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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tips for the First Time Cruiser

Cruising is unlike other travel. Most people book through a travel agent, because it’s so foreign and they are afraid of making a bad decision or getting a crappy deal. The thing is, you don’t need an agent, you just need to know-how to do it right, even if it’s your first time cruising. Unlike booking a hotel or a plane ticket, you’re stuck on the boat and in your cabin for three nights to three weeks (depending on your itinerary) and there’s really nothing you can do if you hate your boat or your room.

first time cruiser tips
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So, how do you figure it all out and still save money? It’s really not that difficult. You just need to do a bit of research and planning. This is the time to make sure to check out previous cruiser reviews.

How to Save Money

There are a lot of ways, big and little, that can help you save on your cruise. Some are no brainers (to me, anyway) and some are little known.
  • Book your cruise early. Unlike airfare, you can really save a lot of money if you book your cruise far in advance. I’m talking a year out, maybe more. Cruise lines lure you in with the promise of incentives like beverage packages, free gratuities, onboard credits, free upgrades and much reduced rates. 
  • Book your cruise late. If you don’t like to plan ahead (or that far out), look for last-minute cruise sales where you can get similar deals to early-booking. You may not get your first choice of cabin, but you’ll save big time on those that need to be filled before sailing.
  • Sail in the off season. When you can, choose off-peak times to cruise to get a better deal and possibly a less crowded ship. Obviously, prices are lower for the less desirable cruise times, like hurricane season (which rarely sees a hurricane).
  • Tip strategically. Most gratuities for services on the ship are included, which you’ll see on your receipt when you sign for them to charge them to your room. Unless your service was over the top outstanding, don’t double tip. In fact, if you go to check out your bill before debarkation and you feel like your gratuities are…uh…gratuitous, you can certainly dispute this to change them. And the reverse is also true if you want to add to your total.
  • Book your shore excursions separately. I can’t tell you how much cruise lines mark up excursions. They make tons of bank on people who either didn’t know they could book independently or were too lazy to do it. You can save an average of 50% by doing it yourself, even through the same companies that the cruise works with. Just make sure to check reviews to see what others had to say.
  • Book a package. If you know you’ll want to drink a ton of soda (or anything other than tea, water and coffee), purchase the beverage package and save yourself some bucks. If you want to spend time hitting up the specialty dining on your ship, look into the dining packages. You may save quite a bit by doing these instead of paying every time you decide to go “off menu”. 
  • Skip the spa or book on port days. You’ll probably be so busy doing other stuff on the ship that you won’t have time to get pampered at the spa, but if not, know that you may end up paying twice as much for services as you would on land. Prices drop significantly if you book when the ship is in port, since most people will be out and not interested in staying on the boat.
  • Save your drinking for port days. I know most people get super excited to sit by the pool and drink their days away. By doing this, you’re spening way more on booze than you need to. Instead, do other things on the boat and then drink for much less in port. If you must drink while cruising, here’s an article I did for Travelwise on how to do it cheaply or free.
  • Link your cruise card to cash instead of a credit card. This is a new tip I just learned. In order to combat overspending, which is super easy to do when you just hand over your stateroom card for everything, head to the purser’s desk and give them half of the cash you have allocated to spend onboard on the first day of your cruise instead of linking to your credit card. Halfway through, give them the other half of your cash. One, this eliminates the willy-nilly spending for things you don’t need. Two this allows you to have cash available for excursions instead going broke before your trip is over and
  • Book your next cruise while you’re on your cruise. This is more a tip for potential second cruisers, but you can do it while cruising for the first time. Cruise lines give deals to loyal cruisers with significant discounts, onboard credits and more.
Okay, so now that you know how to save on your actual cruise, you need to know how to pick a cruise. Well, like you must wait for the winner of The Voice…after the break…you’ll have to wait for my next post to learn more about how to be awesome at cruising.

If you've cruised previously, what are your best tips for saving on one?
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