The Ultimate Guide to Budget-Friendly Cruising
Updated: May 17, 2023
By AAA Travel Editors
Going on a cruise doesn't have to break the bank. It's not only possible to take an ocean adventure but to save money while out at sea. To cruise on a budget, you must dig deeper than finding the cheapest fares. Did you know you can save money before, during and even after your cruise?
Follow along for some money-saving tips that'll help you stay thrifty at every port along your journey. Top money-saving ideas include pre-cruise preferences like when to book and go, where to stay as well as what savings and benefits to consider. There also are ways to make the most of your budget post-cruise, especially if you’ll be planning another cruise vacation.iStockphoto.com / GrapeImages
Before You Cruise
Don't cut corners on your cruise. Just find savings and maximize your benefits. Try these proven pre-cruise suggestions to know before you go.
When to book:
•Don't wait for summer. Wave Season is prime time for cruise booking. The three months between mid-January and mid-March is when you should book your cruise package if you want discounted rates.
•If this is your first time cruising, you might opt to sample a sea journey at a lower rate. Try a 2-night Bahamas cruise on Celebrity or a 4-night West Coast Getaway on Princess Cruises. Holland America even offers a 1-Day Pacific Coastal Cruise.
When to go:
•Off-peak seasons are a frugal cruiser's dream. Think Alaska in May or September, the Bahamas in fall, early December for Caribbean cruises, or Greece in November. You'll lock in lower rates and get a less crowded ship.
•Try a repositioning cruise during fall or spring when ships are relocated from one port to another. These are often longer cruises that leave major departure ports and travel to unusual locations at less expensive fares.
•Travel during the shoulder season. If you decide to set sail at the beginning or end of the cruise season, you'll get some of the best budget cruises available.
•Pick a cruise port that's within driving distance and skip the cost of airfare and associated fees.
•Ask about pre-cruise hotel stays and shuttle packages.
Cost-effective cabins with the kids:
•Don't discount interior cabins if you're traveling with children. The windowless rooms provide for sounder sleep and safer seafaring.
•Save big on Guaranteed Cabins—where the cruise line picks your stateroom for you.
•Many ships like Royal Caribbean Cruises offer "kids sail free" incentives throughout the year. Or ask about large discounts for third and fourth passengers in a cabin.
Extra Savings Secrets:
•Check out older ships on well-known cruise lines and set sail for a fraction of the cost. Princess Cruises regularly offers big discounts on their older fleet of ships.
•Does your cruise package include WI-FI? Purchase internet access for cheaper rates before your cruise. Or skip the WI-FI completely and immerse yourself in the rocking waves.
•Pay attention to price drops. Most cruise lines will honor a lowered price if you haven't yet paid your outstanding balance.
Just remember to shop for value over rock-bottom rates. Consider spending a little extra upfront if it will keep you from overspending while onboard. Check to see which restaurants, ship activities, and extra excursions are included. Don't forget the cruise insurance and medical coverage, too.Celebrity Cruises Inc. / Quentin Bacon
During Your Cruise
Did someone say free? Yes, there are plenty of included perks. But there are also great ways to be resourceful onboard.
Here's how to be a budget-conscious cruiser:
- Avoid specialty restaurants. The main dining offers free fare, and casual restaurants provide plenty of great food options, too.
- Stay well hydrated and skip the alcoholic beverage packages. There will be lots of free non-alcoholic drinks onboard, like water, tea, and juice. Bring a refillable water bottle so you'll have clean water for land excursions.
- Many cruise lines allow for one bottle of wine on board per person. You'll only be charged a corkage fee in the dining room. Don't forget to bring your wine opener, and you can drink for free in other areas of the ship. Double-check your cruise rules beforehand, but in many cases, yes, you can bring a wine opener on a cruise.
- Book excursions with the cruise ship instead of going solo. Not only is this the safest option, but many cruises offer discounted excursions, too.
- For excursions in Europe, consider the summer sales. The last week in June through middle July means end-of-season fashions at deeply discounted rates.
- If a full excursion seems too pricey, you can walk around the port of call for free. Or remain on board and take advantage of specially priced spa treatments.
- Stick to the free yoga and workout classes to keep both your wallet and your waistline trim.
- Fill up that toiletry bag. Buying incidentals on board can get expensive, so if you aren't flying, you can load up your luggage with liquids. Find flight attendant toiletry checklists online to make sure you don't overlook anything and stock up.
- Review your cruise account daily to ensure you don't go over your budget, and that you identify any questionable charges.
After Your Cruise
If you loved your ocean adventure and can't wait to board again, there are ways you can continue cruising while keeping costs down. Try these thrifty tips for future voyages.
- Consider buying shares of a cruise line's stock to receive onboard credit for your next journey. 100 shares of Carnival Corporation stock will get you from $50 to $250 onboard credit on Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Cunard, and Seabourn's luxury line.
- Set up an automatic saving system of small withdrawals from your bank account for an ongoing cruise budget.
- Create a cruise gift registry and have your wedding guests pay for your honeymoon. Carnival Cruise Line offers a free honeymoon registry and also includes a free premium wedding website when you sign up.
- Investigate cruise line loyalty programs. Celebrity's Captain's Club will earn you points for every night you cruise, and you can power up your points at each of the program's six levels. If you take a Holland America cruise, you'll be automatically enrolled in their Mariner Society, earning points for each night booked and onboard the ship.
Book Your Next Cruise with AAA
AAA Travel provides peace of mind when you travel — before, during, and after your vacation! AAA Travel has teamed up with some of the industry's best cruise lines to provide you with added amenities, AAA Vacations® 24/7 Member Care, and the Best Price Guarantee. Your next cruise vacation starts with AAA, your complete travel solution. Visit your local AAA Travel Agent or book at https://www.aaa.com/tripcanvas/category/cruises.