Going on a cruise doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank or depleting your savings account. While a cruise offers more value than most other vacations you can take, it still requires following a few tips to get the most for your money.
Cruising on a budget will require some planning and strategizing, but it’s well worth the time and effort once you score a cruise on the cheap.
Here are some of the best money-saving tips for booking that much needed vacation at sea.
1. Choose the cheapest weeks of the year for a sail date
Avoid the peek cruise weeks if you want to get the lowest possible rate on a cruise. This means staying away from sailing dates in late December and late May through August. Basically, if the kids are out of school it costs more to cruise during those times.
So, when are prices the lowest throughout the year? We have an article highlighting the cheapest weeks of the year to cruise, but I will give you the summary.
Prices can be 40% lower for sail dates in late January and September through October. These are the times I almost always have a cruise booked as I can’t say no to deals like that.
As far as when to actually book the cruise, early spring can provide great opportunities for getting a good deal as many cruise lines run “wave season” promotions to fill up their cabins.
2. Select a budget-friendly cabin
Cabin selection is one of the biggest factors to consider when trying to get the lowest price on a cruise. An interior cabin will always be among the cheapest on a ship, but you can also select a guaranteed cabin category to get this price even lower.
This means the cruise line will choose which exact cabin you get, as long as it’s in the category you selected. You might end up in a less desirable location of the ship, but you can save $100 or more just for being less picky about the location.
If you’re a stickler for not wanting to be near an elevator or too far forward or aft on a ship this might not be for you.
Related: How to choose the best cabin on a ship
3. Book an older cruise ship
There are many reasons for booking an older cruise ship, so don’t think you need to sail on the latest and biggest cruise ship to have a great experience.
Whenever a new cruise ship is built by a cruise line it also comes with a premium in pricing. You can avoid this by sailing on a ship that is 8+ years old. There can be a 50% price difference between a new cruise ship and an older cruise ship with the same basic itinerary.
If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid of a cruise ship that was built 20 years ago. These smaller, classic ships have a certain charm to them and offer tremendous value for those who want to cruise as often as possible without going broke.
Related: 8 advantages of older cruise ships and why seasoned cruisers choose them
4. Take a repositioning cruise
When a cruise line needs to move a ship during the shoulder season it’s called a repositioning cruise. These one-way sailings require finding transportation to and from two different cruise ports, but they also offer incredible value.
I often will try to book repositioning cruises when ships are moving to and from Alaska. You can get 1-3 day sailings if you just want a short getaway, or you can book a longer transatlantic repositioning cruise for ships starting their new season on the other side of the Atlantic.
5. Look for cruise line promotions
There are many ways to look for specific promotions from cruise lines, but the easiest way is to sign up for the free newsletter for the cruise lines you’re interested in.
Cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, and Princess offer some deals to their newsletter subscribers first. This can include last-minute deals and special offers.
You will have to pay close attention to your email inbox for this one, so it might take a little work to sort through all the excess clutter, but it’s well worth it when you see the perfect deal come through. Check it daily and you will be among the first to see a cruise line’s specially catered deals.
6. Plan your own excursions
Booking an excursion through a cruise line will give you extra peace of mind, since a ship will never leave you if your excursion is running late getting back to the ship. But if you’re trying to save as much money as possible — which is what this post is all about– , you can just take self-guided tours for each port.
Many cruise ports in the Bahamas and Caribbean are perfect for a beach day anyway. This can mean taking a $5 taxi ride to a local beach and enjoying a little paradise for the day, or you can just walk around the port city for a while and get a real feel for the area.
If planning your own excursion, I do recommend doing research on the area and using local transportation if it’s safe and reliable.
When I was in Bermuda on a cruise I used the local bus and water taxi service, and it was not only very affordable but a great way to talk with local residents and ask questions. This gave me a better idea of the great things to see and do in the area rather than relying on hyped up reviews online as well.
Related: 10 most overrated cruise excursions
7. Avoid specialty restaurants
There are so many places to eat on a cruise ship. And while the steakhouse, hibachi grill, or French cuisine restaurant look fantastic, you will find delicious food included in the price of your cruise all over the place.
Indulge in all the included food you can find, though. I talk to many cruisers on a ship who don’t even realize which restaurants and eateries are complimentary. If in doubt just ask a staff member on the ship, but don’t miss out on a great place to eat that you already paid for. And don’t feel you’re missing out if you skip the extra-cost venues. You’re saving money and that means more cruises down the road for you.
8. Drive to the port and use a 3rd party parking service
Driving to the cruise port is not always feasible. But it’s almost always more affordable than flying, especially considering you have to pay for a ride from the airport to the cruise port as well.
But cruise port parking is not cheap. It will take a little extra time, but park at an independent parking lot that caters to cruisers. Most major cruise ports have many to choose from that are within 2 or 3 miles from the port. They will often offer free drop-off and pick-up shuttles, as long as you’re willing to wait a few minutes.
You will pay a premium for parking right at the cruise port, as it’s the most convenient option. You can save 50% or more by parking off-site with a 3rd party parking service.
Related: To drive or fly to the cruise port: 8 questions to ask
9. Use those credit card rewards
Many credit cards offer rewards that can be used towards a cruise. Sometimes this comes in the form of a gift card that can be applied to a cruise, and sometimes you can book the cruise itself through a rewards portal and pay with points.
I recently used some of my Amex points to get a $500 gift card. This was a Carnival Corp. gift card that can be used towards any of Carnival’s brands which include Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Costa and others.
You probably already have some points saved up on your credit card so it’s worth taking a look to see if it offers any rewards that be used towards a cruise.
If you cruise often you can also take advantage of those cruise loyalty points that have been adding up.
Related: 8 cruise loyalty programs compared
10. Use a cruise alert service to look for price drops
You can look for price drops before or after you book your cruise. It’s a little bit of a hassle to re-book a cruise but having a travel agent can make this a whole lot easier. Some websites like Cruisewatch will even predict if a cruise price is likely to go up or down in the near future.
You can sign up for price alerts using services like Cruisewatch and get notified exactly when a cruise fare has gone down. I use this website on a regular basis to look for deals or find cruises based on a certain criteria.
If there is a specific cruise you have in mind it’s worth setting an alert just in case the price falls into an affordable area.
11. Use Wi-Fi in ports
Wi-Fi is available on just about every cruise ship these days. But the cost of adding each device to a Wi-Fi plan can add up quickly.
A more budget-friendly option is to use the Wi-Fi in each cruise port. Many ports in the Caribbean have $5 deals for all day use of their internet. Many times this is accessible right in the cruise port, so you can get up to date on social media, your emails, or any other online information you need.
I would still advise using a VPN and taking other security precautions when using Wi-Fi overseas.
If you do want to use the cruise ship’s Wi-Fi you can use one device at a time to save money as some plans will by priced by device or by the number of users on the plan.
Related: What is the cost of Wi-Fi for each cruise line?
12. Bring cash to avoid ATM fees
I always like to bring cash on a cruise and specifically for use in cruise ports. ATM fee transactions in a foreign country aren’t pretty, and another concern is security.
After using an ATM machine in Cozumel, Mexico I had my bank details compromised a few years back. In hindsight I should have been more careful, but having some small bills in local currency can help on other fronts as well.
Some vendors, taxi services, and other service providers will only accept cash. Make sure you have smaller bills as well since you can’t always get exact change back.
If traveling in the Bahamas and Caribbean U.S. dollars are almost always accepted, making it simple and easy and forgoing any foreign exchange fee issues.
When cruising on a budget it’s important to make a few compromises. You may not have the largest stateroom on the ship or eat at the nicest restaurant on board. But knowing you scored a great deal and saved a lot of money on your vacation allows you to focus on having a great time instead of worrying about how you’re going to pay for everything.
It does take some work to find a good deal, stay on top of pricing, and work with cruise dates that may be a little inconvenient. But in the end, I hope the regular habit of saving money on your cruise will allow you to cruise more often.
Read more: 10 biggest things that can ruin your cruise