How to Save Money
On Your Dream Cruise
- When to book
- When to cruise
- Which cruise line
- Room selection
- Beverage cost
- Shore excursions
- Travel to the port
Do you imagine you and your family sailing to amazing places on an amazing cruise, but worry about the cost? Don’t fret. Cruises can actually quite affordable. Read our tips on how to save money on your dream cruise and get ready to set sail.
When to Book
Cruise prices fluctuate; usually increasing the closer it gets to the sail date.
For most cruises, the lowest price will be as soon as the rooms go on sale. This can be as far as 18 months in advance! If you know what cruise you want to take and have the deposit, then go for it. Most cruise companies will refund money until it is time for the final deposit.
Another bonus of early booking is that you have your pick of rooms.
If a cruise has not sold out, then 2 – 6 weeks prior to the cruise, prices can drop. A lot of cruises sell out or almost sell out. So, using this option limits your selection drastically. You might be disappointed if you want a specific destination, cruise line, or port. Flexible travelers find great deals this way, though.
2-3 Months Prior
If a lot of rooms or certain types of rooms, such as inside staterooms, have not sold well, then cruise lines discount tickets a few months before. This window closes fast, though. You need to pay attention and check frequently. As with booking late, the selection is limited.
When on Another Cruise!
Most cruise companies offer discounts if you book your next cruise while on a cruise. Disney Cruise Line gives a 10% discount.
Norwegian Cruise Line matches deposits placed during a cruise. Make a $500 deposit and NCL deducts $500 from the price. Nice!
Time of the Year
Cruise ticket prices vary depending on demand. Cruises cost more when the weather is optimal and kids are out of school. They cost less at other times.
Ships cruise the Caribbean all year. Caribbean cruise prices decrease most in autumn during hurricane season. Most other cruise destinations are seasonal. This is the summer for most places like Alaska and Europe. Canadian foliage tours and Bermuda cruises are usually in the autumn. You find the best prices at the start and end of each locations season.
When a cruise ship moves from one home port to another, it is called a repositioning cruise. Many ships move from Alaska in the early Autumn to Southern California. Other ships relocate from northern ports to Florida for winter. Transatlantic cruises are repositioning cruises. In general, these cruises are the least expensive per night.
You will have to buy at least one plane ticket on repositioning cruises. If you live near a cruise port, then this plane ticket can take away the price advantage.
Cruise lines can roughly be sorted by costs. Read this post to find out about the major cruise lines.
When booking a cruise, you are given the option to choose your own room or to choose a “sail away” room. With sail away rooms, the cruise line assigns a room to you, but the rooms cost less. Sail away cabins occupy the least favorable locations, though; forward or aft (front or rear) and near high traffic areas.
Less favorable does not necessarily mean a bad experience, though. We had a room in a presumably ideal location, 6th deck midship, but had a horrible experience due to unruly kids all around. On another cruise, our sail away room was over a bar in the aft of the ship, and we did not hear a peep.
Interior state rooms, where you have no windows or balcony cost the least. I do not mind this, as the state room is simply where I rest and bathe. My wife and son get claustrophobic, though. We now always choose a room with a portal window. The portal view makes it feel more open, less claustrophobic to them.
Rooms with balconies and suites obviously cost more. We have had rooms with a balcony, but only spent a few minutes on it. To us, it is not worth the increased cost.
On the Cruise
Most budget and moderate priced cruise lines earn the majority of their profit from beverages and casinos. Budgets are blown quickly with drinks and gambling.
Fountain, bottled, and alcoholic drinks cost a lot on cruises. Bringing large quantities with you on board is banned. I once spoke with one fellow passenger who offered to pick up the tab one night for her family. They ran up over $1000 bar tab! She said that she was obviously never doing that again!
You do have options, though. For breakfast, coffee, hot tea, iced tea, juice, and fountain water are provided for free. For the rest of the day, you can still get all of these other than juice at no extra charge. This suits us fine. On my Norwegian cruise, I did not spend a penny on drinks.
On Disney cruises, you will also find fountain drinks, lemonade, sports drinks, and hot chocolate included at no extra cost. So, other than alcohol, smoothies, and “fancy” coffees, this is not an issue.
If you know that you and your family will want alcohol, sodas, and/or bottled water regularly, then many cruise lines sell drink packages. With beverage packages, you pay a fee up front and drinks are included, usually. This almost always saves money over paying separately for each drink.
You have to pay attention, because oftentimes, not every beverage is included. Passengers have complained that certain wines and even bottled water were excluded from their plans. Read the details carefully.
Purchasing While in Port
Some cruise lines allow you to purchase beverages while in port and enjoy them on the ship. Disney Cruise Line allows each passenger to bring a 6 pack of beer or 2 bottles of wine onboard at each port. This will almost always be much cheaper than buying on the ship.
Hard spirits like tequila and rum are always excluded. While you can buy them, when reboarding the ship, they will be taken and kept until you disembark at the end of the cruise.
Casinos earn cruise lines a lot of money. Again, Disney is the exception. It’s ships do not have casinos. If you avoid the casino or at least set a limit, then you can control your cruise spending. I once overheard a man arguing at guest services about about him charging $800 and his wife $400 to their room account gambling and losing in the casino the last night of the cruise. Ouch!
Cruise passengers enjoy multiple dining options that are included in the fare. On most ships, you can choose to pay for more upscale dining. Work this into your budget if you are a foodie. For many of us, this expense is unnecessary. Cruise buffets tend to be of variable quality. I have found almost all of the food at the table service restaurants to be very good, though.
Shore excursions can be quite costly, too. I do not recommend scrimping here, though. You may never visit these ports again. Make the most of it. That said, more expensive does not always translate into a better experience.
To explore while in port, you have three options: an excursion booked through the cruise, self booking with a private company, or exploring on your own. Booking through the cruise line almost always costs the most; exploring on your own the least. I have had wonderful experiences doing all three.
We read travel blogs and reviews for advice and suggestions. I enjoy researching ports and excursions. It gets me more excited about my trip. We usually do set a limit to how much we will spend on excursions. These limits help narrow the sometime plethora of options. It has worked well for us so far.
Excursions booked through the cruise ship offer certain benefits. You are guided directly from your ship to the tour and you are guaranteed that the ship will not leave without you.
Many excursions that you book yourself will pick you up at the docks and some will guarantee you to be back on the ship on time. You just need to make sure of the policies before booking.
For many ports, booking a tour is simply a waste of money. Beaches, museums, and tourist sites are often within easy walking distance. We have taken several self-guided tours and loved them. Other times, using public transit is easy. We easily made our way to Pisa, Italy taking trains from the docks. Another time, we thoroughly explored Bermuda using busses and ferries.
Travel to the Port
The least expensive cruise might not be the most economical. Airfare, pre-cruise hotel, fuel cost, and parking can all add up. Make sure to add these in when budgeting for you dream cruise.
When flying to a cruise port, always get there a day early. If your flight is delayed, the cruise will leave without you. Do not risk it! The extra expense protects you from disaster.
If you live near a cruise port, then embarking close to home saves air fare and possibly an extra night in a hotel.
We have flown for “free” multiple times using points from airline credit cards. For domestic flights, we prefer Southwest and use the Southwest Airline credit card. We have also used the United Airlines credit card to get points for trips overseas. If paid off on time, these can really make travel more affordable.
- For largest savings, book as early as possible.
- Consider booking your next cruise while on this cruise!
- Autumn in the Caribbean is usually the cheapest.
- Early or late in the season is cheapest for seasonal destinations
- “Sail away” rooms are the least expensive.
- Interior state rooms cost less.
- Stick to complimentary beverages to save money.
- Avoid casinos or at least set strict limits.
- Paying for upscale dining onboard is costly and not necessary (Cruise food is usually very good).
- Do not scrimp on Shore Excursion!
- Touring ports on you own saves money, but has risks.
- Budget in travel costs to and from your cruise port.
- Consider an airline credit card.
- Don’t stress out! Enjoy your dream cruise.