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 can save money and have a cruise vacation for less!

This article will share our top 15 savings tips on your next cruise. From booking in advance to packing light, these are all easy strategies to help make your dream vacation come true without breaking the bank.

Let’s start by looking at how you can save money and have a cruise vacation for less – so that you can cruise cheaply and often!

1. Look for the best-priced cruise lines

Cruise lines offer different itineraries and levels of service at various price points, so it’s essential to consider what amenities are important to you before narrowing down your options.

The major cruise lines with large ships, such as Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line, offer cruises 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 ship goes from one world region to another, often at the start or end of a season. That means it starts at one location (for example, somewhere in Europe) and ends in another (such as in the Caribbean), crossing the Atlantic with many days at sea. Often these cruises offer excellent value for money.

Alternatively, consider booking a shorter cruise so you can afford to cruise more often during the year! There are fantastic itinerary choices if you consider a fewer than seven-day cruise. There are significant savings to be had if you take a short cruise.

When comparing prices of different cruise lines, be sure to compare with a cruise of the same length on the same date in the same region. Then see how the same cabin category (inside the cabin, window/sea view cabin, balcony cabin, or suite) compares in price with each cruise line. 

2. Sign up, stay in touch, and watch out for price changes

To ensure you do not miss any cruise deals, sign up for the cruise lines’ newsletters to get information on current deals straight into your inbox. 

You can also keep checking price comparison sites, such as CruiseDirect, for an overview of which cruise line has the best rate at any given time. If you see one price advertised by a third-party cruise agent, check with the cruise line directly to see if they offer better deals before booking.

When you book your cruise, we advise you only pay the minimum deposit required by the cruise line to secure your booking. Don’t be tempted to pay sooner than you have to. All the while, you have only paid your deposit, so you have more flexibility with your booking.

If you see the price for your cruise drop between paying your deposit and when you must make the final payment, contact your cruise line immediately. Ask them to reduce your cruise price to match their new advertised price. Therefore lowering 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 booking 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.

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 to find cheaper rates. For example, if you’re flexible about when you go on vacation, try taking a trip during shoulder season, typically from April to May or September. Or during a season when the weather is less predictable. Cruise prices are much lower at these times because more cabins are available.

Shop around for cruise deals at your favorite travel sites and package providers. If you’re looking for a bargain, consider shopping on discount websites such as CruiseDirect, which sometimes have incredible discounts or extra perks with your cabin.

4. Choose an older cruise ship or a less popular embarkation port

Try choosing a ship that is a bit older. Many older vessels cost less than booking a cruise on the 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 such as Marseilles or Bari, compared to the popular origin ports of Miami, Barcelona, and Rome.

The downside of this strategy is that finding flights into these cities can be more difficult if you cannot reach the port by driving. This means you may need to spend more on travel arrangements to get to the embarkation port.

Be sure to look at your transport costs to make your savings on the cruise worth it.

5. Save money on your cabin choice

Inside cabins without a window on a lower deck will be the cheapest. Alternatively, opt for a “guaranteed” cabin category. 

With the “guaranteed” cabin category, you’ll be assigned an inside cabin closer to your sail date. But you may be lucky and get a free upgrade to oceanview or balcony, depending on availability. You must be flexible, knowing that you will only find out your cabin category and the location of your cabin about three weeks before departure.

Outside cabins can be great for families because they give you a view and allow natural light into your room. Balcony rooms offer the best experience and add extra living space but are much pricier than inside or outside cabins.

If you are a family of four and can share your cabin, the cost per person will be much less. This works well if you only plan on using the cabin for sleeping. Space will be tight with four people in the lowest-price cabin category.

6. Book in advance

Did you know that the general rule is the earlier you book, the cheaper your cruise will be? Cruise prices fluctuate, so book well ahead of your planned travel date if a cruise interests you.

You will often find great prices when cruise lines announce their itineraries about 18 months before the cruise date. “Early bird” bookings will likely include extra perks like free beverage packages, onboard credit, or wifi packages.

You should still look out for any price changes to your cruise before making the final payment. You can set up cruise fare tracking to do this. This is one of the most effective strategies to save on your cruise.

If you want to hold out and try for a good, last-minute deal, check out cruise fares around 90 days before you travel. Cruise lines want to fill any cabins that are not sold. Often they release the lower-class cabins first as they do not want to discount the higher-priced cabin categories. The risk here is that the cruise may be fully booked if you wait.

7. Consider an all-inclusive cruise package

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. Ask the cruise line or your travel agent for a package quote. Then compare the price to book each item individually yourself. See which gives you the best value for money.

8. Avoid specialty restaurants

All cruises include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To help save money, avoid ordering room service or paying for a specialty restaurant daily. Eat in the buffet or the main dining room, and try not to spend any more on food on board.

Watch out for the small coffee shops, bakeries, or specialty ice cream counters on board. 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. If so, you have a free snack to take with you on your shore excursion. This will enable you to save money on 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 as long as you are not piling lots of food into your backpack daily!

9. Check tobacco prices

If you are a smoker, find out if you are allowed to bring your tobacco on board. Otherwise, purchase from local shops on shore and not onboard the ship.

Almost all cruise ships have designated smoking areas. There are also duty-free shops where you can purchase alcohol and cigarettes. Check the prices before you buy! Again, you may find better deals on shore.

10. Research ship activities in advance

Some cruise ships have many more activities than others that are included in the price. Know what your kids love to do and choose your ship accordingly. It will make for a much less stressful vacation knowing there is something for everyone.

You can easily find out if the cost of specific activities is included in your cruise fare or if you must pay an extra fee by quickly searching the internet. For example, bowling or ziplining often comes with an additional cost.

Kids clubs are an excellent option for parents who want 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 adult-only fun! 

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

11. Win 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 ask! Especially if you are a returning customer. 

Join cruise membership programs 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 gifts onboard is to join all the quizzes and games! Often the prizes are great. And even if you are not a winner, you often get gifts such as T-shirts or drink vouchers for participating. You might be surprised at what you can get just because you signed up and joined.

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

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 your water bottle in the buffet restaurant before heading on a shore excursion. 

This is also a great way to avoid buying expensive bottled water on land. 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. 

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 to see what they offer in excursions and activities for all ages. This lets you decide which cruise suits you and your family best.

Instead of joining your cruise line’s expensive shore excursions, you can do a self-tour. Or find a tour provider outside the port. Many cruise ports have tours offered by locals, which can be much cheaper and provide an authentic cultural experience. This is a sure way to save money and cruise for less.

Independent suppliers such as Viator or Italy Tours EU has a vast selection of excursions at many of the most popular ports and a much better price than the cruise line offers.

Cruise lines want to fill all the available spaces on shore excursions and may offer you special rates on board. If you are tempted, keep the number you book to a minimum so you can still enjoy the rest of your vacation without feeling guilty for spending over budget.

There are plenty of things to do in cruise ports without booking a shore excursion! Start by reading our Essential Guide series for tips and information about local transportation options and free walking itineraries.

14. Pack smartly

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

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

At the same time, it’s essential not to overpack for your cruise vacation because luggage fees can add up if you check in a too-heavy suitcase at the airport! Check the baggage rules for maximum weight, and weigh your suitcase at home before you leave!

15. Prepay gratuities in advance

You may wonder how you’ll afford to tip, but booking everything in advance simultaneously 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 while you are on board.

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

They will do their utmost to keep you happy and help immediately if any service-related problems 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 personnel. They want happy and returning customers!

With these tips, you can cruise for less, stick to your budget, and have a great vacation.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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