30+ Tips to Save Money On a Cruise (Both Buying & Onboard)

Want to save money on your next cruise? Of course, who doesn’t?

And while most people think only about saving when buying their cruise, that’s only one part of your trip. After all, buying your cruise is just the start of what you’ll spend on your vacation. There’s also everything that you’ll spend on board, in port, and even on getting to the cruise port.

To help you save the most money possible on your next vacation, we’ve rounded up more than 30 money-saving tips that can help you save your hard-earned cash.

The topics include everything from buying a cruise, parking, room service, and more. From advice that could potentially save you hundreds to some smaller ideas that can save you a few bucks, it all adds up to help you keep more of your money… and afford more cruising.

Save the Most By Sailing When School Is In Session

Island view on a cruise ship
Views like this can be your for much cheaper if sailing when school is in session.

If you want to save the most on buying your cruise, then there’s one simple trick you can use — sail when school is in session. As we’ve noted before, there is a rise in prices during the summer, during the winter holidays, and during the Spring Break season as this is a time when more people can set sail.

That means you can purchase the same itinerary on the same ship for considerably less (it’s not unusual to see prices that are half as much) by sailing during months like February or October.

If Staying in a Hotel, Look for a “Park and Cruise” Package

Plan to stay in the port city the night before your trip? If you are driving into port, be sure to check out hotels with park and cruise packages. To attract your business, many hotels near ports of call offer free or discounted parking during your trip in exchange for one night’s stay. It’s an easy way to save on parking costs while you are away. You can see our list of park and cruise hotels for every major port in America.

Scout the Daily Planner for Discounts

The daily planner delivered to your cabin tells you everything going on during the next day of your cruise. Be sure to check it out each night as specials and discounts will also be mentioned.

For example, is there a happy hour at a certain bar the next day? You’ll find that information usually located in the planner, giving you a head start on saving some cash.

Do the Math on Drink Packages Before Buying

Tropical drinks on a cruise

Here’s the thing with drink packages — they can save you huge amounts of money or cause you to waste a lot of dough. It all depends on how you use the package when you sail. So before you plunk down hundreds per person, be sure to do the math to make sure you will get your money’s worth.

To help you out, we’ve created this handy drink package calculator that will give you more insight if it’s worth your money to buy the package on your cruise. Simply put in what you drink each day and it will compare it to the cost of the package.

Sign Up For Packages You’ll Use Before You Get On Board

Do you know for certain that you’ll get your money’s worth for a package like daily Internet or the daily drink package?

If so, you’ll often save some cash by purchasing these items beforehand. The cruise lines often discount the packages before your trip to encourage you to buy them in advance. For example, a recent Royal Caribbean cruise offered a drink package special of buy one, get one 50% off.

Other things might be a small discount to get you to buy, covering everything from the Internet to specialty restaurants. Definitely take advantage.

Wait Until Port to Get Online

Internet on cruise ships is notoriously expensive — running $15-20 per day in many cases. If you want to connect occasionally, wait until you reach port. Many port areas cater to cruisers with free or very cheap wi-fi while you visit. As well, resorts in the area usually offer connectivity for free to their guests as well. Simply having a little patience to check your email can save you a bundle.

Share an Internet Package on the Ship

For many people, they need online access even when not in port. In that case, be sure to book an Internet package ahead of time for a discount, but also know that you can share a connection.

Cruise lines charge per device. So if you want two devices attached at one time, then it’s usually double the cost. But you can buy a package for one device and then share it. So a husband can login on his laptop, and then a wife can connect on the phone. You just can’t have both connected at once. But considering most people don’t need constant connection on a cruise, it’s a cheaper way to get Internet.

Be Sure to Bring Wine or Champagne From Home

No, you can’t bring beer or liquor from home. But cruise lines often do allow passengers to bring a bottle of champagne or wine for free. It likely won’t last you an entire trip, but it’s still much cheaper than buying several glasses on the ship. Take advantage to save yourself a few extra bucks.

How much you can bring will vary depending on the line, but it’s often one regular sized bottle per passenger.

Call the Cruise Line If You See a Lower Price Than What You Paid

Nothing is worse than booking a cruise and then seeing the price drop. Good news is that you may still be in luck if this happens to you. Once you book your cruise, it’s a good idea to check back occasionally to see if the price has dropped.

If it has, call the cruise line and let them know. At worst, there is nothing they will do about the price change. But sometimes they will refund the price difference to you in the form of onboard credit. All it takes is a phone call and a few minutes of your time.

Bring Enough Cash For Your Trip (Avoid the ATMs)

Carnival ATM charge
ATMs are available on a cruise ship, but charge high fees.

It’s relatively minor, but if you want to save some money, be sure to bring enough cash for your trip. The ships offer ATMs onboard, but they are expensive. Expect to spend $6 (or more) just to get out some cash on the ship. And that’s on top of any charges you bank might hit you with.

Avoid the Casino Due to the Payouts

It’s not news that casinos are bad if you’re trying to save money. Even land-based casinos with the best payouts still aren’t in your favor. Cruise ships are notoriously tight in their payouts. You’ll often find “6-to-5” blackjack and low-paying video poker. That’s not to say you won’t win, but the odds are definitely in the casino’s favor — even more than normal.

If you want to save money, you’re better off limiting your play. If you want to save money, you’re better off limiting your play.

Wait For Sales to Buy Souvenirs on the Ship

If you have your eye on a souvenir on the ship, be sure to wait until it’s on sale. The cruise lines offer sales almost constantly on merchandise sold on the ship. If it’s not on sale yet, just wait a couple of days to see if the price is dropped.

Bring Any Toiletries/Medicine You Need (It’s Expensive on a Cruise)

Toiletries for sale on a ship
Toiletries and medicine on the ship can cost a lot. Here, it is $17.99 for DayQuil and $5.25 for dental floss.

It’s usually a good idea to pack light for a cruise, but don’t skimp when it comes to toiletries and medicines. Things like dental floss and cold medicine are available on the ship, but at unbelievable prices (including a bottle of cold medicine for $18!). Instead, pack up anything you might need with you to avoid having to pay the high prices.

Keep Port Days Simple to Save (Beaches Are Great!)

You can spend a fortune on shore excursions in port, but you don’t have to. The cheapest thing to do is head to the beach. Sometimes you may have to pay a few bucks to access the shore through a hotel or restaurant, but that usually comes with something for your money like a lounger and umbrella. It’s the cheapest way to spend your day in most ports unless you just don’t get off the ship.

Want to Save on Drinks? Head to Port

It’s not unusual to spend $12-14 on a cocktail on a cruise ship. Sometimes a cheaper drink is just a few steps away. Head into port and you’ll usually find bars catering to the cruise passengers. Many of them offer cheap drink specials that can save you a ton versus drinking on the ship.

Note that if you have the daily drink package on the ship, you’ll want to drink on the ship instead to get your money’s worth. If not, save money by drinking in port.

Avoid the Cruise Line Transfers to the Port

Taking an Uber or Lyft is cheaper than the cruise line transfers to the port.

If you are flying in for your cruise, it’s tempting to book a transfer from the airport to your ship through the cruise line. Truth is, however, this is almost always a more expensive way to get to the cruise port. Cruise lines charge rides per person, each way.

Instead, look around for other options such as independent shuttles to the port or Uber/Lyft. They can almost always get you there for less. Uber, Lyft, and taxis offer rides based on the car, not how many people are riding.

Know the Fine Print of Room Service Fees

It used to be that room service was completely free on cruise ships. These days, fees have started to show up. The good news? Often these fees are only for delivery during specific hours (like late night) or specific menu items. Be sure to check out the entire menu and read any fine print before your order to save some cash on room service.

But don’t forget to tip the person bringing your food a few bucks.

Before You Book, Look for Perks With Third-Party Booking Sites

The truth is that almost every website has the exact same prices for the same cruise. What makes them all different are the perks they offer for booking. Perks vary, but are usually in the form of onboard credit. Different websites will offer different amounts of credit, but the amounts can be hundreds of dollars.

One place that offers the best perks? Costco. Book through them if you’re a member and they often give you Costco cash to spend in the store. For more details, see our best websites to book a cruise.

If You Forget Something, Wait Until Port Day

A small pharmacy in port offers cheaper items than on the ship.

We mentioned earlier that the onboard toiletries and medicines can cost a bundle on the ship. So what do you do if you happen to forget something? If you wait until the ship ports, ports of call usually have pharmacies and other small shops where you can pick up necessities that you might have forgotten for much less than you’ll pay on the ship.

Older Ships Have Cheaper Cruises

Sure, everyone likes to sail on the latest and greatest ships. But you can save a bundle by booking your cruise on an older ship. These ships may not have the space or amenities of the biggest and newest ships, but they are still plenty comfy. Meanwhile you can often find similar itineraries to the bigger ships, but for hundreds (or thousands) less.

Know the Exchange Rate Before Heading to Port

Every port will accept U.S. dollars, but it’s likely the goods are still priced in the local currency. Stores will have their own exchange rate but it’s up to you to decide if you want to use it or not.

For instance, while the exchange rate between Mexican pesos and U.S. dollars might be 20:1, local shops might only give you 15:1. That means your money doesn’t go as far as it really should. If you can, shop around for a better rate or use the local currency. You can also use a credit card to get the absolute best rate.

Do the Math On Upgrades

It’s a little trick that the cruise lines do, but it can cost you big money. When you look at upgrading, it’s often priced in dollars per person, per day. So moving from a room on the second deck to the tenth deck might be priced at “$5 per person, per day”. That sounds cheap, but do the math before you make the move. Two people on a 7-day cruise will spend $70 on that simple $5 per person, per day upgrade.

Use Credit Card Rewards to Book Your Trip

Why spend cash when you don’t have to? Check to see if you have any credit card rewards that can be used toward travel expenses. Sometimes you even receive even more reward credits if you book through your credit card company’s travel booking portal. That can mean while you still pay for that cruise, it isn’t money that’s coming directly out of your pocket.

Go With an Interior Cabin If You Can Handle It

Interior cabin

Interior cabins aren’t for everyone, but there’s no arguing that they can help you save money. It’s not unusual to find rates that are hundreds — or thousands — less than balcony rooms or suites. If you think that an interior cabin is good for you, then you can sail for dirt cheap compared to fancier cabins on the ship.

If you’re sailing on a shorter cruise interior is ideal as you’ll be spending lots of time outside of your cabin.

Pick Up a Free Drink at the Art Auctions

Want a glass of bubbly… on the house? Head to the art auctions. There are normally some free drinks served while the auction takes place. It’s also a change of pace from sitting poolside. Just keep in mind that many people say the art auctions aren’t a great deal, so do your homework before you buy.

Eat on the Ships to Get Your Money’s Worth

Headed into port? Remember that everything off the ship is paid for out of your pocket. So if you grab food in port, then you’re going to have to pay for it. If you want to save some cash, you can still eat on the ship on port days. The eateries on board still operate even if there are few people on the ship.

Repositioning Cruises Are Dirt Cheap

Ships repositioning
Trips on ships that are repositioning can be much cheaper than a typical cruise.

As far as value goes, there’s no beating a repositioning cruise. These cruises depart a port and instead of sailing in a big loop, end their trip in another city. Because they aren’t round trips, there is lower demand… and that means lower prices. Sometimes you can sail across the Atlantic for only a few hundred dollars.

Just keep in mind that you’ll have to pay for transportation back home at the end of the trip.

Look at the Price Per Day When Booking

It’s normal to look at the headline price of a cruise. After all, that’s what we are actually shelling out to take our vacation. But don’t ignore the price per day either. Often you can spend a little more but get a better deal on a price per day basis. So a 7-day cruise may be just slightly more than a 5-day trip, but a much better value.

That may not actually save you cash, but it does provide you with an opportunity to stretch your vacation dollars further.

Save Money by Parking at Independent Lots

Sign for Park Port Canaveral

If you are driving to the port, then you’ll need a place to park. Every port offers parking… at a price. While the official port lots are always the most convenient (located right at the ship), they are typically the most expensive option. Instead, independent lots near the cruise ports offer lower parking rates, and often include a free shuttle back and forth from the ship.

They can cost as little as half as much as parking at the port.

Bring Snacks With You on Boarding

You know the rules about bringing alcohol on a cruise ship. But did you know that you CAN bring snacks with you on the ship? The rules say they need to be pre-packaged (no bringing homemade snacks or fresh fruit) but apart from that, you can bring almost anything. If you have a favorite item that you love to munch on, bring it from home instead of having to pay to get it once you get on the ship.

Want to Pay for a Specialty Restaurant? Try it for Lunch for a Discount

Specialty restaurants are those not included in the cruise price. They are typically considered higher-end eateries such as the steakhouse or Italian restaurant. Charges can vary for these restaurants, but expect the cost to be an extra $15-30 per person.

If you want to eat here but still save money, see if they have lower lunch rates. Often the fares for eating lunch are 25-40% less than eating dinner. And on Carnival at least, some spots that charge for dinner offer a free meal during lunch, although it’s not the full dining experience. 

Have more tips on saving money on cruising? Let us know in the comment below.

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30+ Tips to Save Money On a Cruise (Both Buying & Onboard)