Mention that you’re going on a cruise and you’ll hear some horror stories, not only about the astronomical cost if you want a half-decent cabin, but also about the hidden extras – the drinks, the shows, the wi-fi and shore excursions, the list goes on.
But travel experts agree that cruising doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, with a little bit of know-how and clever timing, you can live the high life at sea on a very modest budget. So, how do you save the pennies while enjoying your holiday in style? Here are our top tips for budgeting on your cruise holiday.
Decide what you Want
When it comes to budgeting a cruise, it’s all a question of working out what’s important to you before you book. Start by deciding what your budget is for the total holiday, then pinpointing what you’re looking for – whether that’s seeing Broadway-style shows, learning new skills, or visiting new ports. Once you’ve decided which expensive extras you can live without, make sure your chosen cruise offers plenty of what you do want. “For example,” says Giles Hawke, CEO of Avalon Waterways, “if you like to spend afternoons in your cabin watching films, make sure that TV movie channels are included in the price.”
Look for Offers On-Board
Knowing when to hit the spa can knock pounds off your pampering and you’ll often find that spas at sea outshine those on land. “When the ship docks, about 80 per cent of the passengers go ashore,” explains Simone Clark. “It gets pretty quiet on board, and that’s when you’re likely to find offers at the spa, maybe bundling two or three treatments for the price of one. So, if you’re not that bothered about visiting your port of call, why not get your R&R on the ship instead?”
Speak to Travel Agents
If you’re new to cruising, it’s just like booking any other kind of holiday. But according to Simone Clark, senior vice president at Iglu Cruise and Planet Cruise, we have a tendency to overcomplicate things when we book a holiday on water. “You can do your research, watch the TV cruise shows and check out deals online, but nothing beats talking to a specialist travel agent to make sure you get exactly the right cruise for you and your budget,” she says. “Our team have all been on lots of different ships and they can give you first-hand advice, so pick up the phone!”
Mix your Drinks
Most of us enjoy a drink or two when we’re cruising, but it doesn’t pay to get set in your ways. “Many onboard bars offer a cocktail of the day at a special price,” says Avalon’s Giles Hawke. “Take the chance to try something new, and you’ll be saving money at the same time”. If only your usual G&T will do, look out for happy hour – there are usually some good offers on regular drinks.
Book a Meal Deal
When you’re watching the pennies, the very first night of your cruise is the best time for a gourmet treat. “If you’re longing to try out a speciality restaurant, such as Jamie’s Italian or Nobu, book your table either before you get on board or as soon as you embark,” recommends Simone Clark. “These restaurants often do half-price deals on the first night, and you could easily end up paying just £25 for a meal that would cost £80 per head on land.”
Invest in Drinks Packages
If you really like to kick back on a cruise, consider investing in a drinks package. “Buying drinks separately throughout the day and evening can add up,’ says Simone Clark. “Drinks packages aren’t worth the investment if you just have the odd glass of wine with dinner, but if you enjoy a little more they can be very good value – whether it’s a drinks-with-dinner package or an unlimited, all-inclusive deal. And you won’t just save money on cocktails – many packages include speciality coffees, ice cream and soft drinks, too.”
Independent Shore Excursions
Cruise lines will organise their own excursions and will arrange all of the transportation, guides and tours, but this will often come at a huge cost. If you plan ahead, you can arrange all of these details yourself and will potentially save a lot of money in the process. For more details, check out our guide to booking these independently.
Even if you’re on a budget, it can be worth splashing out where an experience is offered for a fraction of the price you’d pay on land. Simone Clark quotes the example of a Cirque du Soleil show she saw on one recent cruise. “I paid 13 euros and that included a cocktail,” she says. “To see that show in London would have cost me at least £80 – so think of the bigger picture and treat yourself once in a while. You are on holiday after all, and no cruise is good value if you just stay in your cabin.”
Opt for Off-Peak
Midweek flights are cheaper than weekend ones, so you may be able to fly out early and enjoy a few nights’ pre-cruise city break without spending extra cash, suggests Simone Clark. “Look for a deal where you fly out on Wednesday and have three nights in Barcelona, for example, before you join your cruise on the Saturday,” she says.
Look to the Experts
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