a cab to the same beach for $10. Also be careful about paying for sightseeing tours that the cruise line offers. By doing a little upfront research, you can plan your own sightseeing tour for a fraction of the cost of the tour organized by the cruise line.
Set a Budget and Stick to It
If you've planned in advance – by buying your suntan lotion and other sundries before departure and knowing which excursions you want to take and how much those trips will cost – you should be able determine an on-board budget and stick to it. Extras to budget in advance for are spa services, food costs, beverages and souvenirs.
Sure the spa may be overpriced, but you'll be on vacation and, if you know you can't resist the allure of a massage, plan accordingly. When you go to the spa, be sure to ask about discount rates. Ships often offer special rates on various services at some point during the voyage.
Your extra food costs should be easy to control, since meals are generally included in the price of a cruise. There will be so much free food available on the ship at all hours of the day that it makes no sense at all to buy food at the add-on snack shops and restaurants requiring a fee. Many of those restaurants serve the exact same food you can get in the main dining rooms.
When it comes to beverages, if you just can't survive on the free beverages – which generally include lemonade, juice, coffee, tea and water – look into the "bottomless" soda option available on most ships. If you like wine with dinner, consider purchasing what you think you might need for the trip on the first night. The wine steward will serve it by the glass and keep it refrigerated overnight.
Avoid the on board internet service or telephones. If you must make a call, wait until you reach a pay phone in the next port. (Keep in mind that you are on vacation. Do you really want to spend your vacation talking on the phone or checking your email?)
Finally, find out about your cruise line's tipping policy, and plan ahead for the tips. The service staff works hard to give you the perfect vacation, and they don't deserve to be short-changed because you didn't budget appropriately.
Try a Travel Agent
For getting a good deal on a cruise, travel agents are a wonderful resource. Look for agents who specialize in cruise vacations. They get a volume discount that generally rivals the last-minute discounts available on the internet, and the really good agents track the prices after you book your trip. If the price drops, an agent may give you a retroactive discount as well. Also, you should work with an agent who has taken many cruises him- or herself and can tell you which ports are safe to explore without an escort, which beaches are close to the cruise ship dock and what other clients thought about the various ports of call.
It pays to remember that taking a vacation doesn't mean that you get to leave your financial sense at home. If you apply smart financial principles to your vacation, you can take the same trip, enjoy the same ports of call and indulge in the same exemplary service as the passengers who throw caution to the wind. The only difference is, you'll be heading home debt-free.