If you’ve been on a cruise, you know that though a cruise is considered all-inclusive, it isn’t truly all-inclusive. There are extra fees and charges for a long list of items including shore excursions, drinks (alcoholic, non-alcoholic), spa treatments and specialty restaurants. If the cruise line pushes you to use an extra-fee service, it’s likely one they make the most money from.
Should you book an onshore excursion through the cruise line or is it best to book a private excursion on your own?
You’ll most likely pay +20% more for the cruise-sanctioned excursion, however, if tour arrangements are difficult to plan, it’s best to stick with the cruise excursion. If you book your own excursion and are even a few minutes late getting back to port, you risk the real possibility that the ship will cruise without you. If it’s an excursion booked with the cruise line, the ship will wait for the tour if it’s late arriving back to port.
On the other hand, missing your ship’s departure can be a low risk since 3rd party vendors know the serious impact of arriving late back to ship. Some private tour companies even offer a guarantee that they’ll get you back to port and if not, they take care of getting you to your next port. Generally, if it’s just a tour of the area, book or hail a cab and split with others on the cruise. Be aware that when you pre-book your own tour and then the port of call changes or is canceled, you risk losing your deposit or full tour price.
Resist buying insurance offered through the cruise line. Though it may look to be a good value, you’re covered only while on the ship. There is no coverage during travel to and from your cruise, nor are airport transfers and trip cancellation included. Always get independent trip insurance. That third party insurance also ensures against cruise lines that go bankrupt.
Typically, merchandise sold on board is over-priced for its value. Examples include jewelry, watches, and art.
As for art auctions, one person’s observation in an online forum was that “Tarkay ‘originals’ sold through the onboard art auctions are not originals. They may be signed and may look like originals but they aren’t. I learned this through a museum curator who is furious about the ongoing deception.”
If you like using one of the onboard specialty restaurants, there are a few ways to save cover fees which can typically run $25 to $50+. If the restaurant is open for lunch, consider making your reservation then instead of for dinner. Some lines offer specialty dining packages. For instance, you can pre-reserve a package of specialty dining reservations making it less expensive than booking separately once on board. You can also receive special perks if you dine in a specialty restaurant on the first night of sailing.
Wine, liquor and water hacks
Finding ways to save on onboard beverages is always a cruise topic of interest. A few pointers:
Remember, the all-inclusive drink packages are not actually all-inclusive. Generally, plan on adding $20/day per person for gratuities, which is added to your bill. To receive true value when including the $20 tip, you’d need to spend $130/day in drinks (assuming 15% tip rate).
Many lines won’t permit just one person in the couple to sign up for the beverage package since they believe a couple is apt to share. So depending on the cruise line, if one of you is a drinker and the other isn’t, the all-in package won’t work.
If you opt to forego the drink package, keep an eye out for special drinks or Drink-of-the day pricing. Be aware of the drinks that include a glass to take home. There will be an added cost for that glass.
Various receptions or art auctions may offer complimentary drinks.
It’s less expensive to order bottles of wine to your room for sipping on through the day. A bottle costs less than ordering by the glass from the bar and it can be corked and kept in your refrigerator. For a nice afternoon glow and to make your wine go further, mix some soda water with white wine. Also, order a bottle of wine in the dining room at dinner, rather than ordering individual glasses. If you don’t drink the full bottle, it can be re-corked and returned to you at the table the next night.
Don’t succumb to ordering bottled water on board. The ship’s tap water is safe. Just pack a refillable bottle and use water straight from the tap. To avoid putting the lip of your water bottle on the tap, fill a glass with water and then transfer that water to the water bottle.
For more wine and liquor tips, read 7 Cruise Hacks: Wine and Liquor
Saving money on internet service is difficult. The most reasonable option is to connect only while in port. A few lines offer special pricing on packages when you first board. Generally, though it’s best to tell the kids and work that you’ll be disconnected during your cruise.
More saving suggestions
If you’re celebrating a special occasion, be sure to mention it when you reserve. Those celebrating are often invited to a special reception and will likely receive a free glass of bubbly. At the reception, you may also be entered into a draw for the chance to win a special gift. When you mention a special occasion, you’ll usually receive a cake with candles in the main dining room on the evening of your event.
Not all port stops are worth disembarking at. For me, if I go on another cruise that stops in Ochos Rios, Jamaica, I’d rather stay on board the ship! And on those days, when most everyone else is onshore, you can check for onboard special prices at bars, spas, and specialty restaurants.
Reserving a cruise
Single supplements are a thing of the past on some cruises. Several lines are jumping on board (sorry!) the trend of waiving extra costs for one person in a cabin. Or, cruise lines will take your single reservation and try to partner you with another person who is traveling single. This page lists cruises offering single cruise options.
To save on the overall cost of a cruise, look into repositioning cruises. We took one once from Vancouver to Los Angeles and thoroughly enjoyed stopping in lesser known, less touristy ports. One travel agent snowbird I know, books herself on transatlantic repositioning cruises to get to her place in Costa Rica every fall. She finds that the cruise is less expensive than the cost of flying from Canada to Costa Rica.
Cruises can be amazing! The end price you pay for extras can also be amazing! Try using a few of these money saving tips to save money on the extras and still have a fantastic cruise. Bon Voyage.