Our family has been taking cruises for the last 14 years. We usually try to go on one every 2-3 years. I wish it was something we could do every year … but it takes us a couple of years for us to save up.
The first one we took, it was just Topher and I, and we loved it so much we knew we had to take the kiddo on the next one … and she absolutely loved it.
The year after our first family cruise, we took a week long trip to Branson, Missouri. We had a fun trip, but when we got back home and figured out how much the Branson trip cost us, we were pretty surprised. By the time we paid for our gas to and from, our hotel, three meals a day, and entertainment it cost us as much as a 7 day cruise to the Caribbean!
From then on we knew that cruises were going to be the way to go.
I thought I would share with you a few ways that we’ve found to keep the costs down while cruising.
- The first thing we do when going to book a cruise, is to look for the cheapest times of the year to book. Generally it is the end of August-middle of September since that is when kids go back to school. If you are going with friends or your children has flown the coop, this would be a perfect time. Also Jan-Feb is an economical time, and that is when we generally go because we live in Kansas and want to get away from the cold for awhile.
- Try to find a port within driving distance. What really adds expense on to your cruise is adding on your flight. The first three cruises we took left from Galveston, TX. Now yes, this was a long drive (9 hours), but it was worth it in the end to save that kind of money. You can go to a cruise line’s website and look up where the nearest port is to you.
- After we went on the three cruises out of Galveston, we knew we wanted to be able to travel to different parts of the Caribbean, and to do that meant we did have to fly. Since we know that we are going to cruise every couple of years, we got a credit card that lets you earn points that you can cash in towards discounts on your flights.
- Don’t go crazy on the shore excursions. Each cruise line offers day trips that you can book when you stop at each port, and if you have 3-5 ports this can get expensive. When you eat in the dining room at night, depending on the cruise line, you might always have the same waiter and you get to know them. We learned to ask our waiter or waitress where they go in each port. One port for example had a shore excursion that cost $75 per person to go to a private beach. Our waiter told us about the same place, and it cost us $8 per person to take a cab ride there ourselves. If we have 4 ports, we might do two shore excursions through the ship and do two just from recommendations from the wait staff.
- Make sure you pack enough clothes. The ship does have a place where you can do laundry, but there is usually a long wait and it is expensive. People forget how many undergarments they need when they are dressed in the morning, then switch to a swimsuit, then back into clothes again. By the last couple of days of the cruise, the line for the washers and dryers can be crazy.
- Drinking. On your cruise they provide you with more food than any one person should have, entertainment and a nice stateroom. What it doesn’t include is the alcohol. For us it isn’t a big deal because we aren’t big drinkers. We might have one frozen drink laying by the pool per day, but that’s about it. For people that are big drinkers or are there to party, this is where it can get expensive. Our cruise line (Carnival) provided 24 hour water, tea and lemonade but soft drinks are extra. We aren’t big soda drinkers so that doesn’t bother us at all. You are allowed to carry-on lots of water, pop, and a couple bottles of wine (I don’t know about beer), so if you can’t live without your Diet Coke, it might be worthwhile to stop by the grocery store between the hotel and the port and grab a supply before you board.
- Don’t go crazy shopping. Each port you go to has a shopping area. Quite frankly they are my least favorite places to be. The shopping district on each port is almost identical and that includes locals harassing you to go into their store. Most of the stores all have the same t-shirts, dresses, keychains and stuffed animals that are way over priced. Do you need to buy a t-shirt that is going to shrink two sizes the first time you wash it for every person back home? We think not.
- Gambling. All of the ships we have sailed on all have a casino. This is where a lot of people lose a lot of money. I think on one ship I tried the slots, and after losing $20 in 30 minutes I decided I would rather spend my money elsewhere.
- Pictures. Every night before dinner there are photographers set up all over the ship with different backgrounds. You can go to as many as you want and the next day you get to see all of your photos and decide which ones you want to buy. My recommendation is to wait a few days, and then you are able to compare the photos and only select the very best ones. A lot of the backgrounds are super cheesy or the photographers put you in a weird pose, so we end up just going up on deck and asking someone to take our photo. It’s a much prettier background with the ocean or the sunset behind you, plus it’s free.
- Obviously when you leave the ship you are responsible for your own food expenses. We planned our day around the free food on the ship. For example, if we docked at 10AM, and we were doing something on our own and didn’t have a scheduled excursion, we would wait to leave the boat until around 11:30 so that we could eat lunch on the ship for free and didn’t have to buy anything while at port. Or if we left the ship early after breakfast, we would go to the beach and leave around 2 or 3 when we got hungry and go back to the ship and have lunch. We really didn’t want to stay at the beach longer than 3-5 hours anyway.
That’s it my friends. Those are my top 10 money saving tips to cruise cheaply. The cruise provides so much for you to do and eat all day long you don’t even have to leave the ship to stay entertained.