We love to cruise and since we’ve retired we cruise a lot; having cruised over 66 days since January 2012. We pride ourselves in being frugal cruisers and many of our friends have asked how we do it. We love to share our tips with them and we thought some of you might be interested as well.
Generally, we aim for cruises that cost $100 per day per person or less, including port fees and taxes. Keep in mind, that $100 does not include any extras that you might incur such as excursions, gratuities, alcohol and special meals. We consider those costs as highly variable and fully under our control. You can easily have a great time cruising without incurring any of those charges. (Note: we don’t consider gratuities to be optional. We always pay at least the minimum suggested.)
How do we achieve that goal of less than $100? It’s not easy but it’s not that difficult either. To get you started we’re giving you 8 of the techniques we’ve used to become frugal cruisers:
1. Choose a cruise line
This is not an easy step but I think it’s very important. Yes, you can sample cruises from the smorgasbord of cruise lines out there, but that can lead to disappointment and it takes much more time for you to finally find what you’re looking for. With some upfront research you can find that cruise line that fits most of your cruising needs.
Another reason to pick a “preferred” cruise line” is so you can immediately start building loyalty points. Loyalty points help you get perks like free laundry service, priority boarding and even chocolate dipped strawberries! Note: I’m not saying you’ll always have to use your chosen preferred cruise line; there will always be times you’ll want a cruise that your line doesn’t offer. But I think you need to pick a cruise line that you’ll be using the majority of the time.
Here are a few of the factors to consider in choosing your cruise line:
Destinations: For example, some lines specialize in the Caribbean; others in Europe. Make sure your cruise line goes where you want to go and make sure it has the ports you’re wanting to visit.
Fellow cruisers: Do you want to cruise with fellow partiers or are you looking for a cruise that has a more genteel mix that enjoys the quieter things in life with lights out by ten?
Activities: Some lines, like Carnival and Norwegian, specialize in almost constant activities and a party atmosphere. Others, like Cunard, are quieter and have lots of learning activities.
Ship Size: There are lots of new mega ships out there and you’ll hit the port with over 3000 of your closest friends. In contrast you can look for lines, like Seabourn, that have smaller ships and more intimate and personal attention.
Below are summaries of just a few of the more popular cruise lines. This is by no means an exhaustive list of lines, nor of the features of any given cruise line.
Carnival (www.carnival.com) tends to have large ships and a party atmosphere. Their cruises are activity-filled and appeal to a wide range of cruisers, both in age and activity tastes. Most of their cruises are in the Caribbean, Alaska and the west coast of the United States. Carnival prices are in the low range. Typically, there are one or two “elegant” nights per cruise, but generally these are casual cruises.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out Carnival’s Australian cruises at www.carnival.com.au!
P.P.S. Just writing this makes me yearn for a Guy’s Burger and Chocolate Melting Cake!
Disclaimer: Carnival is our preferred cruise line so I know a lot about this line. Carnival is not one of our sponsors and we receive no compensation from them in any way. The only other cruise line we have tried is Louis Cruise Lines in Greece.
As I said, we have not cruised any of the following cruise lines; therefore, my comments are based upon what I’ve read and what I learned from listening to other cruisers.
Norwegian (www.ncl.com) is similar to Carnival in terms of price range, fellow passengers and destinations. They feature open-seating dining which means you can dine anywhere and with whomever you want with no dresscode. Most of the cruisers we’ve talked to have cruised Norwegian and they like it, but they also say that Norwegian has more dining options that require an additional charge; however, their up charges are lower than other lines.
Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com) is a cruise line of big ships like Carnival and Norwegian. There are lots of activities for everyone, including ice skating and wall climbing as well as plenty of night life! And don’t be misled by their name, Royal Caribbean sails throughout the world with cruises in Asia, the Mediterranean, Central America, the Baltic and of course, the Caribbean.
Celebrity (www.celebritycruises.com) prides itself on being the best premium cruise line for the past eight years. Their cruises tend to be higher priced but they feature more eclectic options such as art tours, Apple stores and outdoor lawns for picnics. Fellow cruisers are primarily families and couples.
Cunard (www.cunard.com) has only three ships, but they are the iconic Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and the Queen Mary 2. They feature the largest libraries at sea, afternoon tea and lots of learning activities. Cunard cruises aren’t big on nightlife so if you’re a big party person this may not be the line for you. I’ve always thought of Cunard as being pricey, but there are deals to be found. For instance, I found a 7 night trip from England to New York, on the Queen Mary 2, for only $599. At that price I might have to try out Cunard!
Disney (disneycruise.disney.go.com) is Disney. Disney is family and kid oriented with elaborate stage productions, upscale dining and of course, mice. If you’re a Disney lover and especially if you have kids this might be the cruise line for you. But for me, this isn’t the line. Two reasons: 1. All those kids. We love kids, but frankly our favorite cruises have minimal kids on board. We primarily cruise in the shoulder seasons for just that reason. 2. Price. I could find no Disney cruises that met our price point of $100 per person per night. I have friends who rave about their Disney cruises and I’m glad they like them, but not for me.
Holland (www.hollandamerica.com) has low price points that can compete with Carnival and Norwegian but features mid-sized ships. Holland routinely sails to destinations all over the world including Canada, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Australia and the U.S. Fellow cruisers are generally couples and families. Holland features include the B.B. King Blues clubs, the World Stage with a 270 degree LED screen and poolside buffets. Holland does not feature high-energy night life but they have casinos so late nighters still have a place to play. Many consider this to be one of the better cruise lines for seniors.
MSC (www.msccruisesusa.com) offers destinations around the world including South Africa, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the Middle East. They have some very low price offerings, such as a 7 night night balcony stateroom out of Miami for $599. Your fellow passengers will be more of an international mix and you should be prepared to hear announcements in several languages. MSC prides themselves on the elegant simplicity of their ships’ interior design. The more I researched MSC the more I want to try one of their cruises!
Don’t forget, there are lots of other cruise lines out there ranging from luxury to leisure. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in my list do some googling and I’m sure you’ll find something to fit your needs.
2. Plan Ahead
We plan our cruises at least a year ahead in advance. Preplanning like this lets us take advantage of any sales when they arise. Also, we’ve found that we can ensure the lowest prices for the rooms we want by buying early. Carnival has a “Best Price” guarantee and if we see a lower price we can contact Carnival and get our cost reduced.
We’ve also found that often the prices are lowest when the cruise is first announced. For instance, we bought our tickets for the Carnival Vista TA (TransAtlantic) on the first day the tickets were available. Now, six months later, those same tickets cost $150 more per person.
3. Research the deals
Just as with any other major purchase you need to do your homework before spending your hard-earned cash on a cruise. When we first started we watched all kinds of web sites and “chased” a lot of low prices. However, over the years we honed down our research to three primary sources:
Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com)
Cruise Critic offers a wealth of information on cruise lines, cruise ships, ports of call, and just about anything to do with cruising. It’s a great place to find reviews written by fellow cruisers and get a better idea of what you’re going to encounter on your cruise.
Vacations to Go (www.vacationstogo.com)
Vacations to Go allows you to search prices for cruises based upon virtually any criteria: date, cruise line, length of cruise, ports of call etc. You can also sort the cruises by price so you can easily see the best deal.
The cruise lines’ web sites
Frankly, we’ve found the best deals on the cruise line’s home site. Keep in mind that we are primarily Carnival cruisers and that’s the site that we primarily use. We watch Carnival’s sales and since we preplan our trips (see step 2 above) we are prepared to buy when the prices are lowest.
This is not to say that you should ignore any other deals you might see. However, if you have done your homework using the three sources above you’ll quickly know whether or not you’re truly getting a bargain. PS: If you know of a resource that’s better than what we’ve discussed please be sure to tell us about it!
4. Rebook onboard
Often cruise lines will give you an OBC (On Board Credit) if you book a cruise while on one of their cruises. For Carnival this ranges from $50/cabin for a four day cruise to $200/cabin for a cruise ten days or longer.
5. Repositioning Cruises
A repositioning cruise is a trip that does not use the same port for embarkation and debarkation. These cruises happen when cruise lines are moving ships to new ports because of season changes or to move ships to new home ports. These cruises can offer great bargains if you’re willing to travel the extra distance to get to the ports involved.
As an example, we took an 18 day Carnival repositioning cruise from Sydney, Australia to Honolulu. Our cost for this cruise was $66 per day per person. We got this low price by waiting for the seasonal Carnival Australia sales. Additionally, the exchange rate was very favorable making this an even greater bargain. (At the time the exchange rate was $1.30 Australian dollars for $1.00 American.) Also of note, Australians don’t tip so there was no gratuity charge at the end of the cruise!
6. Discounted Gift Cards
There are some organizations such as AARP and Verizon that offer cruise gift cards at at 10% discount. We book the cruise at the best price we can and then pay the balance and on board charges with the gift cards. We love getting 10% off of everything!
7. Use a Travel Agent
Obviously, most of what I’ve shared so far involves you doing all the work. However, I know some of you don’t have the time nor inclination to do all this. For you, travel agents may be better way to go. I haven’t really used a travel agent for over 20 years so this next section is written by a friend of ours who is a travel agent and who knows the ins and outs of cruising.
Let me introduce you to Christie Wagner of Worry Free Cruises and Travel. You can find Christie at her Facebook page Cruising With Group Bookings or you can send her a private Facebook message. I’ve known Christie since we met on a cruise a couple of years ago and we’ve worked together arranging some cruise activities on a couple of future cruises. Christie specializes in Carnival, Norwegian, Disney and Royal Caribbean, but can book any cruise you want.
As Marvin said, many people simply don’t have enough time to do the research to find the right cruise for them. They may know they want to go to the Caribbean, and at a particular time of the year but not much beyond that. That’s where I come in. I do the research for them to find the best deals available that meet their needs and their budgets.
I have been on many cruises over the past 10 years and know most of the ships and the majority of all of the ports in the caribbean. So not only can I offer you a good deal on your cruise, but once you get to the port, I have contacts where I can get you a good deal on excursions and point you in the right direction if you dont know what you want to do when you get there.
Over the years, I’ve booked thousands of cruises for my clients and as a result I’ve developed good relationships with cruise line representatives. This gives me extra leverage as your advocate with the cruise line and helps me ensure you get the best value for your dollar.
I can also help with your special needs. Let’s say you want to put together a class reunion, or a family reunion, or a wedding/honeymoon, a girls’ trip, or any specialty trip, I will set up a private Facebook group where you invite everyone you want to join in. I post when the reduced deposit sales happen; I give tips and ideas for packing and what excursions are great; and I’ll answer everyone’s questions.
I am also there to be your advocate if something goes wrong while on the trip. You contact me with your issues and I’ll do what’s necessary to help get them resolved. Recently, I helped get a client to his honeymoon trip where he literally showed up with two minutes to spare to get on the ship. I got him on that ship!
I always want to talk with my clients over the phone or by Facebook. I want to get to know you, your likes and dislikes. Please feel free to send me a private message on Facebook or you can join the group above.
And last but not least, I always send a thank you gift to your cabin!
As you can see, using a travel agent like Christie may be a good option for you when booking a cruise; especially if you don’t have the time to do all the research and legwork yourself.
NOTE: I do not receive any compensation from Christie nor Worry Free Cruises and Travel.
8. Our final tip: Buy Stock in the Cruise Line
Some cruise lines, such as Carnival, offer OBC credit of $50 per cabin to $250 per cabin for those who own at least 100 shares of their stock. This credit is in addition to any other OBC you might have. You qualify for this OBC regardless of whether you booked your cruise yourself or through a travel agent. Of course there is some risk in this option so make sure you’re aware of the potential for loss in your investment.
It’s Time to Cruise!
No matter if you follow any of these tips or not, I highly recommend you take a cruise. It’s an incredible experience and I guarantee you’ll make new friends and you will see and experience things you’ve never seen before.