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Let me start out by saying cruising is my favorite budget-friendly vacation and favorite vacation in general. I have talked to some people who have never cruised and they think it sounds too expensive. What most people don’t realize is your food, entertainment, and “hotel room” are all included. If you tried to book a trip and included your food, hotel, and entertainment, you would get a total much higher than a cruise. With these helpful tips, I’m going to show you how to make to save even more money on your cruise! If you’ve already booked your cruise, be sure to click here and check out my post on unexpected items to pack for your cruise!
Book really early or very last minute.
Every cruise I have been on, I have booked within 2 months of departure. The best deal I’ve ever received was a 7-day cruise on Carnival Dream (back when it was a newer ship). I booked it two weeks before it’s departure date and with taxes, port fees, and gratuities, I paid $450. TOTAL! Once we were on the ship, I spoke with other people cruising and some had spent up to $1,300 for their cruise. Booking very last minute is difficult to do unless you have flexibility with your schedule. I had no intentions of going on a cruise but I typically check the prices a couple of times a week just out of curiosity. This price caught my eye. I called to check on the price and before the end of the phone call, I had booked us on a cruise. Luckily, I have the flexibility at work to take off whenever I need to and I always have a vacation fund stashed away!
Find a port within driving distance of your home.
My favorite port to leave out of is New Orleans. This is mostly because I love to come a day early and eat all of the Cajun food that my heart desires, but also, it’s within driving distance from my home. It takes about 10 hours for me to get to New Orleans and it’s a very easy drive. Depending on plane tickets, this could be the cheapest route of transportation for me.
Be smart when booking transportation.
Driving to port:
As I mentioned previously, try to find a port you can drive to. If you are stuck on a particular cruise leaving out of a particular port, do your research on transportation. For example, I booked a cruise leaving out of Miami but the cheapest flight was flying to Fort Lauderdale. I didn’t think this was a big deal until I looked up transportation from FLL to Port of Miami. We could shuttle to the port from the airport for about $20 per person each way. That didn’t seem bad but the hotel we were staying at did not offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport. We would spend money on Uber/Lyft to shuttle to the hotel, back to the airport, and then pay the $20 per person to get to the port. Then we thought we would just Uber/Lyft from the hotel to the port directly. The cost to Uber/Lyft was almost doubled and would cost $50-65 each way. When I did the math on transportation, it was going to cost almost as much as the cruise. Needless to say, I ended up canceling the cruise and I am planning one for a later date leaving out of Fort Lauderdale and we can stay at a hotel that offers free transportation. If you do need transportation to the port, I highly recommend you sign up for Freebird. It syncs to your Uber and Lyft accounts and offers added bonuses and cashback. Sign up here and enter code u43cb to get $10 back with your first two rides.
While we are on the note of transportation, I’m going to tell you about my preferred airline. I worked for an airline for several years and flew standby and was oblivious to how much airfare cost. I no longer have that luxury and over the years of paying for flights, I have found that Southwest Airlines is my go-to airline. There have been times when I’ve seen a lower cost flight but when I add in baggage fees it costs either the same or more. Another favorite feature of mine is the ability to change flights. When it comes to booking vacations, I am incredibly indecisive and tend to book things at the very last minute. One day I book something and the next day I decide that I want to leave a day earlier. For example, I just booked a Las Vegas trip and decided to leave a day earlier and changed my flight without any fees!
Bring your own alcohol.
I’m not going to encourage you to try and sneak alcohol on board because it’s really a hit or miss plan. However, most cruise lines allow you to bring on a 750ml bottle of wine per adult in the stateroom. Make sure you read the fine print for your cruise line because some only allow two bottles. I know most cruise lines require that you carry this on in your carryon bag and you do not put it in your checked luggage. I don’t know about you but If I’m taking a 3 or 4-day cruise, two bottles of wine can get me a long way. I also tend to drink more at the port where it’s cheaper than the ship’s prices. The ship will also offer a special drink every day and it typically comes in a souvenir cup for a cheaper price.
Don’t waste your money on specialty dining.
Cruise ships have food EVERYWHERE. There are so many included options for food that you really don’t need to go to a specialty dining restaurant. The dining room offers amazing food and it’s already included in your cruise fare. The only reason I would encourage specialty dining is if it’s a special occasion. If you choose to do specialty dining, make sure it’s not the night of the captain’s dinner. That’s the best night to eat in the main dining room!
Avoid shore excursions offered by the ship.
I have never paid for a shore excursion offered by the cruise line. I have actually only paid for a shore excursion one time and don’t typically like to waste the money. Typically, I do my research on the port before we set sail (if I haven’t already been there) and I find a place that I want to go. For example, I have been to Cozumel several times and I usually go to Carlos and Charlie’s right on the beach. I have also been to Chakanaab park which is occasionally offered as an excursion but I believe you can just taxi there yourself. Another great place that I have been told about is Coconuts on the other side of the island. These are all places that you can taxi to and do yourself. If you really want to do a guided excursion, check out third-party websites that have lower cost excursions.
Avoid the mini bar and in-room snacks.
This is probably something that everyone knows to avoid in most hotels but some people forget this while they are on a cruise ship. I have taken a picture and taken items out of the fridge and used it for my own personal storage but I always make sure to put the items out of sight so nobody accidentally grabs them. At the end of the cruise, I will look at the picture and put everything back the way that I found it. If you look at the prices, you could buy a case of water for the price of one bottle or one snack could be the cost of an entire meal at some places. Save the money and skip the convenience snacks!
Book a smaller and older ship.
This is something that a lot of people don’t know about, especially new cruisers. Smaller ships and older ships will offer shorter cruises and less expensive cruises. If you don’t care about the world’s largest cruise ship, roller coasters, or ice skating rinks, then you would be perfectly fine on a smaller ship.
Cruise during the offseason.
Most of my cruises have been during December – February. That’s when I have found the cheapest rates. Most of December is at a lower price except for the week of New Years, those cruises will be double or triple the price of any other week. My favorite time of the year to go is January or February. Typically by January, I’m over the winter weather and ready to be somewhere tropical. The prices are much cheaper during these months until you hit March and then they go back up for spring break. If you really want to get a good deal, you can cruise during hurricane season. I have done this once before and didn’t have the best experience but if you go early in hurricane season, you most likely won’t have any problems.
Book an interior room.
Interior staterooms are the most budget-friendly rooms on the ship. I have always booked an interior stateroom because they were cheaper. However, my next cruise will be in a balcony room because the price was less than $100 more. Keep an eye out on prices because sometimes you can get a balcony room for the same price or even less than an interior room!
Eat on the ship during port days.
Eating off the ship can get really expensive, especially if you are at a super touristy restaurant/location. I will occasionally eat off the ship if I find a hole in the wall place with decent prices. One time in Costa Maya, I found a beachfront restaurant that gave you two beach chairs, wifi, unlimited drinks, and a meal for $15 per person. I don’t know about you but I can drink $15 worth of drinks alone so including all of the other things was just an added bonus! If you can’t find a good deal like this, eat breakfast on the ship before you leave and come back for lunch if you’re somewhere close by.
Get on the ship early and get off the ship late.
I already told you cruising is my favorite vacation so I obviously try to get on the ship as early as I can and get off the ship as late as I can. When you check-in for your cruise online, it lets you pick a time that you would like to board the ship. I always try to check in as early as possible so I have the option to board the ship as early as possible. If you get on the ship earlier, you can start enjoying the included amenities like the lunch buffet, unlimited pizza and ice cream, pool, and entertainment. The same thing when disembarking, I always like to do a later time and enjoy a nice breakfast in the main dining room before I get off the ship.
Take advantage of the free shows.
Cruise ships are filled with free entertainment. Seriously, there is something going on at all hours of the day every day. Enjoy the free shows, the comedy lounge, piano bar, and free movies on the deck. These are all things that are included in your cruise fare, why not take advantage?
Get a deal on your pre and post-departure hotel.
I am a huge fan of hotwire and rocketmiles. Hotwire is my go to booking site if I am booking at the last minute. This might be a little too risky for some but I have been able to get 4 and 5-star hotels for under $100 a night. Roketmiles would be my next go-to option. Roketmiles lets you select the loyalty program that you would like to be rewarded for. For example, I book a hotel through rocketmiles and I select that I would like to receive Southwest Rapid Rewards points for my booking. It’s great because it offers discounted prices on rooms but you still get loyalty points, unlike other discount booking sites. You can sign up for roketmiles here.
Know your parking options before you get to the port.
Parking at the port can be outrageous! I always try to avoid parking at the port unless I have no other option. Most of the time, hotels will offer to let you park there for free or for a set amount if you are staying with them the night before the cruise. I always call hotels before I book and make sure they have this option. I also like to see if they offer a free shuttle to the cruise port or at least a decently priced shuttle. I have found that most cruise port hotels will offer a shuttle for $10 or less each way.