Hello, readers! I am Julianne, one of Money Beagle's college friends and I have been asked to write a little ditty about my frugality – particularly how it pertains to my recent vacation.
We were on a cruise last week, and I think our total spent was $172 out of pocket (not including our airfare). Some people do that extreme coupon clipping stuff where they get 100 bottles of ketchup for free and, well, I am a fan of vacationing for cheap. Back in the olden days, before cruising, I would get us to Vegas cheaply. Cruising is a different animal altogether.
Here are a few tips on how to get a cheap cruise vacation:
- Cruises are cheapest during certain times of the year. Particularly, during hurricane season (September and October) and during times when kids are in school. A good time in particular is the first couple weeks of December as people are spending a ton of disposable income on the holidays or they are wiped out from Thanksgiving.
- Conversely, cruises are much more expensive during holidays and times when kids are on breaks from school. Most expensive is the week between Christmas and New Years. This makes sense, right? Well, fares drop when they need to fill up those rooms on the boats. In fact, if you go over to Priceline or Travelocity or even the cruise line's site, you can sort based on things like the number of days and the lowest to highest price for a particular sailing.
- Book early. Remember how I mentioned that the boats need to get those rooms filled? They want to fill them up as soon as possible. You can book a year out and get a great rate. If plans change, you can just move your deposit over to another sailing. Or, if you cancel within 75 days of the sail date, you can usually get 100% of your deposit back. Oh, and if you are a senior or a military member, you might qualify for an additional discount!
- Book often. When you use the same cruise line all the time, you start accumulating free stuff and frequent cruiser perks. On our cruise last week, we received a little booklet with coupons for things like a buy one/get one beer at an on board bar or half off of a coffee from the premium coffee place. We also got invited to special members only receptions that involved free alcohol. There are special embarkation lines for past guests, too. If you have cruise with a line before, they will let you know they appreciated you and will acknowledge it all week long. You might even get some free gifts in your stateroom when you board like a bottle of champagne on ice or flowers.
- Use credit card points. As long as you pay off your balance every month, there are several different cards that let you accumulate dollars towards your cruise payments or on board credit. Some of them even provide you with free cruises or free companion fares. A few of them will even give you merchandise like bath robes or golf shirts with the cruise line logo on it. Also, when you sign up for the card, many companies will give you about $100 of on board credit after you make your first purchase.
- Book on board. In fact, booking on board usually nets you $100 on board credit towards your next sailing. You can book a cruise and then when you get home you can even move it to a different week or a different itinerary. The deposit will move, too. They have special “future cruise consultants” that are more than happy to talk to you about different itineraries or room categories.
- Book excursions through reputable companies instead of through the cruise line. You can avoid potential mark-ups by booking direct with an excursion company. I'd recommend heading over to cruisecritic.com and read about different excursions that you can take. Cruise Critic is a very comprehensive website where you can learn about ports, cruise lines, different sailings, different ships, etc. Keep in mind, though, that if you're not just getting started or are in a potentially unsafe area, you may want to consider using the excursions planned out by the cruise company, as they will have checked out the company to make sure they are reputable for you. Plus, since these companies work with the cruise lines, you'll be safe in knowing that the ship won't leave without you in the event your bus breaks down or the excursion runs late.
- Don't be afraid of an inside room. Of course, a balcony or a suite are fabulous. But, we have found that we can go on twice as many cruises if we get an inside room. There is a bed, a desk, a bathroom, a television — what more do you need? Also, it is dark inside so you can sleep in easily. As a side note, pay attention to where your room is located on the ship. As long as you aren't taking a gamble and getting your room cheaper doing a “guaranteed” room where they may place you anywhere, you can pick which room you want in the category you have selected. I prefer to be “sandwiched” between floors that contain other staterooms. This makes for a much quieter experience. Don't pick a room above the jazz club or below the scraping chairs of the buffet tables. Sometimes, if you wait until a week before the ship sails, you cn get a cheap upgrade to a better room. It can't hurt to call!
- When you go to the ports, you can usually haggle with the vendors. If they don't want to haggle, walk away. You will usually find the same t-shirt priced 10 different ways. You can get cheap jewelry, cheap liquor, cheap prescription drugs… just look! Even the gift shops on board will run specials through the week. Ask the people working in the shops if they think something will go on sale and/or if you can get refunded the difference if it does.
- Lastly, take advantage of the activities on board. Every night when your room is cleaned, you will get a little newspaper delivered that tells you what the activities will be for the following day. Bring a highlighter pen with you and highlight what you would like to do. There are countless fun things like trivia contests, Vegas style shows, water aerobics, kids activities, karaoke, seminars about cooking or wines, belly flop contests, etc. Some ships even have surfing simulators, rock climbing walls, and ice skating rinks!
I hope some of these tips will be helpful! Happy cruising!!