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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Budget Cruising 101

In case you haven't noticed, there are tons of cruise deals out there right now. Fall is the low season for cruising to many places, so if you keep your eyes open, you can find a rockin' deal that fits your budget. Now you can be the one that comes back home with a tan in the middle of January and make all your friends jealous of your globetrotting. While cruising seems like a luxurious and expensive endeavor, it can be really affordable if you know when to go, how to cruise and what to book where. Of course, cruise shopping is not always easy. With so many hidden fees, rates can look fabulous and then when you try to book, you end up looking at a not so reasonable total. If you’re like a lot of people, you give up and either don’t go at all or spend way too much because you aren’t informed. Let’s look at what’s included and what’s not.

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Entertainment. Almost all entertainment is free once on board. Unless you want to do something where you will win money, like bingo. All shows, trivia, lectures and movies are generally included in your price.
Gym. The exercise facilities are free of charge for everyone, as are the locker/shower rooms. Many exercise classes are also free, but some are not. If you have to sign up for a class, make sure you look to see if it requires payment.
Pools and hot tubs. Many cruisers spend the majority of their time out by the pool with a drink in their hand. While this can certainly be a fun way to spend your time, make sure you don’t imbibe too much (see non-inclusives) and get away from the pool to make more of your time.
Most food. Almost all your food is included in your cruise rate. All buffet and main dining room food is included in this. If you dine at one of the other restaurants that you have to make reservations for, you will use your "sign and sale card" and the cost of that meal will be added to your account to be paid at the end of the cruise. The same counts for the coffee shops where you can purchase pastries.
Some beverages. Unless otherwise specified, alcoholic beverages, sodas and some other specialty beverages are not included, while water, coffee and tea are. You can buy a soda card, which will give you unlimited soda, but it is extra from your cruise rate and you must buy it at the beginning of your cruise. You will usually also be charged at any of the coffee shops.

Port fees and taxes: This is a big one. The more ports you cruise into, the more fees you pay and each country has its own tax rates, so you can’t really estimate the totals. I like to assume a high rate and consider if I would go on the cruise if I were spending twice as much as the published price. This can happen with many cruises after taxes and fees are assessed. You can always Google port fees, too.
Some entertainment. Things like bingo, rock wall climbing and miniature golf can be extra charges to your account.
Spa use. The spa sounds awesome and relaxing, but prices can be much more than those on land, unless you reserve a time on port day, where they discount services.
Some exercise classes. Some exercise classes are free, while others incur a fee. These are generally what they consider the most popular classes, like pilates or spinning.
Shopping. Anything you purchase on the boat will be charged to your account.Internet. Internet fees can be horrendously high, but if you want to be connected, buy a package deal, as it'll be much cheaper than paying a la cart.
Land Excursions. The crew on your ship will do everything they can to get you to buy an excursion package once on board. Book through an independent company before you leave home and save up to 65% (and in some cases, even more).

So, what can you do to minimize costs on your cruise? 

  • Cruise in the off-season. Different cruise destinations have different peak seasons. Choose a destination that has an off-season that coincides with your vacation time.
  • You are allowed a case of soda or bottled water (on most cruises) per passenger. Bring your own and store them in your cabin fridge. 
  • As I said above, book your shore excursions before you leave home, through a reputable independent company and save a mint on them. More money for souvenirs and other sightseeing at your port city.
  • Avoid buying art and/or jewelry onboard, unless it's deeply discounted on one of the last days. Chances are, you can find the same thing on land for much cheaper. I'm talking about real jewelry, like gold and diamonds.
  • Find an internet cafe on land and pay a fraction of the cost as you will on the ship.
  • Get an inside cabin. If you're active, like we are, you will be so busy NOT being in your stateroom that you'll barely have time to enjoy the room anyway. Don't spend up to twice as much on a room with a view if you won't be in it longer than to change clothes and sleep.
  • Spend time going to free activities, instead of hanging out by the pool all day. Honestly, you are paying to have the crew entertain you, so go to karaoke, towel-folding classes, trivia and all those other fun sounding activities. Each day you'll get a schedule for the next day. Plan out what you want to do and maximize your time on the ship. Even if something sounds hokey, try it anyway and you might find you liked it.
  • Shop at "non-approved" stores in port. For the most part, these shops get a commission for each cruise passenger that buys from them. If you go just a few blocks away and shop "off the map", you can get much better deals. Of course, if you plan to shop for jewelry or other pricey items, make sure you get a certificate of authenticity and that your jewelry is stamped. 
Now, go forth and find the perfect cruise for you and spend your time packing and planning your excursion days. Do you have a favorite cruise experience?

Need more holiday travel tips? Check out my ebook for less than $1.00.

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