It’s finally happened. Your girl squad or extended family has decided on a group cruise vacation of a lifetime. There’s just one problem: their vacay vision is of a pricey luxury cruise while your bank account suggests an alternative would be more palatable. Fear not. It’s just as easy to make a luxury cruise more affordable as it is to elevate a budget cruise into a luxury experience.
While your travel team may select a pricier sailing selection, you can take control of your bottom line by being budget-savvy with your experiences. Ready to save before booking and once aboard the ship of your dreams? Read on for tips and tricks to make a luxury cruise more affordable. And next, don’t miss The 10 Best US Cities Every Traveler Should See.
Before even boarding a cruise ship, passengers can start saving during the booking process. Study the best time of year to book a cruise, schedule a sailing when school is in session to avoid spring break surge pricing, and figure out how to maximize the value received for your dollar. That means a bit of research to consider what perks, incentives, and deals you can take advantage of through various loyalty and membership programs.
Belong to Costco? Search the Costco Travel website for member discounts. Have an auto club membership? Cash in on free onboard credits with AAA Vacations. Or turn to your frequent flyer program for travel booking incentives. Case in point, Delta’s SkyMiles Cruises travel site charms its flyers with mileage bonuses for simply booking via their online travel agency. Cruisers can earn up to 30,000 SkyMiles—which can be used for booking future flights.
The best part about using such travel-friendly booking sites, cruisers still earn loyalty perks and points on their preferred cruise line in addition to airline or membership program incentives. When booking a Norwegian Cruise Line sailing through SkyMiles Cruises, travelers could earn bonus airline miles and hundreds of dollars in onboard credit, all while saving up to 35% off cruise fares.
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While your friends or family members may opt for an upscale experience by booking an oversized suite or balcony stateroom, savvy spenders can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by opting for a more modest cabin. Interior rooms, while windowless, offer some of the best value at sea by still providing high-end amenities, dedicated stewards, and 24-hour room service.
When selecting your cabin, consider how much time you may actually spend in your room. Probably not that much, since cruise line entertainment and activities will keep you busy day and night. You need a cozy space to sleep and shower, but beyond that, the entire cruise ship is your home away from home, so you’ll spend little time tucked away inside.
While interior cabins can offer the steepest discounts, those who rely on some visibility of the outside world can still save with oceanview or porthole staterooms. With the 6-day Pacific Wine Country sailing aboard Discovery Princess, for example, interior staterooms typically start at $398 per person, an oceanview cabin increases the fare to approximately $647, while mini-suites may be offered around $848.
When you find a great base fare for a cruise, it can seem like you won the lottery. As the mandatory port taxes and fees are added, your bill balloons well before you consider an all-inclusive unlimited drink package. No matter the cruise line, the premium beverage package can be a good deal only if you truly consume more than a handful of cocktails daily.
This option comes at a premium cost, though, so for those who want to preserve a budget an a la carte approach may be better. Cruise lines typically offer free water, coffee, tea, lemonade, and some juices so it’s possible to stick entirely to complimentary sips. When a cocktail is in order, a standalone beverage may seem costly at $10-15, but if you only enjoy a few drinks per cruise this is the way to go to save money.
Some cruise lines, like Carnival, allow passengers to bring aboard soda cans and a bottle of wine, so you can enjoy a personal bevvy whenever you like at a fraction of onboard pricing. For additional savings on alcohol, keep an eye on free bubbly at art shows or spa tours, happy hours with two-for-one deals, or discounts on wine bottles during embarkation day dinners. Or join a mixology class or wine seminar to sample multiple beverages for a low flat rate. Norwegian Cruise Line offers a popular Meet the Winemaker Cruise Series with meet-and-greets and wine tastings starting as low as $22 per person. Cheers to that!
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While on a luxury vacation, it can be awfully tempting to scroll social media and upload your latest snaps and selfies. Aboard cruise ships, though, premium internet packages can rack up a shocking bill. Verify if your cell provider offers cruise packages and compare that to cruise internet costs while weighing how much you value your connection to the net.
“I would have to say that saving money will be up to the actual value you would like to experience while on a cruise,” says travel advisor Robert Marcoux. He notes those who truly want to save with Wi-Fi could “wait until you go ashore to find a cafe or restaurant that offers free Wi-Fi. The problem with that is you will have to search out such a place and that sometimes takes up valuable time on the hunt.”
If you can bypass an unlimited plan, put your phone on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges and stick to free sites on the cruise line app. Most offer easy and free access to daily news sites, a chat feature for free or a nominal fee, and Wi-Fi by the hour if you really need a connection here or there.
Once you’ve unplugged from social media, you’ll discover a whole world of live stage productions and musical acts offered for free on ships. Norwegian Cruise Line offers Broadway and West End productions aboard its fleet, with popular shows like Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, and Choir of Man drawing a packed audience for complimentary evening performances.
Guests aboard Royal Caribbean will also find Broadway performances included in the base cruise fare. The Tony-award winning roster includes Cats, Grease, Hairspray, and Mamma Mia! to name a few. When planning land vacations to New York City, Broadway performances are a big-ticket item, so the inclusion of such entertainment in your cruise vacation is an incredible money-saving deal.
Prefer pop and rock hits? New ship Discovery Princess has just debuted a new production show, Spotlight Bar, packed with chart-toppers artfully arranged with an incredible dance cast telling the story of a bar and its clientele. Audiences can expect to hear hits from Sara Bareilles, Camila Cabello, Justin Timberlake, Lil Nas X, and Billy Ray Cyrus. Another complementary entertainment offering, this show honestly offers some of the best dance performances at sea.
One of the notable perks of cruising is the range of dining included within the base fare. Think sophisticated dining rooms, celebrity chef burger joints, and the infamous cruise buffet. “I was really making the most of the free, unlimited buffet at Norwegian’s Garden Café,” says Sarah Daniel, a travel and lifestyle writer from New Zealand. “It is abundant in terms of cultural dining offerings.”
While travelers will always find their standby favorites, the cruise buffet is also an excellent way to sample new-to-you cuisines. “Work the buffet as strategically as possible,” says Matt Ragghianti, a travel writer with Australia’s ESCAPE magazine. “Try to limit yourself to one type of cuisine per day. Try Italian on day one, Asian on day two, Indian on day three or what have you. This will make you far less likely to get bored with the buffet and go running for those premium dining options.”
Depending on the cruise line, travelers may also find the upcharge specialty restaurants actually offer a free lunch menu. Carnival, for example, offers celebrity chef Guy Fieri options day and night, with Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse an especially popular venue for the free lunch spread. It’s also worth noting Carnival’s main dining room often offers a featured lobster tail night free of charge, so it’s entirely possible to enjoy fine dining without an additional fee.
“Make use of the free gym,” travel writer Daniell says of the facilities onboard Norwegian Bliss. “This is not just any gym. Hit the treadmill and zone out at the view—an endless moving panoramic of ocean and mountains.”
Daniell also says the best part of sailing along Alaska’s stunning coastline is the “priceless but profoundly joyful experiences like being accompanied, fleetingly, by a large pod of Humpback whales charging through the Pacific Ocean.” Immersing yourself in nature or savoring a special moment costs nothing but your time and these activities can provide some of the best vacation memories.
Still, there are times a self-pampering splurge can be just what you need to elevate your cruise experience. If that’s you, be sure to attend embarkation day spa tours to hear about the best savings and potentially receive package deals. Some services are also surprisingly low-cost, like The Enclave at Lotus Spa on Discovery Princess. A one-day pass to this adults-only thermal suite runs $49, but for 5-day sailings, the cost is only $79 for the cruise duration. If there’s one amazing spa deal to take advantage of at sea, it’s The Enclave. And you’ll bask in a wonderful sense of luxury fully aware you didn’t empty your bank account. Now there’s an awesome vacation moment.
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