13 Ways to Save Money on Your First Cruise

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With a bit of planning, there are many ways to save money on your first cruise. Consider these strategies to reduce the costs before and during your vacation voyage.

Shop for a “better than advertised” Price

We have all seen those glamourous advertisements online, on the television and in print with gorgeous ships, happy travelers and stunningly low prices. Simply stated, this will not be the accurate cost of your cruise vacation. It is a starting point; the base number to which you will need to add other expenses.

If you see an advertised “price” you like from a particular cruise line, it is time to do some research about the details. The big question to answer: What specifically is included?

For example, where will the cabin be located on the ship? Interior rooms and those near busy areas are always cheaper. But if you want a balcony or window, then the advertised price may not be right for your needs.

Make a list of what you are getting for the advertised price and shop for similar “deals” with other cruise lines. One strategy for doing this is to peruse third-party booking sites. Here you will likely find comparable rates with the option of getting some competitive perks. Usually offered as onboard credits (a useful and simple way to pay for things onboard), the differences can be hundreds of dollars.

Added tip: Check with your credit cards to see if you can earn some travel point or other benefits for paying with them.

When to Book

Another way to save money on your first cruise is to book your reservations at certain times. There are a couple of ways to use this strategy to save money: Book early or book at the last minute. For the former, cruise lines want to sell all the reservations they can, as quickly as possible. This means they often offer upgrades (better cabins) and value-added benefits (packages) for those who book six to 18 months ahead.

If you can travel spontaneously, it can be easy to book a cheap, last-minute spot on a cruise. The possible downside here can be the cost of getting to port, the type and location of your cabin and (read the fine print) the kinds of amenities included.

Miami Cruise Ships
Photo Credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock

During ‘wave season’ (January to March), cruises are cheaper. This is also a good time to make reservations – and, you do not have to travel during that period—just book for whatever dates you like.

Make a reservation during shoulder season. These are the times that are not peak and not off season. For example, late summer and early fall in the Caribbean is in this category because it is hurricane season as well. If you book these dates, purchase some travel insurance – just in case.

An added tip: Book your second cruise while still on your first one! Deep discounts and semi-negotiable perks are generally standard practice when making reservations onboard.

When to Cruise

If the students are out of school (summer, fall and spring breaks and holidays), the cost of a cruise is generally higher. However, there are still great deals available during these times with a bit of research and planning.

Carnival Cruise Ship in Miami
Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock

Added tip: Keep an eye on the price of your cruise. If the cost drops, contact the cruise line and ask for a reimbursement of the difference. This is usually issued as an onboard credit – the same as money while on the ship. And, they cannot say ‘yes’ to your request if you do not ask!

Where to Stay on the Cruise Ship

There are basically four types of staterooms (cabins) on a cruise ship: inside, outside, balcony and suites. Each of these come with a wide array of characteristics and price differentials with inside (no windows) as the cheapest.

Outside cabins (ocean views via a window or porthole) are a bit higher in price; balconies are the next most costly; and, suites are the most expensive. Weigh the cost differences against your accommodation priorities.

MSC Meraviglia Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock

On a related note, older ships have cheaper prices. While everyone is scrambling to book the latest and greatest on the sea, consider a voyage on a seasoned vessel. The comforts are comparable; the food is just as good; and, the itineraries are comparable.

Shop for Packages

Many of the expenses related to a cruise vacation are now grouped into packages. These can be the essentials like food (at specialty restaurants), drinks and gratuities or extras like spa days, classes, events, Internet and shore excursions.

One way to save money is to either negotiate their inclusion with your price or pre-purchase them when you make your reservations. Again, do a bit of research to find the best deals.

Carnival Cruise Line Ship Deck
Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive

Specifically, Internet access onboard can (cumulatively) be expensive. It is usually priced per device per day. So, with a family of four, this can quickly become expensive. One suggestion is to purchase a shared Internet package.

While only one person can be online a time, access is available across multiple devices. This is a great way to save if everyone does not need to be online at the same time, or you would like access only sporadically.

Added tip: Ports of call with Internet cafés and restaurants often offer this for free to their patrons. For those who do not have to be online at any given moment, this is a cost saver.

Packing for Your First Cruise

It might be tempting to pack lots of luggage if you are driving to port. Keep in mind that space is limited in the cabins and porters will (appropriately) expect a gratuity for handling your big bags. And, if you are flying, baggage check is another expense you can avoid by packing light. (The cruise ship will have hairdryers, irons, soaps and shampoos.)

Worth Reading: 10 Cruise Packing Hacks You Need to Know

Should you need personal toiletries and over-the-counter medicines after boarding (sunscreen and motion sickness remedies, for example), they are…well… hugely overpriced!

How to pack jewelry for travel
Photo Credit: New Africa / Shutterstock

While it is good to have the option to purchase something you might not have anticipated needing, avoid an expensive aspirin by bringing what you need with you. And, if you run out of something or do not have an immediate need, shop for these items at stores and pharmacies in your ports of call for cheaper prices.

Also, bring along plenty of cash. As we all know, ATM fees are quite high everywhere – and this includes on the ship and in the ports of call. Check the exchange rates for your destinations and only use banks to change your money should you need local currency when you go ashore.

Added tip: Consider packing and bringing some of your favorite snacks. Or, buying some local treats when you go ashore. If they are prepackaged, they are allowed on the ship.

Waiting for Departure

It is always a good idea to arrive at your departure port at least one day ahead of sailing. Therefore, you will need overnight accommodations. Ask the hotel if they have any stay/cruise benefits. One of the best perks is the option of leaving your vehicle at the hotel during the cruise.

Carnival Cruise Ship in Miami
Photo Credit: Ramunas Bruzas / Shutterstock

Parking at the port can quickly add up. Also, ask if they have a free shuttle for transportation to and from the port – another way to save money on your first cruise regardless of whether you drive or fly.

Where to Eat Onboard

Included in the price of your cruise will be breakfast, lunch and dinner in the main dining room (and possibly some buffet locations). Since you have already paid for these meals (and they are quite delicious), eat there as often as possible. For example, when you pull into a port of call, have a meal before going ashore. And, you are free to come and go as you please while in port. So, consider returning to the ship to eat.

Cruise Ship Dining
Photo Credit: Solarisys / Shutterstock

If you would like to enjoy the cuisine at the various specialty restaurants onboard, this will cost extra. Meals are often a flat price per person. For the best deals, have lunch rather than dinner at these eateries.

Read Also: Free Carnival Cruise Dining Options

The option to order “free” room service is often included in the price of the cruise as well. However, this is another time to read the fine print. To avoid any surprises, make sure that there are no restrictions related to the menu or time of day (or night) to use this perk.

Shore Excursion Options

Time ashore at various ports of call is one of the best parts of a cruise vacation. To save money on your first cruise, read ahead of time about where you are stopping during your itinerary. Pick out some places and activities that fit your interests and look for local guides to give you a tour.

6 Helpful Tips on How to Have the Best Group Cruise
Photo: Copyright Cruise Hive

Or, simply go exploring on your own at the ports of call. These strategies can be considerably cheaper than signing up for the cruise line tours. Do keep an eye on the clock though; the ship will not wait should you arrive late back to port.

Shop for Souvenirs

The gift shop onboard can be a tempting place to shop. They have all the neat items you would like to purchase for your memories and your family. Resist the urge to buy it when you see it, unless it is on sale.

Carnival Sun Shops
Carnival Sun Shops (Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive)

Souvenir shops on ships have a rolling system of marking down inventory throughout the cruise. Check back and wait for a better price. And, remember, when you go ashore in your ports of call, there will be many opportunities to negotiate a price with vendors for their local wares.

Group Cruises

One way to enjoy an inexpensive cruise, with the possibility of traveling for free, is to organize a group vacation. If you have a large group of friends or family that would like to take a cruise together, see what options your chosen cruise line offers. By signing up a certain number of passengers in your group, you (and possibly your cabin mate) could receive a free cruise or substantial discounts and credits.

Carnival Cruise Ship Deck
Photo Credit: Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock

Keep in mind that you will be the organizer and work directly with the line or travel agent to plan everything, like finding the best cruise, communications with your group and on time deposits/payments.

Consider a Luxury Cruise Line

If traveling in style at the best price is in the plans for your first cruise consider booking a reservation on a luxury cruise line. While it may seem counterintuitive for saving money, it might just be the best deal for the price.

For example, if you want to stay in the nicest suites and want to eat at all the best restaurants onboard a standard cruise, it may actually cost more than a reservation on a luxury line.

Seabourn Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Roger Utting / Shutterstock

The reason for this is that most of the upper-tier cruise lines include everything we have been considering here – shore excursions, drink packages, gratuities, Internet access and pre-sailing hotels and even flights. Do the math and see how the costs compare when placed side-by-side.

Repositioning Cruise

Our final tip is possibly the most unique idea for a way to save money on your first voyage – a repositioning cruise. These are one-way trips that cruise ships take to move from one operational region or seasonal homeport to another.

The difference? Repositioning cruises can be considerably cheaper (particularly per day) compared to a typical sailing. Additionally, they often have fewer passengers. They usually occur in spring or fall and can last two weeks or more.

There are multiple days at sea and the ship has a full crew and conducts itself as if it were on a regular voyage – food, activities, stops at exotic locations and so forth. If an extended trip sounds fun, be sure to select a ship with activities of interest to you since you will be at sea for days at a time.

With some careful planning, you can coordinate the additional travel requirements with a repositioning cruise. For example, frequent flyer miles to the departure port and a comparatively inexpensive cruise back home – perfect!

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