This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure here.
Yesterday I shared my best tips about how to save on cruises. After you get a great deal on the trip you don’t want to end up blowing tons on all the little things they aren’t part of your “all-inclusive” vacation. So today I’m going to share more tips on how to cut onboard cruise costs!
How to Cut Onboard Cruise Costs
Only get drink packages when they’re on sale
Every ship line has their own “all-inclusive” drink plan. Some are just for soda and others include alcoholic drinks, too. To come out ahead on the alcoholic plans, they require drinking 6 cocktails per day. While some folks might be able to hit that, most of us would like to remember our cruise, so skip the beverage plan and grab a drink occasionally. Most are priced $6.95 or less if you buy individually versus the $50+ cost of the drink card per day. The soda plans can be a “deal” if you love to only drink soda, but you’ll have enough calories with the all-night buffets, so skipping soda might be a great idea. (Note: You can get these packages for free with some booking incentives. Then and only then are they a deal!)
One more tip: Go ahead and get a bottle of wine rather than the glass. If you don’t finish it they will re-cork it for you and save it. Most ships will let you then request that bottle another night and even in another restaurant.
Bring your own drinks
Many ships allow you to bring any soda, water, or wine on board as long as it’s unopened. If you consume it in your room, there is no charge; however, if you take the wine to a public dining area then they will charge a corkage fee. If you want something special in your room, this is a huge savings over the cost on the ship (plus gratuity). If you want an occasional soda, pack some to bring along or grab some at ports of call. (To give you an idea on cost, a six pack of Coke is $12 on Carnival ships and a bottle of Barefoot wine is $30. In the store these are around $2.50 and $5 respectively.)
Make sure to check with your line what the bring on board alcohol limits are. For our recent Holland America cruise it was one 750 mL bottle per adult that wasn’t charged a corkage fee. Any other bottles brought on were an $18 charge.
Bring your own toys
While you are packing a bottle of wine, also think about packing a snorkel or other play items for the beach days. Most cruise lines do require that you wear a snorkel vest, too, so if you only bring the mask, expect to pay around $10 for the vest rental. Having your own gear saves you a chunk!
If you’ve never sailed before don’t panic, once you unpack they take your luggage and store it for you until the last night of cruise so pack all the bags you want!
Skip the land and air packages
The only benefit of grabbing land and air through a cruise line is convenience. You will save a ton by handling your own hotel arrangements and transportation. The last cruise my husband and I went on left out of Miami. We had eight hours until our flight after the ship docked, so we rented a car and toured Vizcaya. The cost for the rental and admission was cheaper than paying for their motor-coach transfer to the airport, and we didn’t have to sit in the airport for 6 hours!
Be your own photographer
Avoid the ship photos at all cost! You would never pay $20 for an 8×10 at home, so grab a stranger and ask them to take a group photo from time to time on formal nights. We see deals on free 8×10 prints all the time or pay full price and get it for $1.99 at your local drugstore.
Don’t use the Internet on board
Skip the Internet costs completely on board the ship. Most ports have cell service so you can connect as soon as you dock, and you may also find you have service when the ship is within sight of land. If you don’t get service in that area, then look for local free WiFi spots or even Internet cafes. If you can’t avoid getting online or actually have to work while on vacation, then grab the package plans so that you pay less per minute. Still, expect to pay between 50¢ to $1 per minute.
Tip: If you know you’ll need the minutes, many lines offer discounted plans if you sign up before you sail or on embarkation day.
Book your own excursions
In most cities, you can look up the ship activity ideas and find your own from similar (if not the same) companies a little cheaper. This is still tourist-based, so plan to pay more for activities than you normally would at home, but there is a savings if you book them yourself. If you want to go off the beaten path, then head to the library and do some research on things to do in each port of call. Many times, getting away from the tourist traps is also a lot more fun.
Important Tip: On your itinerary it will say whether your boat will need a tender at a port of call. It’s not wise to book ahead of time on your own for excursions at these ports. If the seas are rough your boat will not stop or be able to run the tenders and you will lose your money. (This is the only benefit of booking through the cruise line as they would reimburse you for any excursions you missed).
Book special dining or spa treatments on the first day
If you want to try out one of the ship’s specialty restaurants (which aren’t included in your room) or want to treat yourself at the spa, most ships offer great discounts on embarkation day. You’ll find up to 30% off spa services and sometimes BOGO dinner options at restaurants. Keep in mind these can be booked in advance before boarding, so if you want the discount, don’t wait until that day. Other discount days to catch are while you are in a port of call.
Tip: If you can’t decide what night to plan a specialty dinner, the menu for the main dining area is made before you sale for the entire cruise and copies are available at the purser’s office.
Save on parking
Tacking on an additional $7-$10 per day to park your car adds up quickly. There are deals on parking if you watch Groupon or other deals sites. You will also great much lower prices booking early for a certain lot rather than planning to find a spot that day. If you stay the night in a hotel before embarking, see if your hotel offers a stay-and-park rate to just leave your car at the hotel and take a shuttle to the port.
See if the tip is included
On 99% of the ships, everything you purchase already has tip added in; however, you’ll still see a line to fill in a tip on the receipt. Make sure to note whether you have already paid the tip so you aren’t double tipping! At 18% that can be a very costly mistake. If you want to reward great service then you can add on more, but it’s not expected or required. The tip for your cabin staff is also already included on your final bill, but if you want to change the percentage you can go to the pursers office anytime during the cruise.
Pack Like Your Grandmother
Seriously. Anything you forget or end up needing is going to cost an arm and a leg in the ships specialty shops. Pack a mini medicine cabinet, bring the sunscreen (even in Alaska). Pack layered clothing as it’s chilly in the evening when the ship is at top speed. If you do forget something try to wait till a port day. Tums (or Rennies depending on where you are) are much cheap on shore no matter the country!
Tip: If you are traveling with young kids, you’ll find nothing they need in the shops so don’t forget the diaper rash cream… a personal lesson learned.
Have any tips to cut onboard cruise costs? Let us know in the comments!