On a boat: How to save money on your cruise

A cruise ship docked in Antigua.

A cruise ship docked in Antigua.

While events like the sinking of the Costa Concordia and a Carnival ship getting stranded at sea have turned some people off of cruising, it remains an easy, affordable way to see the world. Trips to the Caribbean usually cost at least $2000 per person, but a week-long cruise to the area will only set you back an average of $600 plus flight—not to mention you’ll enjoy five-star dining and get to see a number of different islands. Here are some ways to save even more money once you get on-board.

Drinks

When you book a cruise, all of your meals are included—and they don’t mess around. On a trip to the eastern Caribbean on board the Celebrity Summit, we were treated to breakfast in bed, large buffets for lunch and four-course, gourmet meals for dinner. Our waiter even had our drinks waiting for us when we arrived every evening!  The way cruise lines really make money is by charging for extras like drinks. Water is free of course, but just about everything else will cost you dearly.

tequila

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The key is to plan ahead. If you think you will be drinking a lot, add a beverage package on to your plan before you board. Celebrity offers a non-alcoholic package for about $15 per day, and one that will get you unlimited beer, cocktails and wine for about $45 per night.

Most ships will also let each passenger bring a bottle of wine on board with them which can get you through a couple of nights, though you won’t be allowed to bring liquor on board after you set sail. But don’t let that deter you if you’re trying to take advantage of the duty-free offerings in St. Martin: you can still bring your booze home with you, but the ship won’t bring it to your room until the night before you dock for good.

Excursions

Cruise lines also make a pretty penny by offering day trips for passengers on all the different islands they stop at. Sure it’s convenient since they’re arranged by the ship, but the markup on these tours is astronomical. We ended up just jumping in a van cab with a dozen other tourists when we docked in Rosseau, Dominica, since the cruise line didn’t offer any excursions we were interested in. We spent half a day touring the whole island, which included stops at the Twin Falls, Botanical Gardens and Champagne Beach. The grand total? $20 each compared to similar packages that would have cost $70 and up. The only thing to keep in mind is that if you’re late getting back to the boat, it won’t wait for you, whereas a ship excursion guarantees the boat will stay put.

A glass bottom boat is great for seeing the fish below.

We arranged this glass bottom boat tour in Tobago ourselves once we got off the ship- for $20 each!

It’s also a good idea to research each destination before you get there. Great Bay (one of the best beaches in St. Martin) is located just off where the ships dock, so if all you want to do is beach it there’s no need to pay for an excursion. Learning about different islands will also save you from envy, when you find out your newfound friends spent the day at a fabulous beach in Barbados while you schmucked it out by the pool.

The Celebrity Summit.

The Celebrity Summit.

How to book

Booking a cruise is similar to buying an airline ticket or reserving a hotel room: it’s all about timing. Keep an eye out for last-minute sales, or get on the subscriber list of sites like Cruise Connections or Vacations to Go, which will send you listings for the best deals. It’s not unheard of to scoop up a room for just $400 per person, so keep an open mind! Repositioning cruises are also a good option, offering cheap deals for a longer-than-usual itinerary. Passengers travel one-way to places like Europe, the Caribbean or Alaska, while cruise lines transition their ships between destinations ahead of changing seasons. While you won’t get off the boat as often, it’s a good option for people who just want to relax and be pampered.

All in all, cruises are a fantastic, inexpensive way to see a number of destinations in a short period of time, giving you an idea of which places you might like to go back to one day.

What do you most like about cruising? Do you have any other tips for saving money? Comment below, or tweet me.

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