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Sarah on Oct 30, 2014

An essential guide to saving money on cruises

Value for money when you cruise

The great advantage of a cruise holiday is you know in advance exactly how much you have to spend. Food and accommodation is included in your fare, and the ship takes you from place to place. Apart from costs getting to and from your port of embarkation, you can relax in the knowledge that all is paid in full.

However, there are numerous extras. Except in the case of all-inclusive luxury lines, such as Silversea and Azamara Club, various details come with a price tag. Many cruisers find drinks to be the biggest burden on their wallets as they become a little more free with their cruise card after a few cocktails! Specialty restaurants are another expense, as are shore tours. None are compulsory for a great cruise, but they do add to the experience and can leave you a touch out of pocket.

Sam Corlett-Wood and Sarah Van Iersel are two of the most experienced consultants at Cruise Sale Finder, having enjoyed many different cruise lines and a variety of destinations. We asked them for a few handy tips to reduce onboard spend.


Package Deals

Beverage packages are commonplace on North American cruises, but are just beginning to be introduced Down Under. Sarah says: "Royal Caribbean and Celebrity both offer great value for money with their drinks packages."

Royal Caribbean has perhaps the most extensive range. The Royal Replenish covers coffee, tea, bottled water and other non-alcoholic options at USD$20 a day. The Select includes beer and wine by the glass at USD$40 a day, the Premium (USD$55 per day) steps it up with premium and frozen cocktails, and for USD$65 per day you can get the Ultimate package which is almost unlimited in terms of what you can drink.

Celebrity also has a nice roster of packages available for Down Under travellers, from soda only to a premium deal and various wine packages for those who love vino with dinner - these are priced per cruise and include a certain number of bottles you can enjoy with food and in the bars. Wine packages can also be customised.

Sam notes that packages are definitely worth the money for big drinkers, but if you enjoy just the occasional tipple it's cheaper to pay as you go.

Of course, the luxury cruise lines such as Seabourn, Azamara Club and Silversea are all-inclusive, and this means alcohol served gratis throughout their boutique ships. Obviously, the fares reflect this, but it's nice to know that everything onboard is available without taking out your wallet or cruise card.


Find the Freebies or BYO

It is possible to get free and cheap drinks on most cruises, if you are a little creative. Happy hours and special deals at the bars may not be advertised widely, so keep an ear to the ground. Sail Away parties and Captain's Parties will often provide drinks, and champagne can be found at the art auctions. Duty-free stores might have tastings. Keep an eye out in daily newsletters for events and parties. Competitions often have champagne or drinks as prizes, so always bring your A-game! Famously, Princess has a Pina Colada Soup on the menu, which is essentially a Pina Colada at no extra charge.

If you enjoy a particular cruise line, consider re-booking with them for your next holiday. Not only do many lines offer discounts on booking, but Sam notes that: "Often, once you're onboard they'll invite you to an exclusive Captain's Cocktail Party where you can get free drinks". There are usually perks to being a past passenger, so ask when booking and on the ship. On her last Carnival Cruise Sam received a drinks voucher as a previous passenger. "Ex and current military staff can receive additional onboard credit when booking on P&O Australia, Princess or Carnival, so keep that in mind."

Alcohol policies vary from line to line, but many will allow you to bring a bottle or two of wine onboard when you embark. P&O Australia do not, Royal Caribbean allow two bottles of wine per stateroom, as do Celebrity, while Princess permit one bottle of wine per adult passenger. Corkage is generally charged for wine consumed outside of a stateroom.


Shore Tours

Excursions on dry land are another way of spending a lot of money while cruising. These are expensive, but they have advantages - mainly convenience. Sam and Sarah both point out that the main bonus to a 'sanctioned' shore tour is you can rest assured the ship will not leave without you if you are late back. Sam says: "If you book something independently and the tour ends up running late and you don't make it to the ship on time, it will leave whether you're onboard or not." For this reason, if there is something you are really keen on seeing, we recommend you book a shore tour so you can truly relax.

Of course, it is not necessary to purchase a shore excursion to have a good time in your cruise port. Sarah says: "It's best to do some research first, as some are a bit pricey and you can do it yourself at a cheaper cost." If there is a tour that really calls to you, then spend the money - but of course you are free to explore on your own using taxis, public transport or your own two feet. If the port has a particularly pretty town centre or fabulous beach, why not just hang around and make the most of it?

Alternatively, companies such as Shore Trips and Tours (Australia and New Zealand) offer shore excursions independently of cruise lines and are often much cheaper than the "official" tours. With the right company, the chances of missing a boat are very, very small.


Shops, restaurants, spas

Packing smart also helps to reduce onboard costs. Shops of the port towns are usually very pricey, and you don't want to find yourself at their mercy. Don't forget to pack the little but essential things like spare batteries, sunscreen, soap, toiletries and hygiene products. If your cruise is not a long one, pack enough clothes to last the trip or bring a small amount of laundry soap to wash undies and socks in the sink to avoid laundry charges.

Specialty restaurants are an easy way to overspend. However, Sarah has some advice: "I would always recommend trying out one of the specialty restaurants onboard. The surcharges vary depending on ship and restaurant but are great value. As an example, The Salt Grill (on P&O Australia) is amazing food, and as they can only seat about 100 people, the setting is more intimate and the meal isn't rushed."

Royal Caribbean offer great specialty dining packages, so if you are a foodie, consider them for your next cruise. Packages range from USD$50 to USD$120 and represent excellent value for money.

The spas on most ships are quite expensive, as they have a captive audience. If saving is a priority, we recommend avoiding them altogether and getting your relaxation in unaided, by the pool with a good book. If you can't resist the call of pampering, Sam recommends keeping an eye out for the specials.

Wi-Fi is a hot topic among cruisers, and some people will choose their ship based on the affordability of internet access. Basically, any onboard Wi-Fi is expensive - if you can, wait and find an internet cafe in port.


What to Expect

Sam budgets around $100 to $150 per day for her cruising adventures. Depending on the length of the holiday, this will cover moderate drinking, a spa treatment (usually when it is on special), a few shore excursions, a souvenir photo or two and a few games of bingo.

Make sure you have enough credit available to do the things you really want to do - but keep in mind our tips and advice to maximise savings and get the best value for money!

I have enjoyed visiting as much of the world as possible over the years. Europe and the Mediterranean are personal favourites, but there is so much to see very close to our little Australasian corner of the globe- one of my top travel experiences was snorkeling with tropical fish and turtles in New Caledonia! Cruising is a fantastic way to see it all, and we hope to make booking a cruise easier for both first-timers and old salts. From ship tips to destination news and views, we will keep you up-to-date. Happy cruising!

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  • Apr 27, 2016 by Janis Newbould

    Great reading and great tips thankyou.I have a78 night cruise coming up next year so was very interested in what you had to say. Am considering the inclusive drinks deal although it is a lot to front up with for two of us for that length of time.

  • Oct 30, 2014 by noela cox

    you go on a cruise to enjoy your self ,not to penny pinch, if you can not a ford a good time, well wait a bight longer and save un till you can enjoy yourself, do not for get travel insurance

  • Oct 30, 2014 by Irene Whennan

    Great advice - thanks Sam