By Cindy Fletcher
A cruise on the open seas to an exotic location is the dream of a lifetime for many of us. For years my family and I talked about taking that cruise to Alaska and finally a friend of mine said, “This is it, we are going!” Since then we have been on other dream cruises and intend to do more cruising.
At Invest Better, Spend Smarter, we not only want you to have that dream cruise, or perhaps several of them, we want you to get the best deal so you have more smarter spending money while on that cruise.
There are two schools of thought on how to get the very best cruise deals. One says, do everything yourself and book plenty early. Another school of thought is this: If you don’t have children to consider and have a pretty flexible schedule, then sign up with a cruise agent or a travel site for notifications about last minute deals. Cruise lines will have cancellations, and an empty ship is not a profitable ship; one Spend Smarter way to cruise is getting those last minute deals and upgrades!!
There are also two schools of thought as to whether to use a travel agency to book your cruise, or to do it yourself. If you have never been cruising before, then use a Travel Agency that specializes in cruises for your first cruise. Find an agent that you can relate to, tell her what you can afford, and then tell her what you really want. If you can only afford an inside, lower deck room without a view, book that but let her know you really want an upper deck room with portholes or a balcony. A good cruise agent will keep her eyes open for possible upgrades. You pay for the small dark room, but might get the light airy one.
1. Research to get the cabin you want.
Even if you use an agent, find out the name of your ship, go to the cruise ship’s website, and look at the layout. Rooms that are closer to public areas will be noisier – there is no sense saving money on something that will ruin you cruise experience. However, if your ship is huge, you may want to book a room nearer to your favorite areas, such as the pool, buffet or kid’s club. Look at the schematic of the ship’s layout and plan where you would like to stay, and on which deck. The higher the deck level, the more expensive the room.
OR Don’t get too worried about the room.
I know we just talked about getting a great room, but if you are on the cruise for the full experience, you will only be in the room to sleep. Cruise ships have cruise directors, several of them, that put on all sorts of entertainment: exercise classes, musicals, movies, dancing, excursions, dance contests, magic shows, and the midnight buffet! Don’t spend money on a room you will barely spend any time in. Look at the same schematic and pick a mid-deck room, then use your saved money for shopping!!
2. Purchase your own plane tickets, not through the cruise line.
This way, you can control your flight schedule, save money and get a nonstop flight. If you purchase your airfare through the cruise line, then you’re at their mercy. To make sure an airline cancellation or delay doesn’t affect your sailing, arrive at your embarkation port early. Remember though, often if you do book your airfare through the cruise agency, it will also include transportation TO and FROM the cruise ship, so if you book flights yourself, you will also need to book a ride to where the ship is docked and back. Watch ticket prices with an alert such as FareCompare.com
3. Research land excursions.
Cruise lines like to promote shore excursions, but make sure to read the reviews on the cruise-affiliated excursions before you book them. The cruise line rarely operates the excursion company. Shore excursion companies are their own entities, so you can look them up and see what people say about them. Remember, those excursions sanctioned by the cruise lines have something to lose if they don’t perform well, they make their living off of happy cruisers referred by the cruise lines.
You can also find other excursions that may be less expensive but more to your taste. Like local history? Want to explore the undersea life extensively? Spend smarter!! Check sites like CruiseCritic.com and consult tour agencies for undiscovered gems with fewer visitors, unique activities and gorgeous photo ops—all for half the price. Nothing beats finding a way to both stretch your budget and escape the crowds.
4. Use those coupons the cruise line gives you!!
Deals and coupons can save 10% or more on shops once you are on shore, so bring them with you, and if you have the choice of lunch at a place where you have a coupon, or one where you don’t, consider using the coupon!! However, be careful of the cruise-sponsored gift shops, many of the shop owners closest to where the ships dock cater especially to cruise customers. Sometimes they are a good deal, but not always. If you have the time to walk a couple of blocks away from that convenient location, you could find a local shop that has better deals.
5. Use some of your savings for something special.
If you’ve been diligent about maximizing your savings on a cruise, then you can organize a private excursion for a truly memorable experience. For instance, a good travel expert can hire a private plane for a scenic flight to a world-famous reef for a day of scuba diving with a master before returning you to your ship with time to spare. Such a trip usually isn’t possible with the standard cruise ship itinerary. Check out TravelSociety.com; their travel professionals specialize in a wide range of locales and activities.
6. Bring Walkie-Talkies.
Activities directors are in place for the various age groups. Babies to toddlers have special areas. Elementary school age children have their own activities and areas. Pre-teens have different areas, and they will be less apt to want to participate in the family activities. If your children are pre-teen or older, having some freedom aboard ship is something they will enjoy, and so will you. If you bring walkie-talkies, you can keep in touch with the kids, while each of you does something you will enjoy. Keep in mind the kids will probably like the buffet much better than dressing up for dinner!!
7. Don’t go crazy with the excursions.
Staying on the ship when everyone else is off frantically running around on their shore excursions can be fun. You do want to book a couple of on land excursions, but from experience I can tell you that having the bartenders, and waiters, and the activities staff all to yourself is very nice!! So don’t worry that every spare minute isn’t booked. Part of cruising is the chance to relax.
With a little planning, cruise vacations can include really smart spending with very enjoyable experiences. By utilizing email alerts to watch for deals and taking the time to research things, you can organize a vacation that’s perfect for your family while staying within your budget.
P.S. Check out our earlier post on How to Have a Great Cruise for a few more tips.