Cruise tips for skinflints
Tips to save money on your next cruise
My wife and I enjoy cruising. It’s a great way to sample islands and decide which ones we’d like to return to for a longer vacation. Bonaire is a great example. After just one day exploring it off a cruise ship, we added that Caribbean island to our bucket list.
We have 15 cruises under our belts (and swim trunks), on three different cruise lines. Certainly no record. We’ve met other shipmates who have completed that many cruises in a single year. But enough that we’ve learned some things you may find helpful in planning your next cruise.
My suggestions for economical cruising.
First tip, commit time to researching cruise deals. There are plenty of discount websites to help you explore, plus we always talk directly to the cruise line. Not surprisingly, you can land some exceptional deals if you have the flexibility to travel last minute. And lately, we’ve been bundling our airfare with the cruise, which has lowered our price.
Second, don’t spend lots of your hard-earned vacation money on fancy accommodations. We almost always book a cheaper, inside room. And we sometimes benefit from a free upgrade. For us, though, spending time in our cabin is our lowest vacation priority (not a log cabin with fireplace and mounted moose head – it’s just a cruise ship term for your room). We’d rather walk 50 steps or so to the outside deck and breathe in the sea fragrances and gaze the ocean horizon, rather than pay for that opportunity inside our room.
And yes, the “cabins” can be quite small. But since we’re mainly changing clothes and sleeping in the room, the size doesn’t inconvenience us.
Next, choose your shore excursions carefully. Some ports feature great beaches, shopping, local culture and even snorkeling within walking distance or by a short cab ride from the dock, which makes paying for excursions unnecessary. Learning about these close opportunities is the tricky part, but less elusive with the help of search engines and chat sites. We’ve also found some cruise ship staff helpful in identifying these places, but don’t solely rely upon them.
The Grand Cayman Island is a great example. Seven Mile Beach is a short cab ride or a modest walk from the pier. And we’ve taken local buses for inexpensive rides to snorkeling spots near the shore. We have our own snorkeling gear, so that gives us the flexibility to explore by ourselves. We still enjoy booking excursions, mainly with catamarans to access remote snorkeling locations and secluded beaches. And if you’re interested in excursions, book them far in advance of debarkation, or you’ll be stuck with limited options.
We love dining on the ship. What’s not to like when someone else prepares food for you 24/7 that’s included in the booking price of your cruise. In general, we find the ship’s main dining room food very tasty, considering it’s prepared in a huge kitchen for several thousand people. The cruise lines have expanded their food venues by adding high-end satellite restaurants that require extra fees. We’ve heard these finer dining opportunities are quite good, worth the extra money in some cases, not so in other restaurants. We avoid them because the main dining room food is tasty enough for us. But whatever floats your boat.
I don’t follow many rules to live by, but one of them is to “never provide advice to gamblers.” My wife and I don’t prioritize gambling opportunities but, when on a cruise, we always set aside a modest amount of cash to play the part of “high stakes rollers.” About $20 a night. We play quarter slots or look for blackjack tables with a low limit. Some ships have $5 blackjack; we’ve even played at $3 tables during a casino daytime promotion for beginners. And when the ship doesn’t offer inexpensive tables, we’ve asked empty ones if they’d lower the limit so we could play.
And my final tip, albeit not a financial one, don’t sit on your bathroom’s toilet seat while flushing. You could end up in the bottom of the ocean.
In case you are wondering – my favorite cruise line
We have been loyal to a pair of cruise lines: Princess and Royal Caribbean. I’d describe our experiences as excellent to good, with no stinkers. We’d prefer to stick to just one cruise line, to accumulate customer loyalty points, but we alternate to access a wider variety of islands. Each company offers some unique ports. And after price considerations, we select itineraries that include lots of stops (more than three islands for a week-long cruise) and destinations with great reefs, since we’re snorkeling fanatics.
Our cruising has included two Christmas trips, which we really enjoyed. We found deals harder to come by for these holiday vacations, but we felt the cruise lines worked extra hard to make these weeks a memorable holiday experience.