My wife and I recently celebrated our 20 year wedding anniversary by taking an Alaskan Cruise through the Inside Passage. Simply put, we loved going to Alaska and immensely enjoyed the cruise itself.
Although we’ve been on several Caribbean cruises with Carnival Cruise Lines, we chose Princess Cruise Lines this time. We were “kid-less” and wanted a more mature and laid back cruise experience and Princess delivered. I’m planning a more in depth article about what we did and where we went but while I was on this cruise vacation, you just know I couldn’t help but spot ways to save money!
Cruise vacations aren’t necessarily cheap, but for us, cruising is a very pleasant way to get away. There is a distinct advantage to unpacking once, but getting so see so many different ports and destinations. Done right, a cruise vacation can be a great value and there are some specific ways you can keep the expense of setting sail from getting out of hand.
When you arrive, you’ll be given a “cruise card” that will act as your room key, your get-on/get-off key, and your onboard charge card. It will be tied directly to a major credit card and any charges you incur will be billed to your credit card automatically at the end of the cruise.
1. Book very early
By booking your cruise early, you can begin planning much earlier and you may be entitled to a lower price overall. Cruise companies love to fill their ships early and will incentivize their customers to do so.
A last minute cruiser can sometimes get a fabulous deal, but there is genuine risk that you won’t be able to get the sailing you want.
3. Book your own airfare separately
My experience has shown repeatedly that booking your airfare apart from your cruise will get you a much better deal than allowing the cruise company to handle it. Oh yeah, it’s a myth that when you allow the cruise company to book your airfare the ship will wait for you if your flight is delayed (or maybe it’s a scare tactic).
4. Handle your own transfers
On my last cruise I saved $60 by handling my own transfers from the airport to the cruise terminal and back to the airport.
Try booking your Alaskan Cruise in May or September, your Caribbean Cruise in January or February. Those are the times that cruise ships are the least crowded and the fares will be cheap.
6. Buy some cruise company stock
Several cruise companies offer discounts to shareholders. Ask your travel agent or cruise representative if the cruise company participates in a program like this.
7. Ask about current and future discounts
As always, the BEST way to get a discount is to ask (or surf the Internet). What you may miss out on however, are future discounts. Ask your travel agent or cruise representative if any discount opportunities will exist in the future. You might want to delay your cruise if the savings are great enough.
8. Take your own pictures
The cruise ship will have photographers roaming the decks, taking thousands of photos of passengers. Soon thereafter, those photographs will be available for sale at a pretty hefty price.
We’ve always booked our shore excursions through the cruise line, but I won’t do that anymore. First, we ate dinner with another passenger who told us how much he saved by booking directly with the exact same excursion agent right there on the pier. He went on the same excursions as the cruise passengers. Second, I spent $79 to tour Butchart Gardens for 3 hours … only to find that the admission price was only $29. All I had to do was hail a cab.
10. Come back to the ship for lunch
We planned our shore excursions so we could come back to the cruise ship and eat lunch onboard. That meal was already paid for with our cruise fare, so unless we saw a wonderful restaurant that we HAD to eat in, we saved that cash.
On our first cruise 20 years ago (for our honeymoon), sodas were included in the fare, but no longer. The last several cruises we’ve taken had seen ships offer a “soda card” or “soda sticker” that entitles the bearer to unlimited sodas. The price on our last cruise was $63. Since I rarely drink sodas, it was out of the question, but I was amazed at how many people couldn’t go 7 days without their soda fix. I also wondered if it was actually possible to drink $63 worth of sodas in a week …
12. Bring your own wine
Check with your cruise line to make sure, but those we’ve sailed on allowed us to bring onboard one bottle of wine per person. You can drink it in the stateroom but if you prefer to enjoy it at dinner, you’ll have to pay a “corking charge” of about $10 – $15. Yes, they charge to uncork a bottle of wine.
This tip should go without saying in an article about saving money. That said, should you want to spend some time in the casino, make sure you budget for it. Set up some spending limits and never gamble away any winnings. Casinos will many time let you “get ahead” only to take everything in the end so if you have your gambling money in your left pocket, put all your winnings in your right … and walk out when that left pocket is empty.
14. Plan your onboard alcohol consumption
A bottle of Columbia Crest Merlot retails for about $13 on Wine.com, but it was $32 onboard. A martini will set you back $7 and a beer $5. Those numbers can add up quickly since you’re using an onboard charge card.
15. Plan for your specialty coffee drinks carefully
Lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos were $4 each but you can purchase a coffee card on Princess Cruises for $24 that will give you 12 coffee drinks. If you’re a caffeine lover, this card may be worth it (yes, I bought one).
“Would you like to sign up for the wine tasting?” That will be $25 each.
17. Forego the upscale dining options
Our last few cruises have had “additional” dining options – restaurants – that cost extra. On our Alaskan Cruise, there was the Sterling Steakhouse for an additional $15 each and Sabatini’s, an Italian restaurant featuring a 17 course meal for an extra $20 each. We did celebrate our anniversary night at the steakhouse, but honestly, the regular dining options were fabulous. There is no need to spend extra in my opinion.
Yes, there was an Internet cafe as well as wireless onboard – for a ridiculous fee. I say unplug, relax, and enjoy your cruise. The Internet, all the negative news will be there when you get back. Ironically, you just may find that you really aren’t affected by the news at all.
19. Leave your cell phone at home
Ship to shore communications are ridiculously expensive since they run from satellite. And I didn’t even think about bringing my cell phone to any international destinations. I was on VACATION.
Bring a travel size bottle to rinse any clothes that get soiled in the course of the week. It’s far cheaper than sending your clothes out to be washed by the cabin steward.
21. The spa people will drive you nuts
Go once and they will bug you all week to come back according to another couple we ate dinner with. My wife went to the spa just to see how much it would cost to have her nail polish removed and reapplied – $19. Ouch.
22. If you HAVE to shop onboard, wait until the end of the week
The deals get better as the week progresses.
The “shopping expert” onboard doesn’t necessarily work for the cruise line. Many of them actually get commissions from the stores they recommend. The shopping expert on our last cruise was out-ed by a store owner when one passenger asked if the port shopping expert worked for the cruise line. The response was, “No, she works for the stores on land to drive passengers to our stores.”
24. Bring your own Dramamine
If you get seasick easily, bring your own Dramamine. It will be far cheaper than getting that little patch behind your ear at the Medical Officer’s office.
We’ve had several types of cabins: balcony, inside, outside with a window. I can tell you that on Caribbean Cruises, while a window might be nice, most of the time you’re looking at the vast empty ocean. It isn’t worth it in my opinion. On our Alaskan Cruise, though, things were different. The scenery changes constantly and the photo opportunities just keep on coming.
26. Keep up with your onboard spending account
You’ll get a summary of your charges near the end of the cruise but you can always check your account at the Purser’s Office. Keep up with what’s been charged to your account because on the last day, there will be a long line of people asking the Pursers what each charge was. Happens every time and most people are incredulous that they racked up so many charges.
27. Budget ahead for “mandatory” tipping
Tipping, or more accurately “gratuities” will be added to your shipboard account, usually $10-$12 per person, per day. This money is split amongst various service crewmembers such as your cabin steward, assistant cabin steward, your waiter and your waiter’s assistant. These guys make about $500/month so the gratuities help a great deal. If you received poor service, you can request that these charges be reversed. Of course, if you received excellent service, you can tip more.
We’ve used the “walk-off” option and loved it. We were able to easily exit the cruise ship and go through customs much more quickly than the traditional method. Traditionally, cruise passengers are instructed to leave their luggage outside their stateroom the night before disembarkation. The cruise staff then collects it and stages it for you off the ship for you to pickup after disembarkation. You’ll have to keep your toiletries and something to wear the next morning anyway, so pack a little lighter and walk off with your luggage. It’s a lot safer too – leaving your personal belongings out in the hallway for several hours just doesn’t make sense.
29. Bring plenty of batteries
They aren’t cheap onboard and they aren’t too cheap at all the shops near the piers either.
30. Bring binoculars or your own swim gear
If you’re going to Alaska, binoculars are a MUST! If you’re going to the Caribbean, be sure and bring your own snorkel, goggles. and swim fins. Those things are very expensive to rent.
Realize that YOU are a source of profit
Nothing is free and on a cruise ship, fewer and fewer things are “included.” It’s still a very pleasant way to travel but you have to realize that you are a source of profit. One thing to remember – in a town of 892 people (Skagway, Alaska), there are 23 jewelry stores.
Note: All photos were taken by me.