Cruising is one of my all-time favorite ways to travel. I've been cruising since 2001 and am glad to share what I've learned with you.
Is Cruising Really One of the Best Ways to Travel?
Yes! As long as you are aware of the hidden costs and have a few money-saving tricks up your sleeve, cruising can be a great option!
I've traveled on several different cruises, from a fabulous and much-needed Caribbean couple's getaway with my hubby, to a once-in-a-lifetime seven-day Alaskan cruise with my mom, to a quick four-day cruise with my girls. Each trip had its special moments and amazing memories.
1. Room Upgrades Can Cost You Hundreds
I've been on Deck 11 with a balcony and breathtaking views and I've been practically next to the boiler room in the basement without a window and no clue whether it was day or night. A lot of times, you'll see a promo for a super cheap cruise, less than $300 for 5-days to the Caribbean. Who wouldn't want that cruise? I've done it and had a great, no-frills, time. But that was also almost 20 years ago—I was in my 20s and was just thankful to be on vacation.
Recently, my husband and I were on a cruise where the lower decks still had a less-than-$300 option, but we went for Deck 9 and paid about $800 each for the pleasure of having a private balcony.
Typically, the higher the Deck number, the more you're going to pay for the room. When you book your cruise, call the cruise line and ask if there are any upgrade specials. Sometimes, you can get a free upgrade to a higher deck, so always ask!
2. Parking Can Easily Exceed $100
Parking isn't always something that we think about when we are making our travel arrangements, but parking needs to be budgeted into your vacation plans.
I typically set aside my parking money at the beginning of the trip and "hide" it from myself so I'm not scrambling when my flight lands at 11 pm when I'm cranky and I just want to get to my car and home to my bed, only to remember that I spent the money on a souvenir that I just had to have and now I have to pull out my credit card so the parking lot will release my car.
But there are some tips that can save you money on parking.
Ask to Leave Your Car at Your Hotel
If you fly into town the night before your cruise sails, ask if you are able to leave your car at the hotel until you return. Some hotels will allow you to park for free as long as you spend at least one night at the hotel either before or after your cruise. Bonus: many hotels will also have a free shuttle that will take you to the cruise terminal, saving you a minimum of $16 per person each way.
Ask for a Parking Discount at Checkout
Got AAA or AARP? In the military? Be sure to ask for a discount as you check out. I've seen savings of a few dollars a day, which really adds up when you're paying for 10 days!
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3. Tipping Happens Throughout Your Vacation
Take your singles with you, because there is a lot of tipping when you cruise. You may find yourself spending $20–$30 in tips just getting to and from the airport and cruise terminal. Customary is $1.00 per bag, though some tip more, and the drivers and porters certainly appreciate it.
Let's say there are two of you traveling and you each have one bag to check. You'll tip $2 when you get off the airport shuttle. Another $2 if you do curbside check-in at the airport (you save that $2 if you take a few more steps and check-in at the airline counter inside the airport). If you are taking a shuttle from the airport to the cruise terminal, you have at least $2 to the bus driver and then $2 to the porter who will greet you when you arrive. And then you get to do it all in reverse when you come back.
Planning to do excursions? Get out your tip money again, because you will be tipping the drivers for your excursions as well as your tour guides.
But your major tipping expense will be the $100+ per person you will spend on the cruise staff. It's not mandatory (at least, I don't think it is for most cruise lines), but it is expected . . . and deserved. You have options for paying. You can prepay before your cruise and build it into the total cost of the cruise so when you make your final payment, it's included. Or you can pay for it on day one of your cruise and then you don't have to think about it again. Or they will take it from your credit card at the end of your trip.
4. Premium Dining Adds Up
When you think of cruising, do you have visions of 24/7 buffets? Free food until the buttons pop off your pants? That is definitely part of the cruise experience (and I must say, I do enjoy it!) but things have changed in the almost 20 years that I've been cruising.
Now, you can make reservations at one of the high-end restaurants for a different type of dining experience and spend over $100 on one meal for two in the process. You will also have your pick of specialty coffee shops, candy shops, the Asian inspired or Italian restaurants or steak house. So many ways to enjoy a great meal or decadent treats, just remember, it will cost you!
5. The Cost of Drinking Will Sneak Up on You
You won't die of thirst if you don't purchase a beverage package, but you may become incredibly bored with the free water (not bottled), tea (hot and iced), coffee, and lemonade. Because that's all you get with the cost of your purchase.
If you drink a lot of pop (maybe you call it soda in your neck of the woods), your best option would be to purchase a soda package before you board. You can also check the cruise rules. Some will allow you to bring up to 12 cans with you onboard.
If you want alcohol, you'll spend even more. Thinking about buying your booze at one of the ports and bringing it onboard? Think again. You can buy it, but the ship will keep it for you until the end of your cruise and give it back to you the night before you disembark.
If part of your fun involves a drink or two, be sure to budget for it and take advantage of the cocktail specials or consider purchasing the alcohol package.
© 2019 Monica Lynne Foster