When you combine all these tips, you can lower the average spending per guest by over $300 USD. My husband and I managed to get massages, haircuts, a bottle of wine, beers and souvenirs for $335 USD each instead of the projected $600 per person we would have spent paying for the cruise sponsored excursions, full price services and prepaid beverage packages. Let me know if any of these worked out for you or if you find out additional tips that your fellow travelers may share or benefit from!
During my recent trip through the Mediterranean on the Splendour of the Seas, I realized that guest miss out on a lot of money saving opportunities during their trip because of inexperience or lack of knowledge of the local customs at the ports of call. In most cases, the cheaper alternatives go unnoticed because the cruise lines make sure that you prepay or purchase everything through their established vendors and service providers. Hopefully this list will help you see through the gimmicks and find solutions and suggestions that work for you. Vacation smartly and you will be able to enjoy and do more with less!
1. Check if you qualify for a discount on the cabin fares
Most people go directly to a travel agent or website and forget to check if their employee discount program, wholesaler membership (Costco for example), age or job qualifies them for a discounted package. If you have flexible travel dates and leave near a port city, the cruise lines will offer last minute deals to fill vacancies including charging less for premium rooms. Airfare, if required, is cheaper off season (before and after summer and before and after Christmas) which will optimize the savings. Another alternative is to take advantage of repeat customer offers or use loyalty point programs from credit cards or airline mileage memberships.
2. Beverage and Internet Packages
Most cruise lines offer tiered bundles that cover everything from bottle water to spirits. The problem is the all inclusive deal is per person, per day! On average it can cost anywhere from $25 to $57 dollars a day and must be purchased for the full length of your cruise. These exclude premium wines and alcoholic cocktails. Don’t be fooled, the cruise ship offers water, juices, non premium coffee and teas during the buffet meals. Tap water is served throughout the ship, sometimes infused with fruits and vegetables (cucumber for example). It is cheaper to buy the water on shore stores and to pay as you go. On Royal Caribbean there is an $8 service per day that includes all Coca-Cola products. That one may be a good deal if you consume more than 5 servings a day (assuming each soda is charged at $2.50 USD).
In the case of the internet package, some companies will charge you $15 USD per day for two devices which must be purchased for the entire length of the cruise and not day by day. For a 7 day cruise, this amounts to $105 USD which your carrier is most likely to match in price or even be less expensive per day if you request the service for the duration of the trip. Free Wi-Fi is rampant in most countries and ports of call. If you can wait it out, only use your phone offshore to post pictures and check email and social media. Another alternative is to purchase an international disposable phone with prepaid minutes or a prepaid internet contract. It will cost you less than $100 USD.
3. Buy shore excursions through trusted outside vendors
The cruise lines offer shore excursions at a premium price and they guarantee you won’t be left behind if the tour bus is late or caught in traffic, making you miss the on board time. However, the security of not getting lost, being late or being picked up right outside the ship is not necessary worth it. Most locations, including Turkey, are safe and secure and any tour company will pick you up right outside the dock just like the big cruise line excursions. Unless it is a walking tour, you will be fine purchasing a less expensive option through your travel agent, travel site or companies like Costco that serve as both. We saved $20 to $40 per person per excursion by booking outside vendors and they guaranteed the tour even when the ship’s itinerary changed or was late arriving to our destination.
4. Unless you are at sea, purchase toiletries and other items at local stores
Although the cruise ship offered toiletries and batteries at a reasonable mark up, it was three times cheaper for us to buy these items (including bottled water and beer) at the local shops. Since these locations are touristy, they take more than one method of payment, even credit cards! Europe is a first world country so you do not have to worry about the quality of the medications for example, or they safety of their products. Some USA articles and brands can be found overseas as well. The on board doctor and nurses will charge you more than a local store.
5. Avoid picture bundles and packages
Unless you don’t have a good camera or a good photographer in the family, these bundles will cost you between $16 and $22 per picture! Even at a discount, the only reason to purchase a package is if you are splitting the cost amongst a group of travelers or you plan to use these as engagement, wedding or special occasion souvenirs. It is still cheaper to print your own memories. Buy a cruise related frame and save the rest. Most cruises have a port where you can take an awesome picture with the vessel in the background.
FYI- You only get charged for the pictures you purchase not the ones they take of you. Feel free to say no when a photographer approaches you if you already know you won’t buy the pictures.
6. Best time to purchase on board items, souvenirs or spa services: last day at sea
This is a well known secret that all experienced cruisers know very well but to a first timer it may not be apparent. Because the last day is usually at sea or at least the next to last day, the on ship stores and spa will have sale events and discounted services in an attempt to unload their inventory. T-shirts, massages, jewelry, and duty free alcohol and cigarettes will most likely be on sale for steep discounts. If you checked the airport duty free prices prior to boarding, you will be better educated as to what to expect in terms of pricing. Be aware that the cruise line will confiscate/store all offshore and on ship liquor purchases and you will be responsible for claiming them during debarkation.
7. Ask the cruise staff for offshore dinning or shopping recommendations
You will be surprised to learn that in some ports of call businesses have two tiered price menus, one for the locals and one for the tourists. To avoid getting duped you should ask the cruise or excursion guides for recommendations as not all places have two menus. Make sure you know the exchange rate of the local currency against USD or Euros. Local merchants will simplify the exchange for you and make it one to one, when in fact you should be paying less in the leading currency. In layman’s terms they will sell it to you for the value they know you will feel most comfortable paying and not for the local price, which is usually cheaper.
8. The dinning room dress code is optional on most cruise lines
All cruising experience includes a formal dress Captain’s dinner or reception, a second formal dress dinner and a themed party that may require a costume or special dress (for example a white party). However, you do not need to follow the dress code to eat in the dinning room and special restaurants although it is expected that you do look respectable. My husband and I managed to survive a 7 day cruise with a carry on full of essential clothing and two pairs of shoes each, not counting flip flops! You have the option to rent a tuxedo on board if you feel like playing along, but if you don’t mind skipping the dinning room meal and going for the buffet, you will save on checked bag fees, have more space in your cabin and will save a lot of money buying outfits for your journey.
9. Prepay tips
We learned early on that certain cabin special offers and pricing require you to pay the tips in advance. These include the gratuities for the serving staff in the dinning areas and for the housekeeping staff. The cost for us was $200 USD for the entire trip, and it was invoiced as part of the cabin price. This enabled us to do the dining at our leisure option which doesn’t assign you a main or second seating table. The salon though includes the tip in the invoice so be aware that in this case you do not have an option to skip the tip. In most ports of call, except the USA and in the Caribbean, the custom is to not ask for tips as the servers are paid the minimum wage for their country or a salary.
10. Set up your own transfers to and from the ship to the airport
The cruise lines will offer a transfer service that can even be purchased upon arrival at the area of the port of call, however, these will range between $30 USD dollars per person. A taxi, bus and in some cases train ticket will be far less than this amount. In our case, the transfers from Marco Polo airport to the port where priced at $34 USD per person and the taxi cost us only $45 USD. We saved $23 USD each way by booking out own transfers which where offered right inside the terminal. Unless you are visiting a country in which safety is an issue, and those are very few and usually in places where cruises won’t visit anyway, you will be better off booking your own transfers especially if you have more than two people in your party.