Stretch your cruise dollars? Wait, aren’t cruises already a bargain, with meals and entertainment included? How is it possible to do things cheaper? Tour expert Rick Steves says “Cruises are an amazingly economic and efficient way to travel.”
Still, there are ways to save money and improve your cruise experience. Win-win!
Start saving when you book your cruise
- To really stretch your cruise dollars, start at home. Do NOT use the cruise line website to book your trip. Always use a travel agent to make your reservation, advises Pauline Frommer, author and editor of Frommer’s Budget Travel Guides. Travel agents get perks from cruise lines to share with their customers: cabin upgrades, drink packages, internet, and specialty restaurant meals. Travel agents also know the ships. “They can keep you from booking on a ship that has hairy-chest contests, when you really want to learn about fine wine.” They also know where NOT to book a stateroom.
- Newer ships have all the bells and whistles: climbing walls, go karts, cantilevered decks, even gardens and parks. But older ships offer excellent activities, too–and can be less expensive. Same itinerary as their glitzy sisters, so if you don’t need Broadway shows and twenty restaurant options, savings can be significant.
- Think twice before getting a super-cheap ticket. Cruises are meant to generate profits. Your stateroom is just the starting point. If it’s a low-low price, plan on being charged for everything else during your trip. For example, if you don’t mind drinking powdered-mix lemonade at every meal, then you can avoid the many drink package options. Otherwise, be prepared to pay $7 for a soda…plus the unavoidable 18% gratuity fee. “You’ll be nickled and dimed throughout the whole cruise,” warns Steves.
Skip the ship’s excursion desk: More fun, less expensive
- “Excursions are the biggest rip-off,” says Frommer. Cruise lines get a big cut from tour companies, so the price of your onshore experience includes the kickback. You’ll be discouraged from finding your own adventures: “If you’re not on one of our tours, the ship will leave without you.” Don’t be threatened. There are reputable tour companies at every port that cost less and guarantee you’ll be onboard before the ship departs…or they will get you to your next port for free. Check out Shore Excursions and Cruising Excursions. Costco members can book through Costco Travel.
- Prefer to use your precious port time independently? Get off the ship as soon as you can and head to the city’s Tourist Information (TI) Office. You’ll get maps and public transportation schedules, as well as advice about the off-the-beaten-path sites. Ask where to eat lunch or how to hire a local guide. One of the best and inexpensive ways to see a city is to use the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus.
- Rethink your need to see famous places or landmarks. Some ports are in industrial areas, far from city centers or popular destinations. By the time you get on a tour bus, drive several hours to the site, have a quick group lunch, and drive back, the day in port is over. Find something interesting nearby. For example, Italy is chock-full of ruins and history. You’ll get more out of a local walking tour and visit to a museum than if you rush through Pompeii. Plus, you’ll avoid the 10,000 other tourists who got off the three ships docked at the port.
#7: Get the most value by learning about the ports
You’ve paid a lot for your cruise and you expect to have a memorable time. To make it even better, take time to learn about each port so you can get the most from your time at port.
- Find out where the port is in relation to the city center so you’ll know how long it will take to get to and from the ship.
- Study the history of the city to understand why it’s an interesting stop. There may be a museum or site that’s worthwhile.
- Do any of your favorite films or books take place in one of the ports? You may be able to see the places for yourself.
- Is the city known for any special food? Are food tours available? Check out Viator or TourRadar for a list of all the tours and prices.
- Cruising in Northern Europe or the Mediterranean? Rick Steves’ guidebooks on the ports make it easier to figure out what to do independently when off the ship. How good are these books? They are the #1 cruise tour books!
Some cruise costs are unavoidable: Port taxes and gratuities are two examples. But a clever cruiser can save money AND have a better experience!
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