Who says you have to break the bank to take a cruise? Read on for insider tips that make for smooth sailing, even if you’re on a budget.
1. Read the fine print
Don’t overlook the details when researching your cruise—some food and drink packages, excursions and other offerings that drive the cost up might be optional. Look at all the fees and extras you may opt into (or out of), then break your total down into a per-person, per-day cost. “Between $50 to $100 per person, per day would be a great deal,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief at CruiseCritic.com. “If you find that, snatch it.”
2. Be a (really) early bird
Cruise lines love having their manifests filled, and they’ll often make it worth your while to book well in advance—a year or more, if possible—by throwing in extras such as complimentary tips or even free airfare. Plus, you’ll get more say over your cabin size, style and placement.
3. Reduce your bar tab
Drinks are a major cruise expense. While many cruise lines restrict you to their booze, you may be allowed to bring your own soft drinks. Check with the cruise company for guidelines. Meanwhile, captains’ parties and art auction nights often provide complimentary drinks. And if you have leftover wine with dinner, ask the waiter if you can save it for the next night.
4. Save on spa treatments
You’re on a cruise—you want to be pampered. How can you get your massage and facial without paying top dollar? Try scheduling your spa visit for a port day. Some ships offer discounts when most passengers are off exploring.
5. Prevent expensive mishaps
A poorly timed blizzard or hurricane has scotched many a vacation. Brown suggests flying into port a day early to help ensure the elements don’t spoil your plans, even if it means paying for a hotel stay. “It costs a heck of a lot more if you miss your cruise,” Brown says. Don’t want to tack extra days on your vacation? Travel insurance is another way to buy protection—but often at a higher price (typically 4-8% of the total cost of your trip) than a night in a hotel.
6. Travel with a group
Gather your extended family or pull together a bunch of friends. Discounts vary by cruise line, but many cruise lines offer group incentives—for example, you might get a free berth if you book 16 people and eight cabins. You can also get group deals on spa services, excursions and more.
7. Get a member-exclusive discount on cruises
As an NEA member, you’re eligible for special discounts on cruise vacations. Plus, you can earn Travel Dollars when you book your cruise, and redeem them later on other travel purchases.