Getaway Day: 6 Smart Strategies For Saving Money On Cruises

Photo: Linval Ebanks via Unsplash.

By Sharyn Alden

If you asked 10 people to describe a great cruise you’d probably get 10 different answers. With cruises, there are so many choices and no such thing as a one-size-fits-all best cruise.

You’ll really appreciate that once you start shopping for a cruise. You’ll want to consider a ship’s size, itinerary, amenities, freebies, length of sailing, and your budget.

You’ll also want to study the positioning of the cruise line you’re considering. Is it oriented toward families, young couples, older travelers, luxury lovers, or partiers? As Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival, noted at the New York Times Travel Show, a person who goes on a Carnival cruise but is actually a better fit for Seabourn (a higher-end Carnival brand) is probably not going to have a good time, and isn’t going to say good things about the cruise. Conversely, a Carnival person who winds up on a Seabourn cruise is not going to be an enthusiastic return cruiser. So remember: horses for courses, and the right cruise for the right cruiser.

Here are some money-saving tips for anyone who wants to sail the high seas.

Check The Reviews: With so many options to choose from, cruises defy easy comparisons – especially for first-time cruisers.

Start shopping by checking out U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 list of “Best Cruise Lines for the Money.” The rankings are based on factors like amenities, value, and health, and include real-world experiences from travel experts and passengers. This year’s list was topped by Celebrity, a smaller cruise line, followed by the much larger Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

Websites like Cruise Critic are good sources of information, and you can check out cruise-line reviews on TripAdvisor.

Book Early: Timing is everything when you’re intent on saving money. When you book months in advance of a preferred sailing, you not only stand to save a lot, but you might also get an upgrade from a cramped inside room to one with a view or balcony.

But not everyone can plan a trip several months in advance. Keep checking; a sailing you’re interested in may be significantly discounted as departure gets closer because the cruise line is trying to ramp up an under-booked ship.

You don’t have any way of knowing what will sell out in advance … but a travel agent who knows cruises might. Connect with them, and you can access their database of information – very helpful when you’re trying to save money.

Book Smaller/Cheaper Staterooms: Booking a small, inside cabin is a good way to save money. But here’s the thing: You can tell yourself you won’t miss the bigger, more luxurious suites because you won’t spend much time in your room anyway, but a claustrophobic cabin with only one porthole looking out on lifeboats might make you feel like spending the night on a deck chair.

If you can afford the next grade up, that usually means a more comfortable room with an ocean view, and a more pleasant cruising experience. But if you’ve crunched the numbers and the lowest-priced cabins are your best option, go for it. It’s true: cruisers don’t spend a lot of time hanging out in their cabins.

Study The Ship’s Layout: If you’re comparing room prices and one room is significantly cheaper, find out why. That cheaper option might be near a coffee shop or engine room or below a dance floor. Any of these can drive you crazy.

Be your own best detective when it comes to getting what works best for your budget. For example, on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class ships, stateroom 6305 has been called the “Moo Room” or “Ben & Jerry Sweet.”  It butts up (pun intended) to the rear ends of the Ben & Jerry’s cows above the ice-cream shop. These types of rooms may, depending on the season, lead to sweet deals—and more bang for the buck.

Ask About Discounts: The same people who may ask for hotel, rental car or restaurant discounts may not think to ask a cruise line for a discount. Mistake. Many cruise lines offer discounts for seniors, active military members and other groups. Ask when you book your cruise.

Know What’s Included And What’s Not: Even if you’re on a luxury all-inclusive cruise, there will likely be extra charges for things like spa treatments or salon appointments.

It’s crucial to get a handle on your budget before you head up that gangplank, because spending gets out of control on a “cashless” ship. It’s common to establish credit via a credit card when you come onboard, so you don’t have to carry around cash every time you want to make an on-board purchase. It’s convenient – but it can spell budget disaster if you haven’t planned ahead.

Before leaving, find out if these are included in your fare:

  • Beverages and alcoholic drinks
  • Entertainment – every form of entertainment, including all shows and programs
  • Internet access
  • Medical appointments
  • Gyms, workout rooms, aquatics equipment
  • Shore excursions (usually not covered, but some expeditions on river cruises are included)
  • All restaurants – including cafes and ice-cream parlors

Also include what you’ll spend on tips. On a typical cruise, you should budget at least $10 to $12 per person per day.

Finally, be sure to budget for travel insurance when planning your cruise. The investment is relatively small – you might blow the cost of a policy on a fancy dinner aboard ship – but the financial protection it provides is huge. It’s an easy way to make sure you don’t throw away your hard-earned dollars.

Tailor your cruise to your budget and interests, and not to everything that looks like fun. Stick to your guns and you’ll have a great time – with a minimum of surprises.

Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Contact her at