Cruise ships at sunset.

For smooth (and affordable) sailing, use a travel credit card, consider a repositioning cruise and try these money-saving tactics. (Getty Images)

Most cruise itineraries stop in several destinations, giving you a taste and feel for different cultures and places. And since cruise prices typically package lodging, food and entertainment costs into a single price, an at-sea vacation can offer a better value (and more predictable price) than a land-based trip. And if you're dreaming of a cost-effective family trip, cruising the friendly seas can be a smart way to save money and see the world.

[See: 10 Underrated Cruise Destinations for 2017.]

Still, not all cruises are inexpensive. To avoid blowing your budget, you'll want to pick a cruise ship itinerary and cabin that matches your needs and price point. If you want to curb costs on your next cruise, use these money-saving strategies before you book.

Book Less Than Three Months Out

While there are savings to be had by booking a cruise a year out, you can also score some hefty savings by booking a last-minute trip. Because cruise lines are eager to fill empty cabins for upcoming itineraries, they often release space at discounted rates a few months out. Online resources like VacationstoGo.com offer a smart place to look for last-minute cruises at drastically reduced prices. With their 90-day ticker, you can even save up to 83 percent on cruises in the next three months.

Choose a Repositioning Cruise

Repositioning cruises are special cruises that help cruise lines move a ship from one region to another. Instead of relocating an empty ship, however, cruise lines offer discounted rates on cabins for cruisers who want to enjoy onboard amenities and beautiful ocean views. Not only are repositioning cruises inexpensive, but they offer a cheap (albeit slow) way to travel comfortably to a new destination.

Keep an Eye Out for Special Promotions

Some cruise lines offer special promotions that can make your entire cruise more enjoyable and affordable. For example, MSC Cruises offers frequent 2-for-1 deals on Caribbean itineraries, as well as free drink packages, onboard credits and free internet access. Kids also cruise free on select itineraries in the Caribbean, Europe and other parts of the world. If you have kids, make sure to check around for cruises that offer the best amenities and prices for families.

Use a Travel Credit Card

Travel credit cards can help you score a cheaper cruise, but that's only if you get the right card. Generally, the best travel credit cards for cruises are ones that let you book cruises through their own travel portal or ones that offer flexible credit. Premier Chase travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards can be a smart choice since you can book cruises at a discount using points. You could also try the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which lets you redeem points directly for any cruise with any cruise line or discount travel provider.

[See: 10 Things You Shouldn't Do on a Cruise.]

Reserve Your Own Shore Excursions Before You Go

While you'll want to enjoy all the free amenities on your ship, chances are you'll want to find shore-side activities as well. You can spend time at port exploring on your own or book organized excursions such as sightseeing tours and snorkeling trips. If you plan to book excursions, it's always wise to shop around before you leave for your cruise. Your cruise ship will offer the same shore excursions you can find on Viator.com, but often for 20 or 30 percent more. By booking excursions yourself, you can get the same experiences for a lot less.

Drive to Port

While some cruise itineraries can cost a pretty penny, one of the most expensive components of any trip is the cost to get to your port. If you fly a family of four, you can easily pay a few hundred dollars per person in airfare, and that's before you even step foot on your ship. Driving to your cruise port can help you trim costs, even if you have to rent a car. Make sure to compare the cost of flying versus driving to the closest cruise port to your area. If the difference is big enough, the savings might make the hassle worth it.

[See: 12 Tricks to Save Your Money (and Sanity) on a Family Cruise.]

Avoid Pricey Upsell Charges

While cruise fares typically package accommodations, meals and entertainment, it's easy to tack on hidden add-on fees. For example, most cruise ships offer upgraded dining options, drink packages, special entertainment venues, spa treatments, and various other added services and amenities. If you take advantage of all these options, you could easily spend a lot more than you planned. Instead of splurging, enjoy all the free activities your ship has to offer. Alternate restaurants every night, see the free shows, participate in free dance lessons and contests and stay away from the onboard casino. The more upcharges you can steer clear of, the less your cruise will cost in the end. And that can only mean one thing – more money to spend on your next trip.


12 The Best Cruise Lines of 2017


Photo Gallery
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Aerial Celebrity Eclipse
The Disney Magic crew wouldn’t be complete without Captain Mickey and First Mate Minnie, who greet guests onboard the ship. Special visits from favorite Disney characters are guaranteed to delight the entire family every day on the Disney Magic.
Crystal Cruises
All 2017 Disney Cruise Line sailings from Port Canaveral and Miami to the Bahamas and Caribbean will include a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island paradise. In a setting of crystal-clear turquoise waters, powdery white-sand beaches and lush landscapes, the island offers activities for every member of the family.
Silversea Cruises
Crystal Cruises
|

Which cruise is right for you?
According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the largest cruise industry trade organization in the world, a rising number of travelers are choosing cruise vacations. The association predicted that 24 million people would take their vacations to the sea in 2016, and that number is only expected to increase in 2017. As demand heightens, so do travelers' cruising choices. To help you wade through the options and determine which cruise line best caters to your needs and budget, U.S. News evaluated 15 top ocean liners, using health scores and expert and passenger ratings, among other factors. Read on to find out which cruise lines came out on top.
(Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises)

Best Cruise Lines for the Money
Celebrity Cruises debuts as the No. 1 Best Cruise Line for the Money in 2017. Though its fleet is smaller than some of its competitors, Celebrity's ships offer personalized service and an average ship capacity of fewer than 2,700 passengers. Plus, the line offers big-ship amenities, such as outdoor movie screens and children's programming, while keeping rates as low as $100 per person, per night. Royal Caribbean International comes in at No. 2 and Norwegian Cruise Line ranks No. 3 on the Best Cruise Lines for the Money list.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Best Cruise Lines for Families
For the fourth consecutive year, Disney Cruise Line tops the list of Best Cruise Lines for Families. The line's character deck parties and specialized kids clubs are sure to please the younger crowd, while exclusive adults-only areas give parents a place to unwind after a day of activities. Other family favorites include the No. 2-ranked Royal Caribbean International and the No. 3-ranked Carnival Cruise Lines.
(Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

Best Cruise Lines for Couples
If you're hoping to sail away with your sweetheart, look no further than Crystal Cruises, which is this year's No. 1 Best Cruise Line for Couples. Twosomes can take advantage of all-inclusive stateroom amenities, such as feather beds, Frette terry cloth robes and complimentary wine and spirits. Plus, you can up the romance factor by splurging on couples spa treatments and specialty private dining. Other high-ranking cruise lines for romance include Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, which rank as the No. 2 and No. 3 Best Cruise Lines for Couples, respectively.
(Courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean
Disney Cruise Line also claims the Best Cruises Line in the Caribbean title. Not only does Disney travel to more than 15 Caribbean destinations, its ships also sail to its own private island – Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Cruisers can choose from itineraries to other popular ports of call in places such as Cozumel, Mexico, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, as well as lesser-known islands, including Grenada and Curaçao. Celebrity Cruises takes the No. 2 spot and Crystal Cruises sails in at No. 3 on the Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean ranking for 2017.
(Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean
Celebrity Cruises is the No. 1 Best Cruise Line in the Mediterranean for 2017. The line's mid-size ships sail to beloved European destinations, including Santorini, Greece, and Naples, Italy. After exploring popular Mediterranean ports of call, cruisers can dine at upscale eateries, which offer everything from French fare to juicy steaks, before retiring to their accommodations. Regent Seven Seas Cruises takes the No. 2 spot and Oceania Cruises claims the No. 3 spot on the Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean ranking for 2017.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Best Luxury Cruise Lines
Those looking to indulge should consider booking a vacation with the No. 1 Best Luxury Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises. Crystal provides a nearly 1-to-1 passenger-to-crew ratio, which means travelers can expect personalized service. Plus, more than half of the staterooms on the line's two ocean-going ships offer private verandas. What's more, those staying in penthouse suites receive personal butler service. Other luxurious lines include Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which takes the No. 2 spot, and Oceania Cruises, which claims the No. 3 spot on the Best Luxury Cruise Lines list.
(Courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Aerial Celebrity Eclipse
The Disney Magic crew wouldn’t be complete without Captain Mickey and First Mate Minnie, who greet guests onboard the ship. Special visits from favorite Disney characters are guaranteed to delight the entire family every day on the Disney Magic.
Crystal Cruises
All 2017 Disney Cruise Line sailings from Port Canaveral and Miami to the Bahamas and Caribbean will include a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island paradise. In a setting of crystal-clear turquoise waters, powdery white-sand beaches and lush landscapes, the island offers activities for every member of the family.
Silversea Cruises
Crystal Cruises

Which cruise is right for you?
According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the largest cruise industry trade organization in the world, a rising number of travelers are choosing cruise vacations. The association predicted that 24 million people would take their vacations to the sea in 2016, and that number is only expected to increase in 2017. As demand heightens, so do travelers' cruising choices. To help you wade through the options and determine which cruise line best caters to your needs and budget, U.S. News evaluated 15 top ocean liners, using health scores and expert and passenger ratings, among other factors. Read on to find out which cruise lines came out on top.
(Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises)

Best Cruise Lines for the Money
Celebrity Cruises debuts as the No. 1 Best Cruise Line for the Money in 2017. Though its fleet is smaller than some of its competitors, Celebrity's ships offer personalized service and an average ship capacity of fewer than 2,700 passengers. Plus, the line offers big-ship amenities, such as outdoor movie screens and children's programming, while keeping rates as low as $100 per person, per night. Royal Caribbean International comes in at No. 2 and Norwegian Cruise Line ranks No. 3 on the Best Cruise Lines for the Money list.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Best Cruise Lines for Families
For the fourth consecutive year, Disney Cruise Line tops the list of Best Cruise Lines for Families. The line's character deck parties and specialized kids clubs are sure to please the younger crowd, while exclusive adults-only areas give parents a place to unwind after a day of activities. Other family favorites include the No. 2-ranked Royal Caribbean International and the No. 3-ranked Carnival Cruise Lines.
(Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

Best Cruise Lines for Couples
If you're hoping to sail away with your sweetheart, look no further than Crystal Cruises, which is this year's No. 1 Best Cruise Line for Couples. Twosomes can take advantage of all-inclusive stateroom amenities, such as feather beds, Frette terry cloth robes and complimentary wine and spirits. Plus, you can up the romance factor by splurging on couples spa treatments and specialty private dining. Other high-ranking cruise lines for romance include Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, which rank as the No. 2 and No. 3 Best Cruise Lines for Couples, respectively.
(Courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean
Disney Cruise Line also claims the Best Cruises Line in the Caribbean title. Not only does Disney travel to more than 15 Caribbean destinations, its ships also sail to its own private island – Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Cruisers can choose from itineraries to other popular ports of call in places such as Cozumel, Mexico, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, as well as lesser-known islands, including Grenada and Curaçao. Celebrity Cruises takes the No. 2 spot and Crystal Cruises sails in at No. 3 on the Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean ranking for 2017.
(Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean
Celebrity Cruises is the No. 1 Best Cruise Line in the Mediterranean for 2017. The line's mid-size ships sail to beloved European destinations, including Santorini, Greece, and Naples, Italy. After exploring popular Mediterranean ports of call, cruisers can dine at upscale eateries, which offer everything from French fare to juicy steaks, before retiring to their accommodations. Regent Seven Seas Cruises takes the No. 2 spot and Oceania Cruises claims the No. 3 spot on the Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean ranking for 2017.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Best Luxury Cruise Lines
Those looking to indulge should consider booking a vacation with the No. 1 Best Luxury Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises. Crystal provides a nearly 1-to-1 passenger-to-crew ratio, which means travelers can expect personalized service. Plus, more than half of the staterooms on the line's two ocean-going ships offer private verandas. What's more, those staying in penthouse suites receive personal butler service. Other luxurious lines include Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which takes the No. 2 spot, and Oceania Cruises, which claims the No. 3 spot on the Best Luxury Cruise Lines list.
(Courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

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Tags: travel, vacations, cruises


Holly Johnson writes about travel, credit cards, personal finance and frugality for a wide range of publications including U.S. News, The Indianapolis Star, The Simple Dollar, Lending Tree, Frugal Travel Guy and Wise Bread. Along with her husband, Johnson also runs two personal blogs - Club Thrifty and Travel Blue Book. Johnson's travel writing revolves around the Caribbean and Europe, with a special focus on family-friendly activities, all-inclusive resorts and unique hotels. Follow Holly Johnson on Twitter @ClubThrifty.

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