Cruises can be an economical vacation when you take into account the number of places visited and that many of the costs, to include room, food and transportation, are all-inclusive. In addition, they often offer many activities to entertain the entire family. However, the fees and costs associated with a cruise can quickly add up. Here are some ways to stay under budget.
Websites such as Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline are one-stop shops for hotels and flights, but they don’t offer as many options for cruises. Therefore, you may have to spend some time visiting multiple websites to score the best deals. Travel agencies and cruise line websites (to include Cruise Direct, iCruise.com and Carnival.com) are good places to start your search. You may be able to find free upgrades, onboard credits and other promotions. However, be sure to read the fine print. What seems like a great deal may not include flights, port charges and other hidden costs.
To make shopping around easier, sign up for email alerts on deals from different websites. It will take some time, but deals will be sent directly to your inbox.
Use a travel agent
When making other types of vacations, you can generally book them easily without the help of a travel agent. However, using one for planning a cruise is recommended. There are many travel agents who specialize in cruises and can help you find the top deals based on your budget and preferences. A travel agent can help you pick out the best cruise line and find rates better than what can be found advertised. Remember that travel agents are often associated with cruise lines, so they pay their commission, not you.
Don’t wait to book your cruise. Although waiting until the last minute to make travel plans can score you deals on travel websites such as Hotwire, the cruise industry works the opposite way – the earlier you book, the better deal you get (although sometimes great last minute deals come up). Those who book six months or more in advance get the best deals. Those planning to travel on spring and summer should book at least a year in advance. The early bird gets the worm when booking cruises. You may be able to score reduced rates, 2-for-1 fares, free upgrades and other perks.
Find the best airfare
Airfares can sometimes be more costly than the cruise itself. It may be easier to book your airfare from the cruise line at the same time you book your cruise, but the price is often much higher than you would pay if you booked airfare separately. Therefore, it pays off to spend the time to research airfares on your own. Check several websites to find out the going rate. Driving might also be an option if you live near enough to the port.
Find the right season
The best prices can often be found during what is known as shoulder season. This season is found between the high and low seasons and can mean huge savings for those who choose to cruise during this small window of opportunity. Cruising during shoulder season requires perfect timing, as it varies depending on the destination. For example, a good time to cruise Alaska is in May, when the temperatures are a little cooler than in the summer. September and October are good times to cruise the Mediterranean for those who prefer sightseeing to fun in the sun.
Look for special discounts
If you belong to a certain demographic, you may be able to get discounted fares. For example, seniors, military personnel and those living in certain areas can take advantage of special pricing offered by cruise lines.
Find a cruise line and stick with it
Show your loyalty by sticking with one cruise line. Cruise lines love to take care of repeat customers, so the more you cruise, the more perks you’ll get from the cruise line. Get reduced rates, special promotions and perks such as VIP dining.
Consider restricted fares
Restricted fares mean that passengers do not have the opportunity to cancel or change their travel plans – at least not for a decent price. However, those who choose restricted fares without changing their travel plans can reap the rewards of low-cost travel and various upgrades. This option should be carefully chosen because a change in plans can leave a huge dent in your pocketbook.
Request to sail on an older ship
Sailing on the latest and greatest cruise ship can result in increased costs. You’ll pay a premium to ride on the newest ships, so ask to sail on an older one. You can often save money without missing out on the various amenities a cruise has to offer. However, you should ask about the ship’s history to ensure that it is safe and well-maintained. Many cruise lines even go as far as refurbishing the older ships to add new features.
Go your own way
Many of the shore excursions organized by the cruise lines at the ports are overpriced. You may want to organize your own excursions, if you know where to go and how much it will cost. Just be sure to make it back to the ship in time!
In addition, keep in mind that those areas with the most tourists, such as the pier, will have the highest prices for everything.
A cruise is a time to have fun, but getting all the bells and whistles probably is not going to add much to overall enjoyment. Are frills like upscale dining or buying pictures when you can just take your own really going to add that much enjoyment? Why not take a minute to wash some of your clothes in the sink instead of sending them out. Ask the price and stop and think before accepting anything.
Bring your own supplies
Generally, anything on ship and near the ports is going to cost more. Bring along any batteries and other consumables you may need and avoid shopping on ship. Think ahead and bring any medications (don’t forget Dramamine) you may need. Finally, those who want to tip a few drinks should ask the cruise line how much alcohol they can bring on board.