Going on a cruise doesn’t have to break the bank. Gone are the days of saving a cruise for honeymoon or retirement. Holidays at sea are exceptional value: you don’t have to put your hand in your pocket for meals, childcare or entertainment – and if you’re smart, or book through a knowledgeable specialist travel agent, you can save all over the board.
Remember to check what the price of your chosen cruise includes. What may seem incredibly expensive can include everything from flights to drinks, crew tips, excursions and even a taxi to the airport. A “bargain” might be the bare minimum, so you’ll need to plan for everything alongside meals and entertainment.
Here are ten tips to help you get the most out of your next cruise.
Main photo: Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas in Labadee, Haiti (Alamy)
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1. Go all inclusive
If you’re likely to enjoy a few cocktails and don’t want to worry about how much to tip the crew, consider an all-inclusive cruise. More and more lines are running this route and it really makes for a more relaxing holiday.
Luxury lines like Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Seabourn have always included everything from drinks to specialty restaurant expenses, WiFi and crew tips. But you don’t have to shell out for ultra-luxury to enjoy a few perks. Marella Cruises* has all-inclusive pricing, while NCL offers the option to upgrade to a Free at Sea package (not really free as you pay £149 per person for a seven-night cruise, including drinks, tips and WLAN and specialty restaurant). Celebrity also offers the option to upgrade to all-inclusive fares at the time of booking, while Princess Cruises* charges £40 per person per day for drinks, crew tips and Wi-Fi.
Say you sip a few cocktails, some wine with meals, used the internet, and had tipped the crew (approx if you look at the last tab of the bar.
2. Look for upgrade offers
Specialized cruise agents or the shipping companies themselves often come up with campaigns that promise cabin upgrades. If you can pay for an inside cabin (a cabin with no windows) and upgrade to a balcony cabin, that’s a big deal worth pursuing as it could be worth a price difference of several hundred pounds. Other upgrade offers can include everything from complimentary drink packages to included crew tips, onboard credit or, for UK cruises, port parking.
3. Choose your cabin carefully
If you are traveling as a family, consider the cabin arrangements. Most decent balcony cabins come with a sofa bed or an extra bunk that folds down from the ceiling. So it is quite possible to save with two adults and two children in one cabin. Some lines, including Disney Cruises, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Carnival, even have five-person cabins. If not sharing with your children is important to you, book a balcony stateroom for the adults and an inside stateroom across the corridor for the children.
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4. Book a repositioning cruise
Repositioning cruises are those where cruise ships move from one sailing area, such as the Caribbean, to another, such as the Mediterranean, as the seasons change. These trips are generally less popular as they have fewer stops – for example you could sail from Fort Lauderdale to Malaga with a stop in the Caribbean and a day in the Azores and Canary Islands.
Why bother? Because this is a chance to experience a luxurious ship at reduced prices. A serious luxury line like Silversea would normally cost upwards of £550 per person per day (including absolutely everything from flights to drinks and excursions), but you can indulge in sheer luxury on a 14-day Atlantic crossing for well under £400 per day wallow .
5. Travel in the off-season
The boundaries of the seasons are becoming increasingly blurred, and there are bargains to be had in quieter times. You can now navigate the Mediterranean from March to November, with some lines, Viking for example, operating all winter, a fantastic time to enjoy museums and galleries with fewer crowds.
Further afield, ships sail the Caribbean all summer long, even though it’s hurricane season and there may be more rain. Understandably, this is a cheaper time to travel. As hurricanes roll through, ships adjust their routes to avoid the worst, meaning you may have to skip ports. Target the extreme south and east of the Caribbean where hurricanes are less likely – islands like Barbados, St. Lucia, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
6. Book early – or book late
Book early—at least a year in advance—and you’ll have better cabin choices, as well as early-bird discounts. For obvious reasons, cruise lines encourage and often reward early booking. If you are flexible, you can risk and make a bargain up to the last minute. If that’s your strategy, given the current problems with flying in Europe, you’d be better off looking for a deal that includes a flight. The added benefit of this is that you are protected by the agent or operator’s atol bond should anything go wrong.
7. Pace yourself with trips
Cruise lines want you to book their excursions in each port. But that can be exhausting and expensive; There are very few itineraries that really require you to join a guided tour every day. Many ports, especially in Europe, are easy to explore on your own: Venice, Santorini, Stockholm, Dubrovnik, Lisbon and Valletta, for example.
So mix it up. In a port where you’re miles from the action – Florence, for example, is a good hour and a half’s drive from the port of Livorno – it can be worth booking a tour, not least because the ship won’t wait if you’re late back unless you are participating in one of the official excursions.
Otherwise be creative. Hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses often stop at the cruise port. In the Caribbean, hail a taxi to take you to a beach not on the cruise itinerary, and arrange a pickup time and fare in advance.
If you prefer a guided tour, see if you can beat the cruise line’s offer. Venture Ashore offers independent excursions in more than 100 ports, timed to coincide with cruise ship calls.
Alternatively, you can book a cruise with shore excursions. Silversea, Regent, Emerald and Viking do this, as do most river cruise operators.
8. Grab some spa promotions
Cruise ship spas tend to be very expensive. On days at sea – when you’re not in port – the spa will be busy, but on port days when everyone’s gone on tour there are often bargains to be found. Wellness offers can be found in the daily program. Provided you’re willing to board a little earlier or disembark a little later, you can snag hefty discounts on facials and massages.
9. Avoid the Wi-Fi trap
Unless it’s included, Wi-Fi on cruise lines is always expensive and rarely fast (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are exceptions, as they invest more in bandwidth). If you’re cruising in Europe, it’s much better to buy a roaming plan from your mobile operator or to connect to free WiFi in port. Always switch to airplane mode when the ship is sailing or you could run up horrendous bills once your phone finds the maritime satellite network.
10. Skip the onboard seminars
Many onboard spa promotions are designed to separate you from your money. The worst rip-off are “seminars” that promise the secrets of weight loss or posture improvement. These almost always end with a hard sell on products ranging from herbal detox plans to thigh-shrinking body wraps or insoles for your shoes. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Check out our sister publication Times Money Mentor for more money-saving tips
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