A cruise is often seen as a luxury travel option. And in many ways, it is, with formal nights, five-course gala dinners and an attentive crew who will do everything they can to make sure that guests’ every desire are catered to. But it’s also possible to do cruising on a budget…
But a cruise can also be a fantastic budget holiday option. In many cases, a cruise can actually work out cheaper than a package holiday abroad or even a UK city break.
If you’ve always fancied a cruise, but haven’t been sure if you can afford it, read on for my top tips for cruising on a budget.
1. Know exactly what’s included in a cruise
One of the reasons why cruises can seem expensive at first glance is that so much is included in the price. If you add up the value of everything that you get with a cruise ticket, it will become apparent that you won’t need money for much else after the initial cost of the cruise.
However, exactly what’s included in a cruise can vary quite a lot and it’s not always obvious, so be sure to find out before you part with any money to avoid any unexpected surprises.
For example, at the end of your cruise, you may be presented with a bill of a few hundred dollars (or pounds or Euros, depending on the ship) for gratuities. If you don’t know this is coming, it could be a shock.
All cruises include:
- Accommodation on the ship
- Meals and snacks
Some cruises also include:
- Water, soft drinks, tea and coffee
- Alcoholic drinks
- Room service
- Tips (also known as gratuities)
The variation in what’s included can make it tricky to compare the prices of different cruises. For example, a cruise with Celebrity Cruises would include everything on the above list, whereas on a cheaper cruise with Costa Cruises you’d have to pay extra for everything..
Cruise lines always have a special offer to entice people to book. As soon as one offer ends, another will start.
Some of the special offers are discounts, but others give you free added extras like dining in speciality restaurants, free excursions, free drinks or money to spend on-board the ship. Taking advantage of promotion can make your cruise even better value for money.
2. Work out your budget
To work out the total cost of a cruise, you’ll also want to factor in everything else that you’ll spend on the trip.
Things not included in your cruise ticket might include:
- A pre-cruise hotel stay
- Taxi transfers to the port
- Spa services
- Speciality dining
- Drinks, tips and wifi (for some cruises)
When browsing for cruises, you’ll want to factor in all of these things to work out how much you expect to spend in total.
A cruise can be easier to budget for if you pay for it in monthly instalments, particularly if you book at least 12 months in advance.
Some cruise lines give you the option to set up regular monthly payments when you book, as do some travel agents. A third option would be to pay for your cruise on an interest-free credit card and set up a direct debit to pay it off each month.
3. Avoid flying if possible
The best way to slash the overall cost of your cruise by as much as 50% is to cruise from your local port, rather than flying. With an exotic cruise, the airfare can easily cost as much as the cruise, but unless you have your heart set on a faraway destination, there’s no need to fly.
Most cruises from the UK depart from Southampton, and from here you can cruise all over Europe including Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and the Canary Isles.
It takes around two weeks for a cruise ship to sail from the UK to Italy and back. If you only have one week for your cruise but want to make the most of the weather on the continent, you could take a cheap flight to Barcelona and join your ship there.
4. Choose a budget cruise line
There’s a huge variation in the price of cruising with different cruise lines. If you’re cruising on a budget, then three cruise lines you should consider are:
- Costa Cruises
- MSC Cruises
- P&O Cruises.
Cruising on a budget is nothing like a budget hotel. Whatever price you pay, you can expect that your ship will always be spotlessly clean, safe, well-maintained and that the service will be excellent.
Cheaper cruise lines may not have all of the ‘wow’ facilities like go-kart tracks, high ropes courses and laser tag. But you can still find things like swimming pools, water slides and fantastic evening entertainment.
5. Choose a smaller ship
When cruise lines launch new ships, they’re usually bigger and better than the ones that have gone before. Regular cruisers get very excited about new ships and are willing to pay a premium to secure their place on board.
While some people may feel that it’s worth it to spend hundreds of dollars extra to cruise on the biggest ships, for many people it’s just not worth it.
If you’re not going to be constantly whizzing down slides, climbing up rock walls and jumping up and down on virtual-reality trampolines, then why pay extra for a cruise that includes all those things?
All cruise ships are thoroughly refurbished every three years, so they never look tired. And some of the smaller ships have a unique charm in addition to being more budget-friendly.
6. Don’t waste money on a balcony
A common mistake is to assume that you need to have a balcony cabin when you cruise. You really don’t and it could actually be a huge waste of money.
Choosing a windowless inside cabin could be half the price of a room with a balcony. So think carefully about how much value you place on being able to step onto your balcony, compared with going up a couple of flights of stairs onto the open deck.
For some destinations such as the Norwegian Fjords, a balcony cabin is well worth the upgrade as you won’t want to miss a minute of the beautiful scenery. Likewise, if you suffer from claustrophobia, an inside cabin would be a no-go.
But for many cruisers, opting for a windowless room is a great way to make a cruise affordable when cruising on a budget.
7. Use your drinks allowance
When you take a cruise you’ll have the option to pay for each drink or to buy a drinks package which gives you unlimited drinks for a set price for your cruise.
When considering whether the drinks package is worth it or if you’d be better to pay for your drinks individually, you should also look up the policy on whether you can bring your own alcohol on-board.
Most cruise lines allow each passenger to bring a bottle of wine to drink in their cabin. P&O Cruises is the most generous cruise line, allowing you to bring a litre of spirits and unlimited soft drinks when you board the ship. Doing this could save you hundreds versus the cost of buying drinks from the bar.
There are cruise lines, however, that prohibit you from bringing any drinks on-board with you, even water, so be sure to check what the policy is for your cruise.
8. Look out for deals
To get the best deal on a cruise, it’s often wise to bide your time and let the deals come to you. The way to do this is to sign up to the email newsletters and turn on social media notifications for several cruise lines and cruise travel agents.
Every day, deals will be posted on Facebook and emailed out to prospective cruisers, you just need to wait for the right one to come along.
Cruise line promotions change approximately every month, so if the current deal is for free drinks packages, but you don’t drink alcohol, then you’ll just need to wait until a more suitable offer is released. Flash sales are also common, lasting anywhere from 24 hours to one week.
Cruise travel agents have sales targets to meet, so if they need to sell a particular number of cabins to get a bonus payment from the cruise line, you might find that they’re willing to sell cheap cabins for cost price, or even less, at certain times of the year.
9. Take advantage of cheap kids’ prices
If you’re planning your first cruise as a family, then it may come as a shock to learn that kids are charged the full adult fare.
This is justified because the amount of entertainment and activities that are offered for kids is incredible. The youth team would look after your kids from around 9 am until around 10 pm every day (with breaks for meals) if you wanted them to.
However, you don’t need to pay full price for kids if you look out for ‘kids cruise free offers’.
Usually, the ‘kids sail free’ cruises coincide with the times when kids should be at school. However, as every school has a slightly different timetable, there are usually a couple of weeks of the year where your kids are out of school, but, according to the cruise line’s calendar, they should be in school. This is the perfect week to take a family cruise!
A cruise holiday is a great option for couples, families and solo travellers who want to explore more of the world on a budget. I hope that this list of tips will show that cruising can offer excellent value for money and give you some insights as to how you can cruise for less than you might have thought.
Author Bio: Jenni Fielding is a British mum of two and founder of the family cruise blog CruiseMummy.co.uk. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and loves to make her budget stretch to as many cruises as possible.
Want to read more cruise content? Check out my content when travelling with Princess Cruises, or Celebrity Cruises.
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