How to Make the Most of Your Cruise Without Overspending

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For many, taking a cruise is a budget-friendly and convenient way to see several destinations in one trip, without booking and paying for multiple hotels or forms of transportation. Even when it comes to food and entertainment, you don’t need to spend even an extra dime out of pocket, if you only enjoy the “included” and complimentary meals and entertainment.

That said, as anyone who’s been on a cruise can tell you, it’s very easy to overspend on a cruise. Make a few mistakes, and suddenly, your budget-friendly cruise becomes not-so-affordable. You get to the end of your itinerary and realize that you’ve somehow spent thousands of dollars more than you expected to, on this vacation.

Is a Truly Budget-Friendly Cruise Even Possible?

Despite this common occurrence — Yes! It is totally possible to enjoy a spectacular cruise without wildly overspending. 

There are many reasons why overspending on a cruise can happen. Basically, though, everywhere on a cruise ship, there are things to buy and upgrades to purchase. You can usually even book your next cruise before the current cruise is even over. Reining yourself in can feel like a chore and less than fun, when you’re supposed to be having the time of your life.

However, rest assured that keeping your cruise vacation within budget and still having an amazing time can go hand-in-hand. You don’t need to feel like you’re making any big sacrifices or having a less-fun time, just because you’re making an effort not to overspend.

Ready to see how? Here’s how to make the most of a cruise without overspending.

Realistically Think About the Type of Traveler You Are

The top thing you have to do before booking your cruise, if you want to avoid overspending, is be real with yourself. What kind of traveler are you? What are your travel habits?

If you have a cocktail in your hand from the moment you put up your out of office, to the moment you arrive back home, you’re not going to be very successful at avoiding the drink packages on a cruise.

Likewise, if you always plan your vacations around relaxing as much as humanly possible, you probably don’t want to miss out on a few spa treatments. If you’re a foodie traveler to the core, you’re not going to be happy eating at the buffet day in and day out.

Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas Docked in Miami
Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas Docked in Miami (Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov)

Trying to avoid these realities and travel preferences is setting yourself up for failure — and overspending. Think about why and how you travel, and then plan your budget and cruise accordingly. 

For example, if you’re a foodie traveler, plan to pay for multiple specialty dining meals or specifically book a cruise on a ship that offers a very wide selection of complimentary dining.

Newer, bigger ships are your best bets for this, such as Carnival Jubilee, which offers 14 complimentary dining options, or Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, which offers 12 complimentary dining options. Then, make a point to not spend on the stuff you don’t care about, like shopping on the cruise ship, babysitting services or pricey shore excursions.

Plan a Mix of Paid and Free Activities

Along these lines, plan a mix of paid, scheduled activities, and free, spontaneous activities.

There are two reasons to do this. One is, of course, your budget. But the other is because, believe it or not, if you pack your cruise ship itinerary with things to do, all day, every day, you’re going to regret it. You’ll end up more tired after your vacation than you were before.

Shuffleboard on Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas
Shuffleboard on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas (Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz)

Plus, a totally packed itinerary leaves no room for spontaneity. Cruise ships always have interesting and free things going on, from classes to contests to games, and you want to be able to take advantage of those activities when you can.

So, on that note, consider a small handful of paid activities — think spa treatments and shore excursions — that you’d really like to do, but otherwise keep your plans loose. One day, you probably will want to just sit and drink by the pool all day, which is a perfectly great and (free!) way to spend a day on a cruise ship!  

Watch Your Shore-Side Spending

Cruisers are big economic drivers for port cities. They just spend a lot of money. If you’re worried about overspending when you disembark at port, make a point to spend less.

Cruise Passengers in St. Lucia
Cruise Passengers in St. Lucia (Photo Credit: Dennis MacDonald)

For example, is dining out while on shore really the best use of your time? While it might be in port cities like Naples, Italy, it’s probably not going to be in some random port city in the Caribbean, where the food is a footnote compared to all the other things the destination offers. 

Likewise, should you be buying lots of (very overpriced) souvenirs as soon as you step off the ship? Probably not.

Don’t Buy Everything Through Your Cruise Line

In a similar vein, don’t feel like, just because you’re on a cruise, you have to buy everything you enjoy during the cruise, from your cruise line.

Shore excursions? You can book those on your own, by yourself, without the cruise line’s help and more affordably, from local tour providers in your destination.

Carnival Fun Shops
Carnival Fun Shops

Duty-free shopping? Yes, while it’s available on the cruise ship, you could just buy duty-free items while you’re in your port cities, at a cheaper rate.

Alcohol? While cruise line rules may differ, most will allow you to bring a limited number of bottles of wine with you, which could save you some money. Some will allow you to even bring non-alcoholic beverages on board.

Be Careful with Your Packing

One completely avoidable way you might be overspending when you’re on a cruise? Not packing your bags carefully. This is not the time to just throw what you think you’ll need into a bag, the night before you’re set to depart, and then show up at the cruise ship.

This isn’t an average, on-land vacation, where you can walk to the nearest drugstore if you’re missing something. If you need something, you can’t go anywhere else to get it. You’re in the middle of the ocean. The cruise line is aware of this and will charge you dearly for anything you might need.

Luggage on Cruise Ship
Luggage on Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Flowers26)

So, before you leave — and well in advance — make a list of everything you could possibly need over the course of your trip, and then pack it. You don’t want to buy it on the cruise ship unless you absolutely have to. This will ensure you have everything you need, without needing to spend extra.

Consider Your Phone, WiFi and Data Usage

Some cruisers can get away with turning their cell phones off for the duration of their vacation — and that’s definitely a good idea if you really want to save your cash for just the expenses that will enhance your cruising experience. (Don’t worry. You can still take all the vacay photos you want, but you’ll just need to wait until after the cruise to post them to social media.)

Read Also: Do Cruise Ships Have Wi-Fi – 5 Things to Know

However, not all of us can do so, especially if friends and family back home may need us. That said, don’t just use the ship’s cellular at sea service, at your leisure (as this usually comes with an international roaming charge, which can really add up, depending on your cell phone plan).

Cruise Passenger Using Cell Phone
Cruise Passenger Using Cell Phone (Photo Credit: Greg finnegan)

Instead, consider your options, such as the WiFi plans that many cruise lines offer, most at a rate of about $20 per line per day. Also, consider that your cell phone company may offer affordable cruise ship service. 

Verizon offers a cruise ship daily pass that allows you to, for $30 per day, send and receive unlimited texts, talk on the phone for up to 50 minutes per day and use up to 0.5 GB of data per day. AT&T likewise offers cruise packages, with even more data and unlimited talk and text for a one-time fee of $100, for 30 days.

Don’t Buy the Photos

There are many experiences and things for sale on a cruise ship that, if you really enjoy or like those things, we’d say to go ahead and pay for them, and save money somewhere else during the cruise. If you like to go to the casino, go to the casino, but maybe don’t try the specialty restaurants. If you like your cocktails, buy a drinks package, but don’t go to the spa.

Worth Reading: How to Get Your Photo on the Carnival Pixels Wall

However, there’s one thing you should never, ever buy on a cruise ship, because they’re total rip-offs: the photos. Cruise ship employees will try to take your photo and then try to sell that photo to you, and that photo will cost a lot. Think $20 for one photo.

Carnival Cruise Line Pixels Photo Wall
Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz

Meanwhile, you could take a photo yourself and order it from photo-printing services like Shutterfly, at a rate of about $0.25 per photo.

So, skip the photos and do what you’d do if you were traveling any other way. Take your own photos with your phone, or ask someone else in your vicinity to take the photos for you. Your fellow travelers will be more than happy to do so if you’re willing to return the favor (and you could save each other hundreds of dollars in the process!).

Consider an Upgrade (If It Will Pay for Itself!)

Yes, sometimes it really is cheaper to upgrade your overall cruise experience, if you’ll already be using and paying extra for the amenities and services that will come for free with that upgrade.

For example, if you plan on using the ship’s spa and wellness amenities a lot, you might opt to upgrade to a spa-class cabin. Celebrity Cruises’ Aqua Class staterooms, for example, come with access to the SEA Thermal Suite, a spa concierge, a complimentary fitness pass and preferential rates on AquaClass spa packages.

Celebrity Beyond Stateroom
Celebrity Beyond Stateroom (Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz / Cruise Hive)

Another example? If you’re planning on booking multiple staterooms for multiple members of your family (like if you’re traveling on a multigenerational vacation), then you might book one suite to share instead of four individual cabins.

And if you really want to spend, spend, spend to your heart’s content without ever worrying about going over budget… Well, you might want to consider upgrading all the way to an all-inclusive cruise line, where just about everything you could do is already included in your initial cruise fare.

This is the case on Regent Seven Seas cruises, where you get quite a lot for once price. Think all of your dining, all gratuities, shore excursions, WiFi, all your drinks and even airfare.

Try Not to Over-Tip (Unless You Really Want To!)

Cruise ship employees work hard and deserve to be fairly compensated for their work. That said, you might not want to tip those employees 40–50%. 

That’s what can end up happening if you don’t pay attention to your bills, anywhere you might normally pay gratuity, such as in salons, spas, restaurants, bars, etc.

Cruise Tipping
Cruise Tipping

If you receive a bill of any kind, on a cruise ship, check to see if the gratuity has already been included. In many cases, it will be, so if you add more gratuity, you’re over-tipping. This can be a bit of a waste — unless, of course, you really did receive stellar service and want to tip that 50%!

Just Say No

Lastly, just as with the photos, keep in mind that there are tons of opportunities to upsell you on a cruise and the cruise lines are looking out for those opportunities.

Read Also: How Much Does a Cruise Cost?

While some of us have a difficult time saying no to well-meaning employees, don’t feel pressured to buy something, just because you attended a free seminar or similar activity. You’ve already paid all you need to for the cruise. You can enjoy all the complimentary activities without being guilted into buying something extra.

Yes! You Can Thoroughly Enjoy Your Cruise Without Overspending!

Enjoying a cruise doesn’t have to mean overspending. So long as you’re honest with yourself as to what’s going to make your cruise experience as fun as possible, and you budget accordingly, opting to not spend on things that don’t matter so much to you, you can have an amazing vacation that’s also affordable.

Holly Riddle
Holly Riddle
Holly Riddle is a travel and food freelance writer whose work can be found in print and digital publications all around the world. She is additionally an entrepreneur specializing in content and marketing services. Beyond frequent travel, Riddle enjoys cooking, reading, camping and spending time with her husband and two dogs. Her favorite travel destinations include Chicago, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and just about anywhere in the Caribbean. Find out more about us here.


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