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I've been on 110 cruises. Here are my tips for getting the best value before and during your trip.

Robert Willett in white baseball cap and polo leaning on railing of a deck on a cruise next to image of crowded upper cruise deck with pools, lounge chairs, and a large movie screen at the top
I'm not against spending a little extra for special treats and excursions on a vacation, but there are definitely ways to stay on budget on a cruise.Robert Willett; Vintagepix/Shutterstock
  • I've been on 110 cruises and I've learned a lot of tips for saving money on this form of travel.

  • Skip the specialty meals, spa services, and excursions that can cost extra.

  • Don't forget to pack basics like sunscreen so you can avoid paying a premium for them on board.

I've been on 110 cruises in the past few decades, and I've learned some of the best ways to get a great deal before and during a trip.

Here are some of my best tips for saving money on a cruise.

Select a simpler cabin 

The lower the category of cabin you select, the less expensive it tends to be.

It might be even easier to downgrade your cabin if you're not planning to spend much time in your room or you're traveling somewhere chilly, like Alaska, where you anticipate you won't use a balcony much.

Or, if you mostly want a balcony for the views, consider choosing a cheaper room with an exterior window.

There's also nothing wrong with interior cabins, which tend to be the cheapest option. As a bonus, some cruise lines have virtual "windows" or "balconies" inside interior cabins that can give you the feeling of the real deal.

Reconsider the beverage packages— especially if some adults in your room don't drink much 

A beverage package can be a major expense and poor value unless you're really in a partying mood. In some cases, it might be cheaper to order your drinks à la carte and mix in some more affordable options.

Beverage packages can also be a waste of money if your room includes adults who don't drink much. On most cruise lines, all guests of legal drinking age in a stateroom must purchase a beverage package if one person does.

So if a deluxe beverage package on Royal Caribbean is about $78 a person each day and one person of legal drinking age in your room buys it, everyone else must as well. In that case, four adults sharing a room can easily spend over $2,000 for drinks alone on a seven-night cruise.

A set of drinks and cocktails on display.
Drink packages aren't always worth the cost on cruise ships.Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Don't book your excursions through the ship 

It's not a bad idea to book excursions to enjoy at each port, like scuba-diving expeditions or golf-cart tours, but keep in mind they can be pricier when you book them through the cruise line.

Many people book excursions through the cruise line because the ship must wait for individuals on its excursions to return. On the other hand, the ship can leave without you if you're on an independent excursion that runs late.

If you're looking to save money it might be worth finding other excursions at your port and hiring a cab service to transport you back to the ship. Remember that it's your responsibility to return to that ship on time.

Be careful when choosing which onboard activities to partake in — when in doubt, stick to the free ones

A vacation is a vacation but know what you're getting into as you have fun on the ship.

Cruises tend to have a lot of free activities on the ship, like trivia or concerts. They also have some activities or amenities that cost extra and may be tempting.

If you plan to gamble at the onboard casinos, consider giving yourself a strict budget before you start. Enjoy the free glass of sparkling wine at the ship's art auction, but remember that you might be better off buying art at home when you have more time to think and research.

Also consider skipping the onboard spa — I've found many services at sea can cost double what they might on land. If you plan to treat yourself to a massage or haircut, just factor it into your budget ahead of time.

Skip the specialty food and restaurants

A cruise's price tag often includes a bunch of complimentary meals and some smaller bites. But many ships come with add-ons like specialty coffees, sundaes, and baked goods that can add up.

If you plan to buy extra goodies, you may want to check your room's bill on the TV or at the guest-relations desk mid-cruise to see where you stand with your budget.

Many ships also have restaurants that cost extra to dine at — they can be pretty tempting with hibachi-style specials or Italian dinners, but skipping them is an easy way to save the $60 to $80 a bonus meal might cost you.

cruise buffet
Cruises tend to have a lot of variety when it comes to food, so it's easy to avoid specialty restaurants.Salvador Aznar/Shutterstock

Pack carefully to avoid overpaying for essentials

If you forget to pack sunscreen you can buy some on your cruise ship, but you'll likely end up paying way more than you would've on land.

Shops on cruise ships can have a lot of overpriced items, so carefully pack your toiletries and over-the-counter meds so you won't be forced to buy basic necessities on board at premium prices.

I try to skip the onboard shops unless I want a special souvenir with the cruise line's logo or ship's name.

Snap your own photos 

Staff photographers often roam cruise ships – especially the dining areas on formal nights — but a single photograph from them can cost upwards of $22. You might be shelling out hundreds of dollars if you want to purchase a photo package.

Instead, do your own photo shoots with your camera (or phone). You can also ask your server to snap a quick photo of you and your dining mates or ask fellow cruisers.

Sometimes frequent cruises are offered a free professional photo as a perk, but remember that might lead to the temptation to buy "just one more" since the first was free.

This story was originally published on August 7, 2023, and most recently updated on February 13, 2024.

Read the original article on Business Insider