Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cruisin' on a Budget

You spend a week exploring tropical islands, getting waited on hand and foot, and eating and drinking to your heart's content. Must be expensive, right?

Wrong! Cruises are one of the most budget-conscious ways I know of to travel, other than cashing in rewards points or getting the hook-up from your company (cough cough airline people cough). And cruises aren't just for college kids and huge families (though they are of course welcome, too). Couples, singles, young and old all can have a great time on a cruise, and each of them can stick to whatever budget they need.

First, imagine a week-long vacation to your favorite beach town. Let's pretend to add up the costs (I am estimating here, folks, give me a break) ...

Hotel/house for the week -- $120/night x 7 nights = $840
Food every day (including a few dinners out and drinks) -- $60/day x 7 days = $420
Entertainment (movies, shopping, wakeboarding, whatever you call fun on a beach trip) -- $50/day x 7 days = $350
Transportation (let's assume you drive with a friend) = $60 in gas

Grand total = $1670 per person

A beach vacation, as easy as it sounds (all you do is lay out, right?) is one heck of a drain on your bank account.

Now let's check out the cruise option. Same deal - one week, and you drive to the port. Assume another $100 for the flight, if you do that.

Housing for the week (the cruise cost itself) -- $400 total
Food every day -- included + $200 drinks (it's a week. Trust me.)
Entertainment -- included + $200 excursions
Transportation -- $60 in gas

Grand total = $860 per person

I am not joking. For approximately double the cost of the cruise itself (the general rule of thumb), you can have a fantastic time on the ship at literally half the cost of a beach trip. And even better? The quality of your entertainment is higher than things you'd go off and plan on your own. Snorkeling by coral reefs? Check. Zip-lining in the rain forest? Yep. Rum punch provided all around? Ya you betcha.

Here are some of my general tips for booking your cruise on a budget:

* Start planning early. Our trip was half as much as other cruisers that booked less than a month or two out. We booked ours 6 months ahead.

* Keep an eye on the cruise prices in the months leading up to yours. If there is a sale or promotion, contact your cruise rep and ask for the difference. We got an upgrade (one floor higher) and some on-board cash credits this way. 

* When booking excursions, stick to ones less than $80 that include alcohol and/or food. Unless you are Daddy Warbucks of course. Then by all means, go swim with those dolphins.

* Bring some alcohol on board. Legitimately, you are allowed a few bottles of wine each, which will save you from the $30+ bottles they sell on-board. There are other options for carrying on other liquids for those of you who are more daring ... :P

* Find a hotel that includes parking and shuttle to/from the port. Most port-area hotels offer this type of cruise package for no cost, and it saves you $10/day on parking at the docks.

* Skip the window rooms. You aren't going to be in your room much, anyways, and when you are, you won't miss it. The rooms are all just as luxe on the interior, and $100's less.

* Find the events on the schedule called things like "Past Guest Reception" or "Captain's Reception." Two words: Free Cocktails. Drink up, as ships don't ever do this otherwise. We found free quality champagne at one of the ship's art auctions, though I was not at all interested in buying any of the art.

Good luck booking your cruise -- I hope these tips help! Fellow past-cruisers: what other tips would you add to this list?


Unknown said...

not all cruises allow you to bring alcohol on, but i know carnival does!

make friends with staff members -- they will often hook you up with drinks or tips for things to do on/off the boat. my mom actually was able to bring a full bottle of liquor on the boat "unnoticed" from one of the ports of call because she be-friended the man who was checking bags on the first day!

also, plan your own excursions! if you want to tour a certain city, do it yourself by reading guidebooks before you go! we did a full island tour of aruba for $20 total when that wouldn't have even covered 1 person if we had booked through the cruise. there are always taxis waiting at the port to take tourists around the islands/countries! your waitstaff at dinner and during the shows will be incredibly knowledgeable with that kind of information.

i've cruised numerous times, and these are all things we have done that have made our cruises much more cost-friendly :) and you are SO RIGHT -- the receptions are where its AT!

Unknown said...

Katie - excellent points!! I am just too lazy to "plan" too much but you are so right about planning your own excursions - it can def be the cheaper option. We went to the beach on one of the days just via taxi, easy-breezy!

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