First-time cruiser? Congratulations! There’s no better way to see a carefully curated collection of destinations while only having to unpack your bag once!

There’s just one caveat. There may be sneaky costs associated with your cruise. You need to remember to check the specifics of the cruise package you’ve purchased because drinks, shore excursions, and wi-fi charges can all add up to a surprising additional price tag. Knowing in advance exactly what you have and haven’t paid is key, so consider our practical cruising tips to help you cut costs and save on a cruise.

1. Cruising Tips: Know What Your Package Includes 

The first step on how to save on a cruise, is to read your cruise passenger agreement carefully to be sure you know what’s included. For example, some cruise companies provide an all-inclusive drinks program. Others include wine and beer with dinner but not drinks in the lounges or bars – and you won’t be allowed to bring your glass of wine from dinner over to the lounge. A drink or two a day doesn’t sound like much but it adds up when you’re trying to save on a cruise.

2. Save On A Cruise With Savvy Shore Excursions

Off shore cruise excursions

Image courtesy of Emerald Cruises.

Shore excursions are a key part of any cruise and they’re the first thing to plan after you book your cruise. Again, some cruise lines – particularly river cruise lines – include a shore excursion at each port in the cost of your cruise. Others charge separately – and the costs can range from $50 to more than $1,000 US or more, per day/per guest, depending on what type of excursion you choose. For example, a city walking tour might be at the low end of the scale, while a helicopter tour might be at the other end. All key pieces of information you need to know if you’re looking to save on a cruise.

Knowing your choices will enable you to make cost-efficient decisions. Maybe you’d prefer to do your own, unguided walking tour and if the port isn’t in the city centre, cabs will be waiting. The important thing is to be sure to be back in plenty of time for sail-away. Ships don’t wait and if you miss your connection, it will be up to you to get yourself to the next port. That’s a pricey mistake to make.

You can also book shore excursions online instead of through the cruise line. You’ll need to be very careful with this option and ensure that you fully understand the costs and the timing involved (again, be sure to leave yourself a generous margin for error in returning to the ship.) A reputable place to start looking at private shore excursion bookings is Viatour, owned by Trip Advisor. Whatever you choose, make sure you budget for your shore excursion in advance if you want to budget and save on a cruise. You can also enlist the help of a travel agent to navigate all the fine details of booking your first cruise.

3. Cruising Tips: Raise a Glass

Four Ways to Save on River Cruises

Scenic Eclipse Bar Interior. Courtesy of Scenic Eclipse.

The highest end cruise lines provide fully stocked mini-bars and even offer the bottled liquor of your choice in your stateroom, and every drink is included. If that’s what you’ve chosen, raise a glass! If your cruise deal doesn’t include a full drink package, no worries – there are ways to economize. Some river cruise lines will allow you to bring your own alcohol on board, making it easy to simply set up a supply in your stateroom. Most ocean cruise lines, by contrast, scan your bags when you return from shore excursions and while alcohol bought ashore won’t be confiscated, it might be ‘held’ for you until the end of the cruise. Some cruise lines sell drinks packages that range from covering just water, coffee and soft drinks to the full range of drinks at meals and in the bars, allowing you to determine how much you think you’ll consume.

Tips for ships where you’re paying for some or all of your alcohol:

  1. Buy wine by the bottle in the main dining room and have them cork and save it for you from meal to meal. Unless you’re drinking a whole bottle with each meal, this is less expensive than paying by the glass.
  2. If your drinks are covered at meals but not in the bar, switch to soft drinks for the second half of your evenings.

4. Save On A Cruise: Know The Wi-Fi Situation

One surprising shipboard expense is wi-fi. Some ships now include your wi-fi connection in the cost of the cruise, but not all. If you do have to pay extra for a package, consider your usage before signing up. Ships have notoriously slow service, so posting masses of photos on Facebook or Face Timing with the kids will be prohibitively pricey, so you’re best to stick with email and leave the social media for later.

Tips for frugal wifi users:

  1. Type messages in a word processing program before you sign on to your price onboard wifi. Then quickly paste them in.
  2. Look for cafés and other tourist spots ashore that offer free wifi. You might be able to skip buying the ship’s package altogether.

ANOTHER MUST-READ: 

Don’t Book A Cruise Without Asking A Travel Agent These Questions 

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Writer Liz Fleming

Liz Fleming has explored the globe from the Arctic Circle to the lost Incan world Machu Picchu. She's worked as a syndicated Canadian Press columnist and had her articles appear in major newspapers and magazines across North America. Now editor-in-chief of Cruise & Travel Lifestyles magazine, she's passionate about introducing her fellow explorers to the adventures waiting from pole to pole.

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