We went on our first cruise in May and boy was it an amazing experience! We have seemed to steer away from cruises as we have heard all the horror stories about how expensive they can be, but just like any travel, if you are smart and plan things out you can make it really affordable. Here’s some tips we have to help save some money while traveling to several different countries. We spent roughly $1500 per person for 7 days, and that’s including airfare, the cruise, and all of our expenses off of the ship. Heres our guide on how to plan a cheap cruise.
Research Your Cruise & Watch the Price
We had decided we finally wanted to go on a cruise and were pretty flexible to when we wanted to go. We were planning for anytime roughly 3 months or more in advance. Then we decided we wanted to go to the Caribbean, as you can’t go wrong in that region. We looked at which ones seemed right for us: location and price-wise also. From what we were looking for, 7 day cruises in the Caribbean were ranging from 600-800$ and that was just for an inside stateroom. We looked everyday and noticed that prices would vary, so wanted to wait until we saw the lowest price.
Our diligence paid off as we were on Cruise Compete one day and saw the price for a cabin drop to $420/person! After taxes this came out to be roughly $520 per person. We were also guaranteed that it would be window room. The only stipulation was that we were not able to pick where the room would be located. That was something that did not bother us since we are pretty easy going in nature and aren’t too picky. Plus it was our first time cruising so we don’t have any room preferences to compare too!
When searching for cruises, be flexible in your bookings. If you see a price and don’t feel comfortable booking that price, wait a bit and see if it drops. What we noticed is there was a giant drop in price about 10-12 weeks out (which is when we were able to book) and then prices went back up again as the cruise date got closer. If you see a good price, get ready to jump on it because it could increase the very next day.
Just to compare how good of a deal we were able to get, our friends didn’t act fast to take advantage of the same deal we did and they had to pay a considerably larger amount than we did. Also, they didn’t even get a room with a window! They paid $700 after taxes and fees for an inside cabin. Based on that I say we came out ahead! When you are ready to book you cruise, make sure you do your research, there are plenty of sites you can find that will compare different prices. If you need a place to start looking for cruise prices, we used Cruise Compete to compare prices.
We also have found that the older ships tend to be a little cheaper because they dont have all the new and “fancy” updates. For our cruise itinerary we didn’t need a top of the line ship because we only had one day at sea. If you want to spend more time on the ship, the newer ones might be more comfortable but it comes at a price tag.
Alcohol: Bring your own (at your own risk)
Before we ever went on our first cruise we always heard the stories about how expensive the alcohol bill can get on the cruise. And its very easy to do as you don’t use a card and all your expenses just gets added to your room. Most cruise lines allow you to only bring on 1-2 bottles of wine or champagne per person and everything else is prohibited. This was a major concern to us, as we have heard from friends how they ended up with an alcohol bill in the high triple digits! After being on a cruise I can see how easily that can happen.
Luckily I was informed by one of my clients, (who goes on cruises regularly) that the same port we were going out of is extremely lenient on their alcohol policy. That helped ease our minds a little bit but not 100%. When it came to the day of the cruise, after we put our luggage on board we walked down the street to the CVS and bought a couple bottles of rum at 10 bucks a bottle and 2 bottles of champagne. We were nervous about the bottles of rum, so to be sure we got them on we talked to one of the “luggage runners”. You’ll see these guys running around similar to bellhops trying to hustle and carry your bags for you all the way up to security. We didn’t use them for our luggage because we wanted to save our money and were fully capable of carrying our own luggage. But we had a feeling they’d be more than willing to help us sneak our bottles on for the right price. We were correct as one of the luggage runners happily agreed to sneak both bottles on for us for 20 bucks total. We felt that was a fair price as a cocktail on board runs roughly $7-$10. IF you want to try this: Just remember to have a purse or backpack with you so they can carry it on, and bring some clothing to wrap the bottles so they don’t clink together.
Confident and happy that we got two liquor bottles across security we carried our champagne bottles with us in the plastic bags the store gave us. We watched closely to see what the security guards were doing when they checked the X-ray scanners, and noticed that they did not really pay close attention to the bottles at all, alerting us that they probably didn’t care if it was champagne or liquor. Knowing that we kind of regretted paying 20 bucks for a luggage runner to sneak our liquor bottles on.
So knowing what we now knew, we decided to test our luck and head off the ship to the CVS and purchase 2 more bottles in attempts to bring them on ourselves. We figured the worse that could have happened is they confiscated the bottles and given them back to us at the end of the trip… Well it was easy as 1-2-3 as we took it right through security with us no questions asked! So that’s how we saved a ‘cruise ship load’ of money on alcohol. With the bottles of champagne and rum, and paying the luggage runner our total alcohol bill for 7 days was roughly $70-80 total. And they provide free juice on board so we had access to mixers for free.
**Don’t take our word for this, as we cant guarantee this will work at all the cruise ports! Remember to try at your own risk as this was our experience at this one port, and every port could be different. But I imagine most luggage runners anywhere will be able to hook you up if you are willing as $$ goes a long way!***
If you choose not to bring on your own alcohol, but plan to drink a lot, buy the drink package. Do the math and figure out how many drinks a day you normally have. Drink packages can be expensive, but they are worth it if you plan on drinking a lot (including soda, specialty coffee, wine and beer). If you decide to purchase this, make sure you do ahead of time as it will save you some money. For example the Carnivals CHEERS program is $49.95 USD per person, per day plus 15% gratuity if you purchase prior to your cruise. Once onboard, the cost for CHEERS is $54.95 USD per person, per day plus 15% gratuity.
Bring a Water Bottle
We save a ton of money when we travel with water bottles in general. We are BIG water drinkers as we love to stay hydrated. One thing we hate while traveling is the stupid TSA rule of no liquids! Let’s be honest, they only have that rule so we have to buy their ridiculously over priced water from the airport. But ever since we started carrying our water bottles we save at least $10 bucks at each airport we go to because we just fill up our waters at the drinking fountain once we get through security. We have also noticed more airports are starting to make filling up water bottles much easier with the water fountains that are designed to easily fill up the you water bottles.
We also took advantage of this on the cruise, as they do sell bottled water on the cruise, but who wants to spend all that money on water?! Now I (Tip) am usually a stickler for great water when we are at home. I even go to Whole Foods and gets the high PH balance water but I will have to admit that the water on the cruise was very satisfactory! We saved so much money on just going up to the restaurants and filling up our water bottles with free water! We also filled them up before we left the ship so we wouldn’t have to buy water when we were off the ship. We know this might not be a big deal to everyone but for the water lovers out there like us it saves a lot of $$. It also gets you some great exercise walking up and down the stairs just for some water 🙂
Check You Sign and Sail Card Daily
If you have never been on a cruise before, then this most likely will be the first time you have heard the term “Sign and Sail Card”. Your Sign and Sail card is your everything while on a cruise. It’s your room key, source of payment, and the way you exit and board the ship. It is something you will carry at all times when you aren’t in your room. You’ll see lots of people wearing them on lanyards around their neck as that is a great way to keep track of it and provides easy access when you need to use it. We suggest bringing a lanyard from home unless you want to buy a cheaply made one from the vendors outside of the cruise ship.
Our biggest advice on the cards is to check the balance daily so that you can know how much you have spent. This will help you budget daily as its easy to spend money when you aren’t exchanging currency or using your credit card. Also be mindful that gratuity is usually added on a daily basis to your sign and sail card and you will be charged for this the day of debarkation. You will have the option to pay the gratuity part before you board the ship also. I believe it was roughly 12 bucks a day per person. So our gratuity bill at the end was roughly $170 between the both of us. Just something to keep in mind so you aren’t surprised at with the balance at the end. We checked out balance everyday and made sure there weren’t any major surprises the day before. (Just in case we might have gotten a little drunk and made some stupid purchases.)
**A fun video about our first cruise**
Plan 1-2 excursions in advance and then beach bum
Excursions! We would plan an excursion on every island, if we wanted to go broke! That’s why we only planned one excursion on our 5 island cruise. It was roughly 200 dollars total for our excursion with Spencer Ambrose Tours on St Lucia. We had a blast on our excursion and feel that they are worth every penny, but we definitely did not want to spend the money doing one on every island. So we did research on what types of excursions each one provided and decided on one excursion for our whole trip.
**For more info on our excursions make sure you check out our video of our time on St. Thomas **
On the other days we just decided to mostly beach bum and go with the flow. Of course we did our research on what beaches to visit and the best/cheapest transportation options. We did more than just visit beaches, we researched what the islands were known for and the best attractions and planned out the best ways to get to them. If you research the places you will be visiting, you can have a great time site seeing and relaxing without breaking the bank.
We really had a great time on our first cruise and we can’t wait to go on another one soon! There is plenty to see, do, eat and drink, but it all comes at a hefty price tag. When you are planning your next cruise, make sure you use some of these tips to save you some money on the cruise so you can truly enjoy your time!
Have you been on a cruise? What is your top tip for saving money on a cruise? Let us know below!