Whether it’s your first cruise, you’re going solo or taking the whole extended family, you don’t want to spoil a fabulous holiday by overspending. And while cruises offer excellent value, there are some hidden costs that you can avoid. Before you book, check out our tips for cruising on a budget.
1. Pick your time. Cruises are more expensive during school holidays, so if you don’t have school-age kids, travel outside those peak times (December to January are the busiest months in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands). If you’re tied to school holidays, book at least six months in advance to secure connecting cabins and early-bird discounts.
2. Cruise as a group. Most cruise lines offer discounts for group bookings, whether for family parties, groups of friends or special occasions. For example, if you book eight or more cabins on Carnival Cruise Lines, discounts apply. Check rates with your cruise line of choice.
3. Research shore tours. Look at your itinerary before you set sail and do some advance planning to see how much you can do ashore independently. Bear in mind that ships don’t wait for you if you’re late back to port – but if you’re on a ship-organised tour, you’re covered if there are any delays.
4. Buy cruise-specific travel insurance. Shop around for a policy that covers missing a cruise departure (if a plane is delayed, for example), onboard and offshore medical expenses, and reimburses you for shore excursions that are cancelled by the cruise line.
5. Factor in compulsory gratuities. Australia-based lines P&O Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines, plus Princess Cruises’ ships that are based year-round in Australia, don’t charge compulsory gratuities but most visiting international lines do. The charge is about US$12 per person per day (including children).
6. Check out the drinks packages. Depending on how many soft and/or alcoholic beverages you consume a day, drinks packages can save money and once you’ve paid, your budget is set. However, tap water is safe to drink and tea and coffee is free in the main restaurants. Remember that service charges are applied every time you buy a drink, usually 15 to 18 per cent.
7. Check out specialty dining packages. If you enjoy a change from the main restaurants, a package that gives discounts on three or more meals at specialty restaurants is worth buying.
8. Keep fit for free. Most ships charge a fee for fitness classes, so make the most of free activities such as running or walking around the promenade deck, gyms, sports courts and, on some Royal Caribbean ships, surf simulators, rock-climbing walls and ice rinks.
9. Unplug your devices. Going online onboard is expensive, even when you buy an internet package – you’re better off waiting until you can find a free WiFi spot ashore.
10. Resist temptation. Easier said than done, but ask yourself if you really need that souvenir photo, cocktail glass, spa treatment or evening in the casino – it’s very easy to be seduced by all the extras when you’re in relaxed cruise mode.