Our Top Tips for Cheaper Cruises

Before you go:

Get a great deal!

Just in case the cruise of your dreams isn’t in this week’s Real Deals newsletter here’s our best advice on finding a fantastic price on a cruise:

Book early or wait until late
Last-minute departures are where you find the biggest savings – especially if you can wait until just a few weeks before the ship departs. Cruise lines get desperate to fill the last few cabins – you can snap them up at plain silly prices.
The flip side is that you might not get the choice of cruise you want – You can bet the best cabins will have long gone, or worse still the cruise might sell out entirely – leaving you with no holiday at all. Now that’s a sad, sad thought.

If you have a specific cruise in mind a far better option is to get organised and book early. Cruise lines quite like having their ships booked up in advance, and they’ll offer plenty of encouragement in the form of discounts, upgrades and free on-board spends – if that’s what it takes to tempt you.
The first months of the year, January and February, are when the cruise lines go all out to get the early sales in.

Avoid Peak Dates
Simple one this. The cheapest Med cruise is never going to be in the middle of the August summer holidays. Instead look for deals in the less popular shoulder seasons. Not only will you get a far cheaper holiday, the weather is likely to be pleasant but cooler (some people like that), and the ships and ports won’t be as crowded.

Shoulder season is May or September/October for the Med. Caribbean cruises are generally cheaper between September and January – though you should bear in mind that this crosses with hurricane season (June to November). Normally the weather is fine, but your ship may be diverted from the advertised route if a storm threatens.

Cheap Cruise Ship in Caribbean
Image © vetroff

Go Vintage
Look at the older cruise ships – they are often cheaper to travel on, and they also have more inside cabins (always the cheapest cabin category) than modern liners.

Don’t Let Price be the Only Factor
Don’t be swayed by a super low price if you don’t think the cruise line matches up with what you want from your holiday. It’s not a great deal if you’re surrounded by excitable kids when you really wanted a sophisticated sailing. Each of the cruise lines have very distinct personalities. Read our guide and pick one that suits you.

Ensure the extras won’t cost you extra

There are a lot of additional costs that you may not initially factor into your cruise cost – make sure you do, and make sure that you take measures to keep them low too.

If you’re sailing from the UK consider how you’re going to get to your departure port. The majority of people drive – which makes parking a problem. Look for deals on parking on the Internet beforehand.
Some hotels like the Holiday Inn Express and Mercure in Southampton will offer special stay and cruise deals. These will give you one night’s accommodation and up to 15 nights’ parking – they’re especially useful if you’re coming from far away and want to drive down the day before.

If you don’t want to drive look at whether public transport or getting a lift is cheaper (the latter can sometimes be bought for the cost of a novelty box of chocolates – what a bargain).

If flights aren’t included in your deal make sure you’re getting a good price on them (we have this little flight comparison tool if you need it…). And don’t forget your baggage costs if you’re flying low-cost.

For the Cruise:

What to pack

Our packing list contains a few unusual items, all of which could save you some serious money once you’re on your cruise.

Sea-sickness medication
Some people swear by alternative remedies like wrist bands and ginger, others prefer pills and patches. Whichever works on you, if you’re prone to sea sickness make sure you’re carrying them with you. Getting sea sick will ruin a vacation. Ditto for a hefty doctor’s bill.

Cheap Cruise hat
Image © Andy Dean Photography

Bottled water
Tap water will be free to drink on the ship but if you prefer mineral it’s far cheaper to bring your own than pay astronomical prices to the cruise line. Most ships don’t have a limit on how much you can bring on board. The only catch is you have to carry it yourself. But you can see how much you can hide in your luggage (which is brought on board for you) if you like…

Cruise ships have strict alcohol rules on how much and what you can bring on board. You will normally only be able to consume your drink in your cabin too. We still say it’s worth bringing what you can as it will definitely be cheaper than buying on board.

On Board Spending:

Cruise lines are very good indeed at giving you things to spend your money on. You’ll find professional photographers willing to take your picture, you can book onto behind the scenes tours of the ship and be pampered from head to toe in luxurious spas – all for a fee of course.

But if you can ignore all these, and stick to your inclusive restaurants for meals, there’s no reason why you’ll need to reach for your wallet (well, that card thingy they give you) whilst you’re on the ship.

Cheap Cruise Top Deck

All of the modern superliners have at least one premium restaurant you can visit at extra cost. They’re nice for a special occasion, but if you’re on a budget sticking to the restaurants that are part of your full board package is clearly the way to go.

Traditional cruise lines like Cunard tend to have a grand dining room with set seating and dining times. Others have a more relaxed style of cruising; Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the concept of “Freestyle Dining” with main dining rooms plus endless buffets and other snack bars all part of the complimentary meals.

There’s nothing stopping you from arranging your own excursions – though the cruise lines will warn you that the ship won’t wait if you’re not on their official tour.
If you like having someone else take care of the organisation for you, wait at the port as you can usually find touts happy to undercut the ship’s fees. Or arrange your own trip. In many cases it’s as simple as hailing a cab, and you won’t waste hours waiting for latecomers to make it back to the coach. Go on! Have an adventure.

Cheap Cruise venice
Image © stocker1970

Also if it is easy to return to the ship, consider going aboard for lunch – technically you have already paid for a meal there…

Obviously we think you should tip for good service, and we know that a lot of cruise ship employees depend on their tips – but do make sure you’re aware of your cruise line’s tipping policy so you know what the charges will add up to.

For example, it’s common for the at-cost restaurants and spas to add an additional gratuity charge to their bills – check if this has been added (it’s optional) before you leave a tip. You can read our dos and don’ts of tipping on cruise ships here.

If you’re going to shop on the ship we’d recommend waiting until the end of your cruise. Not only will you not have your purchases cluttering up your cabin but we’ve noticed that the shops’ deals often get better towards the end of the week!

Keep an Eye on What you’re Spending
It’s tricky to keep up with what you are spending on board, especially if you’ve been given a card which charges everything to your room. You can get an itemised update of your total at any time from the Purser’s Office. Preferably do this before the last day of your cruise because you can guarantee that’s when everyone else will want to do it.

Any tips that have saved you a small fortune on a cruise? Share them with us in the comments below.