15 best tips on how to save money and cruise for less

Planning a holiday is an exciting time, and it can be even more exciting if you’re able to save money and have a cruise vacation for less!

In this article, we are going to share our top 15 tips for saving on your next cruise. From booking in advance to packing light, these are all easy strategies that will help make your dream vacation come true without breaking the bank.

Let’s get started at look at how you can save money and have a cruise vacation for less – so that you can cruise cheaply and cruise often!

Tip Number 1: Look for the best priced cruise lines

Cruise lines offer different itineraries and levels of service at different price points, so it’s important to know what amenities are a must-have before narrowing down your options.

Ask the people you know who have taken cruises before about their experiences because that can help steer you towards a more beneficial experience with less money spent on it. Ask them for their tips and experiences on how they have been able to save money and cruise for less.

Cruise lines that offer the best deals include: Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines and MSC Cruises.

These have big ships that normally are cruising year-round. And they must fill the cabins so deals are to be had.

Have you ever liked the thought of doing a repositioning cruise? A repositioning cruise is when the cruise ship goes from one destination to another. Often at the very start or at the very end of a season. That means it starts at one location and ends in another, often crossing an ocean. Often these cruises offer great prices.

When comparing prices of different cruise lines, be sure to  compare with a cruise of the same length at around the same date, in the same region. Then see how the same cabin category compares in price with each cruise line. 

Consider  booking a shorter cruise so that you can afford to cruise more often during the year! There are some fantastic itinerary choices if you consider a cruise of less than seven days. There are major savings to be had if you take a shorter cruise, as well as the opportunity for more cruising during the year!

Tip Number 2: Sign up, stay in touch and watchout for price changes

To ensure you do not miss any cruise deals, sign up for the cruise line’s newsletter so you can get information of current deals straight into your inbox. 

You can also keep checking price comparison sites for an overview of which cruise line has the best rate at any given time. Often we have seen that even though you have seen a great price advertised by a third party cruise agent, very often the same or better deals are to be had by booking directly with cruise line.

When you do book your cruise, it’s important to only pay the minimum amount of deposit that the cruise line required to secure your booking. Don’t be tempted to pay sooner than you have too. All the while you have only paid your deposit you have more flexibility with your booking.

If you see the price for your cruise drops in the period between paying your deposit and when you must pay the final payment, then contact your cruise line immediately. Ask for them to reduce the price of your cruise to match their new advertised price. Therefore reducing the cost of your final payment.

The cruise line will not contact you if they lower their cabin prices, it’s up to you to check prices and we recommend doing this once a month after you have booked your cruise until the date you make your final payment. This could be a real money saver if you keep a lookout on prices via your cruise line’s website to help you save money and cruise for less.

Tip Number 3: Be flexible with your travel date

Be as flexible as possible when choosing travel dates. Try to take your cruise in the off-season so that you can find cheaper rates. For example, if you’re flexible about when you go on vacation, then try taking a trip during shoulder season, which is typically April to May or September. Or during a season when the weather is less predictable. Cruise prices are much lower at these times because there are more cabins available .

Shop around for cruise deals at your favorite travel sites and package providers.  If you’re looking for a deal, consider shopping on discount websites such as Expedia Cruise Deals where they often have discounts up to 50% off the retail price of the cruise line’s current rates.

Tip Number 4: Choose an older cruise ship or a less popular embarkation port

You can even try choosing a ship that is a bit older. Many of the older ships cost less than booking a cruise on the very latest ship. And most often the older ships have been fully renovated anyway so you still get great amenities and activities on board!

Another option is to embark at a less popular cruise port. Cruise lines sometimes offer better deals if the ship leaves from an unpopular location. These ports will usually have lower prices because they have less traffic than other more popular destinations (think Miami, Barcelona, Rome). The cost of operations in these areas can also be cheaper.

The downside with this strategy is that it can be more difficult to find flights into these cities if you cannot reach the port by driving. Which means you may need to spend more money on travel arrangements to get to the embarkation port. So be sure to look at your transport costs so that the saving you make on the cruise is worth it.

Tip Number 5: Save money on your cabin choice

Inside cabins will be the cheapest. But instead of booking an inside cabin and choosing the exact cabin you want on the deck plan, opt for a “guaranteed” cabin category. 

This means that you’ll be assigned an inside cabin later on or even have the chance of a free upgrade to oceanview or balcony cabin depending on availability. Be flexible and remember that you will not know where exactly your cabin is located until you get your cruise ticket about 3 weeks before the departure date.

Inside cabins are the cheapest and have no windows. Outside cabins can be great for families because they allow you to see more of your surroundings as well as feel a breeze on hot days. Balcony rooms offer the best views, but are also much pricier than inside or outside cabins; these areas tend to get brighter.

If you can share your cabin so that you are 4 in one cabin, with family members or good friends, you will find that the cost per person will be much less. This strategy works well if you really only plan on using the cabin for sleeping, as space will be tight with 4 adults in the lowest price cabin category.

Tip Number 6: Book in advance

Did you know that the earlier you book, the cheaper your cruise will be? Cruise prices do fluctuate, so if there’s a particular cruise that interests you be sure to book well ahead of time to get a good price.

Often you will find great prices when cruise lines first announce their itineraries, about 18 months prior to the cruise date. “Early bird” bookings are likely to include extra perks, such as free beverage packages, on board credit or wifi package.

This is one of the most effective strategies to save on your cruise and it’s also a great way to guarantee that you’ll have space available for all of your family or friends.

There’s nothing worse than being on a cruise and seeing all of the people that you wished had booked earlier. If you book early then there will be less competition for cabins in popular destinations like Alaska or Europe.

If however, you really want to to take a chance it and try for a good deal shortly before you want to travel, check out cruise fares 90 before your travel date. Cruise lines want to fill any cabins that they have not sold. Often they will release the lower class cabins first at a good deal as they do not want to be seen to discount the higher priced cabin categories.

Do remember however, that if you wait to book, then the cruise you may really want to go on could be fully booked already if departure date is only a few months away.

Tip Number 7: Consider an all inclusive cruise

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone else took care of everything? An all inclusive package includes flight, transfers, hotel and cruise in the same reservation!

You’ll know exactly how much your trip is going to cost up front, as well. You may even get a good saving or some perks for booking all of your travel arrangements at the same time with the cruise line or same travel agent.

Tip Number 8: Avoid specialty restaurants

Consider food and snacks on board. All cruises include breakfast, lunch and dinner. Avoid ordering room service or paying for a specialty restaurant every day. Eat in the buffet or the main dining room and you’ll save on your food budget.

Watch out for the small coffee shops, bakeries or specialty ice-cream counters on board as often these are not included in your cruise fare. Check before you order!

Some cruise lines allow you to take fruit or sealed snacks from the buffet to pack in your backpack for your on shore excursion, so you have a snack with you. This will enable you to save money on buying snacks on your walking tour, especially if young children get hungry. Ask at the buffet if this is ok, most often it’s no problem at all as long as you are not piling lots of food into your backpack daily!

Tip Number 9: Check tobacco prices

If you are a smoker, find out if you are allowed to bring your own tobacco on board. Otherwise the cheapest way to feed your nicotine addiction would be on shore excursions where you buy from local shops instead of on board the ship.

Almost all cruise lines have designated smoking areas on their ships. There are also duty-free shops on board where you can purchase all sorts of alcohol and cigarettes. Check the prices before you buy! As said, you might be able to find better deals on shore.

Tip Number 10: Research ship activities in advance

Some cruise lines have many more activities than others, so if you plan ahead and know what your kids are interested in then it will make for a much less stressful vacation when there is something for all ages of children.

You can easily find out if the activities are included in your cruise fare or if you must pay an extra fee by doing a quick search on the internet. For example bowling or ziplining comes with an extra cost.

Kids clubs are a great option for parents who want to have some time alone. There is always a staff member on duty to keep an eye on your kids and they provide games, activities, arts & crafts projects, movies and more so the little ones are happy while you enjoy some adult-only fun! 

These clubs are included in the price of your cruise fare, which is a great bargain.

Tip Number 11: Win the freebies from your cruise line!

Many cruise lines offer incentives to their customers, so if you are looking for something in particular it pays to simply ask! Especially if you are a returning customer. 

Tell them you plan on cruising as much as possible. Join their membership program and ask what perks are included immediately to help you save money and cruise for less each time you book a cruise.

Another great way to get the best free gifts onboard is to join in all the quizes and games! Often the prizes are great. And even if you are not a winner, you very often get gifts such as T-shirts or drinks vouchers just for taking part. You might be surprised at what you can get just because you have signed up and joined in.

If you are lucky enough to have booked during an offer with free on board credit, you can use this to purchase anything from drinks, spa treatments or even shore excursions!

Tip Number 12: Avoid beverage packages and bring your own water bottle

If you want to save money and cruise for less, do not book an expensive beverage package. The cost of the package will probably be more than you drink. 

Bring your own water bottle onto the ship, or refill it in one of their buffet restaurants during the day. You can fill up your water bottle in the buffet restaurant before you head out on a shore excursion. 

This is a great way to avoid buying a lot of expensive bottled water when you are on land. Just remember to bring a sturdy backpack to carry your water and other items.

If you’re not a big drinker, but still enjoy drinking unlimited specialty coffees, sodas and cocktails with fresh juice and feel a beverage package will be worth it,  consider choosing the least expensive drinks package. 

Tip Number 13: Research ports of call and save on shore excursions.

It is not difficult to find out which ports are popular with cruisers, but you may want to research less frequented destinations as well to see what they offer in terms of excursions and activities for all ages. This way you can decide which cruise suits you and your family best.

Instead of joining the group excursions offered by your cruise line which are quite expensive , you may want to do a self tour. Or find a tour provider outside the port. There are many cruise ports that have tours offered by locals which can be much cheaper and still provide an authentic experience of their country’s culture. This is a sure way to save money and cruise for less and some shore excursions run into hundreds of dollars per person.

Viator has a huge selection of excursions at many of the most popular ports and at a much better price than what the cruise line offers.

Be also careful with the shore excursions offered while you are at sea. Cruise lines want to book up their shore excursions and may offer special rates on board to fill the last places. If you are tempted keep them affordable and to a minimum so that you can still enjoy the rest of your time onboard without feeling guilty for spending too much. If it’s not included as a special offer, book excursions on your own.

Tip Number 14: Pack smartly

In order to save money on your cruise, pack smartly and follow our list of packing essentials.

Bring clothing that is both comfortable and stylish in case you need to dress up. And bring enough clothes so that you don’t have to keep buying souvenirs while on board. Remember not all ships have laundry facilities and you want to avoid spending on the laundry service on board.

At the same time it’s important to not over pack for your cruise vacation because luggage fees can really add up if you check in a suitcase that is too heavy at the airport! Checking the baggage rules for maximum weight and weigh you suitcase at home before you leave!

Tip Number 15: Prepay your Gratuity in advance

You may be wondering how you’ll afford tipping, but if you book everything in advance at the same time then it will simplify things and help save money. Be sure your cruise cost includes the price of tips (gratuities) and then you will not have to think about this whilst you are on board.

And remember, if you really feel that service fell short of your expectations on board, then you can talk to guest services about this and ask them to remove the service charge for that day.

They will however do their utmost to keep you happy and help immediately if any problems with service arise during your time on board. Most large cruise ships have fantastic service. And a little note to let you know that gratuities help pay the wages of the ship personel. They want happy and returning customers!

So that’s it! These are our best tips. Before you choose your cruise consider how best you can save money and cruise for less. That way you can cruise cheaply, cruise often stick to your budget and still have a great vacation.

Meet the Author

Mattias has nearly 2 decades of travel industry expertise, working with cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, IT providers, hospitality suppliers and everything else in between that makes the travel industry tick. more..