Bon voyage! Cruising is a great way to enjoy a vacation while letting someone else (the Captain, cruise director, and staff) take care of getting you around and planning fun activities. Cruising can be as budget-friendly as it is enjoyable, especially if you find ways to save money on a cruise before you book and once you are onboard.
You can save money on a cruise by booking a less expensive trip (older ship, during the off-season, interior or small room) and by taking advantage of savings through drink and food packages. If you are an enthusiastic cruiser, consider booking a follow-on trip during your cruise to get an additional discount. You can also sign up for the cruise line’s rewards programs to earn savings and free extras in the future.
- How To Save Money On A Cruise?
- Budgeting For A Cruise
- Final Thoughts
- Related Guides
How To Save Money On A Cruise?
There are plenty of ways to make cruising work for your budget. Some tips help you save money before you depart, while others are great ideas to help maximize your spending power while onboard.
Before You Book Your Cruise
You can start saving money on a cruise before you even book your trip. Look for special deals like Buy-One-Get-One specials or free upgrade packages.
Many cruise lines offer them throughout the year and they can apply to future cruises that you book. Sign up for cruise line email newsletters to be notified of these promotions.
You might also be able to get a special discount, such as military personnel or first responders. You will probably need to call the cruise line or work with a travel agent to get these discounts added to your booking since they require that you verify your status.
Travel discount sites like Expedia, Kayak, and Travelocity can also help you connect with discounts on your cruise. They are particularly great for getting the best deal on a total vacation package, including airfare, rental car, and hotel stays for the day leading up to your cruise departure.
There are three big factors that will determine how much your cruise costs. Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives for each that can make cruising very affordable.
New Ships Cost More
The newest ships from each cruise line often have the latest and greatest attractions. This can include an onboard theme park, surfing waves, and luxury dining. If this sounds like a dream come true, many cruise travelers will agree with you! This also drives the price up for the newest ships in the fleet.
But that doesn’t mean that the older ships are suddenly floating rust buckets. Older ships are still luxurious and relaxing, as well as staffed by world-class entertainers, chefs, and performers.
Look for cheaper fares on older ships. This is a great way to save money while still getting the cruise experience. You can often find more availability on older ships as well.
Peak Times Are Expensive
Just like any vacation destination, going during the busiest peak times (summer and holidays) is more expensive. Anytime that people have time away from work and kids have time off school will be busier and cost more.
Look for a cruise that departs during the week in the fall or spring for the best savings. Just be sure to avoid spring break weeks, which can get too expensive and wild for many cruise enthusiasts.
If you are worried about hurricane season (usually May through November in the Atlantic), you can sail smoothly knowing that the cruise ship mariners know how to avoid hurricanes and keep you safe.
Book A Smaller Cabin
Getting a cabin with a balcony that overlooks the ocean is amazing but comes with a hefty price tag. Inside cabins can cut your costs in half. If you plan to spend more time taking advantage of the activities and entertainment onboard rather than sleeping in your cabin, choosing a less expensive cabin can free up room in your budget for excursions.
Getting To Your Cruise Destination
Depending on where you live and where your cruise departs, you might need to add in extra travel costs and time. If possible, drive to the cruise terminal to save on airfare.
If you are able to arrive on cruise day, you can also save on hotel accommodations. Just make sure that you will arrive with plenty of time before the ship’s scheduled departure.
While many cruise ships in the United States operate in Florida, you can also find cruise lines in New Jersey, Alaska, Washington, and other coastal cities. Some are seasonal but it never hurts to look around for the best deals. They might be closer than you think!
Budget-Friendly Dining On A Cruise
There are plenty of ways to spend money on food and drinks on a cruise. The most exclusive restaurants cost extra, as do all alcoholic and specialty drinks. While splurging just once won’t blow your budget, if you spend on these extras a lot, consider purchasing a package that can save you money.
Some of the most popular packages on cruise ships are the drink package options. The exact offerings will depend on the cruise line and the ship, but most have wine options, bar options, and dinner drink options for your meals.
You will pay for these packages upfront and then enjoy “free” drinks within your package for your entire cruise. Similar options might also exist for spa packages and entertainment or casino packages, depending on your cruise line.
Save Money On Cruise Excursions
You can book a shore excursion through your cruise line but these are usually the most expensive option. Booking through a third-party company locally can save money and offer a unique experience. If you would rather leave the planning and coordination to the cruise staff, think about booking your shore excursions in advance.
You can enjoy discounts and savings if you book ahead of setting sail. You can also take advantage of onboard credits through your loyalty program or credit card rewards for additional savings on excursions.
Budgeting For A Cruise
It can be tempting to let your spending run wild on a cruise ship once onboard, so having a budget before you go will help keep this temptation in check. It also prevents you from needing to deal with a huge bill after your relaxing vacation is over.
Costs Of A Cruise
How much does a cruise actually cost? It will depend on the cruise line when you book, and what you book, but most cruises cost between $250 and $3,000 (or more) per person.
Here are some typical costs associated with a cruise that you should plan for:
- Booking your cruise: $75 – $100 per day
- Getting to your cruise: $50 – $400 depending on your travel
- Hotel before set sail day: $100 – $200
- Drinks and specialty dining: $50 – $500
- Shore excursions: $50 – $250 per excursion
- Gratuity: Around $100 per person
Shorter cruises cost less than longer ones. When you book a cruise, you will pay for the entire trip not just per day.
Food and non-alcoholic drinks are included in the cost, as well as your sleeping cabin. You have access to all of the main parts of the ship, such as pools, lounges, and gyms.
There are a few extras that you can pay for onboard or purchase before you set sail (sometimes getting a discount). These can include spa treatments, luxury dining experiences, special events and performances, and drink packages.
The Most Budget-Friendly Cruise Lines
All major cruise lines offer discounted pricing throughout the year that can really save money. By booking a shorter cruise, going with an older ship, and avoiding peak vacation times, you can also get a great deal on a cruise.
Here are major cruise lines to consider when booking your next vacation.
- Carnival Cruise Line
- Princess Cruise Line
- Royal Caribbean
- Disney Cruises
- Celebrity Cruises
- Viking River Cruises
- Norweigan Cruise Line
To be the first to learn about specials and discounts, sign up for the cruise line’s email newsletter. You can also see if your bank offers a credit card that will allow you to earn points to apply to a future cruise. Royal Caribbean is a good example of this service.
How Much Money Should You Save For A Cruise?
This will depend on what you plan to do and how much your booking costs. You should save up at least the amount needed to book the cruise. There is nothing worse after a fun vacation than having to pay off a hefty credit card bill when you get home.
It’s also a good idea to save some extra money to spend on your cruise. If you decide to get pampered at the spa, go to a special dinner, or book an excursion, you will have the money set aside to do so. Just make sure that you keep track of your spending.
When you buy things on a cruise, whether it is booking a service or paying for a cocktail, it will be charged to your room. If you are not careful, these costs can really add up.
What Is The Cheapest Month To Go On A Cruise?
The cheapest times to go on a cruise are January, September, and October. People are often returning home from holiday travel in January, making them less likely to book a cruise.
Late summer and early fall cruises tend to be less crowded and cheaper due to hurricane season and schools being back in session. Fortunately, cruise crews are very knowledgeable and experienced in avoiding most hurricanes.
Planning Your Next Cruise
Did you know that many cruise lines offer discounts for passengers who book another cruise before they depart? These savings can be quite significant and you can also get extra perks like drink packages or upgrades.
You can commit to a particular travel time or book a cruise for an unspecified date in the future. As long as you book your trip within that window, you can enjoy the discount.
You do need to pay for your next cruise before you depart. But if you love cruising and know that you’ll want to take another voyage, you may as well book it and rake in the savings.
Many cruise lines also offer rewards and loyalty programs. These are almost always free to participate in and allow you to accumulate points toward future upgrades and free extras.
You will need to keep your cruising to one cruise line to get the most from these loyalty programs. Once you find a cruise line that you love, becoming a loyalty program member is a great free way to make the most of your experience.
Booking a budget-friendly cruise can get you sailing without dealing with a hefty bill. The ways to save before the trip (booking a shorter trip on an older ship during the off-season or opting for a smaller inside cabin) can result in big-time savings.
Purchasing a drink or food package (or spa package for ultimate relaxation) might also save money if you plan to partake in these activities a lot while onboard or during shore excursions. If you are a frequent cruiser, join a cruise line loyalty program or book your next trip while on your current cruise to get savings and exclusive offers.
Katie is an experienced writer, who wrote for big magazines like The Spruce. She is also a mom of three (Sebastian, Lincoln, and Hannah). In her spare time, she likes to read, day hike, and explore hidden gems around her home in North Carolina. You can connect with Katie on Instagram @katiebwriter or her website, www.katiemelynnbegley.com.