Thoughts of white sand beaches, dazzling turquoise waters and the warmth of the sun seeping deep into your shoulders is an image that can seem irresistible as the harsh January wind whips your face, stinging your eyes until they water on a dark and dreary January morning that feels like the inside of Grandma’s deep freeze working overtime. A cruise can be the perfect antidote. But wait, don’t get out that credit card quite yet! With a little planning you can whisk yourself and your loved ones away, save some money, not by skipping all those things that make your vacation great, simply by making a few decisions ahead of time.
What are you paying for? Your cruise fare includes your accommodations, on board activities and entertainment, most meals, plus transportation from port to port. When comparing prices it is important to see if the fare includes taxes and port charges as these are mandatory fees that you will pay when you book, every passenger on a given itinerary will pay the same, and gratuities which can be adjusted up or down depending on the level of service received.
Advanced planning is essential to stretching your vacation dollars. Generally, the best value you will find is when you plan your cruise early, even 9 to 12 months out. This is when you will find the best bonuses, most on-boards credits and premium selection of cabins, however exotic voyages tend to have an earlier booking window, while the best time to book a 7 day Caribbean sailing can be as little as 4-6 months ahead of time. Last minute fares can also be an especially budget friendly option, but if you are flying to the port, the last minute airfare cost can wipe out the “deal” you found on your cruise fare.
Typically, your only extra expenses will be transportation to your port, drinks while on-board, specialty restaurants, as well as optional shore excursions along the way. While the list of “add-ons” is relatively short, without careful planning your budget can take an unexpected hit.
Most people know that you can save money by booking a smaller inside cabin, not always the best place to save money – splurge, get the spacious balcony cabin with a view.You wouldn’t be sorry you did.
Did you know that the age of your ship dramatically effects the cost of your cruise fare? Newer ships offer the latest upgrades, biggest WOW factors, more amenities and entertainment options – commanding premium prices. How much different? A Royal Caribbean 7 day cruise on the stunning Allure of the Seas (launched 2010) is about 20% more than on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas (launched 2002). But that isn’t all that drives cruise fares, when you cruise can be another big money saver. Cruise fares, not surprisingly, are higher when demand is high.
Do I want more port days to get out and enjoy that beautiful beach?
Is there one destination that is on my “must-do” list?
Are my travel dates flexible?
Am I the one that always wants to experience the latest great technology first?
Would I prefer a large ship, or a small ship?
Would I rather pay a bit more, and never have to wait in line?
Do I have mobility issues?
Am I looking for a romantic vacation, or family time?
Do I care if I am fore or aft on the ship?
These are all questions that drive the price of your cruise fare, and once you decide what is most important to you, and where you can be flexible it is easy to find the cruise that will deliver the vacation that you have been dreaming of, and still save money in the process.
Another great way to save money is pick a port that you can drive to as air can often exceed the price of your cruise! If you do need to fly to your port, your best bet is not purchasing your air when you book your cruise unless you are getting a credit or you are flying in on the day the cruise departs. With air, often watch and wait pays off with significant savings, but don’t wait beyond the six to eight week window as fares tend to go up. As with all travel advice, there are always exceptions so don’t be afraid to ask a professional about the current pricing trends.
Do be aware that many fares quoted DO NOT INCLUDE PORT CHARGES AND TAXES; these fees can be significant so make sure any quote you see includes these amounts.
Additional money saving tips:
Some cruise lines allow you to bring bottled water and soda, and even the ones that don’t will allow you to bring reusable water bottles. Take advantage of this by bringing some Crystal Light or other flavoring to add to your water. This can be an easy, big money saver.
If you wish to partake in alcohol, limit your purchase of single drinks, instead opt for a bottle of wine, special bucket of beer, or perhaps even a festive pub crawl. (My mind drifts back to a group of like-minded people traipsing through every drinking venue on the ship to sample libations. Passing by those more restrained passengers, and answering our Cruise Director’s query, Who Loves Alcohol? I LOVE ALCOHOL! Chanting. Singing. Games. That was a fun night indeed, but I digress.)
Do make sure you get a free on-board credit – -usually $50 – 300 depending on line, sailing and cabin selection. A good travel professional can almost always match you to the right cruise, and secure a little extra cash that will take the sting out of your balance due bill. But these deals get scarce and tend to go away as final payment time approaches, usually 90 days before sailing. Want more cash? Purchase stock. With as little as 100 shares of Carnival or Royal Caribbean stock, you’ll get between $50 and $200 of free cabin credit on every cruise you take with that line.
Find others that want to travel the same time you do – -anytime the number of people in your party exceeds 10 additional savings are often yours for the asking. You simply get more and pay less with any group booking and a group booking is surprisingly easy to qualify for. Don’t have a group of your own? Ask your travel agent to book you into another group’s space! Want to cruise FREE? Large groups can often qualify for free cabins, but you still have to pay those darn taxes!
Consider options for shore excursions that are not sponsored by the cruise lines. Most cruise lines do a very good job, but you can almost always can find a similar or better shore excursion for a little less money. Yes, it is true that the cruise ship will leave you if you do not get back by the witching hour if you are on an excursion that they are not sponsoring; however folks whose livelihood depends on cruise ships do not take chances when it comes to getting tourists back to the ship on time. Shore Excursions one of my favorite companies to book clients with, has never, I repeat never had a customer miss the boat, so relax and enjoy your time ashore. Want to save more, pick an itinerary that has a destination or two that can easily be discovered on your own.
Book your cruise yourself at some website with the word cheap in it. Wait. Stop. No. THAT IS WRONG! The cruise fare you pay is generally the same no matter where you book – On the cruise lines website, at a “cheap” website or even “mega” website, the difference is the knowledge, extra FREE bonuses that you will receive with your booking. An upgraded cabin, complimentary bottle of wine, free cocktail party, even free excursions can come with booking a cruise with Midwest Travel Solutions, your hometown Kansas City city travel agency, or other trusted travel professional. By having a travel agent watch for a special to your dream destination or on your dream ship you can get the best vacation value teamed with your best vacation experience ever.
Arrive at your destination a day early, and have a spa day on land. You can have pretty red toes and sultry legs on the beach without being in the red. Ships have some amazing spas, and I do wholeheartedly recommend finding some blissful relaxation time, but beware of the prices.
Want more value? Did you know that booking a group with as little as two cabins will earn you a free party for up to 6 friend’s at Midwest Travel Solutions’ own private spa retreat, Rolling Hills spa?