Server bringing family drinks as they lounge .width .jpg

I’m About to Take an 8-Night Cruise. Here Are 4 Things I’m Doing to Save Money

Server bringing family drinks as they lounge on cruise ship deck.

Image source: Getty Images

In a few weeks, I’ll be setting sail with my wife, kids, and several friends and relatives on an eight-night Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Mardi Gras. It’s a trip we’ve been planning for some time, as it’s to celebrate my aunt’s 65th birthday.

As you might already know — especially if you have kids — getting away for eight nights as a family of four can get expensive quickly. And while this trip certainly wasn’t the cheapest family vacation we’ve ever booked, as an avid cruiser, there are some things I made sure to do in order to manage the costs.

1. We’re paying in advance — for as much as possible

One general rule of thumb, whether you’re talking about beverage packages, internet plans, spa treatments, or specialty dining reservations, you can often keep your vacation budget intact by booking them ahead of time.

As an example, the CHEERS! beverage package costs $59.95 per day, per person if booked online before the cruise, or $64.95 per day, per person if booked on board. On an eight-night cruise, booking ahead of time can save you $40 per person.

Another example is the Premium internet plan, which costs $21.25 per day when booked in advance, or $25 per day on board. There are other examples, but the general rule is that the more you can pay for in advance, the better. Plus, there are often combination deals, such as an additional 10% off wifi if you purchase it along with a spa treatment.

2. We’re sharing one internet plan

When I’m on a cruise — especially a longer one like this — I want to stay in touch with the outside world. But not that in touch. I want to be able to check my email a couple times a day, as well as the ability to write for an hour or two on sea days. And I don’t want my kids’ faces buried in screens for more than a few minutes here and there.

For this reason, my wife and I usually share a single internet plan, which many cruisers don’t realize is a possibility. The process varies by cruise line, but using Carnival as an example, you have to log in using your unique guest folio number. If I’m signed in to the internet, my wife can simply sign in with my folio number and it will boot me off and allow her to use it.

Of course, if you’re planning to work quite a bit, or if you have small children at home staying with relatives, it can certainly be worth buying your own internet package to keep in touch. But if you don’t need constant connection, it can save a significant amount of money to share.

3. We booked a cruise within driving distance

One of the itineraries we originally had our eye on this summer sailed out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. And while the cruise was roughly the same price as the one we ended up booking, we still had to get to the ship. Conservatively, round trip airfare to San Juan would have cost $2,000 for my family. Instead, we’re sailing out of Port Canaveral (near Orlando), which is a six-hour drive from my house, and much easier on my checking account.

Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone. If you live somewhere like Nebraska, you’re probably going to have to fly to your cruise. But if you live anywhere along the coasts, there’s a good chance there is a cruise port within a reasonable driving distance.

4. We aren’t doing shore excursions at every port

Last but certainly not least, shore excursions (organized activities booked through the cruise line) can get expensive.

In some ports, they are more essential than others. For example, it’s generally not recommended (by me or the U.S. Department of State) to simply wander around some of the port towns in Jamaica, due to safety concerns. But there are some ports where it’s perfectly safe, and rather easy to simply take a cab to a beautiful beach. Instead of booking an expensive shore excursion, we’re planning to enjoy a relaxing beach day at two of the three ports on our cruise.

Plenty of ways to save

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways you can save money on a cruise. For example, if you’re thinking about booking a spa treatment, you can typically get a deal once you’re on the ship if you’re willing to go on a day when the ship is in port. There are also plenty of free things to do on board that many people aren’t aware of — for example, Carnival holds arts and crafts classes for families throughout the cruise. You can also book a “guaranteed” stateroom instead of picking your exact location, and doing so can save you hundreds of dollars.

The bottom line is that a cruise vacation can be expensive, or it can be an economical way to see several places in a single trip. By taking steps to manage expenses, it might be more affordable than you think.

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