Cruises, Frugal Traveler

Cruising On a Budget


13 Prom. Deck 7 115

How Cruise Ships Make Money:  🙂 

To understand how you can cruise on a budget, you have to understand a foundational policy to cruise-line-pricing.

Cheap fares is how the cruise lines lure you on board.  Their goal is to fill their cabins…even at a loss if necessary.  They can do this because their profits come AFTER you’re on board – with all the money they HOPE you’ll spend.  They employ many sales pitches/tactics to separate passengers from their money….from drinks to specialty restaurants to spa treatments to shopping bargains to shore excursions. How much your cruise finally costs will depend on how many of these you opt for…and how many you walk away from. The decision is yours, but realize that these decisions will affect the REAL cost of your cruise.  🙂

Photo Credit: Cruise News Weekly on Flickr CC lic.
Photo Credit: Cruise News Weekly on Flickr CC Lic.










  • Enjoy The Free Stuff:  free shows or movies, activities, games, lectures/seminars, classes, demonstrations, lounging by the pool, sports decks, Main Dining room, buffet or other free eateries and ‘included’ drinks.  Make THESE the things you enjoy on board.
  •  It’s all about choices. Make them wisely. BEFORE YOU BOARD, make a “Top 3 List” (or Top 2…or Top 4) of favorite vacation activities…the things you MUST have/do in order to enjoy your vacation. Budget for those and let everything else go. If specialty coffee is a ‘must’ in order for you to enjoy your vacation, then by all means, have it. Compensate by forgoing the spa treatment. If that spa treatment is on your ‘must do’ list, do it.  Compensate by forgoing the shopping spree.  etc…  Do the things on your ‘Top’  list and say ‘no’ to everything else.
  • Waiting is a virtue!  Spa treatments, shopping, et. al. are discounted up to 50% on port days or the last day of the cruise. (on some cruise lines) It’s how they increase business during slow times. All of these discounts will be in the daily newsletter delivered to your stateroom. Discounts are always better than full price, right??
  • Resist the sales pitch for over-priced products offered after your spa treatment.
  • Don’t DOUBLE-tip.  Most cruise lines add a gratuity to drinks, spa and fitness centers, etc…   There is a space on the ‘receipt” to add an additional tip  –and you’re always welcome to add that for outstanding service, but don’t feel pressured to do so. Some unsuspecting tourists see the line and add 15-20%, not realizing it’s already been added.  They’re tipping double.

PLEASE NOTE:  I did NOT say to eliminate the tip….I said to not OVER-tip or DOUBLE-tip.  Tips are important for the employees who work so hard to make your cruise enjoyable.  Don’t stiff them on the tip they deserve.  Just don’t inadvertently tip twice.

  • Don’t feel like you must have a shore excursion on every port day….especially on a longer cruise. When cruising on a budget, you can choose the excursions you really want to do, then spend some days just exploring or doing ‘on your own’ – the beach, sightseeing or shopping. Some beaches, urban or historic areas are within walking distance….or a short taxi or bus ride from the port. Just do your research.
    • Of course, the BEST source of information about your plan is your carrier.  Call them about 2 weeks before your cruise to get the latest info on what will and will not incur excess charges.Free stock photo of iphone, smartphone, internet, connection
    • At Sail Away (yes…immediately) turn your  phone OFF or on airplane mode (data off) to avoid  international roaming charges. Even though you may not be using that phone, it will still ‘ping’ in search of an internet connection if it’s turned on….leaving you with a shocking bill when you return home.
    • If you NEED connectivity, ask your carrier about their international rates. Some plans may allow you to add International service for 1 month.
    • Wi-fi calling (free wi-fi) is an option if you don’t have an international plan.   Restaurants/coffee shops in port may offer wi-fi with purchase.  🙂
    • Talk to cruise crew members to find out how they make calls while in port.  They do this all the time so will know where to find the free or cheap wi-fi or purchase calling cards.  🙂
    • When making that call in port, make sure you’re far enough away from the ship that your phone doesn’t connect through the ship’s tower anyway.  Again, phones ‘ping’ to the nearest (most accessible) tower. If you can see the ship, you just might be making that call FROM the ship – without intending to.
    • Check out the Magic Jack (or similar) app for wi-fi calls on land. Be sure to call your carrier as part of this process to avoid surprises on your next bill.
    • NOTE:  Some cell phone companies include service on some Caribbean islands in their regular plans. Have I mentioned to call your carrier??  haha!   You just might be surprised…  🙂
  • Emails On Board With Ships Internet:  Ship internet is NOT cheap!  But if you DO have to communicate with ship internet, at least write that email in your word program then copy/paste/send when online.  Expect the connection to be slow….like REALLY slow!
  • Some cruise lines will sell a small, discounted package of internet minutes on the last sea day (mainly for those checking in for flights, etc…)
  • Bring your own carbonated drinks and/or water on board if allowed (Carnival has recently disallowed anything “bottled” to be brought on board…most notably, water. 😦  ).  Policies seem to be constantly changing on this so check your cruise line website for CURRENT details and bring whatever is ‘allowable’ to save money on your cruise.  At least until the day when all beverages are restricted,  passengers can bring a limited amount with them.    Note… I DO bring my green tea bags.  🙂
  • flavored water packetsThese are nice to give you a little variety.  Get them at the Dollar Tree ($1/pkg of 8)….  They take up virtually no space in your luggage and add some variety to your beverage options.
  • If, while on your cruise, you find that you LOVE cruising, you can usually book your next cruise while on board.  Most cruise lines offer some type of incentive for booking on a cruise (On board credit, reduced deposits, etc…) This is another way that cruisers cruise on a budget….they earn FREE money by booking their next cruise while on their current cruise.  Stop by the Future Cruise office on board to find out what they’re offering. Check cancellation policies and if you find them satisfactory, then go for it!!!!  How about doing some preliminary discussion about your ‘cruise wish list’ in anticipation of that visit to the “Future Cruise” desk?  🙂
  • Most cruise lines either give you a print out of your bill the last night of your cruise or you can access this on the kiosks or TV in your stateroom.  Check  this over carefully and if you find any discrepancies, get those resolved BEFORE you get off the ship. In most cases, once you leave the ship, all bills are considered final. We like to check this ‘early’ on the last day so we can resolve any issues before everyone else gets in the line at Customer Service.  🙂


  • As mentioned above, one of the big money-makers for the cruise line is the specialty restaurants.  They’re nice…I admit, however, so are the regular dining rooms which are included in the cruise fare.  There are so many eatery options available on these ships, not only the main dining rooms (where the food is INCREDIBLE) but burgers, pizza, the buffet with a constantly changing menu.
    Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe on Flickr CC Lic.

    You can get plenty to eat while still saving money on your cruise by frequenting THESE venues.  The more you eat in specialty restaurants, the more your cruise will cost in the end.

  • Special drinks from alcohol to specialty coffees to carbonated drinks will all cost a LOT more on board than they do on land.  If you can wait to get these in port, it will make a difference in the cost of your cruise.



Before we leave the subject of “saving money on a cruise“, I need to mention something.


These Auto-Gratuities that are automatically charged to your account is NOT an area to try to ‘save money‘.

Yes…Most of the cruise lines automatically charge tips to your account – currently $12-$15/passenger per day. And while you can opt to remove or decrease these, honestly, that a pretty rotten thing to do to these hard working employees who have served you and made your cruise so relaxing and enjoyable.   If they have failed in some way, stop by Customer Service to resolve the issue. Otherwise, please leave the tips as they are.  🙂 (And if you made special requests…or feel service warranted it, you might even consider leaving a little extra….It’s a personal preference).

What about charges for children?  No, children are not charged a lesser rate on gratuities.  This policy is easy for any Mom to understand… Children are FAR MORE CHALLENGING to pick up/clean up after than adults.  Hey Moms…that’s true, isn’t it?  🙂 🙂  We are fortunate the cruise lines don’t charge MORE for the little tikes!  haha!!     Please don’t decrease tips if you have children in the room.   🙂

My Last CRUISING ON A BUDGET TIP:  We’ve found a way to get around these tips.  Save money on a cruise and NOT stiff the crew….  We book on Princess or Holland America during their “Free Gratuities” promotions.  The cruise line pays the tips FOR us!!  Our crew members get the tip they deserve…and we save money on our cruise.  It’s a Win-Win situation!!!  🙂 🙂  ALWAYS check those booking promotions!!!   🙂 🙂 
US dollar

Last Word on Tips:  Gratuities for room service, porters, shore excursion operators are NOT included in these auto-tips.  If you plan to use these services, bring several $1 bills for that.   Of course, YOU are in control of how many of these services you use.  To cruise on a budget, just limit this.  🙂

NOTE:  Tips for drinks are typically automatically included in the charge for the drink but cruise line policies may vary so check the website for specifics. 

Cruising on a budget IS possible.  Start by making your “Top 3 List” of things you MUST do in order to have a happy and fulfilling vacation. By all means, do those…and compensate for that cost by forgoing other things. It’s all about choices, you know.  🙂

Other Posts on Cruising:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s