Awesome Tips Traveler's Toolbox
Floating out at sea from one breathtaking destination to another may sound like a dream come true. But if you simply buy your tickets and hop aboard a cruise expecting a low-cost vacation, you may be amazed at how quickly the costs add up. Smart cruising requires tips and tricks that are different from all other types of travel, but if you follow them correctly, you can return home relaxed, refreshed and right on budget.
Although websites like Last Minute Cruises try to portray that you’ll get the best price on your cruise by waiting until the last minute to book, booking ahead of time is almost always the budget-friendly option. Cruise lines want to fill their cabins early, so they’ll offer the best deals on the best cabins to buyers who plan ahead. Whenever possible, book your cruise six months ahead of the time you plan to travel.
This tip is especially useful for travelers with kids, but adult-only groups can benefit from daily allowances too. Give each person a set amount of money to spend each day and only make exceptions if needed. So many cruise activities, snacks and drinks cost additional money, and an allowance is a great way for everyone to budget the activities and extras they want to try. Remind kids that if they don’t spend their allowance one day, they’ll have twice as much to spend the next.
Booking on-land excursions through the cruise company can end up being much more costly than if you make the arrangements yourself. If you’d like to take a guided tour or need transportation at one of the ports, plan ahead by researching your options and prices online. You’ll probably notice that the cost of booking by yourself is roughly half of what the cruise line is offering.
Many cruise lines now have wireless internet access and great cellphone reception, but WiFi access is often costly and your cell carrier will tack on roaming charges at an unbelievably rapid rate. Bring walkie talkies onboard with you, so you can contact your loved ones for meeting times, activities and other needs.
Checkout time can be a nightmare on cruise lines, but you can be much more efficient by asking for a copy of your bill the day before you leave. You’ll still have to pay a final bill when leaving, but you’ll be able to assess all of the charges and raise any complaints before you’re standing in line with all of the other cruise customers.
Flexible travelers have the ability to save big on cruises by heading out to sea at less popular times. Caribbean cruises drop drastically in price during hurricane season and in late fall (although cruises can easily change paths if storms are present), and Mediterranean cruises get much cheaper when the weather starts to cool down. Similarly, take your cruise to Alaska in May when the temperatures are just heating up, and the crowds are still minimal.
The latest and greatest cruise lines come with higher price tags, but older boats offer plenty of amenities and a much more desirable nightly rate. Many older ships have been 100-percent refurbished to offer all of the same features as the brand-new ones, so do your research and read reviews to find an older, more affordable ship that suits your travel needs.
Budget traveling doesn’t always mean choosing the cheapest option, and when it comes to cruising, the cheapest option is almost always an interior cabin. But without windows, these cabins can be dark and uncomfortable, which doesn’t make for the most desirable cruise experience. Cutting back on your budget for activities and putting a little more toward getting an ocean-view or even balcony room can be the difference between a good cruise experience and a great one.
Wave Season is the time between January and March when cruise lines attempt to fill up their cabins for the upcoming year. These are some of the best months to find incredible deals on cabins, and some cruise lines even offer special sales like two-for-one rates and free airfare.
Your cruise line may assure you that all of your meals are included in your daily rate, but that’s not always 100-percent true. Many cruise lines are now adding premium restaurants, where you pay extra for a fine dining or specialty food experience. And although these restaurants may offer a more romantic or relaxing atmosphere than the general dining areas, the meals and drinks can be very pricey.
Tipping can get confusing on cruise lines, especially since we’re so accustomed to tipping service personnel here in North America. Cruise line employees do expect tips, but those tips are sometimes factored in ahead of time. Always check your bill to see if a service charge or gratuity has already been added (it’s usually about 15 percent). Many cruise lines offer the option to opt out of the service charge and tip what you prefer, but it’s important to understand that the bulk of cruise line employees’ wages come from tips.
Customer loyalty is important in the cruise line industry, and if you stick with one brand, you can end up saving big bucks and seeing some huge perks down the road. Booking incentives, discounts and promotions are available to return customers. Cruise line membership clubs can also add some huge perks for your booking process as well as your on-board experience. Common perks include invites to captain’s dinners, cocktail parties and other member-only events.