Cruises CAN be a very economical vacation…it depends on several factors. The claim from the cruise line is that because they are all-inclusive (accommodations, food, and transportation obviously!! 🙂 ), they cost less than other vacations. This is (partially) true! 🙂
However, there are some factors that affect the cost of your cruise. These decisions are what determines the final cost you will pay.
- Transportation TO the port: Driving, even if it takes 2 days and requires a hotel stay en route, will almost always be more economical. Airfare is typically more expensive. Of course, IF your drive is 3+ days and 2+ hotel stays….or if you find that ‘once in a lifetime’ bargain airfare, by all means, FLY!!! 🙂 NOTE: If cruising out of FL, check Allegiant Airlines. They service the tourist areas and offer some great fares. Be sure to add into your budget all the extra charges (carryon bag fees, pillow, blanket, etc…) they add in when you board to get an accurate idea of the cost.
- Cabin Type and Location: Cabins are priced from interior (least expensive) up to Luxury Suites (most expensive). They are also priced according to location – from forward (cheapest) to Aft (mid-price) to mid-ship (most expensive). The lower decks are sometimes cheaper than higher decks. Each of these factors affects the price of your cruise.
- Activities in Port: Cruise sponsored excursions are more expensive than excursions purchased on your own.
- What you Spend On Board: This of course, is just like anything else. YOU determine what you spend
If you’ve decided that a cruise is for you, then consider these questions/decisions:
SHOULD I GO THROUGH A TRAVEL AGENT?
Though I don’t advocate going through a travel agent for any other type of vacation, with a cruise it really doesn’t make any difference in the price you pay (Find a travel agent who doesn’t charge for his/her services). Their commission is paid by the cruise line – NOT by you. They can sometimes offer perks that make purchasing through them a bargain. In doing this though, it’s important to find a GOOD agent – but get recommendations from friends. I DON’T recommend finding one through an advertisement.
Advantages To A Travel Agent:
- If you’re a first time cruiser unfamiliar with the differences in the cruise lines (what they offer, who they cater to, what ‘experience’ they offer) a professional can direct you to the cruise line that can best meet your wants/needs. Finding this information on your own can be challenging as the company websites don’t typically advertise this information. ha!
- They will take care of all communication between you and the cruise line – if you need a price adjustment or want to change your dining arrangements, cabin location, or anything associated with your reservation. In fact, if you book through a travel agent, all communications MUST go through them. You won’t be able to call the cruise line yourself and make any changes to your reservation. That can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it.
- “Full service agents” MAY print cruise documents and luggage tags for you. You pick them up a few days before you leave.
- Cruise lines sometimes offer incentives (shipboard credits) to agents. The agent decides if he/she wants to keep that for him/herself….or share it with you…. As you’re ‘shopping’ for an agent, ask if there are any special ‘incentives’ or ‘perks’ available for booking through them?
- AAA members can secure some bargains when booking through AAA.
NOTE: Before choosing an agent, make sure he/she does NOT charge a booking fee or ‘change’ fee to make any adjustments to your reservation (cabin changes, upgrades, etc…) There are plenty of agents who don’t charge for these services. Go with one of those. 🙂
Advantages to Booking Yourself:
- You are able to contact the cruise line directly to get any price adjustments or make changes/upgrades to your reservation. You don’t have to ‘wait’ on anyone else to do it.
- The last time we booked though a travel agent, we qualified for 2 price adjustments. Our travel agent got those for us, but it was SOOO apparent that she didn’t really want to do it. I’m sure she lost commission every time our fare went down… 😦 and even though I found the reductions in fare, I couldn’t call the cruise line to get those credits to our account…I HAD to go through her. End result was that I was made to feel guilty every time I contacted her for a price adjustment. (I asked anyway because it was a family cruise – price adjustment X 4).
NOTE: Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia etc… ARE travel agents. If you book through them, you will have to go through them for any changes to your reservation. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your perspective. They are HUGE companies so carry clout and offer good bargains and perks…but when you call them, you will never talk to the same person twice. On the ‘up side’, their call centers now takes messages and call you back eliminating the ‘forever on hold’ phenomenon… Again…it’s all a matter of preference.
MY THOUGHTS: I have determined that for our needs, I prefer to book directly through the cruiseline myself – waiting for bargains or perks that they offer. Unless the incentives from the travel agent or broker are just SOOO wonderful that I simply can’t pass them up, I find it more of a hassle to communicate only through a 3rd party. I prefer to just do it myself.
CHOOSING THE CRUISE LINE
Because the cruise lines are each different in their own way, it’s a good idea to find the one that ‘fits’ you. Each company caters to a different type of traveler. For example, Carnival ‘seems’ to cater to the younger crowd while Holland America ‘seems’ more for the older crowd. Regent is for the ‘discriminating traveler” (as they put it, ha!) looking for 5 star accommodations and dining. They also give FREE airfare and unlimited FREE shore excursions (though in reality, their prices cover those costs….and then some…. haha) Having said that, I must say that all the lines are making attempts to cross these generational (and income) boundaries so Stay Tuned!!
If I had to put them in order and categories based on level of luxury (and price), I would do it like this:
- Royal Caribbean; Norwegian;
- Holland America; Celebrity;
- Cunard; Crystal; Regent
Disney is a category all its own because it is so different from any of the others. Do not think that ‘The Mouse’ is only for the kids, though. Disney Cruises are just as nice for adults, honeymooners, grandparents. They, too, are trying to NOT be put into a box. You will pay for all the perks of a Disney cruise though. They are typically twice the price of the same identical cruise on Carnival.
Obviously, the more you pay, the higher level of luxury and pampering you will receive. You get what you pay for on this as with anything else.
Best Cruise line for Kids and Families: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Disney
Best Cruise line for the ‘Over-50’ Crowd: Holland America, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean
Best Cruise line for singles: Carnival, Norwegian, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean
NOTE: Most cruise lines have a policy about pregnant women sailing….typically, they will not allow a woman who is more than 24 wks. pregnant to board. BE AWARE that this policy MAY not be ‘advertised’ on the website. IF this pertains to you, search for this information or call the cruise line and inquire. They WILL refuse boarding at the terminal to any pregnant woman determined to have passed the 24 wk. mark….possibly with no refund. This probably should be in a more prominent place on websites, but so far I haven’t seen it there…
FINDING THE BEST PRICE ON A CRUISE
- First of all….DISCOUNTS:
- Resident Rate: Ask about discounts for your state – Many cruise lines offer a discount to those who live in states with ports. It never hurts to ask.
- A military discount is pretty standard. If you’ve served in the military 🙂 🙂 be sure to ask about that.
- Discounts for various jobs: Teachers, Fire/Public safety personnel
- Senior discounts – this is not as common, but still worth asking about
- Timing plays a big role in pricing. The BEST PRICES are usually found the day the cruise is put on the market. If you can’t book that far in advance (18 mo??) then the next ‘best price’ and cabin choices will typically be found 90-120 days before the sailing date.
- Cabin Type and Location determines pricing too: Prioritize!
- Is ‘less motion’ important to you? Book mid-ship.
- Is ‘quiet’ important to you? Check what is directly above and below your cabin – and book a cabin away from elevators, atriums or doors….and possibly “white areas” on the deck maps.
- What are you willing to compromise on? interior cabin? lower deck? perhaps forward or aft (rear) of the ship if you aren’t bothered by motion. (Mid-ship is most expensive)
Every decision you make in this area either increases or decreases your price.
- You can save money if your vacation timing is flexible. It all goes back to the Law of Supply and Demand and prices vary by week. Cruising ‘off-season’ or when everyone else is NOT cruising is always less expensive. A little comparison shopping will quickly show the most economical times to cruise. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentines as well as summer when kids are out of school are usually pricier.
- Weather Patterns – hurricanes, et al.: Hurricane season in the Caribbean is June-Sept….especially Sept. Traveling during those times is a risk…but it is also usually a bargain. You have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk to get the bargain. I recommend travel insurance for all cruises….but ABSOLUTELY for cruises during hurricane season. I will say, my family has traveled during this time and it worked out fine for us….but we bought the insurance….and we understood the risks we were taking. 🙂 We also USED that insurance!!! 🙂
Families or groups who can stay 3 or 4 (or even 5) in a room will pay less per person than those in cabins for 2. Rooms are crowded with 4 in them, but there ARE ways to make it work. If you only plan to sleep in the room, it isn’t that important to have ‘lots of space’. 🙂 This pic is of a room set up for 4 – The upper beds are folded into the wall during the day and the steward pulls them down at night. Beds are configured any way you request them – i.e. queen or 2 (or 4) twins. NOTE: Carnival has the largest cabins in the industry when comparing equal rooms (interior to interior; oceanview to oceanview, etc…)
- Cruises are not priced with “adult” or “child” rates. They are based on a “passenger” rate. Every person, regardless of age, is a “passenger” so is charged as such.
- Some cruise lines offer special perks for getting their credit card (discounts, points, onboard credit, etc…). After you’ve chosen your cruise line (but BEFORE booking) apply for the credit card. (Using the card to pay for the cruise often secures extra benefits! 🙂 NOTE: Keep in mind that applying for a credit card ‘dings’ your credit.
CHOOSING YOUR CABIN:
- CHECK AT THE DECK PLAN of your ship paying special attention to what is above and below the cabin. Cabins directly below the galley, pool deck, casinos or bars can be noisy until 3 am each night. “White” areas on the deck plan are ‘unknown’s’ Sometimes these are perfectly fine…no noise. Other times they may be crew closets, crew laundry rooms, etc…. that CAN be noisy. You can always call the cruise line and ask those questions, but don’t expect good answers. If they know, they usually DON’T tell….sorry…
- A “Guarantee” cabin means you pay for a category and the cruise line assigns your cabin location with their remaining inventory – typically a few days before the cruise. Guarantee cabins are less expensive, but might put you in an undesirable location (next to elevators, noise from galley, pool, lounges etc… or directly above the anchors that are lowered EARLY when you arrive in port, or at the very front of the ship where there’s more movement). If any of these things are important to you, you might prefer paying the extra to choose your cabin location. It’s a matter of personal preference, but just know what you’re getting when you book ‘guarantee’.
- Deck Plan Genius http://deckplangenius.com/Home.aspx is a good resource for advantages/disadvantages to your cabin. This is ‘generic’ information based on the deck plans rather than anyone’s personal experience, nevertheless, it IS a good site to check before choosing your cabin. For more ‘personalized’ information, google your ship name and room number. You MAY find personal reviews by other cruises who have stayed in that exact cabin ….. 🙂
- Cabins are small, but plenty spacious for 2 people. They are laid out in a ‘space efficient’ way. If you are putting 3-4-5 in a cabin, however, you will need a few things to maximize your space….I’ve listed some things we found valuable here: Part 5: Cruises: Clothes and Personal Items to Pack.
- The center of the ship has less movement…. The front and back will be less expensive. If you think you might be susceptible to sea sickness,splurge on the mid-ship cabins. Sea sickness can really ruin a cruise!!!
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT CRUISE PRICING:
To really understand how cruise pricing works, you need to understand something. The basic fares are often very inexpensive…It may even appear as if the company is losing money. This is all part of their financial ‘plan’.
Here’s how it works. These mega ships are HUGE….with a LOT of cabins to fill. They don’t mind filling them at a loss because their profits don’t come from the cruise fare. Their profits come from the money passengers spend AFTER they’re on board –all those little ‘extras’ like drinks, shopping, photos, gambling, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, excursions, and on and on and on. Knowing this going IN to the cruise will help you make wise decisions with your ‘cruise dollar’. Beyond the initial purchase of the fare, YOU are in control of what your cruise REALLY costs based on how many of these ‘extras’ you buy and how many you ‘pass up’. 🙂
Best Advice: Know the advantages and disadvantages of your choices so you can make the most informed decisions. 🙂
Other Posts on Cruising:
- Part 2: Your Cruise is Booked, Now What?
- Part 3: Embarkation and ‘First’ Tips
- Part 4: Saving Money Once Onboard
- Part 5: Clothes and Personal Items to Pack
- Part 6: Besides Clothes, What do I Take?
- Cruising with Children
- Dollar Store ‘Finds” for the Frugal Traveler: contains a section on items particularly for cruisers