8 Savings Hacks for Your Next Cruise
Save money on everything from shore excursions to parking with these insider tips.
Setting sail at off-peak times and booking excursions through local operators are just a couple of ways to trim costs. (Getty Images)
Everyone likes saving money. And while cruising is already considered an affordable way to vacation with meals, lodging and entertainment covered in one all-inclusive price, there are still plenty of tricks you can use to make your dollar go even further. Use these tricks to slash hundreds off of your next cruise vacation.
Cruise When School is in Session
Generally, cruise fares are cheapest on mainstream cruise lines when kids are in school. So, if you are flexible with your dates, you can save hundreds of dollars on your cruise fare by choosing to cruise at a less in-demand time. January and February are usually the cheapest months to sail. For example, a four-day cruise aboard the Carnival Victory from Miami costs $254 per person in February. Conversely, a four-day cruise on the Carnival Victory runs at $409 per person during July when school is out and families are able to sail.
Book Excursions Through Local Tour Companies
While booking shore excursions through your cruise line is convenient, it can also cost you more. "Excursions are big money makers for the travel industry," says Scott Alan Turner, a personal finance expert and avid cruiser. "Instead of signing up for an excursion on the ship, wait until getting off the ship and find a local operation. Often, you can purchase any trip offered by the cruise line for less after getting off the ship and looking for a local tour guide," Turner says. However, one thing to me mindful of is that the excursion you choose must be back to the port with plenty of time before your ship departs, so make sure to consider the duration of your excursion.
Find a Hotel With a 'Park and Cruise' Package
If you are driving to your departure cruise port, you will have to find a place to park your car. Depending on where you sail from, that can cost as much as $20 per day. If you plan to stay in port the night before your cruise, however, you can book a hotel that offers a parking package. These packages let you park for free or at a discount while you cruise. "My wife and I sailed on a cruise from Galveston last year. We found a hotel that offered free parking that was only a couple of miles from the port. It saved us close to $70 in parking fees," says Chris Brantner, creator of the site CutCableToday.com.
Order Drinks While in Port Instead of on the Ship
It's no secret that drinking on a cruise ship can translate to a steep final bill. It's not unusual for a beer to cost around $6 to $7, and prices are even more costly for specialty cocktails. But if you can wait to grab a drink until you reach different ports of call, you can enjoy much cheaper beverages on land. That's because bars near the cruise piers cater to passengers and offer drink specials to get tourists in the door. "If you like to indulge in spirits, they can come at a cost onboard the ship," says avid cruiser Dan Scalco. "Wait until you're on land to buy drinks," he adds, estimating that he saved $50 to $75 on drinks using this technique on his last cruise.
Choose an Older Ship
While new cruise ships often make headlines with their whiz-bang features and size, older ships offer some key advantages. For one, older ships are smaller, which can make them a better choice for passengers who are overwhelmed by the size of today's sprawling, 4,000-plus passenger ships. Furthermore, because these ships aren't grabbing the public interest like newer vessels, you can sail aboard them for much less. Keep in mind that these older ships are upgraded regularly and often are refurbished to include a slew of new amenities, too.
Pay Off Your Cruise Fare Gradually
It's always satisfying to have your cruise completely paid for, but there is a benefit to paying it off in increments. Cruise fares fluctuate and sometimes you will see a lower fare than what you initially paid. No matter what, it's worth calling the cruise line to see if they will match the lower fare. But if you've only paid part of your cruise, you have some leverage. After all, you can cancel and rebook at the lower rate, risking only a portion of your deposit as a cancellation fee. Alternatively, if already paid in full, then you risk a portion of the entire cruise fare as a cancellation penalty.
Take a Repositioning Cruise
Cruise lines use repositioning cruises to move ships from one home port to another, usually from North America to Europe. As a result, the trips typically last a couple of weeks and cruise lines slash fares to fill the ship. That means you can get an extended cruise for much cheaper than what you'd typically pay. "Because most people do not have enough time for this type of travel and want to visit more ports of call returning to the same port they left from, repositioning cruises can be a bargain," says Wayne Dunlap, the writer of the travel blog UnhookNow.com. Royal Caribbean, for example, is offering a 14-night repositioning cruise in April from Tampa, Florida, to Barcelona, Spain, for just $657 per person.
Don't Use Cruise Transfers
Cruise lines are more than happy to give you a ride from the airport to the cruise port – for a price. Unlike a taxi or a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft, cruise transfers are priced per person, so costs add up quickly if traveling with a family or group. So, it's best to find an alternate means of transportation to cut costs. For example, Carnival charges $23.50 for a ride from the New Orleans airport to the cruise terminal, per person, each way. A family of four would spend close to $100 for a ride to the port. A taxi costs a flat rate of just $15 per person, or $60 for a family of four. Best of all, taxicabs and other transport allow you flexibility to depart when you want, instead of on a set schedule for the cruise line transfer.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.