Cruise Control - How to Have Fun Without Letting the Costs Sail Away With You

So, now you are ready to embark on that lifelong dream of cruising to the Bahamas, but how do you make sure you come back home in one piece, financially speaking? By doing your homework in advance, asking your travel agent the right questions, and paying attention to a few things before and during the trip, you can keep a lid on costs and have an overall good time.

1. Choose the Best Cabin for You - and Your Budget

An important element to consider when planning a cruise trip is the choice of cabin. I cannot emphasize this enough; depending on your lifestyle, family situation or financial condition, certain cabins would better suit you. Deciding which cabin to pick should not be a complex feat, but you still need to do some homework and know what you exactly want.

Let's review a few things you should keep in mind when researching cabins:

Personal preference

First and foremost, the cabin you choose should align with your preference and lifestyle. For example, do you plan to spend most of your time having fun outside with fellow cruisers or will you rather have some quality time perusing your favorite book, watching TV, or talking to folks back home? If you don't plan on spending time inside a cabin, then an inside cabin may be your best option. But, again, it all depends on your lifestyle, how long your trip is, and events you plan to attend on the ship.

Cabin location

Cabin location is important for comfort and pricing reasons. There are various cabins to consider-but I want to ask yourself, as you go through the list, how much time you are going to spend awake in your cabin. "Awake" is one of the keywords here because the last thing you want is to get a pricey cabin where you would barely spend time during your expedition.

  • Lower deck cabin - usually the cheapest cabin you can find on a ship. It typically is furthest from common areas as diverse as lounges, fitness centers and pools. This is important because it means you either would be walking to and fro your cabin, or would be taking the elevators. You can save money by opting for a lower deck cabin, but enquire about things like window size and anchor or engine noise before making a final decision.
  • Higher deck cabin - costs more than a lower deck cabin because it generally is closer to such amenities as pools and sun decks. So, go for this type of cabin if you plan on indulging during a warm weather cruise. Note, however, that a higher deck cabin easily bows to rocking motions up high, so you might want to avoid it if you are seasick prone and ride on a small ship.
  • Midship cabin - typically offers the best combo of price and quality. I recommend you select this cabin if you have mobility problems or are seasick prone. This is because it is midway from every amenity, and, therefore, you save much time when moving around. The only-and big-downside is that you lose some privacy. Passengers would be walking around more often, which will generate much traffic outside in the hallways.
  • Bow cabin - may cost more but offers an exciting view, especially if you think of yourself as a "real" sailor. Also known as a forward cabin, a bow cabin gives you more spray and wind on the front. The windows might be recessed or smaller, though, so it could be difficult to see the side or rear of the ship.
  • Aft cabin - Also known as a rear cabin, an aft cabin is expensive but gives you a large balcony and the kind of idyllic, panoramic view you often see on postcards. The only drawback is loss of privacy because-depending on the ship's shape - customers in restaurants and loungers could look down on your aft cabin's balcony.

Cabin type

Below are cabin types you generally would find on cruise ships, from the cheapest to the most expensive. But always check and double-check pricing, location and amenities with your cruise operator before booking.

  • Inside cabin
  • Outside cabin-ocean view
  • Cabin with veranda or balcony
  • Suite
  • Wellness cabin

Get cabin information

To get more information about cabin pricing and everything cruise-related, check trusted cruise booking websites. Each of these site helps you do everything from booking your trip online to getting quotes, checking cabin options, and getting discounts on cruise vacation packages.

Example

To better illustrate how the choice of cabin can affect your cruise budget, let's do a quick comparison using Sea Scanner's online quote tool. We'll keep every criterion intact but change the cabin type in each scenario.

Basic inputs:

Company: Royal Caribbean

Route: Canary Islands

Ship: Adventure of the Seas

Country: USA

Nights: 9-13 days

From: July 2013 to August 2013

Output: ($ cost) by cabin category from Aug. 8, 2013 through Aug. 17, 2013

Inside: $1,345

Outside: $1,752

Balcony: $1,895

Suite: $3,619

Wellness: Not available on this route

Cruise Control - How to Have Fun Without Letting the Costs Sail Away With You

2. Be Smart Around Peak Seasons

I know it is more fun to book a cruise trip around peak seasons, especially if you are travelling with friends, families and/or colleagues, and want to enjoy the whole "camaraderie thing." Booking trips during peak times may be pricey because the economics law of supply and demand invariably boosts ticket prices. But if travelling in the off-season is not something alluring to you, you still can book a peak season trip without breaking your bank. To do so, reduce your travel cost by charging the fare on a reward card, using coupons and rebates that the cruise provider occasionally gives away, and setting a collective budget with your fellow travelers to diminish everybody's final expense.

3. Book Early

Book your trip early, again, to avoid the unfavorable effect that the law of supply and demand has on prices. By booking early, you may be entitled to discounts, and can choose the compartment you want – not to mention an affordable ticket price.

4. Go Old School

Leave that dream of sailing the latest, sleekest yachts aside for now, unless your budget can afford the pricey time you would spend in the Owner's Suite or Admiral's Suite. If you're not on the higher end of the income spectrum, consider sailing old school, meaning picking an old but relatively well-kept ship. But don't forget that dream of sailing a luxury yacht aside. Check continually for deals and online specials that premium-cruise operators post, and seize any deal that offers the perfect combo of price and destination you want.

5. Be Flexible with Beverages

Beverages can be expensive on cruises, but you can reduce your overall tab by asking the cruise manager if there are beverage packages or daily drinks specials. If you have a rewards credit or debit card or possess a loyalty card of the cruise operator, show it to the manager and tell him or her that you have been a faithful customer for years and will continue to be in the future. A little diplomacy and courtesy here and there can help you get on people's good side-and, why not, get a good beverage deal at the end.

6. Watch Food Expenses

Adopt the beverage tactic to food, too. The whole idea is to enjoy your favorite dishes, while being smart and inquisitive. Generally speaking, food can break your bank, especially if you indulge in the seemingly endless wave of buffets, special dinners, Chef's lunches and Admiral's specials that are common on some lines-not to mention those high-end ice cream and coffee bars.

But you can enjoy some, if not all, of these delicacies via diplomacy with the food manager; by using your rewards card, the cruise operator's loyalty card or any other relevant membership card; by seeking discounts or rebates; and by indulging when there are daily or weekly specials.

7. Use the Internet Reasonably

Ask your Internet provider whether you can get online on a cruise, and if yes, whether there is an extra charge. If the provider does not offer that service, check online for other Internet packages. Talk to the cruise operator and ask a rep about Internet options that are available to passengers. The whole idea is to enjoy your trip and surf the Net when needed-but to do so within your financial limit.

You may not need to check your emails constantly, open a new chat session with your favorite nephew every three hours, or tell the whole Facebook world that you are on vacation. Internet connections can be slow and expensive-running from 50 cents to 1 dollar a minute. Think about how much you would spend a day on Internet access and how many days your cruise will last.

8. Be Generous with Gratuities - But Don't Break the Bank

Be generous and give tips as often as you want, but don't create a dent in your own finances. Some cruise lines, such as Regent Seven Seas, SeaDream Yacht Club and Silversea Cruises, set a cruise far that already includes gratuities. Other providers would encourage you to recompense good service, but that's up to you to agree or not.

9. Love Casinos and Games of Chance - But Do it Moderately

Enjoy casinos and games of chance as much as you can; who knows, today might be your lucky day! But set limits for yourself, so that you can control you lose-and win- without breaking your budget. For example, you can establish a daily limit (I know it's hard) beyond which you would no longer play. Or, take only cash to the casino and leave your credit or debit card in your wallet. That way, when the money is gone, you would have an incentive to leave the facility. Also, ask the casino manager if there are special deals for someone like you who likes to gamble every now and then within reasonable limits.

10. Be Smart with Amenities

Be smart with amenities and use them moderately. For example, you can use a spa every three days or attend the gym on a special discount day. Ask the cruise operator about special discounts and rebates along with intervals when attendance is low and, therefore, entry fees are cheap. Be creative and avoid peak times; for example, if the spa opens from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and peak time is around 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., show up at 8:30 a.m. or 6:30 p.m. and enjoy a reduced rate and more quality time with the spa professional.

Generally speaking, amenities are a good cash generator for cruise lines, but they may be bad for your wallet. Places like sports facilities, spas and salons are income-generating units, and the personnel's main job is to satisfy customers' needs but also to make money. The same is true for personal trainers; coaches of special exercise classes; and staff in charge of laundry, dry cleaning and pressing. The last three items can increase your overall expenses because they typically entail per-item rates, similar to what you pay for in hotels.

11. Enjoy Your Shore Excursion-Reasonably

Shore excursions run the whole adventure gamut, from helicopter flights and private yacht excursions to exotic adventures, treks with/to wildlife, and half-day bus tours. Rates can be anywhere from a few dollars to a thousand dollars per person, without adding things like overseas medical insurance coverage and ATM fees in places where cash is king and credit and debit cards are not accepted. But don't worry; you can still enjoy your shore excursion if you research venues online in advance and look for tourist attractions. That way, you can even talk to the venue manager, discuss pricing and include it in your overall budget. Remember, you also can take a cab ride into the city and do your own thing, rather than canvassing local areas via a company-sponsored expedition.

12. Stay Healthy

Stay healthy, but plan for the worst. Check your insurance coverage before leaving and determine whether you are covered when you're out of the country-something most group insurance policies don't cover. Medical misfortune might strike you during the trip, and that's fine because nobody can control the timing of things like disease and other biological accidents. But don't tempt fate by engaging in behavior-such as overeating and excessive drinking-that eventually could cause medical problems. If you are not covered, you'd be left with the hospital tab if you were to get sick overseas, on a cruise.

13. Shop Moderately

Shop moderately and smartly when you are on a cruise. Before taking the trip, search online for things like clothing and paraphernalia you might want to bring back from the place you are headed. Don't forget gifts and souvenirs that your friends and relatives could request. Make a list of things to buy and where to buy them. Think about the exchange rate and figure out how much you would have to dole out in dollars. Compare local prices with pricing displayed on the Internet to see if buying online is not more advantageous. Doing all these things in advance gives you an idea of what to expect and helps you not overindulge overseas.

I know that the urge to splurge often can be irresistible, especially when you see that shiny, cute hat or dress that you know you can only find in that exotic island. But don't give in unless you absolutely have to. Besides the spontaneous purchases, you have the bank fees-exchange rate, foreign transaction and ATM usage -that can add up very quickly.

14. Be Reasonable with Cell Phone Usage

Similar to Internet usage, cell phone utilization can be costly. Check with your provider before leaving your hometown, making sure it has an agreement with the cruise line's service provider. That way, you can receive discount and will not be charged the often hefty international roaming fees. Your phone company will bill you per-minute charges, so ease up a bit on those long conversations with folks back home.

15. Cheeze! - Smile, But Don't Cheeze Too Much, Too Often

Photographers working on a cruise line typically are employed by the line or have signed joint-venture agreement with the line to provide their services. Either way, their prices can be very high, often in the tens of dollars. So bring your digital camera or other photography devices – smart phones included – with you and take those everlasting photos yourself or have a fellow passenger take them.

16. Use a Travel Rewards Card

Charge every transaction on your travel rewards card, so you can build up incentive points. A travel rewards card enables you to amass points you can later convert into extra mileage and other benefits, such as exclusive airport treatment, free bag checking and VIP service. You also can use the card to upgrade from economy class to first class or business class. Talk to your bank or credit card company to see if it provides travel rewards plans, and, if yes, what the eligibility criteria are.

Last Word

Preparation, an analytical mind and attention to detail are essential if you want to save money on a cruise. But you also should adopt specific tactics, such as charging expenses on your credit card, avoiding unnecessary costs like too much food and drinking, and reducing your Internet and cell phone usage.

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